Capitol View on Kids: Mixed Reading on Fiscal Cliff

Time continues to wind down toward the end of 2012, which is also the deadline to get an agreement on federal budget and tax policy before America goes over the so-called fiscal cliff.

The President and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke briefly on Wednesday night; more significant was the fact that both sides did not comment on the nature of that brief discussion. There were reports of a Boehner push to have further one-on-one talks between him and the President.

The House has delayed their departure date for this session and indicated that it would remain in session pending a deal. There were also several Washington–based publications indicating that behind the scenes, there were signals of a possible movement on the issue of whether or not the top tax rates would increase beyond the current rates signed into law by former President George W. Bush.

The Dems’ desire to increase in the top tax bracket back to 39.6 percent, as it was during the Clinton Administration, seems to be the most significant barrier to a deal although there are many other issues to be resolved once the tax bracket issue is resolved.

One major piece of family services could find its way into an agreement on the budget: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/food stamp program. There was increased talk of a deal on an Agriculture bill reauthorization, which is significant not only in regard to SNAP, but also because it yields some significant ten-year savings as a result of the Senate bipartisan bill.

Two other issues had risen by week’s end with the increased discussion of extending the expiring unemployment benefits and more ominously there was still disagreement on whether or not a debt ceiling increase would be part of a final deal.

HELP Will Try To Move Child Welfare Education Bill Out Of Committee 

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will attempt to move the Uninterrupted Scholars Act (S. 3472) this week. An earlier attempt to pass the bill was postponed last week due to the difficulty in getting enough members to hold a hearing.  The legislation, along with a companion bill in the House, (H.R. 5871), amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to enable child welfare agencies that are charged with the placement and care of children in foster care to access the educational records of those children to help improve their educational success.

FERPA, originally created to protect the confidentiality of education records, creates barriers to child welfare agencies obtaining records they need, even when educational agencies are willing to collaborate in the exchange of information. The FERPA amendments in the Uninterrupted Scholars Act are drawn to allow child welfare agencies to secure educational records to address the educational needs of individual children in foster care and to also obtain data with which to conduct research studies on groups of children in foster care, often in collaboration with education agencies and others, to identify their educational needs and how best to address them.

The legislation was only introduced earlier this year, but it quickly gained bipartisan support in both houses with Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) as the sponsor in the House and additional sponsors including Reps. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) joining her while the Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) joined by others including Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Al Franken (D-Minn.).  Supporters hope the bill can pass by unanimous consent (voice vote) through the full Senate, and then go through a similar voice vote process in the House of Representatives.

Report Calls for Action on Behalf of Disconnected Youth 

Last week the Annie E Casey Foundation released a new report on disconnected youth, Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity. Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor in the workforce, and as a result are veering toward chronic underemployment as adults because they are failing at a critical part of their life to gain important skills that most young people do experience in their transition to adulthood.

The number of working youth has dropped by almost half since 2000, the report notes, and employment among young people has reached its lowest level since 1950s. There have been a number of concerns raised about the younger generation since the great recession of 2008, and how critical a first career job after college can be, but for this group of young people, the challenges may be even greater.

The report pointed out the potential long term concerns for these youth in that they may become adults unable to achieve financial stability and without employment prospects. As a result they may present a significant cost to taxpayers, as government spends more to support them. The Casey report also indicated that the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey shows about 20 percent, or 1.4 million of these youths, have children of their own.

As part of the release of the report the foundation’s, Casey CEO and President Patrick McCarthy said: “All young people need opportunities to gain work experience and build the skills that are essential to being successful as an adult and ensuring youth are prepared for the high-skilled jobs available in today’s economy must be a national priority.”

Recommendations included:

  • A national youth employment strategy that streamlines systems and makes financial aid, funding and other support services more accessible and flexible; encourages more businesses to hire young people; and focuses on results, not process.
  • Aligning resources within communities and among public and private funders to create collaborative efforts to support youth.
  • Exploring new ways to create jobs through partnerships with Goodwill organizations and with microenterprises, with the support of public and private investors.
  • Employer-sponsored earn-and-learn programs that foster the talent and skills that businesses require — and develop the types of employees they need.

The report includes state-by-state numbers for the percentage of employed youth in two age brackets: 16 through 19, and 20 through 24.  Nationally, the employment for youth ages 16 through 19 is twenty-six percent and for 20 to 24 sixty-one percent.

Senator DeMint Becomes Part of New Set of Departures From Congress 

Three members of Congress have now announced their resignations before the new Congress begins.  All three have seats that are secure as far as future reelection prospects.   Senator James DeMint (R-S.C.) became the latest member when he announced on December 6 that he would be departing the Senate to take over the leadership of the conservative Heritage Foundation. DeMint has been looked to as the leader and chief spokesperson of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party. He was first elected to the Senate in 1998 and served in the House before that election. On Monday, December 3, Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo) also announced she was going to be leaving Congress to take over a position at the National Rural Electrical Cooperative.  She will return in January, but will resign in February. Emerson was first elected in 1996 and she indicated she was leaving due to the new job opportunity that emerged after the November election.  Last month, amid possible investigations into some of his past congressional activity, Congressman Jessie Jackson Jr (D-Ill.) announced his immediate resignation as a result of some recent illnesses. DeMint’s replacement will be selected by the South Carolina governor, while Emerson and Jackson’s departures will require special elections.

UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS

House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, Wednesday, December 12, 2:00 PM EST, hearing on the Protect Our Kids Act, A bill to establish a commission on child deaths, 1100 House Longworth Building.

 National Foster Care Coalition, Quarterly Meeting, Thursday, December 13, 1:00 to 4:00 PM EST. Voices for America’s Children, 1000 Vermont Ave, NW Suite 700

 Presidential Inauguration, Monday, January 21, 2013 (private swearing-in Sunday, January 20)

John Sciamanna is a child welfare policy consultant who works closely with the National Foster Care Coalition

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