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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 1: 1/3/2006   
Headlines

Senate Passes Budget Cuts Including Foster Care With Help of Vice President, Measure Returns to House For Final Vote

Senator Conrad Denounces Cuts to Kinship Care

Child Care and TANF Reauthorization Part of Budget Bill

Congress Passes HHS Appropriations and Agrees to Across-the-Board Cuts

SSBG Funding Receives Half Billion Increase for Hurricane Victims

VAWA Passes Congress, Includes Child Maltreatment

CWLA's Legislative Alerts Now Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

Children 2006: Securing Brighter Futures



Senate Passes Budget Cuts Including Foster Care With Help of Vice President, Measure Returns to House For Final Vote

In one of its last acts of 2005, the U.S. Senate voted 51 to 50 on December 21 to adopt a budget reconciliation bill (S. 1932, H.Rept. 109-362) that will cut nearly $40 billion in spending, including $600 million in cuts from Title IV-E Foster Care. Senate members split 50 to 50, with all Democrats joined by Republican Senators Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Independent James Jeffords (VT) in opposing the package of budget cuts.

With the vote tied, Vice President Dick Cheney cast the deciding vote. Before the final vote, however, the Senate struck three provisions from the bill, which will result in the House of Representatives reexamining the legislation when they return in January. One provision would restrict liability for hospitals when they fail to serve patients not covered by health insurance, and two other provisions focus on congressional reports. The Senate struck the provisions because they violated a parliamentary provision called the "Byrd Rule." Led by Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, the Democrats’ intent was to change the final bill so that the House will be forced to approve the cuts a second time.

Shortly before 6 a.m. on December 19, the House passed the bill reported by the Joint Conference Committee by a narrow margin of 212 to 206 after an all-night session. See how your representative voted.

CWLA's efforts did help prevent some of the cuts to foster care originally proposed in the President's FY 2006 budget and offered for consideration through the House of Representatives. The final legislation does repeal a 9th Circuit Judicial ruling, Rosales v. Thompson, that allowed for greater foster care assistance to grandparents and other relatives caring for children who have been removed from the home.

In evaluating the child welfare provisions presented to Congress, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) clearly stated that the repeal of this decision would result in the loss of Title IV-E benefits for children in foster care. In California alone, 5,000 foster care children would be denied federal foster care support.

The bill does provide two $10 million grants to encourage coordination between state courts and the child welfare system, as well as a one-time increase of $40 million in Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) funds. How or why the one-time increase of $40 million was provided while Senate and House appropriators were cutting discretionary PSSF funds by over $10 million is unclear.

The budget reconciliation also cuts $6.9 billion from Medicaid through increased co-pays, lessening of benefits, and tightening of asset-transfer rules for long-term care patients. The bill clarifies what services can be billed as Medicaid supported targeted case management (TCM), with CRS reporting that "the effect of this legislative proposal is uncertain, but is believed… to reduce access to Medicaid TCM claims for a range of population, including particularly Medicaid-eligible foster children." FY 2002 data shows that 165,265 children in foster care benefited from TCM services. At this time, CWLA is still evaluating the current language. The bill will also allow states to charge low-income families and individuals more in co-payments and deductibles, and gives states authority to limit some of their coverage through the early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment (EPSDT) program.

Other major changes to the reconciliation bill included a child care and TANF reauthorization (see below), and cuts of $1.5 billion in child support enforcement, $1.5 billion in farm programs, a $6.4 billion reduction for Medicare, and a $12.7 billion reduction to federal student loan programs through a series of changes to interest rates and fees. The final bill also puts some funding back into Medicaid by allocating $2.1 billion for hurricane assistance in selected counties or parishes.

In the coming days, CWLA will alert members to the next steps before House members cast their final vote and determine if these cuts become final. For more information concerning the cuts to foster care, visit CWLA's "No Caps on Kids!" website.

