A House of Representatives’ hearing on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and a draft Senate paper outlining potential child welfare reforms were the major human services developments over the past month. Additionally, the House and Senate agreed upon a budget for the first time in six years. The budget is a blueprint which does not have the force of law, but does set spending targets and makes assumptions for possible cuts in mandatory spending and/or entitlement programs.
House Conducts TANF Hearing
The House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee held a hearing on April 29 entitled Next Steps for Welfare Reform: Ideas to Improve Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to Help More Families Find Work and Escape Poverty. Subcommittee members focused on providing work opportunities to recipients and heard testimony that the program has moved away from providing cash assistance. Ranking member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) noted that, ‘in some states, TANF has become a social services slush fund’. TANF has been pending a reauthorization since 2010.
CWDA prepared the attached statement for the hearing record encapsulating the status of the CalWORKs program and providing policy recommendations for a potential reauthorization. No legislation has been introduced to date, however.
Child Welfare Reform Concept Paper Circulating
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) last week issued a ‘discussion draft’ to provide new prevention funding through Title IV-E foster care. The draft includes IV-E reimbursement for up to 12 months of services to keep children out of foster care who have been identified as ‘candidates for foster care’ (as well as their family members) or to help a child exit care. Eligible services would include, but not be limited to: parenting skills; counseling; substance use; housing barriers; and domestic violence services.
Additionally, the discussion draft proposes to increase mandatory funding under the Title IV-B Promoting Safe and Stable Families program to $1 billion from the current level of $345 million. Those funds also support prevention services and family reunification efforts.
This is the first draft bill that has circulated this session which addresses child welfare reforms. CWDA is reviewing the legislation and will be providing comments to the Senate which are due June 12, 2015.
House and Senate Pass Budget Blueprint
The House and Senate agreed on a concurrent budget resolution for Federal Fiscal Year 2016 (S.Con.Res.11). The budget resolution provides broad outlines of spending and policy proposals for future legislation and is non-binding. The final budget assumes discretionary program savings in the future and assumes that legislation will be enacted into law which repeals the Affordable Care Act and block grants Medicaid.
Immediate, deep cuts to discretionary programs are not expected in FFY 2016, nor is there any likelihood that the ACA will be repealed or Medicaid block granted.
After weeks of floor debate, Senate Democrats concerned about anti-abortion language in the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178), were able to reach a compromise with Republicans and the upper chamber soon thereafter adopted the bill 99-0. The House had adopted (H.R. 181) by voice vote in late January.
The measures use an existing structure and identified funding source within the Department of Justice. Competitive block grants would be available to states and counties addressing the issue, with grants focused on collaboration and funding for services provided by entities involved with sexually exploited youth.
Since the bills are slightly different, the House and Senate would have to reconcile the two measures before final passage and submission to President Obama for his signature.
Health Program Extensions Enacted
As part of a bill creating a new payment structure for physicians treating Medicare patients, President Obama signed into law (P.L 114-10) on April 16 a number of health provisions affecting low-income families.
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): The measure included a two-year extension of funding for CHIP. The extension continues the enhanced federal financial match of 65 percent instead of 50 percent. Without the enhanced federal funding, California’s Health and Human Services Agency estimated a loss of up to $533 million annually.
- Home Visiting Program: The bill contained a two-year extension of funding at the current level of $400 million annually for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. California received $22.6 million in FY 2015 funding in February. As of that month, 21 California counties participated in the federal program. It supports pregnant women and families and helps at-risk parents of preschool children by using evidence-based, cost-effective models that improve maternal and child health and prevents child abuse and neglect.
- Transitional Medical Assistance: Needing renewal each year, the bill made permanent the transitional medical assistance (TMA) program which allows low-income families to maintain their Medicaid coverage for up to one year as they transition from welfare to work.
- Express Lane Eligibility: The legislation also extended for two years the express lane eligibility option which permits states to streamline and facilitate enrollment in health coverage using the eligibility findings in other federal programs such as SNAP, TANF and Head Start, among others.