Author Archives: timbricelandbetts

CW Funding Continues to Erode in 2014

Before leaving for the Martin Luther King holiday, Congress completed action on an omnibus bill, HR 3547, which provides funding for each of the 12 appropriations bills. The two chairs of the appropriations committees, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Congressman Hal Rodgers (R-KY) worked over the previous weekend to complete writing the most controversial parts of the bills (including Labor-HHS-Education) to make sure all bills had specific funding directed by the appropriators. This is the first time they have not resorted to an across-the-board continuing resolution since FY 2010.

While there were some relative “winners” such as Head Start and pre-kindergarten, even those increases are far from what would have been envisioned last year (pre-K) or several years ago (Head Start and Child Care). Most of the child welfare programs continued to experience erosion in funding both through discretionary cuts and mandatory spending cuts. The budget agreement had replaced the sequestration with a series of other cuts but there were a few mandatory programs (programs that have their funding level written into law) that were not removed from those sequestration cuts. In regard to child welfare this includes block grants such as the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) and the home visiting program. As a result they will continue to be reduced from their base totals by 5.1 percent per year for the two years of this budget agreement.

Although there were no clear winners on the domestic side it would have been $20 billion worse if the budget deal had not been struck last December. The appropriations bill actually received overwhelming bipartisan support, a rarity in the past few years but no one was entirely happy. The $1.1 billion measure was adopted by the House on a margin of 359 to 67 and later in the week passed the Senate by a vote of 72 to 26. In regard to the funding for the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill, the $156 billion is higher than the total of $144 billion that was provided in FY 2008 but when that 2008 figure is adjusted by inflation it is actually $162 billion in today’s dollars and means that the three departments are getting less funding than they were 6 years ago.

The budget agreement also set spending levels for the upcoming debate on FY 2015 appropriations. The overall funding will be only slightly higher. On the other hand, since the appropriations committees will begin the appropriations debate with a common spending level between the two houses it should allow a more planned and regular deliberation as each of the twelve committees should be allowed to have their own debates, votes and debate on the House and Senate Floors. The President’s budget which normally comes out after the state of the Union in the first week of February is expected to be late in light of the fact that the final budget numbers were not finalized until this past week.

John Sciamanna, Consultant, National Policy, Children’s Issues, 410-956-6490

Senate Finance Committee Adopts Bill on Adoption Incentives, Trafficking

On Thursday, December 12, the Senate Finance Committee passed the “Supporting At-Risk Children Act of 2013.” The legislation bundled together a reauthorization of the adoption incentives fund, new legislative language to address domestic sex trafficking through child welfare, and provisions that deal with child support collection including provisions to address international treaties.

The adoption incentives fund requirements differ from a bipartisan House bill (HR 3205) in how it allocates funds for the placement of children from foster care into adoptive families. Both bills now provide an award for kinship care placements although the Senate provides a higher award than the House bill. In addition the Senate creates a broader definition of kinship care placements. The House bill also creates an additional category of children 14 and older. Both bills require greater accountability of state savings that is being realized by states as federal adoption assistance is expanded each year due to the Fostering Connections to Success Act (PL 110-351) of 2008. The Senate directs states to spend the savings on more specific categories of services. Both bills extend the Family Connections Grants which currently funds kinship navigator programs, residential drug treatment, family finding services and family group decision making services although the Senate removes the requirement that at least $5 million of the $15 million in annual funds go toward the navigator programs. Both bills extend the law by three years.

In regard to the issue of sex trafficking of children from the child welfare system, the bill creates a number of new requirements on state screening, data reporting and services to youth although these requirements are not accompanied by any additional funding. Policies and procedures would have to be in place to screen, identify and determine services for victims of trafficking for youth up to age of 21 (or at state option to age 26). It defines sex trafficking consistent with federal law that deals with international victims.

The bill also addresses young people in foster care who are in what is generally viewed as long term foster care. These are young people who may be classified as under “another planned permanent living arrangement” (APPLA). Under the legislation no youth 16 or under could be considered “APPLA” and similar to the bill (S. 1518) introduced earlier this year by Senator Orin Hatch, new requirements would be placed on the courts and states for increased hearings. States would have to give the courts greater accounting of what the agency has done to place young people into adoptive, kinship or birth families.

Also similar to the Hatch bill it would create a definition in law for a “prudent parent” standard. Each child would have to have someone in a foster home or residential facility that could meet these standards. Each child in foster care or a facility would have to have such a person (which could include a foster parent) to make decisions regarding various activities a child in foster care could participate in. This is an attempt to assure that foster children are not denied access to activities and items such as driver’s licenses, attending high school dances, and other activities sometimes restricted due to being in a foster care placement. The bill would also require that a child 14 and older be directly involved in their case planning (currently required of youth 16 and older). The legislation also requires a bill of rights provided to youth 14 or older who are in foster care, kinship care or adopted and would specify in law that anyone 14 or older who exits foster care have a birth certificate, Social Security card, drivers’ license, and a bank account (unless the child decides not to have a bank account). Failure to do this will require a reduction in a state’s reimbursement under Title IV-E.

