Category Archives: Education

Congressional Problems With Spending on Child Welfare

It happened again, just before Congress left for the summer break on July 31, Congress gave children in foster care their heartfelt support but were much more limited in their financial support. In blocking passage of the child welfare bill, HR 4980, the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act,’ Senator Tom Coburn offered several criticisms of the bill but he used a not uncommon issue when it comes to child welfare, federal spending:

“Lastly, the spending in this bill largely occurs in the first three years, while the reductions in mandatory spending do not provide savings until the second half of the ten year window. As a result this bill violates budget point of order 302(f) because it exceeds Senate Finance Committee allocation under the Ryan-Murray Budget.”

The spending criticism regarding cost was not without irony because hours later a block of a supplement funding request to aide Israel and its maintenance of their iron dome missile defense system was approved before the Senate (and Congress) left until September 8. Originally it had been blocked because the allocation of an additional $225 million in assistance was not paid for and was designated as emergency spending not requiring a cut in other spending—something child welfare legislation in never allowed.

In fact this child welfare bill is paid for and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said it actually generates savings over ten years.

The juxtaposition of members of Congress making sweeping statements of concern and support for children and youth in foster care while only passing legislation that is offset (paid for) by cuts in other child welfare programs or in other human services is not new. In late April of this year, the House Ways and Means Committee passed six tax bills in the same hearing when they passed HR 4058 the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (the same bill delayed in the Senate). The tax bills extended several business-related tax deductions and cost more than $300 billion over ten years and the costs were not offset. The child welfare legislation not only had to be paid for but a section of the bill was pulled because it would cost approximately $1 million a year.

The section in question required states to provide certain documents such as birth certificates and Social Security numbers to youth leaving foster.

Another incongruity is that while Washington is increasingly demanding that human service programs offer rigorous evaluation or evidence based-practices that demonstrate they have their intended impact, no one is arguing that tax credits designed to promote job creation undergo any evaluations let alone evidence-based results.

In fact one of the on-going challenges of the current and recent past discussion of “finance reform” of the way we address child abuse and child welfare services is predicated on a “cost-neutral” basis because there is no money. The challenge is what we can cut in one part of child welfare before we fund what is needed in another part of child welfare services. At a recent national preschool meeting someone offered up a joke about how we could fully fund preschool and they joked that by cutting off funding for teenagers in the last year of k-12 education we could provide the funding for the early years. It was a joke, but at times it seems like a reality for child welfare.

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Pre-KNation Summit in New York City

On Tuesday, August 5, New York City became the site for a “Preschool Nation Summit.” The summit, the first one, was a bicoastal event broadcast through a webinar presented by Scholastic Inc based in New York City. The nation’s largest city was an appropriate setting since Mayor Bill de Blasio ran on a campaign that included a proposal to expand universal preschool in the city.

Mayor de Blasio’s opened the event with keynote remarks that discussed his support and belief that providing universal preschool is vital to addressing a range of issues including poverty. He recounted his recent visits to some of the city’s preschool programs and what they were accomplishing and discussed the experiences of his own children and how they were helped by effective programs. As far as New York City, the Mayor said that the just completed school year resulted in 20,000 children enrolled in full-day Pre-K and that this coming September that figure will increase to 50,000. He also said more would be needed because they estimated the need to be approximately 70,000.

The opening panel focused on the current status of programs across the country and how effective models are being put together and how state and local programs are leveraging funds. That panel included comments by Carmen Fariña, New York City Education Chancellor, Kris Perry, the First Five Years Fund, Celia C. Ayala, Los Angeles Universal Preschool, Steve Barnett, National Institute for Early Education Research, Aaron Lieberman, Acelero Learning; CEO, Shine Early Learning.

Their presentation was followed by a discussion of pre-k’s relevance to a cross-section of key
stakeholders including law enforcement, businesses and the military. The discussion included comments by Rob Dugger, Co-Chair of the ReadyNation Advisory Board, Frank Fowler, Syracuse Chief of Police a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, Major General Mike Hall (ret.) and member of Mission:Readiness and Suzanne Immerman, Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Explaining Mission Readiness’s reason for being involved in this issue, Major General Hall indicated that 75 percent of youth aged 17 to 24 could not enter the military due to being poorly educated, having health care issues or having a serious criminal record.

