Category Archives: Senate legislation

Congress Returns With Long List–Short Period of Work

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.

Unaccompanied Minors

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.

Immigration

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.

Reauthorizations

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.

 

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Social Impact Bonds, Hot New Experiment

Both House and Senate bills have been introduced this summer to fund a model called “Social Impact Bonds.” The two bills (HR 4885 and S 2691) are bipartisan and they attempt to expand the use of a funding strategy that would attract private investment to address a social problem or challenge with investors rewarded with a pay-back by government only if specific outcomes and goals are reached over time.

HR 4885 was introduced in June by Congressman Todd Young (R-IN) with 22 cosponsors with the sponsorship split down the middle between the two parties—a rarity in recent congresses. S 2691 was introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) just before the August break. The House bill is called the Social Impact Bond Act while the Senate bill is called the Pay for Performance Act. Both bills amend the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) by adding a subsection C with $300 million designated in the subsection but the funds are not necessarily drawn from SSBG (they do not alter the $1.7 billion for the base block grant).

The state or local governments could apply for funding. The general structure is that a non-governmental entity or agency would attract funding from non-profit and for-profit sources to address a specific social challenge. In England a project near London has become one of the earliest tests of the strategy by targeted recidivism rates among inmates exiting prison. If the agency/entity reaches the set outcome, for example a ten percent reduction in recidivism rates over a specific period of time investors would receive their investment with interest back with the government held harmless if the outcomes are not met.

Over the past few years the Center for American Progress has examined the strategy and issued reports including Investing for Success and also hosted a roundtable on the challenges and issues with such strategies. They have also created a factsheet on some of these “pay for performance” approaches to addressing social human service challenges.

The two bills are somewhat different in their structure with the House bill including 13 types of projects that would be eligible for funding and the Senate bill including 14 categories of projects. The common projects in both bills include:

Projects that can qualify:
• Increasing work and earnings by individuals who have been unemployed for more than six consecutive months;
• Increasing employment and earnings of individuals age 16 to 24;
• Increasing employment among individuals receiving Federal disability benefits;
• Reducing the dependence of low-income families on Federal means-tested benefits;
• Improving rates of high school graduation;
• Reducing teen and unplanned pregnancies;
• Improving birth outcomes among low-income families and individuals;
• Reducing rates of asthma, diabetes, or other preventable diseases among low-income families and individuals;
• Increasing the proportion of children living in two-parent families;
• Reducing incidences of child abuse and neglect;
• Reducing recidivism among individuals released from prison; and
• Other measurable outcomes defined by the State or local government that result in positive social outcomes and federal savings.

The House also includes
• Increasing adoptions of children from foster care
While the Senate specifies:
• Reducing the number of youth in foster care who are emancipated from care by increasing adoptions, permanent guardianship arrangements, reunification, or placement with a fit and willing relative for children and youth in foster care; and
• Reducing the number of children and youth in foster care residing in group homes, child care institutions, agency-operated foster homes, or other non-family foster homes, unless it is determined that it is in the interest of the child’s long-term health, safety, or psychological well-being to not be placed in a family foster home.

The Administration has also proposed in recent budgets $300 million in pay for success funding. In fact the former head of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama, Melody Barnes issued a statement at the introduction of the Senate bill that said, “The Pay for Performance Act gives policymakers a critical, evidence-based strategy for dealing with major societal challenges. By connecting the tools of impact investing to a ‘what works’ approach, this bill takes us one step closer to a smarter, leaner, results focused government.”

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.

Congress Leaves Town, Senator Blocks Child Welfare Bill

The Senate ended their summer by leaving on Thursday night and left many priorities including HR 4980, the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act’ unfinished. The legislation will reauthorize the Adoption Incentive Fund for three years and extend it to guardianship placements. It will also extend the Family Connections Grants by one year through this current fiscal year of 2014 but its Senate approval, which would have sent it onto the President, was stopped by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).

The Senate was attempting to pass the bill by “UC” or unanimous consent, which translates into a voice vote, that by-passes extensive debate. 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 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 dead stop. That is exactly what happened when retiring Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) blocked a vote. He objected more generally to the process of UC and had some specific objections to provisions of the bill. So he stopped it, stopped the Senate and the reauthorization.

On the Senate floor Coburn objected to generally to the unanimous consent process for several bills and the spending that resulted. In a letter to the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Coburn said, “As a father, grandfather and physician, my heart goes out to children who need a permanent family.” He then went on to outline his objections to the “…the role of the federal government to be interfering in state’s adoption and foster care programs.” He also objected to several of the trafficking issues raised and emphasized his concerns over the spending provisions. Although the legislation is “budget neutral”—in other words paid for—he objected because the savings to offset the cost was in the out years of the budget process.

The objection is ironic in that the bill was praised by Republican leaders when it passed the House because it reduces the deficit over ten years. In reality most of the cost in the program is in the adoption incentive piece which has to be appropriated each year for over 15 years. It is dependent on what the appropriations committees decide to provide. Generally that is $40 million a year. An greater irony is that Senator Coburn had also block action a last minute supplement funding request to aide Israel and its maintenance of their iron dome missile defense system. That allocation of $225 million was blocked by the Senator because it wasn’t paid for but over Thursday night a firestorm of criticism ensued and although most senators had left, the Senate was still technically in session and Friday morning so the emergency Defense Department request was approved—without any offsets. No such break was extended to children and youth in foster care.

What happens next is less clear and is entirely up to the Senate (the House approved the bill the week before). Leaders may try to persuade Senator Coburn or attempt to schedule a vote. The second option may not be that easy. The Senate will be around for less than 20 actual days next month before they leave for the election. If it gets on the list of bills for debate, it could become entangled in election year politics whereby members see it as an opportunity to hang politically-charged amendments in an attempt to create political attacks for the last weeks of the election. For example, issues dealing with immigration, coal, oil pipelines.

Perhaps the biggest victims is the one-year of funding (FY 2014, this year) for the Family Connections Grants. From a hopeful bipartisan deal last October in the House that provided three years of funding, it has been reduced to one year of funding (FY 2014) to this situation with only two months of the fiscal year left. Some current grantees in the third year of their efforts are still awaiting that funding that ran out last October 1. The grants help kinship navigator programs and by extension all 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 (this year only) which will likely be just 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.