Children's Monitor Online
A Public Policy Update from the Child Welfare League of America

   
   
Vol. 18, Issue 29: 8/1/2005   
Headlines

Members of Congress at Home in August

Loan Forgiveness for Child Welfare Workers Part of Higher Education Bill

National Medicaid Advisory Commission Meets

Congress Will Return to Budget Reconciliation Decisions in September

House Committee Members Criticize National Drug Office for Lack of Plan to Address Methamphetamine Use

Children’s Safety Act Passes House Judiciary Committee

Action Continues on Annual Appropriations Bills

New Child Care Data Confirms Loss of Child Care Availability

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Members of Congress at Home in August

Members of Congress will be in their home states in August and will return to Washington after Labor Day, on September 6. This makes August an ideal opportunity for child welfare advocates to meet with their members of Congress--or their staff--at home, participate in town hall meetings, or invite members of Congress to visit child-serving agencies.

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Loan Forgiveness for Child Welfare Workers Part of Higher Education Bill

On July 22, the House Education and Workforce Committee gave final approval to a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (H.R. 609), by a vote of 27-20. Although the most significant issues deal with how to allocate approximately $70 billion in federal funds for colleges and universities, the bill also includes an amendment by Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) to provide loan forgiveness for social workers employed in child welfare. This is the first time loan forgiveness for child welfare workers has been addressed in the Higher Education Act.

Grijalva offered the amendment on behalf of Representative Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is not a member of the Education and Workforce Committee but who is a sponsor of similar legislation. The Menendez bill (H.R. 2815) would phase-in loan forgiveness for workers depending on the length of time a person is employed. The amendment passed by the House Education and Workforce Committee as part of the Higher Education bill would restrict the $5,000 awards to those workers who have worked in the field for at least five years.

In the past, loan forgiveness for child welfare workers has been included in several bills introduced in both the House and Senate. Representatives Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-CA), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), and Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) all have introduced legislation that address this issue.

Ensuring the Grijalva amendment remains part of the final bill will be a challenge, since many professions are urging Congress to be included in this loan forgiveness program. The Senate has yet to take action on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

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National Medicaid Advisory Commission Meets

With only 35 days remaining to meet congressional instructions of securing $10 billion in savings, the Medicaid Advisory Commission met for the first time on July 27. The 28-member group, noted for its lack of participation from the National Governors'Association or members of Congress, was sworn in by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt as he called upon the commission to secure a stronger and more secure program. Leavitt reminded commission members of their unique opportunity for the "modernization of Medicaid," and urged them to make Medicaid "responsive to the needs of our society."

Chaired by former Tennessee Governor and Representataive Don Sundquist (R), the commission has several options it can consider to meet its initial demands. Possible reforms include a change in drug reimbursement rates from the pharmaceutical industry to a average manufacture price; the practice of asset transfers from one individual to another, so an individual can qualify for Medicaid to pay for long-term care benefits; an increase in the level of copayments; and heightened scrutiny on fraud, waste, and abuse within the system. Two days of Senate hearings, and a series of widely circulated New York Times articles, have featured some current manipulation of Medicaid that, some say, cost taxpayers billions annually.

Medicaid celebrated its 40th birthday on July 30; 48% of Medicaid beneficiaries are children, who account for only 20% of actual expenditures.

The commission meeting follows a second set of congressional hearings on July 20 by the Senate Aging Committee that seeking cost savings without harming current beneficiaries. Opting to not join the commission he fought to establish, Aging Committee Chair Gordon Smith (R-OR) has hs decided to use the Aging Committee to pursue solutions not driven solely by budget constraints.

Restricting the use of targeted case management (TCM) or rehabilitative services for children in the child welfare system was not mentioned in the course of the commission meeting or Senate hearings to date. The White House has put forth proposals that would restrict the use of TCM and rehabilitative services for children in the child welfare system and cap the federal reimbursement rate for all TCM services to 50%. Many states have TCM Federal Medical Assistance Percentage rates that exceed 70%; some are as high as 86%.

TCM and rehabilitative services are key services for children in the child welfare system. TCM helps many states provide the mental health and treatment services many children in the child welfare system need.

Apart from its first recommendations due to the Senate Finance Committee by September 1, the commission will also put forth long-term recommendations of the solvency of Medicaid. The commission will hold its next public hearing August 17-18.

View a list of commission members.

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Congress Will Return to Budget Reconciliation Decisions in September

When Congress returns to Washington in September, key committees will be finalizing decisions about how to cut $35 billion in federal entitlement spending. Congressional committees must make these proposed entitlement cuts by September 16. Those proposals will then return to the House and Senate Budget Committees, where they will be combined into one reconciliation bill. All of the cuts will be considered together, and debate and amendments will be strictly limited.

At least $10 billion of the cuts are targeted at Medicaid. This could include restrictions on the use of Medicaid to provide TCM and rehabilitative services to children in the child welfare system. In addition, Congress may target other programs for cuts, such as Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance, food stamps, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, and Supplemental Security Income. In August, Children's Monitor will feature articles on the impact of potential cuts on Title IV-E and Medicaid.

On September 23, both the House and Senate tax committees will also approve $70 billion in additional tax cuts. Those cuts will be considered as the second budget reconciliation bill. Congress may also use a third reconciliation bill to raise the national debt ceiling, allowing the government to increase the national debt.

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House Committee Members Criticize National Drug Office for Lack of Plan to Address Methamphetamine Use

On July 26, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources held a hearing on the impact of metamphetamines on law enforcement and child welfare.

