There is essentially an unwritten rule for child welfare programs in Washington, D.C.: expanded funding must be “paid for” through cuts to other areas of the budget—usually child welfare itself. This has been true even in times of budget surplus. On Tuesday, April 29 this requirement was on full display. The House Committee on Ways and Means came together to adopt seven different bills. All but one addressed the tax code by extending certain business-related tax deductions. The first bill to come to a vote, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (H.R. 4058), was the only bill that did not address the tax code. The other difference between H.R. 4058 and the six others: at least some of its costs had to be offset.
The six tax bills cost approximately $310 billion over ten years. They are a series of complex bills with one supporting business research spending and the others dealing with businesses accounting for income such as interest and royalties. Some of these business breaks have drawn the ire of critics who see them not as job-creators but as tax shelters for corporations with flexibility in where they report their income. The Committee approved the six tax bills without any requirement that they be paid for. Furthermore, the Committee did not demand that these tax deductions offer any evidence-base of proven job creation. Rigorous evaluation of the kind constantly called for in human service and found in the federal home visiting, teen-pregnancy prevention, and similar programs was not required, and still the tax bills costing hundreds of billions of dollars were approved by the Committee without an offset.
However, the child welfare bill was modified predominantly because one section was projected to cost approximately $1 million per year. H.R. 4058 proposes several changes and requirements on state child welfare agencies in dealing with youth, particularly those who are victims or potential victims of sex trafficking. The removed section would have mandated that state child welfare agencies provide young people exiting foster care with a Social Security card, birth certificate, health information and in some cases, a bank account: essential documents, particularly for a young person without a family. This provision was a modification of more expansive Senate legislation that includes requirements for all youth in foster care to receive bank accounts and driver’s licenses. With input from more than 150 public and advocacy comments, the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources had crafted H.R. 4058 with the narrowed requirements to account for concerns surrounding bank account fees and co-signing requirements and special challenges for requiring driver’s licenses in urban areas where cars may not be accessible, available or necessary via a foster parent. The narrowed provision, though essential for young people aging out of foster care, was pulled from the bill.
As a result, division arose during the course of the Committee debate despite the fact the legislation is a bipartisan bill. Democrats, led by the Subcommittee Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), questioned the provision’s removal and argued that it was simply because of the $1 million per year score calculation by the Congressional Budget Office. There was a back-and-forth between the two parties as to whether that was the complete reason why the section was removed and whether the minority party had been fully informed. It was acknowledged that the minority party was asked to propose an offset and Doggett did offer a committee amendment but withdrew it before the vote. At the end of the discussion there was some agreement through Committee Chairman David Camp (R-MI) that there would be an effort to put a similar provision back in the bill. However, he did not commit to a straight restoration and the bill passed the Committee without the provision.
Tuesday’s Committee hearing clearly frames the constant challenge for child welfare. The $310 billion for the six tax bills is smaller than the so-called “tax extenders package” Congress may act on this year, yet it still dwarfs what will be spent in almost all of child welfare spending over the next ten years. Under the current structure, child welfare spending (including Titles IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act) is likely to be less than $80 billion over the next ten years. Regardless of budget circumstance, child welfare faces a requirement that costs be offset while other budget areas, even in the same Congressional Committee, do not.
The Children’s Bureau has posted more information on the upcoming round of Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSR). The CFSR guidance includes:
- Statewide Assessment Instrument (pdf): an instrument with four sections, designed to enable states to gather and document information that is critical to analyzing their capacity and performance during the statewide assessment phase of the CFSR process.
- Stakeholder Interview Guide (pdf): an instrument used to conduct local and state-level interviews during the onsite component of the CFSRs. It identifies questions that may be asked during stakeholder interviews across seven systemic factor sections.
- Guidance on Potential Data and Information That Can Be Used To Assess Systemic Factor Functioning (pdf): a document that provides guidance and examples to assist states in providing relevant data to evaluate systemic factor functioning pursuant to the CFSP and CFSR statewide assessment.
