"Congress Returns for Planned Finale
With both party conventions over and the two major party national tickets set, Congress returns this week for what is a planned final three weeks of work. The top priority for Congress is to agree on a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the federal government for the start of fiscal year 2009, which begins on October 1.
How long the CR will last is up in the air. If Congress decides not to come back after the election, the CR will have to fund programs at least until January 3, when a new 111th Congress begins. The new President is sworn in January 20, so it could extend until late January. Congress likely will leave by September 26 and not return through the rest of the fall election campaign. A decision to return after the election in November could depend on the election outcome.
A CR would likely provide 2009 funding at a level very close to what was provided in 2008, with some adjustments. A CR could also include some emergency funding for disaster relief if the demand is great enough.
Beyond the basics of short-term appropriations, other issues CWLA hopes will see final congressional action is the mental health parity legislation, H.R. 1424/S. 558, and a final child welfare bill drawn from the Fostering Connections to Success Act, H.R. 6307, and the Senate bill pending in the Finance Committee, the Chairman's mark, S. 3038.
Others issues and legislation that may receive some debate but are unlikely to be moved before the end of the year include reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and the Education Begins at Home Act (S. 667/HR 2343), regarding home visitation. All of these issues may receive some attention, perhaps as a way to lay the groundwork for quick action early next year.
Census Bureau Numbers Show More Children in Poverty
The U.S. Census Bureau has released its report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States in 2007. According to the report, the number of children living in poverty increased by at least 500,000 between 2006 and 2007.
The Census Bureau found the official poverty rate in 2007 was 12.5%, which was not statistically different than the poverty rate in 2006. Poverty rates were statistically unchanged for non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, and Asian Americans, yet saw a statistically significant increase for Hispanics. Even with few statistically significant changes other than for children, this still translates to 37.3 million Americans living in poverty.
The Census Bureau also found the percentage of individuals without health insurance fell from 15.8% in 2006 to 15.3% in 2007, with the number of uninsured Americans in 2007 being 45.7 million. Interesting to note, though, is that the percentage of people covered by private insurance dropped, while the percentage of people covered by government-sponsored health insurance programs such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program increased. Much of this has to do with declining employer-based coverage, and many are thankful the public programs were able to more than offset this erosion.
Although numbers overall were fairly constant, poverty and uninsurance rates are much higher now than they were in 2001. Because these numbers are from 2007, they also likely do not entirely capture the results of the country's recent economic downturn.
These numbers are compiled each year from information collected in the Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC).
The Census Bureau's full report is available in PDF format.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has published an analysis of the report that is also available in PDF.
Basics of the Most Significant Child Welfare Bill in a Decade
The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to pick up where it left off in late July when it meets September 10 to mark up a major child welfare bill, the Improvements in Adoption Incentives and Relative Guardianship Support Act (S. 3038).
On June 24, the House of Representatives passed the Fostering Connections to Success Act (H.R. 6307) by a voice vote. Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Jerry Weller (R-IL), respectively the Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Income Support and Family Security, had introduced the bipartisan bill just days before passage. The legislation drew from an earlier bill McDermott had introduced (Invest in KIDS Act, H.R. 5466), which served as the basis for bipartisan discussions.
The Senate Finance Committee bill represents a bipartisan agreement between Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). That Chairman's mark or substitute bill evolved out of discussions on S. 3038, which Grassley introduced in May.
CWLA has endorsed both bills, although there are some differences. Both are significant for at least three reasons: They contain significant child welfare policy reforms, they have bipartisan support, and they are paid for by offsets or savings found in other areas of the government.
Both bills reauthorize the adoption incentives program with increased incentives for the adoption of special-needs children and children age 9 and older. Both of these populations are disproportionately represented among the more than 124,000 children waiting to be adopted. In fact, reauthorization of this incentive program, due to expire this fiscal year, is the impetus for this overall package. Both bills take some slightly different approaches, with the Senate bill including a limited incentive fund for kinship placements, moving the program closer to a "permanency" incentive program.
