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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 2: 1/9/2006   
Headlines

Final Budget Vote Scheduled for February 1 in House

Budget Bill Reaffirms Outdated Income Eligibility Criteria for Title IV-E Assistance

HHS Report Concludes States Lack Ability to Track Caseworker Visits with Children in Foster Care

EITC Campaign To Educate Families on Tax Benefits Begins

CWLA's Legislative Alerts Now Available to Subscribers

Children 2006: Securing Brighter Futures

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Final Budget Vote Scheduled for February 1 in House

When the Senate voted to pass the budget reconciliation bill (S. 1932) by a vote of 51 to 50 on December 21, a few technical changes were added to the legislation that now requires the bill to be voted on again by the House of Representatives. CWLA has learned that the House vote is now scheduled for February 1. The bill that the House will be voting on contains $600 million in cuts to federal foster care assistance for abused and neglected children being cared for by grandparents and other relatives.

The House previously approved this measure by a vote of 212 to 206, shortly before 6 a.m. on December 19. This was a mere three hours after members were given the 774-page bill to read and review final content. Normal House rules requiring that a bill be made available to House members for 24 hours was waived for this particular vote.

CWLA is participating in a coordinated effort with more than 100 national organizations to defeat the bill in the House. In addition to the foster care cuts, the bill also includes: changes to Medicaid that decreases the level of services for many low-income individuals and families and imposes new costs for tho e who can least afford health care; a reauthorization of the TANF and Child Care programs that fails to recognize the great need for additional child care funding; reduced federal support for child support enforcement collections, resulting in $2.9 billion in child support going uncollected over the next five years, and $8.4 billion going uncollected over the next 10 years; and $12.7 billion in cuts to student loan supports.

The final vote in the House on February 1 is expected to be close. In fact, if all 434 members are present (there is currently one House vacancy), 218 votes are needed to pass or defeat the bill. If three votes are gained against the bill from those who voted for it on December 19, the result would be a defeat of the reconciliation bill. Unlike the Senate, a tie of 217 to 217 would defeat the bill, as the Vice-President cannot cast the tie-breaking vote. Due to feedback from constituents, some members of Congress are now reconsidering their earlier support for the bill.

Total cuts in the bill are also larger than first presented. The bill the House is about to vote on actually cuts Medicaid by $11 billion over five years, and $42 billion over 10 years. The TANF block grant reauthorization included in the bill makes significant changes to the TANF work requirements, while providing only a $200 million increase to the $4.8 billion child care block grant, effective through 2010.

The bill does contain some new spending including two new $10 million grant programs for courts, and a one-time increase in Promoting Safe and Stable Families.

CWLA will be working with many states and local advocates against passage of this legislation. To learn how you can get involved, sign up for CWLA's Legislative Alerts (see below), or contact CWLA directly at 202/638-2952

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Budget Bill Reaffirms Outdated Income Eligibility Criteria for Title IV-E Assistance

The budget bill approved by the Senate and now awaiting House approval on February 1 reaffirms the Title IV-E financial eligibility link that is currently tied to outdated Aid to Families and Dependent Children (AFDC) rules. When Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) replaced AFDC in 1996, it retained the same Title IV-E eligibility link to 1996 AFDC eligibility guidelines. This outdated link, to an abolished program, results in fewer children receiving federal foster care and adoption support. CWLA and children's advocates have continued to press for change that would abolish, or at least update, this standard.

For children to receive federal Title IV-E assistance, they must be able to qualify under the income criteria in place as of July 1996 under the AFDC program. This is commonly referred to as the "look-back" because states are required to look to the 1996 eligibility standard to determine whether a foster or adopted child can receive funding from the federal Title IV-E program.

When AFDC existed, it also served as an eligibility standard for many other low-income social programs. A family eligible for AFDC was also eligible for Medicaid, food stamps and for Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance. When the TANF block grant replaced AFDC, Congress failed to devise a new income eligibility standard for Title IV-E. Many in Congress considered the eligibility requirements devised to be a temporary fix, and that they would eventually revisit the issue. Congress has not formally debated this issue, but if the budget reconciliation bill becomes law, Congress will again reaffirm that policy.

For a summary of the Senate-passed bill, go to our website.

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HHS Report Concludes States Lack Ability to Track Caseworker Visits with Children in Foster Care

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued two reports on January 5 examining states' ability to track the frequency of caseworker visits to children in foster care.

The OIG was directed to determine whether or not states had standards for visits by caseworkers, the extent that states issue reports on such visits, and the extent to which children were actually visited. The report indicated that 43 states had written standards calling for caseworkers to visit children in foster care at least monthly.

The OIG also concluded that only 20 states of the 51 reviewed demonstrated their ability to actually produce statewide reports. Of these 20, seven states indicated that, on average, fewer than half of children in foster care were visited monthly. The OIG recommended that the Administration for Children and Families in HHS work with states that have limited or nonexistent automated capacity to develop such a system. For states where the capacity exists, HHS should work with states on ways to ensure visits are being recorded. The Inspector General's Office is responsible for audits, investigations, and inspections in HHS. The report is available online.

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EITC Campaign To Educate Families on Tax Benefits Begins

CWLA is participating in an effort led by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to educate working families on the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other available tax credits. In 2005, over 21 million workers claimed the tax credits.

The EITC is a tax credit available to working families by matching a family's earned income. Workers with one child and an income under $33,030 can receive a tax credit up to $2,662, and working families with more than one child and an income under $37,263 can receive a credit up to $4,400. For single adults making $11,750 or less, a small credit of up to $399 is available. The credits are refundable, meaning the tax filer can receive a tax refund that exceeds what that person has paid in federal taxes. A person who paid $1,000 in federal taxes but who is eligible for a $1,500 tax credit, for example, would eliminate their $1,000 tax and receive the remaining $500. For many low-income families, this refund benefit also helps offset the impact of payroll tax (Social Security) and state and local taxes. Some states also have their own state credit that compliments the federal credit.

Kits to help state and local advocates and officials promote the EITC are now available. They include additional information, posters, strategies on how to promote the credit, and information in more than one language. The kits also provide details on how to qualify for the Children's Tax Credit (CTC) and the Dependent Care Tax Credit (DCTX). The CTC provides up to $1,000 per child under the age of 17, and the DCTX credit can help offset the cost of child care and dependent care expenses. For more information about these tax credits and how to obtain EITC outreach kits, go to: http://www.cbpp.org/eic2006/.

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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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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 to best meet the needs of children in foster care.

CWLA's annual Hill Day gives conference attendees an 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 children, youth, and families in your state and local community. Make your voice heard at Hill Day 2006!

For more information and to register, visit our website

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

Second session of 109th Congress begins: Senate, January 18, 2006, House, January 31, 2006

President's State of the Union Address: January 31, 2006

Expected House Vote on Budget Reconciliation: February 1, 2006

Release of President's FY 2007 budget: February 6, 2006

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