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

   
   
Vol. 19, Issue 30: 7/24/2006   
Headlines

Senate Appropriations Saves SSBG, Cuts PSSF and Juvenile Justice

Child Safety Bill Passes, May Create Problems for Child Welfare and Child Protection

House Committee Celebrates TANF 10-Year Mark

CWLA Report on Eroding Foster Care Eligibility Available Online

CWLA Legislative Alerts Available to Subscribers

Key Upcoming Dates for Congress



Senate Appropriations Saves SSBG, Cuts PSSF and Juvenile Justice

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education that will be slightly more than what the President had requested but less that proposed earlier this spring in a Senate budget resolution.

The package would preserve funding for the Social Services Block Grant at $1.7 billion, rejecting the President's cut of half a billion dollars. At the same time, the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program (PSSF) suffered another cut by the Senate of $14 million from its appropriated level of $90 million. PSSF funds adoption support, family reunification, family preservation, and family support programs. It is funded by mandatory funds (funds that do not require an annual approval or appropriation and are at a fixed level) and funds that are discretionary or do require an annual appropriations.

PSSF currently receives $305 million in mandatory funds and, since 2001 can receive up to an additional $200 million in discretionary funds. It has never received the full $200 million in funding, despite pledges from members of Congress and the White House, and in fact it has been cut in recent years from its high of $100 million in FY 2004. It was cut last year by $10 million, to a level of $90 million, and the Senate cut will further erode funding. Congress did increase mandatory funds by $40 million in February when the budget cut package was adopted. That deficit reduction package resulted in a cut of nearly $600 million to Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance. The $40 million increase in mandatory funds for PSSF, however, is being earmarked by two different congressional bills that would allocate the funds for different purposes.

The overall Labor-HHS package is $606 billion when entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are included. The Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over $143 billion in discretionary fundingóamoun is only $1.3 billion above last year's funding, well below inflation and population growth, but it is $5 billion over what President Bush has requested. Despite the vote and the fact the House has approved its Labor-HHS bill (H.R. 5647), Congress is not expected to act on a final bill until after the November election, as a way to avoid pre-election controversies over spending cuts or increases.

Juvenile justice funds are cut in the Senate appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice, and Science. Overall juvenile justice funding is cut to $270 million, down from $309 million. Funding for critical programs within juvenile justice includes the Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants program, which the Senate bill level-funds at $65 million. Title V grants support primary prevention activities for at-risk youth. The Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) is also level-funded, at $50 million. JABG is a critical source of funds for an array of juvenile justice interventions, from mental health screening and substance abuse treatment to corrections programs. Title II State Formula Grants are cut in the Senate bill to $73 million, down from $79 million. Title II provides basic support for state juvenile justice systems.

The Senate legislation rejects much deeper cuts proposed by President Bush. The President's proposed budget would have cut juvenile justice by 43% to $176 million. The House appropriations bill is $15 million lower than the Senate funding. A conference committee will negotiate a final bill.

Back to Headlines

Child Safety Bill Passes, May Create Problems for Child Welfare and Child Protection

On July 20, the Senate approved H.R. 4472, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The bill is named after the late child of John Walsh, the television host of America's Most Wanted.

The legislation contains provisions that may not enhance child safety. One provision would require at least two states, California and New York, and possibly a half dozen others, to change the way they conduct criminal background checks of perspective foster and adoptive parents. States that have an alternate background check system in place as of September 2006 would have until October 1, 2008, to change their systems. A second provision would create a national registry of state child abuse information based on current state registries. The type of information collected by these registries, and the difference between states, may actually cause problems in child protection.

The background check issue originated in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) enacted in 1997. ASFA mandates criminal background checks to ensure the safety of children in foster care and adoptive placements. Congress provided states with the ability or option to individualize their own eligibility requirements in this area and craft standards that in no way compromise the principle that a child's safety is paramount. The provision was named the "opt out" provision, even though states cannot opt out of background checks. As of 2004, nine states, including California and New York, had exercised this option. Their laws for assessing the backgrounds of prospective foster and adoptive parents vary somewhat from federal requirements. In most cases, they allow a rebuttal presumption, whereby a court or child welfare agency may determine that in a particular case a child's best interests override the mandates of federal law.

