Appropriations Will Be Front And Center, But CR More Likely

With Congress returning and approximately 27 to 24 potential days in session for the House and Senate before their summer break, appropriations bills are likely to be the prime focus.

That leaves little space for addressing the Families first draft legislation unless there is some strong consensus between the two houses. There are also some other items that might need to be cued up for a September finish such as substance use legislation and TANF reauthorization.

Shortly before the Memorial Day break, (Wednesday, May 25) the House appropriations process came to a crashing halt when the Energy and Water (HR 5055) bill went down to defeat in the House of Representatives by a vote of 112-305. Most Democrats were opposed when the bill hit the floor but many conservative Republicans abandoned the bill after an amendment was attached that would reinforce the President’s executive order that prohibits discrimination under federal contracts toward LGBTQ populations.

The amendment had temporarily tripped up the Military Construction bill (HR 4974) when a similar amendment was at first adopted and then stripped after several Republicans reversed their votes. The amendment to the Energy and Water appropriations was a modified version that was offered under the amendment process. It was later denounced by Congressman Rick Allen (R- GA) who denounced it as anti-religious and who read a passage from the Bible to back up his point of view.

All of the debate raises big concerns going forward. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) has attempted an “open rule” process that allows members to offer amendments without some of the recent debate restrictions. The downside is that it opens the appropriations bills to a multitude of controversies going forward with time running short.

The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations has not been taken up in either house in either subcommittee. The Senate is likely to take it up in Subcommittee on June 7 with a full Appropriations mark-up on June 9. It is unclear what the House will allow under its spending caps. National groups, including CWLA, have asked for $1.2 billion new investment in the  Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). This $1.2 billion is an attempt to support the implementation of the new CCDBG law and also ensure that no children lose child care assistance.

To date The House has voted out of Committee: Agriculture (HR 5054) and Defense (HR 5293), Military Construction (HR 4974) and Transportation-House (HR 2577) and the Energy and Water (HR 5055) is on hold for a floor vote.

For the Senate the Appropriations Committee has passed Agriculture (S 2956), Commerce- Justice (S 2837), Energy and Water (S 2804), the Legislative Branch (S2955), Military Construction S 2806) and Transportation-Housing (S 2844).

In addition to the on-going appropriations challenge has been a deadlock over the emergency funding request by the Administration to address the Zika virus. The House has moved a bill HR 5243 on a party line vote. It provides $622 million which is less than half of what the President has asked for. The Senate struck a bipartisan deal at $1.2 billion and now the two bills will be negotiated.

TANF: Research, Poverty, Ways and Means On Poverty

Last week hundreds of researchers gathered in Washington for what is now a biennial event to discuss issues related to the TANF block grant. The event, Research and Evaluation Conference on Self-Sufficiency (RECS) provided two and a half days of discussion around assistance to TANF families, education and training, youth development, immigrant families and child care.

Last month on May 24, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on TANF and on poverty while also approving two more bills to the TANF block grant program. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said, “[the hearing was] about people, and right now there are more than 46 million in our nation who are living in poverty. Decades of experience tells us the most effective anti-poverty program is a job. Yet of those who are working-age and in poverty, nearly two in three are not working, many of them not by choice, but in large part because of the welfare system…”

In his opening remarks, Ranking Democrat, Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI) said, “Republicans confuse cutting poverty with cutting poverty programs.” Levin then went on to list some of the recent cuts the Republican leadership have proposed including, the House Committee elimination of SSBG, proposed cuts to nutrition programs, elimination of refundable tax credits for the working poor. He also offered part of the Democratic agenda including increasing the minimum wage, increasing child care funding and reforms to TANF.

Witnesses included John Engler, Business Roundtable, (and former Michigan Governor), Ms. Karin VanZant, Life Services, CareSource, Ms. Olivia Golden, CLASP,Mr. Tarren Bragdon, Foundation for Government Accountability.

Mr. Bragdon was confronted by Levin about his organization’s active efforts to oppose the state of Florida’s rejection of an expansion of Medicaid as part of the ACA. Congressman Levin took special exception to Bragdon’s comments and testimony that said we incentivize people not to work. Levin argued that access to health care is a vital component to moving people to work. A point that was supported by Olivia Golden who highlighted data that was evident that access to health care dud help people move to work.

The Committee also approved H.R. 2952, the Improving Employment Outcomes of TANF Recipients Act. Supporters describe the bill as measuring state success in helping TANF recipients find a job and build a successful career, sponsored Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) and H.R. 5169, the What Works to Move Welfare Recipients Into Jobs Act. This bill is described as promoting proven local solutions that help more people get back to work by establishing a “What Works Clearinghouse” to catalogue effective programs.

