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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 27: 7/3/2006   
Headlines

CWLA Addresses Hill Press Conference Calling for Delay in Citizenship Verification

House Ways and Means Committee Passes PSSF Reauthorization

House Energy and Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Mental Health

CWLA Joins Campaign for Children's Health Care

Update on Stop Over-Spending Act

TANF Regulations Released

Juvenile Justice Appropriations Progress

Interstate Compact Legislation Passes

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



CWLA Addresses Hill Press Conference Calling for Delay in Citizenship Verification

On June 29, CWLA participated in a Capitol Hill press conference with members of the Senate and House calling for a delay in the implementation of July 1 Medicaid requirements mandating that all children in foster care prove their identity and citizenship. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), who was joined by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, and Asian Caucus, organized the press conference.

CWLA Vice President of Development and Corporate Communications Linda Spears highlighted concerns over the impact the new requirements will have on children in foster care and said "Congress needs to tell the Department of Health and Human Services to stop and rethink what they are doing. Many children in foster care will be denied access to needed health care. It's unconscionable, especially after these children have already suffered from abuse and neglect, to now require impossible new restrictions that will hinder access or, worse, deny them the health care and mental health services they need." CWLA also sent a letter to HHS on June 27, outlining its concerns.

As of July 1, states will have to verify that all Medicaid patients, including children in foster care, are citizens and can prove their identity. States must use a limited number of documents in making the required determinations. A passport is the prime evidence required, and if a state has demonstrated that a passport does not exist for the patient, another set of documents must be used to first prove citizenship, and a second set of documents must be used to prove identity. States must already establish citizenship under Title IV-E foster care, but that documentation will not be recognized unless the state Medicaid agency also makes the documentation.

Participants at the press conference called on Congress to take two actions: Delay implementation of the guidance, and then adopt a set of technical corrections to the law. Other groups participating in the event included Families USA and the National Association of Community Health Centers. For the CWLA press statement, click here.

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House Ways and Means Committee Passes PSSF Reauthorization

On June 29, the House Ways and Means Committee passed legislation to reauthorize the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program (PSSF). Representative Wally Herger (R-CA) introduced the bill, H.R. 5640, on June 20 with the bipartisan cosponsorship of Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA). The voice vote was unanimous, with positive words by House Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas (R-CA). The bill reauthorizes PSSF for five years, extends the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, and reauthorizes the Court Improvement program.

PSSF provides approximately $395 million a year to states to fund four programs: adoption support, family support, family reunification, and family preservation. States must allocate at least 20% of their funding to each of the four programs. Funds for PSSF come from federal mandatory funds, meaning the funding level does not need to be appropriated each year, and discretionary or authorized funds, which do require an annual appropriations. Since 2001, full funding for PSSF has been $505 million, a total it has never reached.

As a result of the Deficit Reduction Act, enacted in February, $40 million in mandatory funding was added to PPSF, raising the funding level from the $305 million to $345 million. The reauthorization continues to authorize an annual appropriation of $200 million a year for the main PSSF programs. The House bill designates the $40 million increase in mandatory funds for child welfare workforce initiatives tied to meeting a requirement that states make sure children in foster care receive monthly visits. The $40 million is awarded to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but states would have to provide data they were meeting the monthly visit requirement. The Senate version of the PSSF reauthorization (S. 3525) would designate the $40 million for state and local grants targeted to the methamphetamine substance abuse issue.

The House bill establishes a number of changes to the Child Welfare Services (CWS) program, Title IV-B, part 1. Administrative funding would be limited to 10%, the plan requirements would be modernized, and states that had been able to spend some of these funds on foster care, adoption, and child care due to a grandfather clause from 1979 would only be allowed to spend CWS funds on child welfare services. CWS is currently funded at $289 million, with authorization levels set at $325 million. It has never received the full annual appropriation.

The bill would strengthen access to funds for tribal governments by increasing and clarifying the amount of national funds set aside for tribes and by allowing tribes to form consortia to apply for grants.

The full House is expected to take up the bill shortly after the July 4 break. Senate action should follow a similar timetable; the Senate Finance Committee has already passed its version.

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House Energy and Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Mental Health

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing, "Mental Illness and Brain Disease: Dispelling Myths and Promoting Recovery Through Awareness and Treatment," on June 28. The hearing featured several prominent experts in mental health, including Kay Jamison, acclaimed author of An Unquiet Mind and Night Falls Fast.

The hearing featured testimony from the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, who proclaimed, "Mental illnesses are brain disorders, with specific symptoms rooted in abnormal patterns of brain activity; like other medical disorders, they are diagnosable, and they are treatable."

Insel pointed out that, unlike most chronic medical disorders, mental disorders most often begin in adolescence and young adulthood, and without proper treatment, they can devastate individuals and their families. Insel discussed how the scientific breakthroughs of the 1990s, often referred to as the "Decade of the Brain," have resulted in the recognition of mental disorders as brain disorders. "The difference," he said, "is that in most neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, there is a specific site of damage. But schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and autism seem to be disorders of networks, of circuits, rather than of specific cells identifiable by brain scan."

Several subcommittee members expressed disappointment that the progress that has been made in terms of research has not been translated into public policy and service delivery. Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Lois Capps (D-CA) both lamented the fact that although President Bush supports mental health parity, legislation to enact such parity has not received floor consideration by Congress.

