Capitol View on Kids: Continuing Resolution Looks Likely As Labor-HHS Appropriations Dropped

Heading into their last week of work before the August break, it looks like Congress may reach a deal to provide six months of funding through a continuing resolution (CR) for FY 2013 in lieu of enacting 12 separate appropriations bills.  It is possible Congress will reach and act on a deal this week, a full two months before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.

The proposal for a six month CR started with some of the most conservative House members, but it was gradually accepted by Democrats in the Senate.  For House Republicans, the appeal is that a six-month deal will assure them of avoiding a government shutdown one month before the election due to a failure to agree to spending levels.  For Democrats, the appeal is that appropriations can be put aside and not be part of the post-election discussions on how to deal with the so-called fiscal cliff that will result from expiring tax laws and automatic spending cuts.

Both sides are betting that they will be in stronger positions as a result of the election with potential changes in the White House and the make-up of the Senate and House. The CR would be funded at current year spending levels of approximately $1.043 trillion, which was the agreed-to spending level inserted into last year’s debt ceiling agreement.  It is also above what House Republicans had proposed.  The new Congress would have to decide how to complete the rest of the fiscal year funding by at least April or earlier.  Presumably the agreement would keep all programs at the current level and would not include new funding proposals or program cuts but complete details are not yet available.

While there may be agreement on a way to temporarily fund the government, one example of why they won’t finish work on regular appropriations could be found with the House’s handling of the appropriations for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS).  Appropriations leaders decided against taking up the Labor-HHS bill in full committee. On July 18, the subcommittee approved an appropriations bill on a party line vote and leaders had indicated they would take the bill up in full committee a week later.  The details on what the subcommittee approved have not been posted but the main bill has been posted on the website: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=303303.

The bill provides limited language and spending authority.  The specifics on increases or decreases to various programs are included in the committee report, which was to be released within 48 hours of a full committee debate.  Minority members were allowed to review the proposed cuts but no information was released for public review. What we do know is that the bill would have cut current discretionary spending for the three departments  to $150 billion, a cut of approximately $7 billion.

HHS is allocated approximately $77 billion of this total.  Public information includes the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program (Title IV-B, part 2) being cut by $3 million.  Total funding for the four main PSSF programs would be reduced from $338 million to $335 million. PSSF also receives $20 million for substance abuse grants, 20 million to promote the workforce and $30 million for courts but those funding streams are mandatory programs.

The Subcommittee did provide some increases to Head Start and child care although, lower than the Senate totals. The House also rescinded $400 million of $550 million for the Race to the Top education challenge fund and that cut if enacted would likely have eliminated the funding to address the early learning child care challenge grant initiative. The initiative is designed to reward states that coordinate their child care, Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs.  The House bill would also cut out more than $6 billion in mandatory funding to address the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), placed restrictions on family planning funding and included cuts to the Labor Department.

Harkin Release Details on State-By-State Cuts

On the Senate side, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) presided over a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education hearing that focused on the potential impact of the 2013 across-the-board cuts.  If Congress agrees to a six month CR as noted above, but does not deal with the automatic across-the-board cuts slated to take place on January 2, then many of the programs funded at this year’s level will have to absorb cuts of approximately eight percent.  The hearing focused on the Education Department cuts and included testimony by the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  In his opening remarks Duncan pointed out, “even without sequestration, domestic discretionary spending has already been declining. Non-security discretionary spending is now on a path to reach its lowest level as a share of GDP since the Eisenhower Administration. In addition, State and local spending has been cut due to the recent financial crisis and economic downturn.” As part of the hearing, Harkin released a report that details how a number of the program cuts will play out for states (http://harkin.senate.gov/documents/pdf/500ff3554f9ba.pdf ).

The report indicates that states would lose $2.7 billion in federal funding for just three education programs alone: Title I education grants, special education grants, and Head Start, now serving a combined total of 30.7 million children. These cuts would result in 46,349 employees losing their jobs unless States and localities pick up their salaries.   The report also calculated that 659,476 fewer people would be tested for HIV, 48,845 fewer women would be screened for cancer; 211,958 fewer children be vaccinated and 80,000 fewer children would receive child care subsidies.

The report includes state by state reductions for 34 programs in the departments of HHS, Education and Labor and is a partial view of the proposed cuts (details on future child welfare cuts were not included).  In part the report and the hearing was an attempt to balance some of the current debate in Washington that at times has focused almost exclusively on the defense department cuts.  In recent weeks opponents of the defense cuts have focused their attention less on the cuts impact on national defense and more on state by state job losses that defense contractors may have to absorb.

CBO Recalculates Health Law’s Costs After Supreme Court

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recalculated the cost of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) after the recent Supreme Court ruling.  Part of the court ruling said states did not have to accept the increased funding and expanded Medicaid coverage of the uninsured.  Because states have an option now, CBO said the cost of the ACA would be reduced by $84 billion over ten years.  At the same time, three million fewer people would have health insurance coverage.  As part of ACA (in 2014) states were required to increase their Medicaid coverage to all people 133 percent of poverty regardless of their family status or condition.  The ACA would completely cover the cost of the expanded coverage without states being required to contribute.  Eventually, the federal coverage would decrease to 90 percent of the expanded costs with states required to contribute ten percent of the cost.  The Court considered this expansion of Medicaid to be separate from other Medicaid mandates and said states had an option to expand Medicaid.

