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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 20: 5/15/2006   
Headlines

Finance Chair Calls for Consensus on Child Welfare Reform

Progress on Promoting Safe and Stable Families Reauthorization

Tax Cut Passes, Completing 2005 Budget Reconciliation; No Deal Yet on 2006

National Call-In a Success

Subcommittee Approves Bill to Expand Eligibility for Assistance for Grandparents Supporting Children

National Children's Mental Health Day Launched, Systems of Care Supported

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Finance Chair Calls for Consensus on Child Welfare Reform

On May 10, the Senate Finance Committee held the second in a series of hearings on the child welfare system. During his opening remarks, Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) indicated his goal for the committee this year in the area of child welfare is to reauthorize the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program (PSSF), but he also indicated he wanted to "make some progress on consensus around broader issues relative to child welfare." It has been several years since the Finance Committee has hearings on child welfare issues, and the current series of hearings highlights the committee's growing interest in the subject. CWLA submitted testimony for the record.

Grassley highlighted the progress being made in the child welfare system but also noted that more needs to be done, including the challenges facing youth aging out of foster care, the need for more staffing and training for the child welfare workforce, and the shortage of available substance abuse treatment. He indicated there was bipartisan support and interest in these issues on the Finance Committee and that child welfare issues cut across ideological lines. Ranking Democratic Member Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) praised the efforts of the people who work in the child welfare system and recounted his personal experience mentoring a foster youth in his state.

Testifying before the committee were Joan Ohl, Commissioner, U.S. Administration for Children, Youth, and Families; Jackie Hammers-Crowell, former foster care youth and foster care advocate; Gary Stangler, Executive Director, Jim Casey Youth; Arlene Templer, Manager, Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribe Department of Human Resources Development; and Joe Kroll, Executive Director, North American Council on Adoptable Children. Witnesses highlighted a number of areas of concern, including the need for more and better trained staff, expansion of kinship care, and more funding for services. Read their testimony online.

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Progress on Promoting Safe and Stable Families Reauthorization

The Administration made news in the Finance Committee's May 10 hearing when Children, Youth, and Families Commissioner Joan Ohl announced the Administration was proposing a straight reauthorization of PSSF and supported maintaining the $40 million increase in mandatory funding that was part of the 2005 deficit reduction package. For 2006, PSSF includes $345 million in mandatory funds and an additional authorization of $200 million. The additional authorized funds are discretionary and require an annual approval by appropriators, but mandatory funds do not require such an annual vote. The additional authorization has never been fully funded since it was adopted in 2001. Total funding for 2006 is $435 million, which includes both the $345 million in mandatory funds and $90 million in discretionary funds.

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Tax Cut Passes, Completing 2005 Budget Reconciliation; No Deal Yet on 2006

The Senate gave final approval to a $70 billion tax cut package on May 11 and sent it to the President. The action completes work on the two parts of the 2005 budget reconciliation. The other part was a package of budget cuts totaling $39 billion, including cuts to Title IV-E foster care, that was approved in February.

While Congress was completing work on the reconciliation package created by the 2005 budget resolution, it appeared no closer to a deal on a 2006 budget resolution. After announcing a deal the previous week on a budget resolution, House leaders were still reluctant to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote because they were unsure they had enough votes to pass it. The House proposal would likely shift around dollars to add approximately $4 billion to the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations, well below what the Senate has approved but above the President's freeze. Even a $4 billion increase would still cause some programs to be reduced or frozen once inflation and the desire to increase higher profile programs, such as education and health research, are taken into account.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of proceeding without a budget resolution is there can be no budget reconciliation legislation. That would make it more difficult for Congress to cut entitlement programs or pass tax cuts for the rest of this congressional session. Meanwhile, the House leadership has decided that, regardless of negotiations on a budget resolution, it will start voting on the 2007 appropriations bills this week.

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National Call-In a Success

May 10 was National Call-In Day to support the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S. 985). The call-in day was a big success! Many hundreds of calls poured into Senators' offices urging them to cosponsor the legislation. S. 985 was introduced with bipartisan support by Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Norm Coleman (R-MN). The bill would improve supports for grandparents and others caring for abused and neglected children, and assist the millions of children who are being raised by relatives and other nonrelative legal guardians because their parents are not able to care for them. Nationwide, more than 6 million children are being raised in households headed by grandparents and other relatives; 2.5 million children are in these households without any parent support.

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Subcommittee Approves Bill to Expand Eligibility for Assistance for Grandparents Supporting Children

A key subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has passed legislation to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which includes language to lower the age limit for stipends for grandparents volunteering to support children from age 60 to 55. The legislation is part of the Senior Independence Act (H.R. 5293). The stipend and other supports for grandparents, such as respite care, support groups, and counseling, would be provided through the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP). Many grandparents provide critical services to children, including emotional support for victims of abuse and neglect. NFCSP currently restricts eligibility for stipends to volunteers who live at or below 125% of poverty and are at least 60 years old. The new language would lower the age to 55 but keep the income eligibility the same. The full committee is expected to pass the bill in the coming week.

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National Children's Mental Health Day Launched, Systems of Care Supported

Calling for greater supports for unified systems of care, leading mental health organizations joined forces with the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on May 8 in promoting the first National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day. The event highlighted mental health systems of care, which coordinate community services so they better meet the mental health needs of children and youth.

In a new report evaluating systems of care, SAMHSA notes that children and youth served spend less time in inpatient care, have a lower arrest rate, perform stronger academically in schools, and see significant improvements in mental health--including lower suicide-related behaviors. The report also notes that nearly $3,000 less will be spent annually per child on inpatient hospital costs, and nearly $800 will be saved per child through fewer interactions with the juvenile justice system.

SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie noted that "these programs do change lives" and "America's agenda can no longer be backed by outdated data, treatment, or methodologies." Since its creation in 1992, the program has funded 121 programs in 52 states and territories.

Joining to assist in sponsoring the event were the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Mental Health Association. Each group called for comprehensive systems in ensuring the quality of care that children should always receive.

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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

May 27-June 4: Memorial Day Break
July 1-10: July 4th Break
July 29: House Summer Recess Begins
August 5: Senate Summer Recess Begins
September 5: Congress Returns


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