Representative Tom Allen (D-Maine) decried the shortage of child mental health professionals in his district and throughout the country, while Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) emphasized the importance of integrating the care of the body with the care of the brain.

Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) voiced additional concern over recent limited flat funding for the National Institutes of Health. Insel concurred, noting the United States spends a mere $4.76 per American for mental health research each year, despite the tremendous burden mental illnesses exert personally, socially, and economically.

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CWLA Joins Campaign for Children's Health Care

CWLA is joining the Campaign for Children's Health Care, a national public education campaign led by Families USA in anticipation of the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 2007. The goal of the campaign, which will launch officially on July 11, is to educate the public, opinion leaders, and decision-makers about why health insurance matters and why we need to expand coverage to include all children.

More than 9 million children in the United States lack health insurance, which means they are less likely to have access to preventive care and to obtain the health care services they need. These children all too often suffer in the areas of social and emotional development, because insurance plays a critical role in determining how often children receive well-child care and regular check-ups.

Major racial disparities in health care continue to exist in the United States; racial and ethnic minorities continue to experience major differences in health access, treatment, and outcomes, compared with whites. Although many factors contribute to such disparities, lack of health insurance is by far the largest contributor. The campaign will culminate next year with a petition to Congress urging action to ensure all children are covered by health insurance.

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Update on Stop Over-Spending Act

On June 20, the Senate Budget Committee adopted S. 3521, the Stop-Over Spending Act of 2006. Commonly called "SOS" or "the Gregg bill," after Senate Budget Chair Judd Gregg (R-NH), the legislation seeks to cut domestic discretionary and entitlement spending for programs such as foster care, adoption assistance, and Medicaid while shielding tax cuts from all budget caps. The automatic cuts to entitlement programs would be in place for the next five years, while not requiring an act of Congress, if budget deficit targets are not met. Meanwhile, discretionary spending would be locked in for the next three years at levels proposed in the President's most recent budget. These budget restrictions could result in reductions in Medicaid of 27% by 2020, and 50% by 2042.

This bill incorporates various provisions including shifting the budget process power from Congress to the President, and establishing a sun-set commission with a mission to terminate various programs (for example, both entitlement and discretionary programs could be proposed). This bill in its current form would have a damaging effect on child welfare services among other public service programs.

It is possible that S. 3521 could reach the Senate floor as earlier as July. Passage may be difficult however, without changes to certain provisions. Sources say Gregg may develop compromise language to pass this budget process measure. CWLA issued an alert on June 21 asking members to express their opposition to the legislation.

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TANF Regulations Released

New regulations for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) were released last week and can be found in the Federal Register for June 29. The regulations will make it more difficult for states to meet work requirements. The work requirements have been in existence since TANF was created in 1996--both the number of hours an individual has to work and the percentage of adults a state must have in qualified work. Toughening state work requirements could make things much more difficult for families on assistance. The new regulations narrow work activities that can count toward the requirements, which could create barriers for individuals with disabilities and other challenges.

It is unclear, based on the regulations, whether states can continue to use TANF funds for kinship families in the same way they do now. A significant percentage of the TANF population is considered "child-only," some of which are kinship families. Child-only is when an adult is present but not receiving assistance and not required to work. A smaller grant is provided to support the child.

States can continue to serve child-only families that include immigrant families with a citizen child, and states can, on a case-by-case basis, serve families that include an adult on Supplemental Security Income who is unable to work. The regulations are silent on kinship families that include a nonparent but include an adult relative such as a grandparent or aunt. Many states use some TANF funds to assist these families, since Title IV-E does not allow kinship funding unless a relative is a licensed foster parent. CWLA will comment on the regulations and have an analysis in the future.

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Juvenile Justice Appropriations Progress

Last week, the House of Representatives approved legislation containing funding levels for juvenile justice programs for FY 2007. In two critical program areas, the House rejected deep cuts proposed by President Bush's budget. The Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program is almost level funded at $49 million, and the Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grant program is increased slightly to $65 million. In two other areas, the House bill makes deep cuts that will have an adverse impact on juvenile justice efforts: State Formula Grants are cut to $75 million from $79 million, and the Juvenile Mentoring Program funding is cut entirely. This program was funded at $9 million in FY 2006.

Overall funding for juvenile justice was cut in the House bill, from $309 million to $250 million. Most of this cut--$45 million of the $59 million--comes from a cut in Demonstration Projects, an account that was made up entirely of earmarks for special purposes. The Senate is expected to begin consideration of their bill in the next couple weeks.

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Interstate Compact Legislation Passes

On June 23, the Senate approved by voice vote a measure introduced by former Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX) that seeks to speed up the placement of adoptive and foster children across state lines. The Timely Interstate Placement of Foster Children Act (H.R. 5403) had bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. It requires a state receiving a request to place a child for adoption or foster care to conduct a home study within 60 days. The state making the request would then have to respond within 14 days once it has received the home study. The legislation does not require states to include the completion of education and training of prospective foster or adoptive parents in the 60-day timeframe.

H.R. 5403 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 of prospective parents, and those provisions helped to stop the bill in the last Congress. Current federal law allows states to conduct 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. The President is expected to sign the legislation, after which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will have to issue regulations on both the new incentive fund and how the other parts of the legislation will be enforced.

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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 4 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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