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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 10: 3/6/2006   
Headlines

CWLA Releases 2006 Legislative Agenda

Smith Named 2006 Congressional Advocate of the Year

McDermott Announces Child Welfare Congressional Caucus

HHS to Eliminate Child Care Bureau

2007 Budget Path Remains Unclear

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



CWLA Releases 2006 Legislative Agenda

CWLA's 2006 Legislative Agenda was released last week to more than 1,000 National Conference participants. A template for children's legislative activity, the agenda outlines current trends, research, and recent legislative background for 17 essential children's programs. Featured as part of the Legislative Agenda are Hot Topics for which CWLA calls for immediate action. This year's Hot Topics include increased support for child welfare financing, opposition to the President's proposal to slash funding for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), and immediate passage of Kinship Caregiver support legislation.

The Hot Topics are selected due to the need for immediate action that will directly affect the child welfare community. The President's budget proposal, released February 6, calls for a $500 million cut in SSBG. This represents a 30% cut from SSBG's total funding level of $1.7 billion. SSBG is a vital source of the child welfare funding structure and accounts for 12% of all federal child welfare allocations. Any reduction in child welfare dollars severely threatens states' ability to provide essential care needed for abused and neglected children. This proposal came a mere five days after Congress approved a budget reconciliation bill that stripped nearly $600 million from foster care supports.

More than half of the child welfare cuts in the budget reconciliation bill target kinship care providers who provide a caring home for children who are not able to live with their parents. CWLA calls on Congress for immediate passage of the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S. 985) and the Guardianship Assistance Promotion and Kinship Support Act (H.R. 3380). These bills would begin to meet the needs of the millions of children who are raised by kinship or other guardianship placements.

The third Hot Topic includes a proactive response to the partnerships between the federal and state financing structure of child welfare financing. CWLA's policy recommendations include new resources focused on prevention; greater foster care support; greater coordination between the child welfare system and Medicaid; strengthening and redefining Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance, while opposing a block grant that was again offered in the President's budget; extending Title IV-E to children in guardianship placements; the strengthening of the child welfare workforce; and extending access of federal Title IV-B and Title IV-E dollars to tribal governments and nations.

Additional information and materials about CWLA's call for reform, and a review of existing child welfare financing resources and legislative proposals, are available online.

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Smith Named 2006 Congressional Advocate of the Year

Each year, CWLA honors a member of Congress who demonstrates outstanding leadership and commitment to improving the lives of children, youth, and families. This year's recipient of the Congressional Advocate of the Year is Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). Long noted for his unwavering commitment to the American family, Smith has also been willing to cross party lines to secure optimal services for his constituents.

Smith gained increased prominence during the 2005 budget reconciliation battle when he refused to agree with cuts, proposed by his party leaders, that would drastically limit available health and mental health services. Smith refocused the discussion back to children and families and worked tirelessly to ensure that any changes to Medicaid would not adversely affect the 25 million children who receive necessary health care through its services.

Addressing CWLA's Mental Health Advisory Board in September, Smith noted he would refuse to compromise at the cost of loss of services to children, including those in foster care. With the final Senate vote in December, Smith was one of five to ignore party divisions and vote against the flawed legislation.

In his remarks, Smith said he recognized the efforts of CWLA advocates in defeating the deficit reduction act, and he "stood by [you] with that vote." The Senator also commented on how critical the supports debated during the 2005 budget battle were for vulnerable children and families. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Smith has a crucial vote in several child welfare funding programs, including Title IV of the Social Security Act, (Foster Care and Adoption Assistance, Promoting Safe and Stable Families) and Medicaid.

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McDermott Announces Child Welfare Congressional Caucus

As part of Hill Day activities at CWLA's National Conference, Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) ignited attendees by calling for increased supports for the entire child welfare community. Ranking member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, McDermott said the recent "sounds of silence," in terms of supports for children, youth, and families, as included in the President's proposed budget, was one of the difficult challenges that advocates face.

McDermott announced he is creating a bipartisan child welfare caucus. The goal is to create a forum by which Members of Congress and their staffs can learn about the various issues that affect child welfare--ranging from the financing of the program to how Medicaid and the various court systems affect the lives of children. He indicated that he is seeking a more informed Congress on the issue of vulnerable children and families.

Congressional caucuses allow members to join around a united topic and serve for greater education and support from fellow members. Caucuses take on different approaches in governance and structure, but they all offer a way for members from both parties to focus more attention on common interests and issues.