Both bills would also extend support for kinship care by allowing states the option of using Title IV-E funds for relative kinship placements. Currently, relatives can do this and be subsidized by federal Title IV-E funds only if they are considered foster parents. The Adoption and Safe Families Act recognizes kinship placements as one of three permanency options (along with adoptions and reunification) but never provided access to Title IV-E foster care funds, except for a few cases where states received temporary waivers. The extension of funding to kinship care has long been a priority for CWLA.
The Senate and House child welfare bills also include changes that would allow tribal governments and consortia to apply directly for Title IV-E foster care and adoption assistance funding. Currently, tribal communities can access these funds only as part of the state system or through an agreement with states. All too often, children on reservations go without the support of federal dollars for foster care or adoption assistance, creating an example of limited federal funds to tribal populations. Direct access to funding would not be unusual, since tribes today have the ability to draw their own funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Direct access to funding is also part of CWLA's legislative agenda.
The House and Senate legislation would allow states the option to extend federal foster care funding to youth up to age of 21. Under both bills, states would have an option to decide what age to go up to; they would also define "child caring institutions" for youth 18 or older to include independent-living settings. A bill to extend care to age 21 (S. 1512) was introduced early last year by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
Another important provision in the Senate and House bills would require states to keep children who enter foster care in their same schools if it is in the child's best interest. If it is not in the foster child's best interest, then the case plan must have an arrangement for immediate enrollment into the new school district. Under both bills, the state would have to ensure all foster children who are covered by mandatory school attendance laws are in fact in enrolled in and attending schools. The bills would also allow states to include in the foster care maintenance payments the cost of transportation.
Despite the common provisions in the bills, differences in language and approaches will require negotiations. The most significant differences between the House and Senate bills include a Senate bill delink of adoption assistance payments from the nonexistent Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) eligibility program. This eligibility requirement means states have to look back to their AFDC eligibility requirements as they existed on July 16, 1996. The eligibility applies to both adoption assistance and foster care. The Senate bill would phase out this eligibility link and cover all special-needs adoption payments by FY 2013. The House bill does not include this provision. CWLA has sought an elimination of this link to AFDC.
The House has two important provisions not found in the Senate bill. The House bill would allow Title IV-E training funds to be used for private agencies. Private agencies are a critical provider of child welfare services. Some states rely heavily on these agencies. Expanding these training funds are a critical part of a comprehensive child welfare workforce strategy. CWLA has been a long-time supporter of such an expansion of private agency training. The House provision is similar to a bill sponsored by Ranking Member Representative Jerry Weller (R-IL).
A second feature in the House bill not in the Senate bill is new requirements around health care planning and care for foster children. The House bill would require coordination among the child welfare department, Medicaid, and other key state health care partners. The planning would have to include screening of children in care, tracking their records, and providing medication. These provisions are strongly supported by House Subcommittee Chair Jim McDermott (D-WA).
The strongest bill would include all of the House and Senate provisions, but that may require finding enough offsets to cover any additional costs. The expansion of federal support for adoptive families, kinship families, tribal populations, youth leaving foster care, stronger training for the workforce, and better health and education services for children in care would mark a major advancement for child welfare and would serve as perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of the 110th Congress in 2008.
New Child Welfare Outcomes Report Released
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released Child Welfare Outcomes 2002-2005: Report to Congress, the seventh in a series of reports required to be submitted to Congress annually. The Child Welfare Outcomes document provides information about state performance on seven national child welfare outcomes related to the safety, permanency, and well-being of children in the child welfare system. The outcomes reflect widely accepted performance objectives for child welfare practice.
