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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 29: 7/17/2006   
Headlines

CWLA Holds Press Conference on Shrinking Federal Support for Foster Care

Medicaid Citizenship Requirements for Foster Children and Others Published

House Leadership Announces Election Session in November

State Organizations Highlight TANF 10-Year Mark

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



CWLA Holds Press Conference on Shrinking Federal Support for Foster Care

July 16 marked the 10-year point in which eligibility for federal foster care and adoption assistance was frozen in place. For a child to be eligible for federal funding through Title IV-E for either foster care or adoption assistance, a state must determine whether that child came from a family that would have been eligible under the defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program as it existed on July 16, 1996.

On July 17, CWLA held a press conference at the National Press Club to highlight the erosion of federal support resulting from this eligibility link. At the press conference, CWLA distributed the report, Ten Years of Leaving Foster Children Behind. The main message is that the federal government is not living up to its commitment to abused and neglected children, and it's time for a true partnership between federal, state, and local governments and communities to address child abuse and neglect.

The report reviews caseload data from 1998 through 2004 and compares the number of children in care who were eligible for Title IV-E foster care funding and those who were not supported by federal IV-E funding. Overall, IV-E coverage decreased from 55% of foster children in 1998 to 45% by 2004. When you apply the decreased percentage to the current caseload, more than 50,000 children in foster care are now ineligible for federal support due to the AFDC link. The study starts in 1998 because earlier data systems did not have as complete information.

The report also includes information from previous surveys by the Urban Institute. UI's survey of state child welfare commissions also indicates a clear downward trend in federal foster care support. In addition, CWLA looked at federal IV-E audits and instances in which using AFDC eligibility has created administrative problems and cost money for states and diverted resources away from children. The report also includes a survey of private nonprofits, including faith-based agencies that have felt the budget pressure over the years to make up for the federal cost shift.

Several factors influence whether a child is eligible for federal assistance, including whether states have made reasonable efforts to keep the child at home, followed proper court procedure, and documented required information. Some states have improved their coverage by better training and record keeping, while the number of eligible children has been shrinking. According to the Congressional Research Service, the eligibility link to the 1996 AFDC eligibility standards means eligibility for foster care in many states may be limited to those children living in families at less than half the federal poverty level, or less than $8,000 a year.

The AFDC link also limits support for adoption assistance, since that program is also tied to the July 16, 1996, date. Since data on potentially eligible adoptions is not available, the report does not include an analysis of the financial impact on adoptive families.

CWLA is calling on Washington to replace the current link with three possible options. The first would make all children eligible, since all children who are victims of neglect and abuse must be a national priority. The second approach, if lawmakers reject the first, would make all children eligible through a phased-in coverage that may require a reduced federal match as coverage increases. This is similar to H.R. 3576, sponsored by Represenative Jim McDermott (D-WA). A final, temporary option would be a link to a current program, such as TANF or Medicaid, which would not create a shared partnership but would at least stop the erosion of support.

CWLA is quite clear in that a block grant option is the wrong solution, as it would only serve to freeze the inequities and the shrinking commitment of the last 10 years.

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Medicaid Citizenship Requirements for Foster Children and Others Published

On July 6, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued interim final regulations for states to implement the new citizenship documentation requirements for Medicaid eligibility, enacted as part of the Deficit Reduction Act last February. These final interim regulations contain some changes that will improve access for some Medicaid patients, compared with earlier guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), but still fall short of exempting children in foster care from these restrictive eligibility requirements.

On June 29, CWLA joined with U.S. Senators and Representatives and several national organizations at a Capitol Hill press conference calling on Congress to order HHS to reconsider its decision to implement new restrictions on Medicaid that could delay or prevent access to health and mental health services for children in foster care.

The interim final regulations departed from previous CMS guidance in exempting seniors and people with disabilities who have Medicare or Supplemental Security Income. All other individuals, including foster children, must document their citizenship according to the range of documents outlined in the regulation. The regulation stipulates that a passport, driver's license, original birth certificate or certified copy, or church records will be required to be eligible for assistance. Most children in foster care will not have a passport or driver's license. Collecting original birth certificates or church records places additional burdens on states where staff and resources are already stretched thin and represents a new unfunded mandate.

CWLA will continue to call on Congress and HHS to exempt foster and adoptive children from these requirements and argue that HHS should recognize these children have, in fact, been identified as wards of the state. CWLA has urged HHS to accept as evidence of identification the fact that these children are wards of the state with a specific identity. CWLA is planning on submitting further comment to CMS and will continue to pursue legislative options in Congress.

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House Leadership Announces Election Session in November

Confirming what some Washington observers predicted, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) announced this week that Congress will have a post-election or lame-duck session. He also announced the House would recess its September deliberation by September 29. That would be an early break for Congress, but members of Congress want to spend as much time as possible in their districts before the election.

Congress had set October 6 as its adjournment date but, clearly, that deadline will not be met. The House will break July 29 and not return until September 5. That leaves very little time for legislative business besides the annual appropriations, and most of those bills likely will not be enacted before the new federal fiscal year starts October 1. Under the Boehner schedule, Congress would return November 13 and meet for approximately a week before Thanksgiving. This also suggests Congress would be in session in December.

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State Organizations Highlight TANF 10-Year Mark

On July 11, the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and the National Governors Association (NGA) held a joint Capitol Hill briefing, A View from the States: Ten Years of TANF State Experiences and Outlook. Panelists included Florida Secretary of Children and Families Don Winstead, Illinois Human Services Secretary Carol Adams, Nevada Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden, and Washington State Social and Health Services Secretary Robin Arnold-Williams.

The participants identified the effects of TANF on their individual states. A common theme was the reduction of TANF caseloads since he program's inauguration in 1996. Each panelist presented statistics on his or her state's past and current TANF status. Winstead noted that in September 1996 Florida had 155,071 beneficiaries of TANF services, whereas as of June 2006 there are 12,976 beneficiaries.

Panelists also discussed some of the strategies used to achieve reduced caseloads. Adams identified programs such as Illinois's earned-income tax credit, a contributing factor of increased work activities her state. Arnold-Williams described the current Washington State caseload, which includes a high percentage of child-only cases (40%), and she said 53% of families are headed by single parents. Willden highlighted some of Nevada's successes, including a Kinship Care Program created with the assistance of the state's Child Welfare Agency.

August 22, 2006, will mark the 10-year anniversary when President Clinton signed the TANF program into law.

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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 29: House Summer Recess Begins
August 5: Senate Summer Recess Begins
September 5: Congress Returns
September 29: House Fall Recess
October 6: Original Target Adjournment
November 13: House Lame Duck Session


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