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Senator Conrad Denounces Cuts to Kinship Care

During the final Senate debate on the budget reconciliation bill December 21, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), Ranking Member of the Budget Committee, raised four points of order objecting to four sections of the bill that violated a Senate budget reconciliation rule referred to as the Byrd Rule. The Byrd Rule is named after its author, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), and restricts the type of provisions included in a reconciliation bill. Senator Conrad raised four points of order, including provisions on Medicaid and congressional reporting requirements. He began by arguing for removal of the provisions that overturn the 2003 Rosales decision. That decision has expanding access to foster care by allowing grandparents and other relatives to provide care. Referring to the provisions of the bill, Senator Conrad called overturning the court decision, "...as mean spirited as it is ill-conceived." He went on to say, "Prohibiting support for grandparents who take in foster children is wrong."

The Senate parliamentarian did not allow a vote to strike the provisions on the foster care cuts so the Senate took no vote on the House-written provision. The effect, however, was to focus the Senate's attention on the arguments in support of the court decision and in favor of kinship care. Shay Bilchik, CWLA's President and CEO, remarked in a press statement and a letter to Senator Conrad that "The Senator has proven once again that he will fight for the needs of America's most vulnerable children in making sure that they will not be lost due to misplaced priorities." When the House returns in January, members will have to vote again on the budget reconciliation bill with the cuts to foster care included.

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Child Care and TANF Reauthorization Part of Budget Bill

When House and Senate conferees attempted to draft a final budget reconciliation bill in early December, it was believed the chances of including a reauthorization of the TANF and Child Care block grants had all but disappeared. The final bill (S. 1932, H. Rept. 109-362) approved by the House early on December 19, included a TANF and Child Care reauthorization that neither chamber had approved earlier in the year. The final version will now require states to have at least half of TANF adults working unless a state can reduce their TANF caseloads from 2005 on.

Current law requires states to have half their TANF adults working. States can reduce this requirement if their caseload has gone down since implementing TANF in 1996. Since 1996, TANF caseloads have decreased more than 50% so all states have less than 50% of TANF adults in qualified work. Debate has centered in recent years on how to change this work requirement and allow states to reduce this required work rate. Several versions of the TANF reauthorization revolved around giving states a reduced work requirement if adults left TANF for employment, instead of giving credit for people who left despite a lack of work. Ultimately, the bill rejected such an approach and created a work credit based solely on moving people and families off the TANF caseload, regardless of whether they find work. Under this reauthorization, states can reduce the 50% work requirement only if they are able to reduce the number of families who leave TANF from the beginning of 2005. Since 2005, caseloads are not decreasing; in some states, they are increasing. Critics argue that the families who remain are difficult to serve due to various health, economic, and other barriers to leaving assistance. The new credit would reward states only if these people leave, regardless of the final outcome.

The new law would also require states apply the TANF work requirements to individual state TANF programs. These programs are funded solely with state TANF dollars. States began using these state-only programs to help harder to place families and individuals that may not be eligible to enroll in federally funded TANF programs. Such families may include two-parent families in high unemployment rural areas, people with substance abuse problems, and other legal immigrant families otherwise restricted because they have not met the mandatory waiting period to be eligible.

In the child care part of the reauthorization, few changes were made, including changes to the funding level. Following previous House bills, the child care reauthorization provides an increase of only $200 million in child care matching funds in the first year. The current mandatory-discretionary Child Care Block Grant is now funded at $4.8 billion. The reauthorization provides an increase of less than 5% and freezes funding in the remaining four years of the five-year legislation. This takes place against an appropriations backdrop of no increases in the annual appropriations funding for child care since 2002. Child care discretionary funding will be subject to another across-the-board cut in 2006, as it has in 2004 and 2005. The Administration's own projections show a loss of child care slots, or enrollments, over the next five years. The Administration projects at least 200,000 lost slots. Analysts argue the losses will be greater. It is feared the increased work provisions on states will place even greater demands on a child care system that has not received any increased federal funds since 2002.

