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

   
   
Vol. 18, Issue 44: 11/14/2005   
Headlines

House Postpones Vote on Budget Cuts

House Bill Also Cuts Medicaid by $12 Billion

Tax Cuts May Wait Until Next Year

CWLA Opposes Restrictions on State Foster Care/Adoption Criminal Background Check

Congress Passes Bill to Expand Foster Care Funding to For-Profit Agencies

VAWA Reauthorization Nears Completion

Juvenile Justice Funds Cut

CWLA Joins Effort to Improve Head Start Legislation

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



House Postpones Vote on Budget Cuts

On November 10, the leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives failed to bring the budget reconciliation bill before the House for a vote. The Senate passed their budget reconciliation bill that cuts federal spending by $35 billion on November 3, but the House is attempting to pass a reconciliation bill that cuts federal spending by $50 billion. Instead of voting on the measure November 10 as scheduled, the House will reconvene November 15 to try and get enough votes to pass the bill.

Many of the proposed House cuts impact programs that support abused and neglected children, including foster care, Medicaid, food stamps, child support, and TANF. The House leadership thought they had the votes after a tough 24 hours of negotiations focusing on a provision that would have allowed oil drilling in Alaska. That provision was struck from the bill in an effort to get more than a dozen moderate Republicans on board. As leadership removed the provision, they found some conservative members abandoning support.

CWLA worked with Representative Xavier Bacerra (D-CA) who was ready to offer an amendment striking the provisions in the bill that cuts federal foster care funding by nearly $600 million. However, the House Rules Committee made a decision that prohibited any amendments from being offered during the House floor debate.

The Senate-approved budget reconciliation bill does not include these foster care cuts. Since there are differences between the proposed House bill and Senate-passed budget bill, an appointed Senate-House conference committee will have to put together a final compromise bill.

Proponents of the House cuts to federal funding for foster care claim the reductions will not affect beneficiaries. The cuts, however, will impact abused and neglected children and the grandparents and other relatives caring for them. CWLA is working to ensure the final budget reconciliation bill does not include the House provisions that will severely limit supports for children who have been abused and neglected.

The House budget reconciliation bill cuts Title IV-E Foster Care funding by repealing a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Rosales v. Thompson, that has allowed more abused and neglected children living with relatives to receive Title IV-E federal foster care support. This support allows relatives to step in and care for abused and neglected children when needed. As a result, the nine states and two territories directly impacted by the Ninth Circuit's decision (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Mariana Islands) estimate that tens of thousands of children living with relatives are now eligible for federal foster care assistance. In California alone, more than 5,000 children would lose federal support. Ultimately, the ruling may affect children in other states.

The House bill also implements a White House proposal initially offered in 2001 that was blocked due to protests from child advocates. This proposal reduces federal funding for services to kids living with their grandparents and other relatives by limiting Title IV-E administrative funds to support only licensed foster care placements. This represents a reversal of longstanding federal policy to encourage the placement of children with relatives whenever possible. The bill also limits Title IV-E administrative funding for services to kids who are considered likely "candidates" for foster care--in other words, kids who could be prevented from going into foster care. The bill also limits Title IV-E administrative funding for services to kids leaving a non-child welfare facility, such as a hospital, psychiatric center, crisis center, or juvenile facility, and being moved into foster care.

If adopted in the final budget bill, the foster care cuts could turn out to be larger than estimated by the House. The House estimates a $577 million cut in federal Title IV-E foster care funding. Cost estimates done earlier this year by the White House, however, projected cuts of over $450 million for reducing Title IV-E administrative funding for foster care candidates and others, and nearly $400 million for overturning the Rosales judicial decision. The House bill estimates that repealing the Rosales decision would affect 4,000 children per month. That estimate appears low since California has indicated that more than 5,000 children in that state alone would be affected by such a cut.

For a more detailed description of the House child welfare provisions, go to http://www.cwla.org/advocacy/fostercare051109.htm.

In addition to reducing federal support for child welfare, the House bill includes a five-year reauthorization of the TANF and child care programs. The version of these two reauthorizations in the budget reconciliation bill is similar to previous House-passed versions, including increased work requirements for TANF recipients. The most significant difference of this bill from bills previously considered in the House is the level of child care funding. The funding provided in the House budget reconciliation bill is even less than the one-time 4% increase in child care funding provided in earlier child care reauthorization bills. The bill also cuts child support collections and food stamps.

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House Bill Also Cuts Medicaid by $12 Billion

The House budget reconciliation bill cuts federal Medicaid spending by $12 billion. This total is $6 billion greater than the Senate budget reconciliation bill that equally splits the cuts between Medicaid and Medicare.

