Monday, August 4, 2008

Some Good News and Some Bad News

These two articles came from the Children's Monitor Online, a public policy update from the Child Welfare League of America. The good news:

"Higher Education Act Reauthorized with New Loan Forgiveness Included

Last week, Congress gave final approval to legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The bill (S. 1642) is the first reauthorization of higher education since 1998; most significantly for child welfare, it includes a new program to allow loan forgiveness for social workers who work for public or private child welfare agencies.

The provision must be funded now, but its inclusion in the law is the first significant step in child welfare workforce development in many years. The provision actually addresses several areas of workforce need, including certain teaching specialties, Head Start and Child Care teachers, and social workers in child welfare. Once enacted, it would allow up to $2,000 in loan forgiveness for each year a social worker remains with an agency, to a maximum of five years and $10,000.

Several more steps are necessary before the program is in effect, including regulations and appropriating funds. CWLA will continue to monitor its development; look for additional information in coming weeks."

The bad news:

"Senate Finance Committee Postpones Adoption of Child Welfare Bill

The scheduled Senate Finance Committee action on a major child welfare financing bill was abruptly postponed August 1 when Senators agreed to wrap up their summer session Thursday night, July 31. Although they remained in formal session last Friday, there were no votes and few members around.

The Senate Finance Committee was set to adopt S. 3038, the Improved Adoption Incentives and Relative Guardianship Support Act of 2008, at the mark up session. The legislation, which represents the work of chief sponsors Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), takes the original Grassley bill introduced last May and adds several provisions similar to the House companion bill, the Fostering Connections to Success Act (H.R. 6307) sponsored by Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Jerry Weller (R-IL).

Both bills include significant improvements in child welfare. They are crafted with bipartisan support and are both paid for. Each of the bills would reauthorize the adoption incentives program, provide for Title IV-E funding of kinship placements, and require states to have agreements in place that will allow foster children to remain in school or, if that is not possible, get immediate enrollment in a new school.

The Baucus-Grassley bill includes a phased-in delink for adoption assistance. By 2011, all special-needs adoptions would be eligible for federal support. Currently, eligibility is linked to the now defunct-AFDC cash assistance program--eligibility as it existed 12 years ago. The phase-in covers older children in special-needs adoption in the first years. The McDermott-Weller bill does not include an adoption delink. The Baucus-Grassley bill would allow states to extend foster care to age 21 at state option, but this provision would not take effect until fiscal year 2011 (October 1, 2010). The McDermott-Weller bill would allow states the option in the first year. The Baucus-Grassley bill would allow tribal governments to apply for direct access to federal foster care, adoption, and kinship funding, but the requirements are more stringent than the provisions in the McDermott-Weller bill.

The Baucus-Grassley bill includes a few other provisions not in the House bill, such as creation of a new resource center for tribes, some limited funding for state-tribal collaborations, a kinship incentive program, and a 10-state demonstration grant allowing states to suspend foster care licensing requirements in regard to bedrooms, bathrooms, and square footage for kinship families. The demonstrations would last for three years, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services required to report back within one year on the effect of state efforts. Two items not included in the Senate bill but in the McDermott-Weller bill are the expansion of Title IV-E training to private agencies, a CWLA legislative agenda item and an important workforce improvement strategy, and health planning requirements for children in care.

The Senate Finance Committee could take up the bill on September 10, when it returns for the fall session. Depending on the pace of Senate action, the goal would be to negotiate the differences in language and programs between the House and Senate versions and come up with a final bill that could pass through the politically charged atmosphere in September. If Congress can do it, this would be a significant accomplishment not just for Congress and CWLA members, but for thousands of children and families."

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