Capitol View: Senate Leadership Acknowledges No Pre-Election Appropriations

Last week, Senate leadership said there would be no appropriations passed in the Senate before the election. The announcement by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) seemed to throw cold water on further floor action by the House at the same time. Time is running short for any significant appropriations action.

There were reports that a plan that had been worked up behind the scenes that would have had the Senate adopt three or four small omnibus bills as a method to move all 12 appropriations, but the announcement by Reid eliminated hope of that. Sen. Reid argued that the House had made appropriations too difficult because of the House’s proposed lower spending level. The House has proposed a budget that is $19 billion less than what was agreed to by the House and the Senate in the 2011 debt ceiling agreement.

There did seem to be some preliminary plans to hold a mark-up of the House version of a Labor-Health and Human Services bill, perhaps on Wednesday. Under the House framework, Labor-HHS will get $150 billion, down from nearly $157 billion this year. The Senate has near-level funding compared to this year.

The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Committee approved a fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill on June 14. Most of the key child welfare programs are funded at the current year funding levels including Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) programs, the two Title IV-B programs (Child Welfare Services and Promoting Safe and Stable Families), the Adoption Opportunities Act, and the Education and Training Vouchers for youth in Foster Care.

The one increase in this area did come under Title IV-B, with the Committee approving the Administration’s proposal to provide $5 million to encourage programs and research to address victims of child sex trafficking within child welfare. The Senate bill provides increases for some children’s programs including the Child Care Block Grant, increased by $160 million with $70 million for addressing child care subsidy needs and $90 million for quality improvements. Head Start received a slight increase of $70 million to bring total funding to $8.039 billion.

The Senate also approved an increase of $60 million for the Race to the Top Education funding increasing to $600 million. It is expected that significant portion will be designated for the Early Learning Challenge Grants which are a part of the overall education funding program.

Senators Discuss Cuts/Revenue to Stop Sequestration, HHS Gives Details

With some senators increasingly concerned about the potential across-the-board cuts to the defense budget scheduled for January 2, 2013 (known as sequestration), there were reports of a possible plan. The talks are informal and were taking place against a backdrop of public disagreements between leading Republicans and Democrats that indicated there was little real consensus on moving before the election. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have been having some discussions with Senate Democrats, including Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that might involve the Republicans putting some revenue on the table in exchange for some domestic cuts.

Reports indicated that as much as $40 billion in revenue would be involved to leverage an approximate amount of program cuts. That is what it would take to replace the automatic cuts for at least one year. The advantage of such an agreement is that members of Congress would have greater control over the programs that are cut.

Whether a deal can be reached is unclear and any such proposal could not move or likely be raised in public before the election. Earlier in the week the Department of Health and Human Services responded to a request from Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on how a cut of 7.8 percent to HHS would be implemented. In a letter by the HHS Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources Ellen Murray, she stated “The National Institutes of Health (NIH) could potentially eliminate 2,300 new and competing research project grants, with nearly 300 fewer grants issued by the National Cancer Institute. … [Up] to 100,000 children would lose Head Start services and approximately 80,000 fewer children would receive child care assistance. In addition, approximately 12,150 fewer patients would receive benefits from our AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Approximately 169,000 fewer individuals would be admitted to substance abuse treatment programs and an estimated 14,200 fewer people who are homeless would receive assistance.”

HELP Committee Puts Focus on Seclusion and Restraint in Schools

On Thursday, June 12, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. The Committee heard from four witnesses: Dr. Daniel Crimmins, director, the Center for Leadership in Disability, Georgia State University; Ms. Cyndi Pitonyak, coordinator of positive behavioral interventions and supports, Montgomery County Public Schools, Va; Dr. Michael George, director of the Centennial School, Bethlehem, Penn.; and a parent, Ms. Deborah Jackson  from Easton, Penn. The hearing focused on the successful methods several locations have implemented to assist student with disabilities without the use of chemical, physical and mechanical restraints.

