Despite all the recent focus on unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border, the Congress left for a five week break being nowhere near a consensus on how to deal with the crisis. The President who had been the subject of criticism earlier this spring for not requesting greater funding to address the growing numbers of children, was also the subject of some departing congressional criticism for asking for too much funding. In the end, the House reduced their funding even more than last week’s initial proposal, pulled a vote on that package on Thursday afternoon and then passed a slightly higher costing proposal on Friday after the Senate had left for the break. The Senate couldn’t get enough votes to break a filibuster on their package and they failed to pass a bill and by week’s end the President was still contemplating what he could or would do without Congress.
The President has requested $3.7 billion to be spread across HHS, the State Department and Homeland Security. He indicated some openness to amending a 2008 change that was made 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 designate much of the funding for border patrol, and the National Guard and direct quicker deportation of the children. By Thursday that funding had been reduced to approximately $650 million but late Thursday afternoon the House leadership pulled the bill because they didn’t have enough Republican members who would support it. The leadership issued a statement through Speaker Boehner’s office that said in part, “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action…” The statement seemed to run counter to a law suit filed a day earlier that charges the President has acted independent of congressional authority. The statement was criticized by both the White House and some conservative critics of the President. The reaction to the postponed vote delayed the House departure until Friday because many members wanted evidence that they at least voted for something. By Friday morning the package had inched up to $694 million with added money for governors to use the National Guard. They also had a vote to restrict the President’s executive authority in regard to immigrant status and issues.
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 require 60 votes and some Republican support. Debate stopped when a procedural vote failed by a vote of 50 to 44. An additional part of the Senate debate was the efforts of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who had been working with House Republicans to work for a repeal of President Obama’s 2012 executive order that offered some protections to immigrant students who had been brought into the United States at a younger age (similar to the “Dream Act”). Although critics of the President had been arguing that that 2012 order had caused the surge in immigrants, recent debate has now focused on the 2008 changes to the TVPA instead.
Congress is gone until September 8. The President is likely to move funding from other government programs if funding runs out before the Congress returns.
On Wednesday, July 30, the Senate Foster Youth Caucus hosted a “Discussion on Child Welfare Finance Reform.” For months, the caucus has been hosting a series of different presentations to update Senate staff on a range of child welfare topics. They issued an open invitation to organizations that wanted to offer varying proposals. For this roundtable approximately 17 different proposals were discussed by a number of different organizations. The proposals (Senate Foster Youth Discussion) ranged from ideas to change the current funding structure to more targeted reforms including ideas to better align and improve on Medicaid and mental health services, changing the current eligibility link to foster care, realigning funding such as SSBG to expanding funding to services such as post permanency and reunification support and the appropriate use of residential care.
CWLA, building on its earlier policy statement issued in April, Finance Reform & Child Welfare: A Balanced Approach submitted a proposal to realign the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) to update the current definitions of programs and to highlight its significant role in funding child protective services, prevention and intervention services, other child welfare services as well as other vital human services including domestic violence and special services for the disabled. The $1.7 billion in SSBG funding has been targeted for total elimination under some House proposals.
During the various presentations there were some overlapping issues and concerns that were raised that offer potential incremental change such as the need to strengthen access to mental and behavioral health services, better coordination between state Medicaid and state child welfare agencies, there was also agreement on the desire to do away with the eligibility link between foster care and AFDC and the need to strengthen the child welfare workforce. There was no conclusion to the event but the series will continue to focus on key issues and issue areas. The forum is envisioned as a way to continue a policy education effort for congressional staff.
In light of the Senate’s inability to pass an adoption reauthorization bill later in the week, there appears to be little opportunity to enact anything comprehensive this year. It is still hoped by some advocates that an end of the year budget deal that may have to deal with a range of delayed policy issues could include a small child welfare piece such as the Administration proposal to incentivize coordination between Medicaid and child welfare that would improve health care access for children in foster care and also reduce the incidence of over-medication.
Congress will likely make this week their last week before they leave for the August break and that will happen regardless of the unaccompanied minor issue. Going into this week there are three general proposals: the President’s, the Senate’s and the House’s. It seems certain that none of them can garner enough votes to get through both houses and to the President for his signature. The House proposal was changing even more as members were leaving for the weekend.
The President has requested $3.7 billion to be spread across HHS, the State Department and Homeland Security. He indicated some openness to amending a 2008 amendment 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).
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) immediately rejected the President’s request and assigned a working group of Republican House members to craft their own proposal. That proposal was unveiled on Wednesday, July 23, at a total of $1.5 billion and would designate much of the funding for border patrol, and the National Guard and direct quicker deportation of the children. It would also require spending cuts in other areas of the budget instead of designating the spending as an emergency. It was unclear however whether there are enough Republican votes to pass the proposal with some members of the House Republican caucus feeling the proposal was not tough enough. As a result a new proposal spending less than $1 billion was gaining support among Republican House members. It would likely change some current immigration law including a repeal of the 2008 changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). There could also be a separate attempt to overcome the President’s 2012 executive order that implemented parts of the “DREAM Act” legislation that extends legal protection to some youth brought here at a young age and now successfully attending school or enrolling in the military.
The Senate, acting through the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) proposed $2.7 billion in funding and it would not amend the 2008 changes to the TVPA. It would also seek to target funding for services through the end of the calendar year meaning it would cover parts of FY 2014 and 2015. It would be subject to a filibuster however and that means at least some Republican votes would be needed. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been working with House Republicans to work for a repeal of President Obama’s 2012 executive order that offered some protections to immigrant students who had been brought into the United States at a younger age (similar to the “Dream Act”). Although critics of the President had been arguing that 2012 order had caused the surge in immigrants, recent debate has now focused on the 2008 changes to the TVPA instead.
Congress is also confronted with several other pressing issues this week including an extension of highway funding, reaching a bipartisan reform on the Veterans Administration as well as overall appropriations. They could all be put off until September but that creates a long list for a Congress that will be desperate to leave for the 2014 election.