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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 25: 6/19/2006   
Headlines

House Appropriations Committee Passes Labor, HHS, Education Spending Bill

Surprise Victory for Democrats on Minimum Wage Amendment

Foster Care Gets Media Spotlight

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers



House Appropriations Committee Passes Labor, HHS, Education Spending Bill

On June 13, the full House Appropriations Committee passed by voice vote the spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education. The Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee had approved the measure on June 7, rejecting the Bush Administration's proposed half billion dollar cut to the Social Services Block Grant. The bill provides $141.9 billion in discretionary funding, a 0.6% increase over last year's levels, and $454.6 billion in mandatory spending for entitlements Medicare and Medicaid.

Democrats remain angry over the overall funding levels in the bill, which freezes or cuts funding for many education, health, and social programs affecting child welfare. Most of the programs affecting services to children in this bill saw flat funding, which fails to keep up with inflation. There was no increase in child care, a minimal increase of $3 million to Head Start (at $6.8 billion), and no increases to the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the Adoption Incentives grants, and several other health, mental health, and youth programs.

The House Appropriations Committee did agree to include an amendment instructing the HHS to delay regulatory action to create federal Medicaid savings by limiting states' use of provider taxes. Under current law, states may raise revenues to pay for their share of Medicaid costs by imposing taxes on hospitals, nursing facilities, and other classes of providers. This amendment counters a proposal made earlier this year by the Bush Administration to reduce this limit to 3% of gross revenues, which would reduce state revenues that qualify for federal Medicaid matching funds, yielding federal savings estimated at $5.5 billion over 10 years.

Also, in a surprising twist, Democrats won a significant but likely temporary victory when the committee adopted an amendment to the spending bill that would gradually increase the minimum wage to $7.25. (See article below.)

This week, the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to complete one of its final bills in a mark up of the Science, State, Justice, Commerce, and Related Agencies spending bill, which funds juvenile justice programs. Despite the lack of a final budget resolution, the House remains on track to finish all 11 of its FY 2007 spending bills by the July Fourth recess.

The Senate has lagged behind the House on appropriations work, as it has been waiting on an agreement on the $94.5 billion FY2006 emergency supplemental spending bill. With the recent agreement on this supplemental bill, which deems an FY 2007 discretionary budget cap for the Senate matching the House at $873 billion, the Senate is now expected to move forward with allocations to its appropriations committees. Many had hoped the spending cap could be raised to $880 billion in the Senate, allowing $7 billion to be used for increased health and education spending, but, in the end, this language was not included in the bill.

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Surprise Victory for Democrats on Minimum Wage Amendment

Democrats were pleasantly surprised by the passage of an amendment to the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to raise the minimum wage $2.10 by January 1, 2009. Based on a bill authored by Representative George Miller (D-CA), the amendment, passed by a vote of 32-27.

The last time the minimum wage was increased was in 1997, and, according to some Democrats, it is now at its lowest level in 50 years as a percentage of hourly earnings. Seven Republicans broke ranks with their party to vote for the amendment. Hoyer said after the vote that the same thing could happen next week when the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill is considered by the entire House, and that the seven Republican votes in committee might translate into 20 or 30 on the floor, in addition to the 189 Democrats who have signed a discharge petition to bring Miller's minimum wage bill to the floor.

Even with the support of some Republicans, however, the minimum wage amendment is unlikely to survive a floor vote next week by the entire House. The provision is expected to be stripped from the appropriations bill on the floor because such an authorization is not permitted on an appropriations bill unless the Rules Committee chooses to protect it from a point of order.

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Foster Care Gets Media Spotlight

The issue of foster care has received increased national media attention lately. ABC News recently ran a series, Call To Action, featuring new reports on Good Morning America, 20/20, and Nightline. The network has also dedicated a portion of its website to foster care issues.

In announcing Call To Action, ABC News said, "We can make a difference--putting foster care and child welfare on the policy map, and starting an open discussion of where the system is going and what needs to be done. This is a critical national issue, because these children will be costing us billions of dollars down the line. They are the future, and they are our children."

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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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