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Congress Passes HHS Appropriations and Agrees to Across-the-Board Cuts

After the House rejected the appropriations bill that provides funding to the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) by a vote of 209 to 224 on November 17, Congressional leaders made adjustments providing the necessary votes. The final Labor-HHS bill (H.R. 3010, H. Rept. 109-337) passed the House by a vote of 215 to 213 on December 14 when slight changes were made to rural health care funds. The conference agreement provides $1.5 billion less than the FY 2005 funding level for these agencies. The conference agreement also cuts funding for HHS by nearly a billion dollars, cuts $59 million in funding below last year’s level for the Department of Education, and cuts funding for the Department of Labor by $430 million. Additionally, the conference agreement reduces funding for child care, Head Start, the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, Youth Training grants, the Drug Free Schools Act, and Promoting Safe and Stable Families. Funding for many other important child-serving programs would be frozen at the FY 2005 level.

After adopting their final appropriations bill, the defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2863, H. Rept. 109-359), Congress also imposed a 1% across-the-board cut in addition to these cuts. The across-the-board cuts are retroactive to programs that had their appropriations passed earlier this fall. Inclusion of the 1% cut came as a way to offset some of the hurricane relief funding also included in the defense bill. Current funding of key children's programs can be found on CWLA's website.

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SSBG Funding Receives Half Billion Increase for Hurricane Victims

Last fall, the Administration requested reallocating hurricane relief funds that had been appropriated to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to other federal departments. Before leaving for the year, Congress followed through by including the reallocations as part of the defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2863, H. Rept. 109-359). The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) was increased by $550 million, bringing 2006 funding to $2.250 billion. The added funds are designated, however, for those impacted by this year’s hurricanes. The reallocation also allows the SSBG funds to be used for health care, including mental health care, which is not allowed under the current SSBG statute. It also allows funding to be used for renovation or repair of health facilities. Similarly, Congress also provided $90 million in Head Start funds for hurricane-affected areas and for renovations. Some programs, such as SSBG and Head Start, do not allow funds to be used this way and many providers also found themselves ineligible for other relief through FEMA or the Small Business Administration (SBA).

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VAWA Passes Congress, Includes Child Maltreatment

In the closing days of the 1st session of the 109th Congress, both chambers completed a five-year reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). After failing to gain full reauthorization in previous years, the new legislation includes heightened provisions for children that are exposed to domestic violence.

Attached as part of the Department of Justice annual appropriations, the legislation (H.R. 3402) authorizes the Justice Department's Violence Against Women Office to award $20 million annually to programs that serve children who have witnessed domestic violence. CWLA, as part of the National Child Abuse Coalition, urged lawmakers to include this provision.

The grants will also provide funds that allow for trainings to identify children and families who have experienced domestic violence, and $7 million in funding for the development of home visitation programs for victims. An additional $5 million will be allocated for greater collaboration between child welfare agencies, domestic violence centers, judicial systems, law enforcement, and other community services to develop a unified response to families that experience domestic violence and child maltreatment.

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CWLA's Legislative Alerts Now Available to Subscribers

CWLA's Legislative Alerts provide breaking news, advocacy information, and critically important, timely details about legislative work. In an effort to broaden our advocacy network on behalf of children, CWLA has opened subscription to this information to the general public. Previously, alerts were sent to CWLA members only.

This effort compliments the availability of CWLA's weekly electronic legislative newsletter, Children's Monitor, which is also available to any subscriber. We encourage you to register online to receive these items directly, and to pass the information on to other colleagues, family, and friends.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

Second session of 109th Congress begins: Senate, January 18, House, January 31

President's State of the Union Address: January 31

Release of the President's FY 2007 budget: February 6


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Children 2006: Securing Brighter Futures

Preparations are underway for CWLA's 2006 National Conference: Securing Brighter Futures, February 27-March 1. CWLA will bring leading child welfare practitioners, teachers, researchers, and advocates together in Washington, DC, to learn and share how best to meet the needs of children in foster care.

CWLA's annual Hill Day gives conference attendees the opportunity to meet with members of Congress about the issues that affect the children, youth, and families we serve. Hill Day participants will learn about key children's issues facing Congress from leaders in the field, CWLA staff, and directly from policymakers. Members of Congress need to hear what their votes will mean for the children, youth, and families in your state and local community. Make your voice heard at Hill Day 2006!

More information and online registration

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