Some governors have suggested the cost would be too great despite the federal government covering all the costs.  CBO based their new calculations on a projection of how many states would not accept the additional Medicaid funds. That is where the savings comes from.  At the same time, six million few people would be covered as a result of those states refusing the expanded access. Part of this loss of coverage would be offset by three million of these people finding coverage by applying to the state insurance exchanges; thus a net loss of three million insured.  To read a CBO explanation online: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/43472

Administration Outlines Reauthorization Goals on Child Care Block Grant

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s Subcommittee on Children and Families held a hearing on the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) on Thursday, July 26. Testifying before the Subcommittee was Linda Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development, HHS, Janet Singerman, President, Child Care Resources, Inc from North Carolina, Rolf Grafwallner, Assistant State Superintendent, Early Childhood Development, Maryland, Phil Acord, Executive Director, Children’s Home, Tennessee, and Susana Coro, Asssitant Teacher, Falls Church, Virginia.

Linda Smith summed up the Administration’s position as she outlined six key principles:

  • Improving quality by increasing the dollars set-aside or dedicated to quality improvement and incorporating existing quality set-asides annually provided by congressional appropriators.  They would promote the use of funds spent on evidence-based efforts to improve quality.
  • Improving state monitoring and protocols to ensure that providers meet regulatory requirements established by the state. They would encourage the use of quality funds to support implementation of programs that grade and reward quality improvements in a child care programs.
  • Supporting continued access to child care subsidies by maintaining the services that were provided through the Recovery Act CCDBG funding (stimulus funding).
  • Improving access to information by parents through increased transparency about the health and safety track records of child care providers and other key indicators of quality.
  • Promoting on-going access to child care without unnecessary disruptions by implementing tools such as longer eligibility re-determination periods for families receiving child care subsidies.
  • Ensuring program integrity by providing technical assistance to states, territories, and tribes to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

At the outset of the hearing Subcommittee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) praised the bipartisan spirit the subcommittee has pursued in attempting to craft a reauthorization.  She indicated that the subcommittee has involved members of the full committee including the chair of the HELP Committee, Sen. Harkin and Ranking Member Senator Mike Enzi (Wyo.) She said that she hoped they could move an authorization in a bipartisan fashion this year despite the short timeframe and that it would be a strong enough bipartisan effort that could gather unanimous support.

Ranking Subcommittee Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) also sounded an optimistic tone in regard to a reauthorization.  He also talked about the need to improve the quality of care while balancing those needs against the supply. He highlighted his support for requiring background checks for child care workers.  He has sponsored legislation (S 581, Child Care Protection Act of 2011) that would require states to conduct criminal background checks on child care staff or perspective staff.  The background checks would include a search of the state criminal registry, the child abuse registry, the FBI finger print database and the national sex offender registry.  Child care providers could not hire an individual if they are listed on the national sex offender registry or they have been convicted of various felonies including murder, child abuse, spousal abuse, and crimes against children including child pornography.

The CCDBG has not been reauthorized since TANF was created in 1996. States are required to spend at least 4 percent of their general child care funding on quality improvements.  Quality may include training of the workforce, increased inspections and safety standards, efforts to reduce staff turnover, greater staffing and education standards, higher reimbursements for meeting specific quality measures and materials to enhance early childhood development.  In addition to the 4 percent set-aside, states receive additional funding through the annual appropriations to supplement the four percent set aside with some of this funding targeted to improving and expanding care for infants and toddlers.  One of the chief challenges to improving the quality of care is that the same funding addresses both quality improvements as well as the supply of child care subsidies.

Child Care funding comes from two sources; mandatory funding is provided through the TANF law (funded at $2.9 billion) with these funds allocated to states based on historic AFDC welfare spending and partially as a match to state funding.  States also receive discretionary funding ($2.2 billion). Some states use some of their TANF funds to increase the supply of child care with some states transferring TANF dollars directly into their child care block grant while other states spend money directly from TANF. The money spent directly from TANF does not require a set-aside for quality improvements. It is possible that a reauthorization of child care could be paired with a reauthorization of TANF which could be one of many items addressed in a November-December session of Congress.  To read the testimony from the hearing go online: http://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=9fb5f311-5056-9502-5d55-a235b2713708

UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS

  • 2012 CCAI Foster Youth Internship Briefing & Reception, Tuesday, July 31, Capitol Visitor Center – Room SVC 201-00, Briefing: 3:00-4:30pm // Reception: 4:30-5:30pm, Fourteen former foster youth have spent their summer interning on Capitol Hill and will use their legislative knowledge combined with their personal experience to educate policymakers on areas for reform.  The briefing will cover pertinent policy issues such as the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), psychotropic medication, post-secondary education financing, human trafficking, quality foster parent recruitment, mentorship, in addition to various other foster care related topics. Each intern has focused on a specific policy area of interest and will present recommendations on these issues.
  • National Foster Care Coalition quarterly meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 19, 1:00 PM, location, to-be-announced.

John Sciamanna is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation.

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