It is unclear what the next steps on TANF will be. The law expires at the end of the fiscal year, as has been the case for several years. While there has been some bipartisan agreement on the current bills acted upon they do not go as far as last year’s discussions. Some of that legislation would have improved the flexibility regarding work requirements. The majority party, however received some criticism from more conservative elements after last year’s considerations. To this point the Senate has not even considered TANF reauthorization, so if and when the House moves it’s unclear how receptive senators would be. That means a possible short term extension near the end of this year.

CARA Act Under Discussion For June

Both the House and Senate are in discussion regarding a final version of the (S 524), the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act or “CARA” for short. The bill was originally introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) with the bipartisan co-sponsorship of Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Kelley Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL).

The House passed several bills and then combined those bills into a House counterpart a few weeks before the Memorial day break. That action has set up a conference committee. The legislation would not provide immediate funding since that would depend on a later appropriation but it amends several federal laws to increase potential funding for treatment, enforcement and prevention.

One part of the bill would direct HHS to convene a pain management best practices inter-agency task force. The task force would be required to establish best practices for pain management and for prescribing pain medication. In addition, the task force would develop a strategy for disseminating those best practices. It is believed that the current heroin epidemic is directly linked to the overuse of prescription pain pills such as oxycodone. Many adults and some young people are getting addicted through the prescription route and then replacing those drugs with heroin which may be much cheaper and plentiful than prescribed or trafficked prescription drugs.

The bill makes a number of changes to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. A provision directs state substance abuse and criminal justice agencies to jointly address the use of opioids and heroin among pregnant and parenting female offenders in a state and to promote public safety, public health, and family permanence and well-being. It also directs the Attorney General to issue regular reports on the use of family based treatment for custodial parents and their children.

The legislation also amends the Public Health Services Act by authorizing the Center for Substance-Abuse Treatment to award grants that would enable state substance abuse agencies, local governments, nonprofits, and Indian tribes are tribal organizations to better address and target big increases in heroin and other opioids use.

Signaling just how far Congress has turned in the past 25 years, the bill amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit the Department of Education from including any questions about the sale or use of illegal drugs as part of the Free Application and Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. During the mid-1990s, including when Congress was debating welfare reform, several members of Congress attempted to restrict many forms of federal assistance including college loans to anyone convicted of drug use or sale.

The legislation also amends the Public Health Services Act by authorizing the Center for Substance-Abuse Treatment to award grants that would enable state substance abuse agencies, local governments, nonprofits, and Indian tribes are tribal organizations to better address and target big increases in heroin and other opioids use.

During the Senate debate earlier this spring, Democrats rallied around an amendment by Senator Jean Shaheen (D-NH) that sought to provide immediate emergency appropriation of $600 million was not included. That amendment failed when a motion to take it up was short by a vote of 48 yes to 47 no votes. Sixty yes votes would’ve suspended budget rules to make the emergency funding available.

As part of this discussion members will also discuss a final bill to amend CAPTA and its requirements regarding plans of safe care for infants. The Senate passed their own bill in March, S 2687. Their safe care legislation amended CAPTA by expanding on existing directives to states to have a plan of care for infants exposed to illegal substances or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The provision has never been implemented in any systematic way with any real thoroughness since the 2010 reauthorization of CAPTA but much of that is related to a lack of funding appropriated to CAPTA.

In late April the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved HR 4843, which amends requirements around the “safe care” plans as described in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).

White House Hosted A Hackathon

On Thursday, May 26, the White House capped off May as National Foster Care Month with a two-day “White House and Foster Care and Technology Hackathon.” The event sought to bring together child welfare leaders, organizations, families and foster alumni into a meeting with engineers and leaders from the technology sector.

The White House announced several initiatives including these government related ones:

Comprehensive Child Welfare Information Systems (CCWIS) Final Rule: This new rule covers vital state information systems that provide national and local level data on state foster care and adoption information systems. It is the first revision in 23 years. It is hoped that the new regulation will improve the flexibility that has been lacking in regard to how states update and use those systems. HHS says that the new CCWIS regulations will modernize current requirements and give states needed flexibility.