The House bill includes the identical provisions included in the Senate passed bill that clarified the use of Medicaid targeted case management (TCM) for children in child welfare. The bill allows TCM to be used for: assessment of eligible individuals to determine service needs by taking a client history, identifying an individual's needs, and completing related documentation; development of a specific care plan based on the information collected through an assessment that specifies the goals and actions to address the individual's needs; referral and related activities to help an individual obtain needed services; and monitoring and follow-up activities, including activities and contacts to ensure the care plan is effectively implemented and adequately addresses the individual's needs.

The bill specifies that TCM benefits for children in foster care would not cover: research gathering and completion of required foster care documentation; assessing adoption placements; recruiting or interviewing potential foster parents; serving legal papers; conducting home investigations; providing transportation; administering foster care subsidies; and making placement arrangements.

Unlike the Senate bill, the House bill also includes cuts that would have a devastating impact on individuals or families. The House bill would allow states the option to introduce premiums on services for populations with incomes at or above 100% of poverty. This is the first time that states have had the authority to implement Medicaid premiums at such a low rate. The bill would also impose a new series of co-payments on non-mandatory persons eligible for Medicaid up to 5% of the beneficiary's annual income. Services for foster children are exempt from this provision. The House bill also includes a limitation on the Medicaid optional benefit packages and alters the current look-back provision for asset transfers--to gain Medicaid eligibility--from 3 to 5 years.

Representative John Dingell (D-MI), Ranking Democratic Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, circulated a letter to his colleagues documenting that 75% percent of the Medicaid savings in the House bill will come directly from provisions that impact beneficiaries. That estimate includes over 3 million children who will face cost-sharing charges by 2010, increasing to 5.5 million by 2015. The new provision regarding Medicaid premiums has the potential to force 70,000 enrollees off Medicaid by the year 2010. Lost services will be such options as mental health service, dental, vision and certain types of therapies. These new provisions also restrict the amount, duration, and scope of services that a beneficiary can receive, often limiting service time to only 30 days.

The House bill also contains similar Hurricane Katrina relief legislation that will allow the federal government to pay for the entire cost of Medicaid (without a state match) for selected counties/parishes for Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This is a modest version of legislation (S. 1716) sponsored by Senate Finance Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) that would temporarily provide 100% federal Medicaid assistance for all areas that accepted hurricane survivors.

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Tax Cuts May Wait Until Next Year

While House members were attempting to vote on a $50 billion package of cuts to vital services, the Senate Finance Committee was trying to adopt legislation to cut taxes by $70 billion. Plans fell apart when Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) made clear her opposition to any tax bill that includes a capitol gains tax cut. Without unanimous Republican support, Senator Grassley halted plans for a committee vote. Congress may delay tax cuts until next year.

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CWLA Opposes Restrictions on State Foster Care/Adoption Criminal Background Check

On November 1, CWLA signed on to a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members opposing the Children's Safety Act of 2005 (H.R. 3132), approved by the House, which mandates all states comply with the same background check provisions when they review potential foster and adoption parents. The letter was signed by a dozen organizations, many from New York and California--two states that would be impacted by the bill. The letter stated, "We believe that decisions about what is best for an individual child should be based on the individual needs of that child…. (the bill) would strip States and local courts of their ability to determine what is safe, appropriate care for individual children under their charge."

The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), enacted in 1997, included a requirement mandating a criminal background check to ensure the safety of children in foster care and adoptive placements. Congress provided states with the ability to individualize their own eligibility requirements in this area and craft standards that do not compromise the principle that a child's safety is paramount. This "opt out" flexibility allows states to implement their own state laws and practices while maintaining the safety and health of children under their supervision. As of 2004, nine states, including California and New York, have exercised this option. Their laws for assessing the backgrounds of prospective foster and adoptive parents vary somewhat from federal requirements. In most cases, they allow a rebuttable presumption, whereby a court or child welfare agency may determine that in a particular case a child's best interests override the mandates of federal law.

No evidence suggests that children in states that have "opted out" to use an alternative safety and background check procedure are in greater danger or are victims of abuse at rates higher than other children. In New York, for example, instead of mandatory disqualification for certain felony convictions, the state statute provides for presumptive disqualification, which may be overcome in certain individual cases. The New York law follows state court rulings that mandatory disqualification for certain felony convictions violates both the federal and New York State constitutions. As in New York, California's criminal background check requirements are more extensive than federal law. In California, the laws require a review of all convictions--including misdemeanors--other than minor traffic violations. Once these background checks are made, California state law allows an exemption only when it is in the best interest of the child and substantial and convincing evidence establishes that the person is of good character and does not pose a risk to the child.