In New York, instead of mandatory disqualification for certain felony convictions, the state statute provides for presumptive disqualification, which may be overcome in certain individual cases. The New York law follows state court rulings that mandatory disqualification for certain felony convictions violate both the federal and New York State constitutions. New York's background check process actually won praise in a recent federal audit of that state's IV-E foster care and adoption assistance program.

California's criminal background checks requirements are more extensive than federal law. In California, the laws require a review of all convictions, including misdemeanors other than minor traffic violations. Once these background checks are made, California allows an exemption only when it is in the best interest of the child and substantial and convincing evidence establishes the person is of good character and does not pose a risk to the child.

There is no evidence to suggest that children in states that have opted to use an alternative safety and background check procedure are in greater danger or are victims of abuse at rates higher than other children. Without an ability to opt out and allow rebuttal presumptions, there may be situations where children who have lived for years with foster parents or relatives who offer them a safe, stable anchor could end up having to be removed from their care because of a criminal matter occurring two to three decades earlier. CWLA, along with several organizations, expressed concern over the proposal when it was attached to different legislation.

The legislation calls for the creation of a national registry of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect. The registry would collect information on persons listed on state and tribal child abuse and neglect registries. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would establish standards of accessibility and dissemination of information in the registry. Such standards would comply with applicable provisions in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).

H.R. 4472 calls for a study within one year of enactment on the feasibility of establishing data collection standards for a national child abuse and neglect registry. The study would include recommendations concerning data collection standards currently employed, standards that should be considered, costs and benefits of such standards, and a due process procedure for a national registry.

CWLA recently signed on to a letter from the National Child Abuse Coalition, which highlighted concerns with this registry. The coalition letter raised concerns about the reliability of states' registries and called for a study. Additionally, the letter stated, "The Coalition recognizes that not all states maintain the same registry information; some states no longer maintain registries at all. Most tribes, which are included in the proposed bill, maintain no registries at all." The coalition also recommended that the registry comply with CAPTA, as the bill stipulates.

In addition, the legislation mandates that juveniles be included on a national sex offender registry if they are adjudicated delinquent of aggravated sexual assault and age 14 or older. Although it is disappointing some juveniles will be included on this registry, the language is much improved over language in the bill as it originally passed the House, which would have covered many more young people. CWLA joined with many organizations in calling on Congress to abide by established principles of confidentiality concerning juveniles. We are concerned that without the use of careful risk assessments and judicial review for juvenile sex offenders, youth who pose no future risk to public safety will have their own safety jeopardized and their futures inevitably compromised by their inclusion in the registry.

Back to Headlines

House Committee Celebrates TANF 10-Year Mark

On July 19, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on Review of Outcomes of the 1996 Welfare Reforms. The hearing focused on the creation of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which replaced the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). President Clinton signed the bill, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), into law on August 22, 1996.

Some of the early comments took on a partisan tone as some members disagreed over credit for any successes resulting from TANF and just what those successes might be.

The first panel included Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and former Health and Human Services Secretary and Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson (R). Among the accomplishments mentioned were the decline in caseloads and giving parents the opportunity to work. Santorum mentioned that at no time in the 30 years before TANF did childhood poverty decrease below 40%, and that by 2004, 1.4 million fewer children lived in poverty. Gingrich stated that only 4% of single mothers are working at jobs providing wages at below minimum wage. Thompson said an indication of the 1996 legislation's success is the fact that there are no bills being proposed to go back to AFDC.

The second panel comprised researchers and advocates, including Ronald Haskins, Codirector, Center on Children and Families, Brookings Institute, and former Staff Director, House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources; Bishop Roy Riley, Chair, Conference of Bishops for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; June O'Neill, Professor, Baruch College, City University of New York, and former Director of the Congressional Budget Office; Sharon Parrott, Director, Welfare Reform and Income Support Division, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow, Welfare and Family Issues, Heritage Foundation.