The state of Georgia was held out as a model with Dr. Crimmins talking about that state’s work starting four years ago to eliminate the use of restraints in school based settings. Georgia has been successful in spreading the practices statewide. As a result Georgia has reduced the use of restrains and experienced better results for the students and families involved.

At the opening of the hearing, Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) emphasized the bipartisan nature of the work the Committee has conducted on the topic as an issue of great interest to the Senator. Harkin is also one of the longtime champions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

Last December, Harkin introduced a bill, S. 2020, that would prohibit seclusion and certain types of restraints. The Keeping All Students Safe Act would prohibit school use of physical restraints except for emergency situations. It would also prohibit the use of seclusions and/or restraints in a student’s Individual Education Plan and call for states to promote preventative programming to reduce the use of restraints. The legislation would provide teachers and school leaders with information about preventative practices to improve learning for all students.

That is what most of the testimony focused on with several of the witnesses documenting how they were able to reduce not just the seclusion and restraint use, but also reduce the number of injuries to both teachers and students and improve education outcomes—especially for children who in previous circumstances where isolated and not able to fully participate in school. Ms Easton testified about the great improvement for her nine year old son who is now thriving after he was placed in a school with a strong program to avoid the use of restraints. To hear and read the testimony go online: http://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=28ddbd0d-5056-9502-5dea-7197eb6434c8.

Groups Call For Action on Child Sex Trafficking Over The Internet

Several groups came together at a Capitol Hill roundtable on Thursday, July 12, to call on the Internet website “Backpage” to reform or end their adult ads. The groups included the National Association for Missing and Exploited Children, Human Rights Project for Girls, the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, Microsoft Research, National Criminal Justice Training Center, the Motion Picture Association of America and Shared Hope International highlighted the website which provides online users the ability to purchase adult entertainment and adult services. The coalition argued that the site is also the biggest source for the solicitation of sex trafficking of minors.

Several of the organizations present at the forum Thursday had also been involved in an earlier campaign in 2010 targeting Craigslist. Craigslist did eventually eliminate such adult ads and as a result there appears to be a decrease in the number of online ads. The ads, which are possible because such web sites are officially marketing services including adult massages and adult escort services, end up becoming a convenient tool to sell the services of children and teens who end up becoming entrapped in a system of prostitution of minors.

The children who become victims are frequently picked up by predator adults on the streets and they may be youth that have run from foster care or are homeless alone youth. Desperate for support, many of the children end up locked into a sex-for-money system that they cannot escape. The Administration is proposing a $5 million initiative that would provide grants to increase services and coordination between law enforcement, child welfare and other agencies.

The Senate appropriation for HHS does include the new funds. Four key points that were emphasized at the roundtable:  trafficking happens here in the United States and it is not limited to foreign victims, organized crime, especially gangs, are heavily involved in the trafficking, children are the victims and in fact become slaves, and the problem has been aggravated because the internet allows the adult customers to take their illegal activities off the streets into the safety of their own homes and hotel rooms.

The Backpage website is affiliated with the New York City newspaper the Village Voice. The event was sponsored by the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus founded by Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Congressman Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

HHS Issues TANF Waiver Instruction, Draws Congressional Criticism

On July 12, HHS issued guidance to states on the use of waivers for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The authority for the waivers is based on section 1115 of the Social Security Act, which applies to several parts of the Social Security Act.

HHS guidance is applied to section 402 of the TANF law, which generally refers to provisions in the state TANF plan. The guidance limits the extent of waivers and does not affect the time limits but does suggest some modification to the general work requirements and offers states some flexibility in how work is structured. This is the first time HHS has offered such an option and as a result it drew a very negative response from Republican leaders in the key House and Senate Committees.

Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Congressman David Camp (R-Mich.) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, were both critical of the waiver. Camp said: ”Welfare reform provided states a simple deal: fixed federal funding and enormous flexibility in exchange for a requirement that they engage welfare recipients in work and related activities. In response, States helped record numbers of low-income parents go to work, earnings soared, and dependence on welfare and poverty plunged by record levels. Now 16 years later, the Obama Administration is proposing to let States effectively eliminate a key feature of that reform – the TANF work requirement.”