Representative Tom Osborne (R-NE) noted that, "meth is the biggest threat to America, maybe even bigger than Al-Qaeda," due to the devastating personal effects, combined with the secondary effects to children, families, communities, and local and state government. Although methamphetamines traditionally have been isolated within western states, the last decade has witnessed a continual spread to the Midwest and Southeast. Sylvia Deporta, Deputy Director of the Riverside County (California) Sheriff's Office, testified that Riverside County children are found in 45% of home-based meth labs, and that 70% of all child abuse cases involve drugs.

Committee members criticized Scott Burns, Deputy Director for State and Local Affairs, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Subcommittee Chair Mark Souder (R-IN) and other members from both parties expressed displeasure with the Administration's lack of a plan and coordinated efforts to effectively deal with methamphetamine use. In an earnest attempt to engage a stronger commitment from the Administration, Souder sought to find out what additional resources the Administration may need to effectively combat and increase prevention efforts. Souder also criticized the Administration's budget proposals to cut or eliminate programs such as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas and Safe and Drug Free Schools, which can be used to address the issue.

Also testifying were representatives from the Alabama Department of Human Resources, Tennessee Department of Children's Services, and sheriff's offices from North Carolina and Pennsylvania, who all detailed the growing nature of meth use and the sprawling dangers placed on the child welfare system. Drug Enforcement Administration records indicate more than 15,000 children have been found in the course of meth lab seizures, and states are only beginning to fully calculate the direct effect meth has on foster care caseloads.

Meth treatment admission rates jumped to more than 135,000 by 2003 and constituted 7.3% of the entire admission base. This is up from 1.3% in 1992.

CWLA has developed an internal task force to focus on the dangers of methamphetamines on children and the child welfare community. CWLA will soon sponsor a series of informational sessions concerning the dangers for children and child protection workers, as well as effective strategies focusing on the family. CWLA will advance these finding to Congress, urging lawmakers to provide greater security and protection for workers, enhanced prevention efforts, and greater community resources to combat this epidemic.

Complete testimony from the hearing.

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Children’s Safety Act Passes House Judiciary Committee

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Children's Safety Act (H.R. 3132) by a 22-4 vote on July 27. Sponsored by Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), this legislation incorporates several provisions addressing penalties and registry requirements for convicted sex offenders. The legislation would enhance national, state, and local sex offender registration and notification programs, while requiring states to have uniform, public-access sex offender registration websites. States failing to comply with the requirements of the act would risk losing 10% of their allocated federal law enforcement funding.

H.R. 3132 would also require complete background checks for prospective foster or adoptive parents. Although current law allows a state to opt out of the requirement if it conflicts with state policy, this bill would eliminate the opt-out option. The legislation would also ensure that child welfare agencies have access to national crime information databases.

Related legislation in the Senate (S. 1086), introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), is scheduled for a voted in the Senate Judiciary Committee soon. Unlike its House counterpart, the Senate bill does not include provisions requiring background checks for prospective foster parents.

View more information about the Children's Safety Act, and the webcast of Wednesday's Committee hearing.

Retrieve copies of both Senate and House bills.

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Action Continues on Annual Appropriations Bills

The beginning of the federal fiscal year is October 1. Congress has much work to complete action on all annual appropriations bills by that date. Although the House has completed all of its initial decisions on 11 appropriations bills, the Senate has to finish work on 8 remaining bills. Once the Senate completes action, a Senate-House conference committee will meet to work out the differences between the Senate and House bills. Both the Senate and the House must then pass identical bills. Since the Senate has to approve a Supreme Court nominee, and Congress also has to complete action on a budget reconciliation measure, Congress may incorporate all remaining annual appropriations bills into one omnibus bill for final consideration.

View more information about funding decisions for key children programs.

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New Child Care Data Confirms Loss of Child Care Availability

The U.S. Child Care Bureau has released fiscal data showing that spending has declined by $200 million. Total funding for child care (including funds from the Child Care Development Fund, unused child care funds that states had from previous fiscal years, and TANF funds spent for child care) decreased from $12.1 billion in 2003 to $11.9 billion in 2004. This drop represents a significant change compared with previous years, when data showed an annual increase.

One of the main arguments on Capitol Hill from opponents of increased funding for child care is that states have more than enough child care funds due to a decline in TANF cash assistance caseloads. That decline, they argue, frees dollars by allowing states to divert unused TANF cash assistance funds into child care. In fact, however, the use of TANF dollars for child care has declined by $200 million, despite a decline in the number of children receiving child care.

Individual state data also indicates that 31 states cut child care funding last year. The Administration's initial estimates for 2004 showed a decline of 100,000 children served in 2004, compared with 2003. At the same time, Head Start enrollment has also declined in each of the last two years to 905,000 children, a service level equal to 2001.

Increased funding for child care and Head Start is one of CWLA's top priorities. Any possible increase in child care funding for fiscal year 2006 hinges on the fate of the TANF and Child Care reauthorization bills. Neither the Senate nor House has voted on these reauthorization bills, both of which have been approved by key committees (H.R. 240/S. 667).

Access the child care funding.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

July 30-September 5: Summer Congressional Recess

September 16: Deadline for assigned committees to adopt $35 billion in cuts to mandatory programs for budget reconciliation bill

September 23: Deadline for tax-writing committees to adopt tax cuts of $70 billion

October 1: Start of federal fiscal year


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