The second panel's presentations were clearly split in their perceptions of the impact of welfare reform and TANF over the last 10 years. In particular, Haskins indicated caseload decline is an important outcome measure of the 1996 reforms; nevertheless, how families fare after leaving welfare and whether mothers who do leave are actually working is of greater importance. He concluded "that the welfare reform stands out as legislation that actually met its goal."

Riley, however, said, "We are falling short of what God asks of us." He also cited recent U.S. Census Bureau data that shows "the number of Americans living below the poverty line has increased every year since 2000, from 11.3% in 2000 to 12.7% in 2004." O'Neill pointed out that "with the weakening of the economy, the poverty rate of children in single-mother families increased to 35% in 2003 and rose a bit more in 2004, but still remains well below the child poverty rate that prevailed in the pre-TANF period."

Parrott recognized that many of the TANF provisions in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 could intensify the decline in TANF caseloads, while further increasing the number of financially deprived families with no income support. In contrast, Rector pointed out that "welfare reform coincided with dramatic increases in the employment of single mothers."

Despite the differences of opinion regarding the effect of the1996 welfare reform, panelists and committee members offered suggestions to further address poverty in the United States, including forming a bipartisan committee to address the phenomenon, beginning a welfare program to engage fathers and offer income support and health care for parents who move from welfare to work, and job-skills training.

Back to Headlines

CWLA Report on Eroding Foster Care Eligibility Available Online

On July 17, CWLA held an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to release a new report on the erosion of federal support for children in foster care. July 16, 2006, marked 10 years since eligibility for federal Foster Care and Adoption Assistance was frozen by the 1996 TANF legislation. 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 old AFDC program as it existed on July 16, 1996.

The report, "Ten Years of Leaving Foster Children Behind," is available on CWLA's website.

CWLA President and CEO Shay Bilchik presided at the event and was joined by Tom Burton, Executive Director of Agape Nashville and Jessica Lindsey, Officer of the National Foster Youth Advisory Council. Bilchik commented on the national data showing a decline of IV-E coverage of 18% in recent years: "Imagine the stadium at last week's baseball all-star game filled with children--that's how many children are not receiving assistance. We call on Congress to fix the eligibility requirement and put an end to 10 years of leaving foster children behind."

Burton highlighted the increased pressure on local nonprofits and faith-based providers to make up for the shortfall in funds resulting from this decline in federal support. "We have seen our fundraising demands grow annually, as we are now raising $1.5 million per year to fill in the gap of the costs of providing services."

Lindsey brought her personal perspective to the issue as she talked about her experience as a youth in the foster care system. "Though I consider my experience with the foster care system to be short, I endured enough to last a lifetime...The state steps in to protect and provide for youth. This is their job, yet how can one protect and provide when there is very little funding?"

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 has decreased from 55% of foster children in 1998 to 45% by 2004. The data indicate that more than 50,000 children per year in foster care are now ineligible for federal support due to the AFDC link.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the eligibility link to the 1996 AFDC eligibility standards means that eligibility for foster care in many states may be limited to those children residing 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 quite clear that a block grant or block grant option is the wrong solution as it only serves to freeze the inequities and the shrinking commitment of the last 10 years. CWLA is calling on Washington to replace the current link with options, such as making all children eligible, since all children who are victims of neglect and abuse must be a national priority. Another option would be to 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 Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA).

Back to Headlines

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.

Subscribe to Children's Monitor.

Back to Headlines

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


Back to Headlines

Click here to see the list of previous issues

If you know of others who would like their names added to this list, please have them visit www.cwla.org/advocacy/monitoronline-optin.htm. To remove yourself from this list, send an e-mail to monitor@cwla.org with "Remove from Monitor Online List" in the subject line.

© Child Welfare League of America. The content of this publication may not be reproduced in any way, including posting on the Internet, without the permission of CWLA. For permission to use material from CWLA's website or publications, contact us using our website assistance form.