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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 24: 6/12/2006   
Headlines

House Subcommittee Rejects SSBG Cuts

Senate Finance Committee Passes PSSF Reauthorization, New Funds to Address Meth

New Citizen Requirements for Foster Children May Start July 1

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



House Subcommittee Rejects SSBG Cuts

On June 6, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Service, and Education approved a bill that sticks close to the President's recommendations, but rejected a half billion dollar cut to the Social Services Block Grant (SBBG). CWLA alerted members last week when word spread that the subcommittee could include the cut.

When Subcommittee Chair Ralph Regula (R-OH) released the proposed bill he was sponsoring, the SSBG cut was not included. In fact, the subcommittee statement specifically highlighted that SSBG was funded at the $1.7 billion level and not the $1.2 billion included in the President's budget. This action represents the first time the House has spoken on the issue, and the second congressional rejection of the cut--the Senate Budget Committee rejected the cut when it acted last March. There is no guarantee the SSBG cut will not be enacted, but the more Congress rejects the cut during the budget process, then further momentum to advance the cut is lost.

The rest of the subcommittee deliberations did not go as well, however, as the legislation was adopted on party-line with vote of 9-7. The subcommittee did allocate an additional $4 billion above the President's request, for a total of $141 billion for the three federal departments, but that total amount represents less than a 1% increase over this year. The $4 billion increase in funds is a result of the House decision to shift some Defense Department funds, a shift that will likely be restored though a supplemental appropriations bill later this year.

For most of the programs in the children's field, the end result is a budget with flat funding. There is no increase in child care, a minimal increase of $3 million to Head Start (at $6.8 billion) and no increases to Promoting Safe and Stable Families, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the Adoption Incentives grants, and several other health, mental health, and youth programs. In addition, many advocates are dissatisfied with funding levels for education, job training programs, and health research.

The full committee expects to take up the Labor-HHS bill this week or next. Amendments are expected at that time. Despite the fast track in the House, the Labor-HHS bill is likely to be the last bill dealt with in appropriations, and may in fact be decided after the November elections.

For more specifics on how your state uses SSBG funds for child welfare, visit CWLA's legislative Hot Topics.

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Senate Finance Committee Passes PSSF Reauthorization, New Funds to Address Meth

On June 8, the Senate Finance Committee adopted an as yet unnumbered bill to reauthorize the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program. The bill is being called the "Improving Outcomes for Children Affected by Meth Act." The new legislation would reauthorize PSSF at $345 million in mandatory funds (funds that do not require an annual appropriation) and at $200 million in discretionary funds (funds that do require an annual appropriation).

The $345 million in mandatory funds includes a recent increase of $40 million. As part of the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, which cut human service spending by $39 billion, Congress included a $40 million increase in mandatory funds for PSSF.

Under the Senate bill, the additional $40 million would be designated for local efforts that attempt to address the impact of methamphetamine use on child welfare placements. Grants of $500,000 to $1 million would be provided for regional partnerships and would be from two to five years, with an increased match required. Applicants could be child welfare providers, including nonprofits; community mental health and health providers; local law enforcement; judges and courts; juvenile justice providers; schools; state child welfare agencies; and tribal governments.

To be eligible, an applicant would have to prove that meth use has resulted in increased placements. Funds would be used to improve the well-being and increase the permanency of children. Services funded would include family-based drug treatment, early intervention and prevention, counseling, mental health, and parenting services.

The proposal actually creates a separate program from the rest of PSSF, which would continue to fund four services--adoption support, family reunification, family preservation, and family intervention. This new legislation follows through on earlier Senate Finance hearings concerning meth and child welfare on April 25, and PSSF on May 10. Both of CWLA's comments submitted at that time are available online.

The legislation requires an annual report by HHS. The report would be submitted to Congress and would collect data from annual statements states provide on how they anticipate spending their PSSF funds. HHS would also gather data on how funds were actually spent both in PSSF and in the Child Welfare Services (IV-B part 1) program. Finally the bill includes several improvements for tribal governments. Tribal set-asides are recalculated to be at 3 percent. Tribal governments could also apply as a consortia in order to qualify for funding. Tribes would also have the opportunity to apply for funding to improve the courts under the court improvement set-asides. The tribal changes were endorsed by CWLA.

As part of the PSSF reauthorization the legislation extends the Mentoring for Children of Prisoners program. The reauthorization essentially splits the national funding in two parts. Fifty percent or no less than $25 million would be used for national competitive grants that would continue current efforts. Money in addition to this would be provided to a national non-government entity that would select mentoring programs in all of the fifty states and would recruit and provide vouchers to participants.

The House is expected to act on its version of PSSF reauthorization in the coming weeks. When CWLA testified before the House Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Ways and Means Committee on May 23, it offered comments on the House proposal. The House would earmark $40 million for a workforce initiative that would be tied specifically to whether states provided evidence of monthly visits to foster children. If both bills follow this same course, it is very possible the final legislation would split the $40 million, spreading funds very thin.

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New Citizen Requirements for Foster Children May Start July 1

As a result of legislation adopted earlier this year, children in foster care may be required to prove their identity and citizenship beginning July 1. The new requirement was included in the Deficit Reduction Act, the bill that also enacted $39 billion in human service program cuts. The legislation requires that recipients of Medicaid prove they are U.S. citizens. The law did not exempt children in foster care from the requirement.

The federal government, through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is expected to issue guidance to states on how the new requirements are to be met, and exactly which documents would serve as proof of identity and citizenship. The law outlines a few select documents that can be used, such as a birth certificate or passport. Providing these documents may be difficult for children in care. With time running short, HHS is expected to issue guidance at any time. House members who were instrumental in having this new requirement for citizens have been pressuring the administration not to interpret the law in a broad way and instead limit what can be used for documentation.

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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.

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Key Upcoming Dates for Congress

July 1-10: July 4th Break
July 29: House Summer Recess Begins
August 5: Senate Summer Recess Begins
September 5: Congress Returns
October 6: Target Adjournment


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