Education Foster Care Transition Toolkit, the Department of Education has released a “toolkit” or 66-page report for foster youth transitioning out of care that includes a number of resources and tips to help foster youth access and navigate social, emotional, educational, skills and resource barriers as they transition into adulthood. The document is also intended to assist caseworkers, caregivers, teachers and mentors helping foster youth with the education goals. The Foster Care Transition Toolkit was crafted in partnership between HHS, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration has launched GetMyFuture.org, a mobile-friendly web-app within the Career One Stop website for youth to plan careers, explore education and training options and search and apply for jobs. Get My Future provides youth with online tools, information and resources to help find a job. The site features a streamlined interest assessment and occupational profile to help young people see what careers are a good fit for them along with wage information, skill and education requirements and an indicator of whether or not there will be jobs available in that sector. It also provides resources for young people meet challenges resulting from foster care, juvenile justice systems, homelessness, addiction, or a lack of financial, family, or community resources.

HHS and the General Services Administration (GSA) Partnership to Build Technology Systems have teamed up to provide $1 million worth of consulting services to states as they procure new/updated child welfare data systems. Through this new partnership, GSA will provide in-depth training and assistance on modular procurements, user-centered design, agile development, application programming interfaces and open source technologies for child welfare agencies across the country.

GAO Report Highlights Ed Problems For Foster Homeless Youth

The resource kit released by the Education Department follows a report by the GAO earlier this month, Actions Needed to Improve Access to Federal Financial Assistance for Homeless and Foster Youth (GAO-16-343: May 19, 2016) that program rules can make it more difficult for unaccompanied homeless youth (those not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian) and older foster youth to obtain federal financial assistance for college. These barriers to financial aid contribute to the challenges these youth face trying to attend and complete college some may require legislative proposals to address them.

The GAO concluded that foster youth face an age criterion in federal law that can limit access to the Chaffee voucher for college expenses to foster youth up to age 23. These young people can access this assistance only if they were receiving the voucher at age 21. Foster youth who start college after age 21 are not eligible for the voucher. The report highlighted the challenges for homeless youth required by law to have their status verified by either an official of specified federal homeless programs or a college financial aid administrator each time they apply for federal grants and loans. Getting this documentation after the first year of college can be difficult because these programs generally do not serve homeless youth throughout college and because education guidance on the role of these officials is unclear.

Education officials and financial aid staff are often reluctant to determine that a student is unaccompanied and homeless without making extensive documentation requests, yet homeless youth living in a car or tent can find it difficult to document these tenuous living situations.

The GAO report says that Education Department data from 2009 (the latest available) indicate that a lower percentage of foster youth complete a bachelor’s degree within 6 years (14 percent) compared to other students (31 percent). Education has begun to collect data on homeless youth and plans to have some college completion information by 2017. Education data also show that homeless and foster youth who attend college pursue an associate’s degree to a greater extent than other students.

The report includes six recommendations to both Education and HHS to look at strategies to encourage caseworkers and others that work with the students to better assist them in the application process: Education and HHS should develop joint websites targeted to the populations to assist them with applications; Education should develop a new optional form that will help financial officers document homeless youth status; Education should clarify eligibility for colleges and financial officers and their reliance on McKinney-Vento information; develop legislation that will allow homeless youth to continue to qualify for aid once the initial documentation is made; allow foster youth under the Chaffee vouchers to access the vouchers after 21 and before 23; centralize college information for these youth on Education’s website.

Murray Weighs-In On GAO, Calls on Ed to Respond

After the GAO report was released Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member on HELP Committee, sent a letter urging the Department of Education to address obstacles unaccompanied homeless students face in applying for and receiving financial aid.

The Senator asked the Department to exclude burdensome parental information requirements and to clarify the definition of “youth” from the FAFSA form and other guidance in order to ensure that all unaccompanied homeless youth up to age 24 have a streamlined way to receive the protections they need as independent students. Murray expressed serious concern that the proposed 2017-18 FAFSA does not clearly articulate a fair and simple process for unaccompanied homeless students to apply for financial aid.

“Throughout my time in the Senate, I have fought to remove educational barriers for homeless children and youth… It is critical that the Department of Education streamlines the path for unaccompanied homeless youth to receive the financial support they need to attend and succeed in higher education”, Murray said in a press statement.

Senator Murray has introduced legislation to help ensure that unaccompanied homeless youth have strong and clear pathways into and through higher education. The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act requires colleges and universities to improve outreach, resources, and policies for homeless and foster youth, including by streamlining eligibility determinations for financial aid, providing housing options between terms, and designating a single point of contact responsible for providing supports for these students. The bill also requires the federal government to provide ways to help resolve questions about a student’s independence and ensure its programs identify, recruit, and prepare homeless and foster students for college. The bill also encourages states to grant in-state tuition rates for students who haven’t had stable residency.

