Capitol View on Kids: The latest news on children and families from Washington, D.C.

President Signs Children’s Commission Into Law

On Monday, January 14, President Obama signed the Protect Our Kids Act (HR 6655) into law. The Protect Our Kids Act (PL 112-275) establishes a commission to examine child deaths in the United States.  The legislation was championed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and he was later joined by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.).

The commission’s purpose is to examine the effectiveness of best practices in:

  • Preventing child deaths that are intentionally caused or that occur due to neglect;
  • Collecting accurate, uniform data on child fatalities; barriers to preventing child deaths
  • Identifying trends in demographic and other risk factors that predict of child abuse and neglect, including the impact of the age of the child, child behavior, family structure, parental stress, and poverty.

The commission’s work is to be completed within two years, although President Barack Obama can extend this one additional year. The 12-member commission will include six members selected by the president and six selected by Congress.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will appoint two members with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointing one member.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) will appoint two members and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will select one. Membership is to be appointed within 90 days of January 14, the signing date.

Reichert To Become Chair of Human Resources Subcommittee

Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee named Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) as the new chair of the Human Resources Subcommittee.  The Subcommittee has key oversight of child welfare legislation in the House. Reichert is not new to the Ways and Means Committee, but he will be new to this subcommittee. The rest of the subcommittee members have not yet been announced.

Reichert was first elected to his Washington seat in 2004 and at times has split with the majority of his party on some environmental issues and supported the repeal of the don’t ask don’t tell policy on gays in the military.

Reichert has an associate degree in social work and was a law enforcement officer in the Kings County Sheriff’s Department.  When his appointment was announced he issued a statement that said:

“As the oldest of seven kids growing up in a home of scarce means, I ran away on several occasions. There were times I attended high school out of my car in order to escape difficult family circumstances. Yet, there were those along the way who prevented me from falling through the cracks. I know what it’s like to struggle, and I know the vital role that hope plays when trying to find a pathway to a better tomorrow.”

The makeup of the various Ways and Means Subcommittees have not been announced because the leadership must still fill one more Republican seat.  Reichert had been on the trade and the Social Security subcommittees.  As chair of the Human Resources Subcommittee he will replace Congressman Geoff David who retired from Congress.  The subcommittee has jurisdiction over most child welfare policy, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG).

President’s Proposals On Gun Violence Includes Mental Health and Research

In addition to the president’s widely-covered proposals to ban the use of certain assault weapons, larger capacity ammunition magazines and to strengthen current background check requirements, Obama has proposed several other changes in regard to mental health care and research on gun violence. Many proposals could end up helping some families involved in the child welfare system. Among the proposals and executive actions:

  • Conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence by removing some of the current congressionally mandated restrictions on research by the Centers on Disease Control (CDC)
  • Developing a better understanding on how and when firearms are used in violent death by expanding the National Violent Death Reporting System from the current 18 states to all 50 states
  • Reaching 750,000 young people through programs to identify mental illness early and refer them to treatment by training teachers and other adults who regularly interact with students to recognize young people who need help and ensure they are referred to mental health services.
  • Provide “Mental Health First Aid” training for teachers.
  • Making sure students with signs of mental illness get referred to treatment.
  • Support individuals ages 16 to 25 at high risk for mental illness by proposing $25 million for innovative state-based strategies supporting young people ages 16 to 25 with mental health or substance abuse issues.
  • Help schools address pervasive violence by asking Congress to provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs, and other school-based violence prevention strategies.
  • Train more than 5,000 additional mental health professionals to serve students and young adults by proposing $50 million to train social workers, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals.
  • Finalize regulations and requirements for private health insurance plans to cover mental health services that were enacted as part of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.
  • Make sure millions of Americans covered by Medicaid get quality mental health coverage through the Affordable Care Act which is expected to extend Medicaid coverage to as many as 17 million more Americans.

To read the full set of White House proposals, click here.

Next Round of Budget Confrontation: Debt or Sequestration

The federal government reached the debt limit in late December, and since then has used other methods to allow the federal government to pay its obligations.  The Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner informed Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) last week that the date when the U.S. Treasury will run out of options will be at some point in mid-February.

It is an earlier time period than Treasury had indicated in December, and it now becomes the next confrontation date over the federal deficit.  The President stated in a press conference on January 14 that raising the debt was non-negotiable, and cannot be tied to any future budget and appropriations discussions.  At the same time, many Washington Republicans have argued that they should refuse to raise the debt without an agreement on the overall federal deficits including how we fund entitlements.

There appeared to be some discussion of not tying the debt ceiling to a deal and that instead they should use the next “sequestration” date in early March as the greater point of leverage.  The Sequestration was delayed until March and will require cuts of approximately $85 billion in 2013 spending to be spread equally between defense and domestic spending.

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

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