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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 22: 5/30/2006   
Headlines

CWLA Testifies in Support of PSSF Reauthorization

House Passes DeLay Interstate Compact Bill

House Begins to Move FY 2007 Appropriations Bills

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



CWLA Testifies in Support of PSSF Reauthorization

On May 23, Linda Spears, CWLA Vice President of Corporate Communications and Development, testified before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources about the reauthorization of Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF), Title IV-B, Part 2. The subcommittee is considering legislation to reauthorize PSSF and make additional changes to Child Welfare Services (CWS) Title IV-B, Part 1. The hearing was also intended as a broader discussion on child protection services.

Draft legislation before the subcommittee would maintain an additional $40 million in mandatory spending that was added to PSSF earlier this year. In the draft bill, that $40 million increase is tied to states establishing data and standards to ensure that caseworkers visit children in foster care monthly. A state would not receive its share of the $40 million if it could not meet this standard. Tying the $40 million to visits is intended to address workforce issues.

In her testimony, Spears indicated monthly visits are but one component of best practice and should not be viewed in isolation. She noted the "urgent need for a national child welfare workforce strategy that puts well-trained and educated workers in place, keeps caseloads at manageable levels, and provides competent supervision and ongoing training."

In promoting CWLA's vision for an optimal child welfare system, Spears testimony urged the committee to focus workforce reform efforts on strategies that include a family-centered approach; a stable, professional workforce; increased attention toward prevention to safely maintain children within their families; seeking permanency and stability through kinship placements; and greater aftercare and transitional services aimed at tackling the reentry of children formerly in care.

This call for broader reform was also expressed in testimony from other national organizations, including the American Public Human Services Association, Casey Family Services, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Council for Adoption, the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), and Zero to Three. CWLA reaffirmed the call for a national child welfare workforce strategy and noted the $40 million, spread across all 50 states, may not be sufficient to fully meet the criteria as stipulated in the legislation. CWLA also called for annual reports that would help demonstrate the effectiveness of PSSF. This recommendation was echoed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in its remarks, and was first noted in its 2003 evaluation of Title IV-B.

The draft legislation, yet to be introduced by Subcommittee Chair Wally Herger (R-CA), would also call for a new 10% cap on administrative funding levels within PSSF and CWS, and would include some new changes to state plan requirements under CWS. Administration costs are defined within the legislation.

PSSF was last authorized in 2001 and included a requirement that 20% of the total amount of PSSF funding must be spent on each of four services: Family Support, Reunification, Family Preservation, and Adoption. CWLA's testimony supported maintaining these four distinct programs.

CWLA and the NICWA both urged lawmakers to increase the amount of PSSF funds reserved for tribes to 3% for both mandatory and discretionary funding. Casey Family Programs President and CEO William Bell also highlighted the need for greater federal support overall for the child welfare system, including preserving the IV-E entitlement and funding for administration. Testimony for all participants is available online.

The House draft would restrict use of CWS funds so states could not use the dollars for foster care, adoption assistance, or child care. Currently, some states are allowed to use a limited amount of CWS funds for these areas, based on their spending practices dating back to 1979. The Senate Finance Committee is also working on its own legislation, which could designate the $40 million in funds for PSSF for other areas of concern, such as substance abuse. The Senate does not appear to be considering changes to CWS funds. If the two houses approve different versions of the legislation, those differences will have to be reconciled in a conference later this year.

Currently, PSSF is funded from two sources: Appropriators can approve up to $200 million annually, and the law also provides $345 million in mandatory funding that does not require annual approval. The increase to $345 million in mandatory funds for FY 2006 was part of the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA). The DRA also resulted in a cut of nearly $600 million over five years from the Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance programs; most of this cut came at the cost of supports to kinship care families.

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House Passes DeLay Interstate Compact Bill

By voice vote, the House of Representatives has approved the Safe and Timely Interstate Placement of Foster Children Act (H.R. 5403). This bill would accelerate placement of adoptive and foster children across state lines. Sponsored by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX), the bill has bipartisan support and is similar to one adopted by the House in the last session of Congress.

The legislation would require a state receiving a request to place a child for adoption or foster care to conduct a home study with 60 days. The state making the request would then have to respond within 14 days once it receives the home study results. The legislation does not require states to include completion of education and training of prospective foster or adoptive parents in the 60-day timeframe. H.R. 5403 also establishes a small incentive fund to states that would provide $1,500 for every home study completed within 30 days.

Earlier versions of the legislation would have changed current background check requirements for prospective parents, and those provisions helped stop the bill in the last Congress. Current federal law allows states to carry out their own background checks based on their own standards. Both California and New York have background checks that vary from the federal mandate. New York operates under the dictates of a state supreme court ruling, and California has a system of checks it argues is more stringent. That issue is not addressed in this bill and should not be a problem.

Before the legislation was adopted, there was high praise for DeLay in regard to his efforts as a foster parent. DeLay is stepping down early next month, and the goal is to move the legislation through the Senate before his departure.

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House Begins to Move FY 2007 Appropriations Bills

The House of Representatives started to vote on some of the first appropriations bills for fiscal year 2007 last week. Agriculture and Energy and Water were two of the first bills and were generally less contentious than many of the other 11 House appropriations bills.

There was heated debate, however, on whether to strip out some earmarks--the House did not, however. Earmarks are designations, usually in appropriations, that a particular program or department spend funding on a specific program or site. It has been a big part of the debate over lobbying reform; opponents argue it is the basis for recent lobbying scandals. Efforts to stop or eliminate earmarks are losing steam, however, and that may make it easier for the House to move forward with its plan to pass all 11 of its appropriations bills by the first week in July. The House is moving forward despite not having its annual bicameral budget resolution. The budget resolution is intended to set a spending allocation and limit for each of the appropriations committees. The allocations are the same in both houses. Without such a resolution, the House and Senate could end up with different spending totals.

The appropriation bill covering most child welfare funding streams is the Labor-HHS-Education bill. The House leadership intends to restore some of President Bush's cuts to the Labor-HHS-Education bill by moving $4 billion from the defense budget. Defense spending would later be restored when Congress adopts it next supplemental spending bill, which goes largely to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate is also looking at shifting dollars from the defense budget to other programs, again with the intent of resorting defense funding in a later war supplemental. The net effect of the shifting around is that Congress can claim it stayed within budget caps even when it is actually spending beyond specific spending limits. The Senate has not begun voting on its 12 appropriations bills, since it has been focused on immigration legislation.

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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.

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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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