The final panel focused on advocacy and strategies to increase the support and implementation of preschool programs nationally. This group included Patti Miller, Too Small To Fail, Adrián Pedroza, Partnership for Community Action and member of President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Helen Blank, National Women’s Law Center and Albert Wat, the National Governors Association. Participants were urged to raise the issue during the upcoming elections and that members of Congress need to hear about the importance of expanded access to universal preschool.

For additional information on the event go to Preschool Nation Summit 2014.

Bill Introduced Based on Annie E Casey Finance Proposal

On Thursday, June 19 Congressman James Langevin (D-RI) introduced the Permanent Families for All Act, legislation that would implement parts of the Annie E Casey child welfare finance proposal. The bill would do away with the current link to the 1996 AFDC program in determining a child’s eligibility for federal foster care funding (de-link) but it would accomplish that by reducing the federal matching funds state receive. Currently the federal government provides a match based on what is called the “FMAP” rate for each eligible child with a state’s match based on an annual formula. A state may get a match of as low as 50 percent (meaning one state dollar brings in one federal dollar) while some states receive a match as high as 80 percent (meaning one state dollar brings in four federal dollars) Under the proposal, states would have that rate reduced accordingly to assure all children in foster care are covered. It would not provide more federal funding but would cover all children in foster care. 

In addition the bill would, most controversially, time limit federal coverage of foster care to 36 months in a lifetime under the theory that it will drive states to move children out of foster care quicker. The last AFCARS report indicated that 18 percent of children in foster care (70,000 children) have been in foster care for 36 consecutive months or longer. The AFCARS numbers do not indicate total months in foster care if a child has had several spells in and out of foster care over that child’s lifetime. Under the legislation if a child had a cumulative total of more than three years, federal funding would be cut off. 

In another area of controversy the bill would limit institutional care to one year of federal reimbursement. Again the assumption is that a limit on federal funding will drive states to find foster care homes or other placements rather than institional care. Currently 6 percent of children are in group homes (23,000 children) and another 9 percent (34,000) are in institutional care. Again the limit is over a lifetime and the AFCARS measures current spells and not a child’s lifetime experience in care.

While the re-design in funding is based on an argument that changing federal funding will change practice, a recent GAO report shows that nearly six years after the enactment of Fostering Connections to Success, states have had difficulty in finding enough foster homes despite the mandates around keeping siblings together and have also had difficulty in youth placements. States have also been reluctant to expand foster care to age twenty-one despite the 2008 law giving states the option to expand care. A total of 19 states have extended foster care to 21 but 9 states, according to the report, had already extended care before federal funding was available.

Other provisions of the bill would expand caseworker training funds for training ‘on child-focused recruitment and retention.’ It would amend the Higher Education Act to allow child welfare workers to be eligible for loan forgiveness after five years instead of the current ten years. Current loan forgiveness applies if you are in one of a number of public service jobs including child welfare and you work in the same profession for ten years. There is also another five year loan forgiveness program in the Higher Education Act that applies to a number of professions including various teacher categories, child care and Head Start workers as well as child welfare workers but that loan forgiveness program is a discretionary funded program and appropriators have never funded it.

CWLA has expressed concerns to congressional staff regarding the imposition of arbitrary time limits.

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY 2014 L-HHS Bill

Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2014 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and the Legislative Branch (L-HHS-Education) bill by a vote of 16-14. The bill provides $165.6 billion in discretionary budget authority to make investments to reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of health care delivery, improve early childhood care and education, and improve school safety and access to mental health services, among other things.

In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) highlighted some key investments that the L-HHS-Education bill makes in early childhood education. The bill would increase funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, and Child Care Development Block Grants. The L-HHS-Education bill also funds universal Pre-K, which supports the President’s initiative to ensure that every four-year old can attend preschool.  Finally, the bill fully funds the President’s request for implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The bill will now head to the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate. The House has yet to mark up its Labor-HHS bill, so there is no way to provide a direct comparison at this time.