The House passed the Children's Safety Act on September 15. This legislation combined several bills into one piece of legislation. The bill’s main focus is sex offender registry programs, public Internet access to national registries, guidelines for registering and monitoring offenders, and expanded use of DNA information in criminal investigations. A provision was added to the bill that would also change current background check requirements for prospective foster and adoptive parents by eliminating the ability of states to opt out of the federal requirements and implement their own background check practices. The provision was originally included in a bill sponsored by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX). Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary has passed S 1086, which deals with similar issues around registered offenders, but it does not include changes to the criminal background checks for foster and adoptive parents. CWLA is working to ensure the Senate does not accept the House provision in any upcoming negotiations.

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Congress Passes Bill to Expand Foster Care Funding to For-Profit Agencies

Both the House and Senate have now passed legislation (H.R. 3008/S. 1894) to permit for-profit foster care agencies to receive Title IV-E federal funding. The House approved the bill November 9. The Senate approved identical legislation by voice vote October 19. The bill now awaits approval from President Bush.

The sponsors of the bill, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), cited the legislation was needed to address the needs of children in therapeutic foster care. They noted that in Oklahoma, 1,100 children reside in therapeutic foster care, 536 of which are being cared for by for-profit agencies.

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VAWA Reauthorization Nears Completion

Negotiations are underway in Congress on final legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The legislation passed in the House (H.R 3402) September 28 by a vote of 415 to 4, and in the Senate (S. 1197) by unanimous consent on October 4. The two bills are very similar but do contain some differences that must be worked out by a conference committee. One difference is that in the House bill, VAWA was included as part of a larger reauthorization of the Department of Defense.

The VAWA is the major federal law to assist victims of domestic and other types of violence. The legislation provides $15 million each year in grants to provide specialized services to teens and young adults who are victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking; and provides demonstration grants to courts to work with law enforcement, service providers, schools, and others to develop policies and procedures to insure justice for young victims and perpetrators of violence.

It is expected that the conference committee will agree on a compromise measure to be voted on by both the Senate and House in the next few weeks.

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Juvenile Justice Funds Cut

The appropriations bill that includes funding for juvenile justice was reported out of a committee by a House/Senate conference committee on November 4. The final legislation cuts funding for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention in FY 2006 to $311.7 million--down from $346.5 million this year. These cuts include reductions in the State Formula Grants to $80 million (down from $83.3 million), the Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grant program to $65 million (down from $79.4 million), and the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant to $50 million (down from $54.6 million). The House and Senate will vote on the final bill within the next few weeks.

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CWLA Joins Effort to Improve Head Start Legislation

Anticipating possible Senate floor action on a reauthorization of the Head Start program, CWLA joined dozens of organizations to express concern in a letter to the Senate about key issues in the Head Start reauthorization bill (S. 1107). The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed the bill July 29 by a voice vote. If the Senate approves the bill, a House/Senate conference committee will meet to put together a compromise final bill that must be approved by both the House and Senate. It is unlikely those actions will be completed and a final bill sent to the President until early 2006.

As the bill was passed by the HELP Committee, there was an understanding that unresolved issues would be the continued focus of discussions. Both the House and Senate Head Start reauthorization bills have rejected earlier Administration recommendations to turn Head Start into a block grant with funds going to the states rather than providers. Both the House and Senate bills are very similar in their approaches to the reauthorization, but CWLA and other child care advocates are still seeking improvements.

The letter to the Senate did not cover all issues, but focused on concerns about bill provisions regarding the role of parent policy councils and implementing new teacher qualifications. Due to questions of accountability, the Senate Head Start bill would reduce the authority and role of the Head Start Parent Councils that are used as a vehicle for parents to get and stay involved in local Head Start programs. The Senate bill also requires 50% of Head Start teachers to have a bachelor's degree by 2011. This is a problem because the 50% requirement applies to each center-based program, rather than applying the 50% goal to Head Start programs across the country. Some states or localities may not have the capacity to provide more degrees and course work, especially if Head Start centers are in remote areas. In addition to structural problems, the legislation does not propose the several billions of dollars it would take to provide the training and follow up salary increases a higher teaching standard will require.

The letter to Congress also urged the Senate to restrict the Administration's use of the National Head Start Reporting System that is used to assess the Head Start program. There is great concern with the Administration's efforts to evaluate preschool children in Head Start with a test that has been severely criticized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others as being improper and perhaps harmful for children of this age. The Administration continues to assess children and the letter calls on Senators to stop the Administration's use of the reporting system pending a more accurate assessment of what is truly needed.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

Before Thanksgiving : Senate vote on tax cut reconciliation bill
November: House scheduled to vote on $70 billion tax cut reconciliation bill
November 18: FY 2006 Continuing Resolution ends
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas: Target adjournment for first session of 109th Congress

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