Congress has started to step up their hearing process for appropriations with several committees and subcommittees, holding preliminary reviews and testimony from Administration officials.

Concurrently, there has been no more clarity on the debt ceiling front except for the fact that the Administration reaffirmed the need to raise it before the August break. The Democrats were not clear on their strategy, with the number two Democrat in the House, Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD), indicating he would support a “clean” increase that did not attach conditions. Other leadership Democrats signaled that they would want some clarity on tax cut decisions attached.

On appropriations, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last Thursday to receive testimony by HHS Secretary Tom Price. Although they are not appropriators, the Committee has jurisdiction over some of the proposed cuts to mandatory programs.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) kept his focus on health care, calling for the replacement of the ACA. He was also critical of Medicaid. Ranking Member Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) also focused his opening statement on health care, pushing back against some of Senator Hatch’s positions.

For his part, Secretary Price launched criticisms against government spending and flagging the success of TANF, saying,

“The problem with many of our federal programs is not that they are too expensive or too underfunded. The real problem is that they do not work—they fail the very people they are meant to help. In Aid to Families with Dependent Children, we had a program that undermined self-sufficiency and work. Congress did well when it realized the devastating long-term harm this program had on children, in particular, and took action by creating the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) —a program that promoted the empowerment of parents through work. By helping more Americans climb out of poverty, TANF caseloads have declined by 75 percent through FY 2016.” Under the TANF program, the employment of single mothers”

The Secretary’s comments were not without their own irony, following a report by the Urban Institute outlining the disparity and shortfall in that program (see following article).

Despite his criticism of Medicaid and the ACA, Secretary Price discussed how the budget invests in “high-priority mental health initiatives to deliver hope and healing to the 43.1 million adults with mental illness, including nearly 10 million Americans suffering from a serious mental illness, as well as the 19.6 million adults with both mental and substance use disorders, the 3.0 million adolescents who have experienced a major depressive episode, and 350,000 adolescents with both a major depressive episode and substance use disorders.”

This is despite the fact that as CWLA points out in the CWLA letter, “The Affordable Care Act has provided more than $5.5 billion in substance use and mental health services, according to recent research by Dr. Richard Frank and Dr. Sherry Glied of Harvard Medical School and the Wagner School of Public Service at NYU.”

For a further examination of the budget in some of the key child welfare and children’s issues, you can read a budget chart of key child welfare services and a more detailed description on this budget summary.