Congress returns this week with the House scheduled to be in Washington for the next two weeks, take a week off and then return for the last few days starting on September 29 but Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said the House may drop the last week if they can get a fiscal year continuing resolution done. The Senate schedule is through the next two weeks with the expectation that they will not return until after the election. The following is a list of items and a reminder of where Congress left off when they departed at the end of July:
Reauthorization of Adoption Incentive Fund
The Senate ended their summer by leaving on Thursday July 31 with a number of bills held up because they could not get unanimous consent “UC” for a voice vote on several bills including HR 4980, the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.’ The legislation would reauthorize the Adoption Incentive Fund for three years and extend it to guardianship placements. It would also extend the Family Connections Grants by one year through this current fiscal year of 2014 but that seems less likely now with the government just days away from the start of fiscal year 2015. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) objected to the UC. The overwhelming majority of child welfare bills tend to pass in this way after key committees and members in both houses negotiate their differences over time. This legislation had its first votes and debate last summer (2013) in the House. While most child welfare legislation passes this way before they can get to that point each senator is asked to ok the process and any one member can object and bring the entire process to a stop.
The bill passed in the House in a similar quick vote approach and was praised by Republican leaders when it passed in part because it reduces the deficit over ten years. What happens in the next few weeks is not clear although there have been behind the scenes efforts to either remove the objection or have a short debate and vote on the bill. It would have the votes to pass however the Senate is unlikely to set aside time for such a debate unless there is “time agreement” in which senate leaders agree to limiting debate and the amendments that could be offered. Again, a strong objection by a senator could prevent this too. An open-ended debate would take up limited Senate hours and open the legislation to a host of various political amendments likely unrelated to the bill or topic.
Perhaps the biggest victim is the one-year of funding (FY 2014) for the Family Connections Grants. From a hopeful bipartisan deal last October in the House that provided three years of funding that would have continued the grants to 2016, funding was reduced to one year of funding (FY 2014) when the Senate failed to act on the House bill quickly and the negotiated budget agreement reached at the end of last year took up the funding that would have paid for the three year extension.
The grants help kinship navigator programs and by extension kinship families, it also funds family finding efforts to help connect children in foster care with extended family members, and it funds family group decision making casework which are programs that bring family and friends together in an effort to help children at risk or in foster care and finally it funds substance abuse treatment for parents involved in the foster care system.
Other provisions in the bill include:
- Reauthorize the Adoption Incentive Fund through FY 16, extends the awards to guardianship/kinship placements,
- Extends the Family Connections Grants by one year through 2014 (FY 2014 ends September 30) enough to continue funding to programs that are currently in the third year of their funding
- Adds state plan requirements regarding screening and services to victims of f sex trafficking, and locating and responding to children who have run away from foster care including plans to address, report and track children who run from care
- Includes sex trafficking data in the adoption and foster care analysis and reporting system (AFCARS).
- Requires the state to develop a “reasonable and prudent parent standard’ for foster parent training
- Limits to children age 16 or older the option of being placed in a planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA) and gives children age 14 and older authority to participate in the development of their own case plans,
- Requires that foster children leaving foster care (unless in foster care less than six months) are not discharged without being provided with a copy of their birth certificate, Social Security card, health insurance information, copy of medical records, and a driver’s license or equivalent state-issued identification card.
Fiscal Year 2015
Despite having a budget agreement in January that set overall spending targets, Congress will once again fail on the appropriations process. The 2015 fiscal year will start on October 1 with none of the 12 appropriations bills sent to the President for his signature. The House has passed 11 bills out of committee and approved seven on the House floor. The Senate has passed seven bills out of committee but none have been voted on by the full Senate. The Senate passed a Labor-HHS-Education bill out of subcommittee but suspended action and the House left the bill as the lone appropriations legislation not to be taken up. In previous decades the House would have had all bills out of the Committee by July 4, and almost all debated by the full House by the August break. The Senate, always acting on a slower timetable, technically acting on House appropriations, has been unable to pass any bills on the floor. House Republican leadership has indicated in private conversations they will be seeking a continuing resolution, “CR” that would fund the government across-the-board through mid-December. If they get that agreement, Speaker Boehner has said the House will leave after the next two weeks.