Foster Youth Go To Congress

From May 22 through May 27 more than 100 young people participated in “Shadow Day,” an event that matches youth in foster care with a member of the House of Representatives. Young people in foster care participate in a number of events, forums and training. The events this year included a viewing and discussion of the television program the Fosters, meetings with members of Congress in open forum, luncheons, and the actual day (Wednesday, May 25) where they follow around a member of Congress. On that day the young people are able to see what happens in the office, on the floor and in House Committees. Members of Congress are able to talk one on one about the experiences these young people have had in care and can learn firsthand some of the challenges and events that led to the child welfare system. Many of the young people also participated in the events held at the White House later in the week.

Successful Youth Transition Focus of Briefing

On Monday, May 23 as part of the ongoing efforts to talk about foster care for Foster Care Month, Youth Villages and the American Youth Policy Forum sponsored a briefing, Scaling Up active practices for youth transitioning out of foster care”.

UVLifeSet is a program started originally 1999 by Youth Villages. The goal of the initiative is to assist in a successful transition to independence for youth in foster care. Under the program (officially named in 2015) a specialist helps the young person develop and achieve their goals for the future. The program targets young people age 17 to 22 with participants remaining in the program on average between 6 to 12 months. Key to the initiative are the specialist or caseworkers who work with the young people under a specific model. Caseworkers have small caseloads with only 6 to 10 young people. The casework involves face-to-face meetings with the young person at least once a week and they are also available 24 hours seven days a week in case of emergencies.

Since 1999, over 8500 young people have been served by the Youth Villages program. Currently the initiative is offered in the state of Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee.

The briefing focused on a research based on the VE LifeSet program. Panel speakers included moderator David Sanders, Casey Family Programs, Mark Courtney, Professor University of Chicago, Mike Leach, Independent Living, Tennessee Department of Children Services, Jeff Rainey, YMCA Seattle, and Justice Rutherford, participant YVLifeset

In his presentation Mark Courtney, who has overseen the evaluation discussed some of the ongoing finding. The model has had positive impacts on increased earnings, reduced housing instability and economic hardship, and improved health and safety outcomes. According to the research there were no significant impact in the area of educational attainment, social support, criminal behaviors. Specific findings indicated that the program boosted earnings by 17%, increased housing stability and economic well-being including a 22% decrease in experiencing homelessness, improving some primary health and safety outcomes including health mental health and a 30% decrease in partner violence. The research has been conducted by MDRC with the first results released in May 2015.

Some of the key advocacy points promoted by Youth Villages included Congress should promote greater research including demonstration projects to build the evidence base, there should be incentives for states to invest in promising practices such as intensive an individualized and clinically focused services and supports, and Congress should encourage child welfare agencies to evaluate the needs of transitional youth in their state, identify gaps in programming and collaborate with other agencies to conceptualize a more targeted integrated continuum of services.

UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS

  •   A Progressive Agenda to Cut Poverty and Expand Opportunity, June 7, 2016, 9:30–11:00am, “A Progressive Agenda to Cut Poverty and Expand Opportunity,” a plan to dramatically reduce poverty and promote economic mobility” Center on American Progress Action Fund, Space is extremely limited. RSVP required
  •   Tentative: Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations for Labor-HHS-Education mark-up June 7, Appropriations, mark-up Labor HHS-Education June 9.
  •   GradNation, The number of homeless students in our nation’s public schools has risen significantly since 2006, reaching over 1.3 million in 2013-14. What more can be done to help homeless students stay on track to graduation and on to a more stable future? Monday, June 13, 9:00 a.m. for coffee and tea before the report release and discussion at 9:30 AM, Capitol Visitors Center, Room 212-10 RSVP By Thursday, June 9th
  •   Realizing Youth Justice, Advancing Education, Employment, and Youth Empowerment, Monday, June 20, 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm, Light lunch included, RSVP to attend in person, National Press Club, Washington, D.C.
  •   SAVE THE DATE! Child Welfare Workforce Briefing, sponsored by Child Welfare League of America and National Association of Social Workers, this briefing will continue on-going efforts to educate key policymakers including advocates on the importance of a well-trained, educated and staffed workforce within child welfare. Providing a continuum of child welfare services from prevention, to child protection through permanent families is dependent on these workers. Tuesday, June 28, 11:30 AM, 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building
  •   What Works for Families Affected by Substance Use, August 1 through 3, Hyatt Regency, Orange County, California, REGISTER HERE