Sponsor of the Leave No Abused or Neglected Child Behind Act (H. R. 3576), McDermott called for greater supports for the child welfare financing structure, postadoption services, increased support and loan forgiveness for the child welfare workforce, and greater focus on the educational, health, and mental health concerns of children introduced into child welfare.

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HHS to Eliminate Child Care Bureau

In a letter to Representative Ralph Regula (R-OH), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced a reorganization plan that would eliminate the Child Care Bureau. Child care will be moved into the Office of Family Assistance, which oversees Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The Head Start Bureau would also be eliminated, and its commissioner would report directly to Assistant Secretary Wade Horn, head of Administration for Children and Families.

The Child Care Bureau was created as a separate bureau in HHS in 1993 in an effort to highlight the significance of child care and its role in early childhood development. Both the Child Care and Head Start Bureaus fall under the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, which in turn falls under the Administration for Children and Families.

After dramatic growth in support and funding in the 1990s, child care has been virtually frozen over the past five years. Starting with the creation of the Child Care and Development Block Grant in 1990, and later the consolidation and dramatic expansion of child care funding streams that were a part of the 1996 TANF debate, child care had experienced a dramatic increase, rising from a little more than $1 billion in 1990 to just under $5 billion in 2000. The recent TANF reauthorization, which includes matching child care funding, provided only a first-year increase in funds of $200 million, or approximately 4%. It also included a freeze on future matching fund increases through 2010.

The changes clearly deemphasize the role of child care and gives Horn more direct oversight of Head Start. In his letter, Leavitt indicated that by combining child care with the Office of Family Assistance, HHS would be better able to coordinate the TANF and child care block grants to address the increased work requirements under TANF. Throughout TANF history, debate has continued as to whether child care exists just to help move families off public assistance or whether child care has a larger mission in terms of working families and child development. The letter appears to highlight the ties between cash assistance and child care.

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2007 Budget Path Remains Unclear

The House and Senate returned from their President's Day break with little direction as to how leadership would address the 2007 budget. Representative John Boehner (R-OH), the new House Majority Leader, indicated the House may not adopt its budget resolution until the end of March, letting the vote slip until after the March break.

Senate Budget Chair Judd Gregg (R-NH) indicated he would have enough Budget Committee votes by March 13 to adopt a budget resolution that would restrict discretionary or annually appropriated funds to $871 billion. That equals President Bush's proposed cap on discretionary spending.

The President has proposed a near freeze on discretionary spending but would allow increases in defense and homeland security spending. The net result is a cut in human service and other spending outside of defense and homeland security. All spending outside of those two departments represent only 15% of the federal budget.

Gregg was unclear whether there would be another attempt to cut mandatory or entitlement spending. Mandatory and entitlement spending cuts to such programs as Medicaid, foster care, and Medicare can be reduced through a regular legislative process or through a budget reconciliation that would wrap all program cuts into one bill. The deadline to approve a final budget resolution is April 15, but Congress has missed that deadline in the past.

If the House canít complete action until the end of March, it's unlikely the two houses could adopt a final budget resolution until after the Congressional Spring Break that runs April 8-24. Complicating the 2007 budget decisions are the House and Senate negotiations over what to include in the $70 billion tax cut bill and whether some of it should include offsets, that is changes or tax increases that would keep the cost down.

The tax bill is still considered part of the 2005 budget reconciliation process that resulted in a nearly $40 billion cut in spending, including cuts of just under $600 million in IV-E foster care funding. If Congress were to agree to a new budget resolution for 2006, it would invalidate the protection for the 2005 tax cut reconciliation.

Congress must also raise the debt ceiling this month. That is a politically difficult vote because it means the federal treasury has reached its legal cap on borrowing and would increase the national debt.

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CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

CWLA's Legislative Alerts provide breaking news, advocacy information, and critically important timely details of legislative battles. In an effort to broaden CWLA's advocacy network on behalf of children, anyone can now subscribe and receive the same information. This effort compliments CWLA's weekly electronic legislative newsletter, the Children's Monitor, which is also available free to any subscriber. We encourage you to register to receive these items directly and to pass on the information to other colleagues, family, and friends.

Subscribe to Legislative Alerts.

Subscribe to Children's Monitor.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

March 18-26: Congressional Spring Break
March 15-18: Target date for Congress to pass budget resolutions
March 18-26: Congressional Break
April 8-23: Congressional Spring Break
April 15: Deadline to complete negotiations between the Senate and House and adopt a single, final budget resolution


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