Congress left for a five week break being nowhere near a consensus on how to deal with the challenge of the increased surge in unaccompanied minors. The President had requested $3.7 billion to be spread across HHS, the State Department and Homeland Security. He indicated some openness to amending a 2008 change to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which allowed for greater deliberation for unaccompanied minors coming here (as long as they were not coming from Mexico or Canada) but a large number of Democrats in both the Senate and House have objected to such a change.
At the direction of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) a working group of Republican House members crafted their own proposal that was set at a total of $1.5 billion and would have designated much of the funding for border patrol and the National Guard, and direct quicker deportation of the children. The House leadership then had to re-group on the last day of session and reduced funding to approximately $650 million. In the end they collected just enough Republican votes to provide $694 million with added money for governors to use the National Guard.
On the Senate side, the progress was just as slow. Senate Democrats couldn’t break a filibuster over their legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) had been guiding a $2.7 billion bill that would not amend the 2008 changes to the TVPA. It would also cover funding for services through the end of the calendar year meaning it would cover parts of FY 2014 and 2015. To pass the bill would have required 60 votes and some Republican support. Debate stopped when a procedural vote failed by a vote of 50 to 44. The number of children crossing the border has decreased over the summer. It is unclear if that reduced flow is a result of efforts to discourage the populations coming from the three key countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras through public campaigns and other efforts to not make the journey or whether the reduced flow is a result of the summer heat. Earlier projected numbers for this year were for more than 60,000 children, dramatically higher than the 13,000 in FY 2012 and much higher than the average of 6800 a year between 2004 through 2011.
Some additional funding could be included in any short-term CR or the new fiscal year funding may allow the issue to be kicked down the road until after the election.
In regard to immigration reform legislation, it is still dead. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in June 2013 when they approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, S.744. Sixty-eight senators approved the legislation with all 54 Democrats and 14 Republicans approving the legislation. It was hoped that the House would at least address their own legislation but they never made a serious effort to take up legislation in any House committees. In the end Speaker John Boehner said that the House members of his party did not trust the President to enforce the law and so the House would not vote on a measure. Over the August break speculation was rampant about the President issuing a series of legal actions through executive authority to act on his own. The President has now made clear any executive action will take place after the election.
TANF continues to require a reauthorization as it has since the start of the Administration. TANF is different from several other reauthorizations which still allow programs to go on as long as appropriators provide the funding. TANF is mandatory funding and requires an extension by the two key committees: House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance committees. They are likely to extend the block grant as part of a CR with an extension of funding through the first quarter of the year through December.
Child Care is funded under both TANF and a separate authorization that allows additional discretionary appropriations combined with the mandatory child care funding extended as part of TANF. The mandatory funding will be extended along with TANF for the same period as TANF. There is also a child care reauthorization that passed the Senate (S 1086) in the spring by an overwhelming margin. While funding would not be increased as a result, the bill would update some of the standards, safety and quality requirements. The law has not been reauthorized since 1996. It was hoped that Congress could complete the job this year but the House has failed to either address their own legislation or the Senate bill. It is still possible to take up the bill in a lame duck session.
Some of the additional human service reauthorizations include:
- The Higher Education Act expires this year. There had been high hopes that it could be reauthorized this year. The Senate and House committees (HELP and Education and Workforce) had released proposals in the summer. The House had a version that was released in sections. The legislation would extend and revise college loans and higher education programs including programs to assist vulnerable youth. It is a complex and extensive law and will not happen this year.
- Runaway and Homeless Act provides funds to private and nonprofit agencies performing outreach efforts designed to move youth off the streets, funding for centers for temporary shelter, family reunification services, counseling, food, clothing, and aftercare services and transitional living services to homeless youth ages 16 to 21 for up to 18 months. The Senate and House have bills and this could possibly move before the year is out.
- The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has not been reauthorized since 2002. There is hope that it can be extended. It funds a number of small programs through the Justice Department that encourage states to reduce locking up young people for status offenses and encourages a number of other juvenile justice reforms.