The first six Child Welfare Outcomes reports presented data for each state regarding 12 measures developed by the Department to assess State performance relevant to the seven national child welfare outcomes. The current report includes data on the 12 original outcome measures, as well as 4 composite measures (including 15 individual measures) recently developed for the second round of the Child and Family Services Reviews that began in March 2007. Future reports based on data from fiscal year 2007 and after will also include information on the percentage of monthly visits made to children in the custody of state. The visits are now required as a result of a changes in the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act enacted in 2006, P.L. 109-288.
The HHS report indicates that in 2005, many states had a relatively high percentage of children reunified in less than 12 months also had a relatively high percentage of children reentering foster care in less than 12 months. In that same year, many states had a high percentage of reunifications occurring in less than 12 months and a high percentage of adoptions occurring in less than 24 months. States were generally effective in achieving placement stability for children in foster care for less than 12 months, but placement stability declined dramatically for children in foster care more than 12 months.
The report is on the Children's Bureau website.
On the Line with CWLA, Speaking for America's Children
On the Line with CWLA is a thought-provoking, interactive radio program focusing on subjects, stories, and strategies of special interest to child welfare policymakers, providers, and practitioners. The program, devoted solely to the welfare of America's vulnerable children, features a forum where numerous points of view and voices of experience within the child welfare universe can be heard.
The live program, hosted by broadcasting veteran Tony Regusters, is a production of CWLA that will provide a platform for CWLA member organizations, their staffs, its partners, and concerned citizens in the national community to share ideas and thoughts about critical issues that affect child welfare agencies, vulnerable children and teens, and their families.
The weekly subject-oriented, solutions-driven program will broadcast Wednesdays, 2:00-2:30 pm ET and feature indepth, timely discussions with leading child welfare experts, agents, and advocates; leadership and representatives from CWLA's member agencies; and local and national political figures working to improve child welfare and give a voice to child welfare professionals, providers, and practitioners nationwide.
Programming schedule subject to change.
This Week's Show
Wednesday, September 10
Teen Depression and Suicide
Eighteen-year-old Jordan Burham, who had been battling depression for some time, jumped from the ninth floor of his family's apartment building in a suicide attempt 10 months ago. Miraculously, he survived. In May, he testified at a congressional briefing, urging Congress to help young people struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
For more information on the show, visit www.cwla.org/newsevents/cwlaradio.htm.
Wednesday, September 17
A homeless teen and the son of addicted parents, Nicholas Shanks graduated valedictorian of Philadelphia's Martin Luther King High School's 2008 Graduating Class. His story made headlines in the Philadelphia Daily News, and has been featured on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Wednesday, September 24
Parental Substance Abuse: The Impact on Families and Effective Programs to Help
For more information on the show, visit www.cwla.org/newsevents/cwlaradio.htm.
On the Line with CWLA is a production of the Child Welfare League of America, Arlington, Virginia. Programming schedule subject to change.
Join CWLA's Call for a White House Conference on Children and Youth
Holding a White House Conference on Children will bring together a cross-section of policymakers, advocates, professionals (including the courts), and families and children directly affected by the child welfare system to create recommendations for policy and change. Much positive change has come from previous White House conferences for children, the last one being held in 1970. CWLA is calling on Congress and the next President to reestablish this important policymaking tradition, and the time to act is NOW.
Your support and involvement with this effort is crucial to its success. As experts in the field, we look to you for your leadership in asking Congress and others to support this important campaign for children.
Sign On in Support
CWLA is calling on members and supporters to sign on in support of a White House Conference on Children in 2010.
Pass a Board Resolution
If your organization requires you to pass a board resolution to officially support such an effort, CWLA has created a sample resolution to assist you in this effort.
Let Congress Know of Your Support
The League encourages you to send your resolutions and letters of support to your Congressional delegation. Without their support, a White House conference is not possible.
In keeping with CWLA's tradition of nonpartisanship, the letter has been sent to all presidential candidates in the two major parties. View the website, read the letter, and sign on to support the campaign.
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."
Monday, September 8, 2008
"Congress Returns for Planned Finale