From Hatch: “I‘m disappointed that after years of sitting on their hands and failing to propose any significant improvements to the TANF programs, the Obama Administration is once again over-stepping their authority and attempting to circumvent Congress through an unprecedented bypass of the legislative process.”

That was not the view of Congressman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) the ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee who issued a statement that said in part: “Any demonstration project approved by HHS must be designed to improve employment outcomes for welfare recipients, as validated by a rigorous evaluation. Current basic TANF provisions, including the five-year time limit on benefits and fixed block grant funding levels, will not change under these projects. This is very consistent with the underlying thrust of the 1996 welfare law – expecting states to help people prepare for and find work, while giving them some flexibility in achieving that goal.”

The purpose of the waivers as explained in the memorandum is to determine through evaluation whether a program that allows for longer periods in certain activities improves employment outcomes. Some of the possibilities for states are projects that:

-Improve coordination with the workforce investment system and the Workforce Investment Act

-Test approaches that use performance-based contracts and management

-Provide improved employment outcomes if a state is held accountable for negotiated employment outcomes as a replacement for current work participation rate

-Improve collaboration with the post-secondary education systems

-More effectively serve individuals with disabilities, along with an alternative approach to measuring participation and outcomes for individuals with disabilities

-Test extending the period for vocational educational, training, job search or readiness programs.

To read the information memorandum go online: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/policy/im-ofa/2012/im201203/im201203.html

New Legislation Seeks to Protect Children Left in Foster Care Due to Deportation

On Thursday, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) introduced HR 6128, the Help Separated Families Act. The bill addresses the problem of children being abandoned in the child welfare system if their parents are arrested or deported due to their alien status.

There has been recent analysis that indicates more children are entering foster care because there is not a process to make sure they are connected to relatives or being reunited. By some estimates at least, 5,000 children are in foster care as a result of such immigration enforcement.

In her statement the congresswoman said, “As parental deportation and detention rates have risen in recent years, the devastating impact on families has increased. Mothers like Encarnacion Bail Romero, who was apprehended in a federal immigration raid in 2007 and torn from her then-seven-month son, often face insurmountable barriers to family reunification.“

Ms. Romero, a native of Guatemala, had her parental rights terminated while in federal custody after a judge ruled that “illegally smuggling herself into the country is not a lifestyle that can provide any stability for the child.” Her son Carlitos was adopted out against her will to a new family, who now calls him Jameson, and Ms. Romero has not seen him in approximately five years.

The bill would require systems to stipulate that the citizenship status of a relative is not relevant to the determination of whether a relative caregiver meets relevant state child protection standards. It would require child welfare departments to accept alternative documentation to run background checks on undocumented immigrants who are candidates to take in a relative’s child, including a foreign consulate identification card and/or passport. The bill also directs states to make reasonable efforts to locate and notify relatives, including parents, across international borders, of the agency’s intent to terminate parental rights before it takes place. Deportation alone would not be a justification for termination. There is little chance such legislation would pass this year but, it is intended to be a part of future immigration legislation in the next congress.

UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS

The National Alliance to End Homelessness will hold its 2012Conference to End Homelessness on Monday July 16th through Wednesday July 18 at the Renaissance Hotel, 999 Ninth Street, Washington DC. For more information on the agenda and to register go online at: https://help.endhomelessness.org/events/22

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.

Senate Caucus on Foster Youth— a roundtable on the challenges of adoption and the all too frequent occurrence of     disrupted adoptions and polices which can improve and promote successful adoptions. The routable will highlight the stories of a number of youth with a variety of experiences relative to adoption. The roundtable will take place on Tuesday, July 24th from 2:00 to 4 pm at the Senate Dirksen Building, Room 562.

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

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