The legislation requires that when a child runs from foster care they be reported within 24 hours to the National Crime Information Center and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. States would also have to report through AFCARS the number of children in foster care who have been identified as victims of sex trafficking. The bill creates numerous requirements on HHS and creates an advisory committee on trafficking.

The legislation also makes a number of changes to the child support system not necessarily related to the child welfare system. There is one requirement for states to pass along child support collected from absent parents to youths in foster care.

The House legislation that deals with the reauthorization of the adoption incentive fund passed the House on October 28. Current law rewards states for an increase in the overall adoptions ($4000 per child), special needs adoptions ($4000) and older child adoptions—considered a child age 9 or older ($8000). In the last reauthorization a $1000 incentive was included for states that experienced an increase in their adoption rate. This part of the award was only provided to states if the funding did not run out after the other categories were provided.

The House bill would:

-Extend the authorization of the program through FY 2016 (aligning its next reauthorization with that of the Title IV-B programs)—Same as the Senate

-Add a $1000 award for placements with legal guardians (mirroring certain requirements under Title IV-E)—Different from the Senate

-Phase in awards based on improvements in the rate of adoptions and guardianships instead actual increases in numbers—Different from the Senate

-Provide a $2000 award for overall adoptions, $4000 for children aged nine through 13, $8000 for a new category of youth aged 14 and older—Different from the Senate which does not include 14-year olds as a separate category

-It requires states to calculate savings resulting from the gradual delinking and increased federal support for adoption assistance. HHS is to create the formula or work with states to develop a calculation and states have to document how they are reinvesting these funds beyond what they currently spend under Title IV-B and Title IV-E programs­-Some similarity to the Senate although the Senate requires various reinvestment requirements of the savings

-Extends the Family Connects Grants at their annual $15 million a year—Similar to the Senate although the Senate no longer requires at least $5 million a year for Kinship Navigator programs.

-Enacts a fix to current guardianship law that will allow a child to receive continued support when there is successor guardian due to death or incapacity –Same as Senate

The next steps will be for the Senate to adopt this measure (likely by voice vote/unanimous consent) then there will be a negotiation with the House Ways and Means Committee members and staff to work out differences. That is likely sometime in January.

John Sciamanna

Senate Hearing on Impact of Federal Budget Decisions on Children

Today the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the impact of budget decisions on children. Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) opened the hearing by saying there’s one group in particular whose voices are not often heard when it comes to the federal budget process – and that is our nation’s children. They may not be walking the halls of Congress, or calling up their Senators, or strategizing with lobbyists about how to protect funding for their programs. But they deserve a seat at the table. She stated that we cannot and should not solve our debt and deficit problems on the backs of our children. This is wrong for our kids and is not good economic policy.

Witnesses included Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus. He said since a peak in 2010 total federal spending on children has fallen by $35 billion, a 16 percent drop. Total spending for children has now fallen for three years in a row. First Focus compared the Senate budget to the House budget and found the Senate budget clearly places a much higher value on children and protecting investments critical to them.

Margaret Nimmo Crow is Acting Executive Director of Voices for Virginia’s Children. Her comments focused on the impact of decreasing budget revenues on children at the state level. In Virginia the number of children living in poverty has increased every year since 2005. She testified that in Virginia Head Start will cut 647 children this fall, as well as 112 jobs. In Prince George County, VA, 41 instructional, administrative and support personnel have been lost since 2009 while they have gained 150 new students.

Taking a much different perspective Dr. David Muhlhausen, Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, criticized federal funding for Head Start and other support programs. His research shows little evidence that they are providing positive results. His testimony offered a challenge to the Committee to make sure federal funds are spent in ways that can demonstrate positive results.

Shavon Collier is a Head Start parent who testified along with her daughter, Sakhia Whitehead, who is a Head Start alum. Their testimony was a positive account of their experiences with Head Start. Ms. Collier described how the program provided her children a strong academic foundation and an ability to focus. Ms. Whitehead testified how Head Start helped her prepare for kindergarten and to be on the Honor Roll in elementary school.

Symposium Addresses Domestic Child Sex Trafficking

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is hosting a symposium this week to address the needs of victims of child sex trafficking in the U.S. The symposium is part of a White House initiative, first announced by President Obama at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative, to bring together leading researchers, bipartisan policy makers and advocates to identify gaps in research, best practices, and evidence to improve the lives of sexually exploited children.

The symposium will address how mental health research, law enforcement, survivor advocacy, disruptive technology, epidemiology, criminal justice, and public policy can all inform the treatment of victims of domestic sex trafficking. Much of the discussion will focus on using the power of technology to address these needs including equipping law enforcement with the technology and information needed to help rescue girls and put traffickers behind bars, reach out to girls where they are, online and on their mobile phones, to link them with critical services in their communities, and fostering information-sharing among academia, law enforcement and the private sector.