The Children’s Bureau has also released a proposed plan to replace the statewide data indicators and the methods for calculating associated national standards on those indicators. Statewide data indicators are used to inform the Children’s Bureau’s determination of a state’s substantial conformity relative to certain safety and permanency outcomes. On Monday, April 28, the Children’s Bureau will host a related online briefing, “Sustaining the Momentum: Next Round of the CFSRs – Child and Family Services Reviews Statewide Data Indicators and National Standards.” It is intended to provide another avenue for understanding the plan for using the indicators. Registration for the briefing is limited.
On April 11, President Obama nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the next Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Current health secretary Kathleen Sebelius will stay in the role while the Senate works the confirmation process for Burwell. It is hoped that Burwell, the current Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), will not require extensive Senate evaluation since she received 96 votes when the Senate approved her in that OMB role back in late April, 2013. Previously, Burwell served at the White House during the Clinton presidency and worked in the private sector for Walmart and the Gates Foundation in the time between the two Democratic Presidents’ terms. Concern over possible delays is in regards to the potential that some Senators may attempt to make a statement on the Affordable Care Act by delaying her nomination. She has to testify before two Senate committees, the Finance Committee and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), but only the Finance Committee will actually vote on her nomination.
In addition to the pending nomination for health secretary, currently, HHS also has a pending nomination for Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and a vacancy for Commissioner of the Administration on Children Youth and Families (ACYF). The latter position was left open when Bryan Samuels stepped down last year. The Senate Finance Committee must approve the ACF position. Maria Cancian was nominated on February 12 by President Obama for that office. The Administration for Children and Families has jurisdiction over eighteen offices that cover most of the services that are outside of health care and research including child welfare, welfare, child care, Head Start, refugee assistance, Native American services and community services. The last time the position was filled by a confirmed Assistant Secretary was in September of 2009 when President Obama appointed Carmen Nazario. Assistant Secretary Nazario served until the following summer when she had to leave the position due to family issues.
Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697) would attempt to create a new universal pre-kindergarten (pre-K) program, similar to the President’s early childhood proposal. A Republican alternative was indicated on Thursday, April 10, when Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced he was working on a block grant proposal that would require a great deal less in terms of state quality requirements for pre-K services. Alexander indicated that his proposal would be similar to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
S. 1697 would provide access to pre-K for 4-year-olds with funding conditioned on states providing a match of federal funds. It would promote full-day pre-K for 4-year-old children from families earning below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). States would pass funding onto local providers that would have to meet high-quality standards including minimum teacher qualifications, rigorous health and safety standards, small class sizes and low child-to-staff ratios, evidence-based comprehensive services for children, strong parent and family engagement, and health screening and referrals. The bill also outlines requirements around better coordination and collaboration between child care and Early Head Start and child care partnerships that are intended to improve the quality of child care.
It is not yet clear exactly how the early childhood block grant approach would be structured, but Alexander indicated that states would have more flexibility, similar to CCDBG. The current structure of CCDBG requires very little in terms of quality standards. In fact, the very nature of the CCDBG funding means that increasing coverage for families, improving child care quality, and providing better reimbursements for providers each compete for the same block grant dollars.
Senator Alexander has raised past criticisms that there are too many programs addressing child care. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has indicated that they found 45 different programs that deal with early childhood education and child care that receive over $14 billion a year. Critics of that viewpoint say that two-thirds of the programs identified as overlapping actually have different missions than providing child care. For example, the Child and Adult Feeding Care Program focuses on nutrition services and does not provide child care. The report also counts the $1.5 billion in Defense Department child care funding, which is limited to military families and unlikely to ever be turned over to state control. It also counts $8 billion in funding for Head Start and Early Head Start. While some Republican lawmakers, including Representative Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) and Senator Mike Lee’s (R-Utah), have bills that would turn Head Start into state block grants, there has been strong bipartisan opposition to such an approach in the recent past.
To compare, the President’s pre-K and early childhood education proposal would build on initial seed money of $250 million included in the FY 2014 budget. There would be $1.3 billion in matching federal funds for states that already have pre-K programs, with funds to be used to expand the quality and availability of current services. States would have to meet rigorous standards beyond what they have been required to provide under CCDBG. Finally, the pre-K portion would be funded by increasing the current tobacco tax.