BY SUE BADEAU
While not officially adjourned, the 106th Congress came to a halt a few days before Election Day and delayed its return until after Thanksgiving. Congress left town with only eight of 13 appropriations acts signed into law, and those that have the greatest impact on kids are among the five left hanging - caught in the wild-west style stand-off between a gridlocked Congress and a gridlocked presidential election. A few youth-friendly spending bills for Fiscal Year 2001 slipped through and were signed by President Clinton.
National Family Caregiver Act
The reauthorization of the Older Americans Act may not appear a likely place to find good news for youth, but for the 5.5 million children and teens who live with grandparents and other relatives, the signing of this act last month was indeed good news. The bill, championed for two years by the intergenerational advocacy organization, Generations United, and shepherded through Congress by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), includes the National Family Caregiver Support Act. It provides, for the first time, direct support services to grandparents and other relatives raising children. Services include information and referral, counseling and support groups, and respite care for grandparents and the children they care for, whether they have legal custody (or guardianship) or a more informal caregiving arrangement. In addition, the act creates a national grant program, seeking innovative projects that promote and support family caregiving relationships between generations.
Generations United Executive Director Donna Butts urges continued efforts to secure funding for this program. "We need to continue to educate Congress and the public about the importance of this issue. We are happy to have the act authorized, but we need to keep working until we also have the needed $125 million in full funding for the Older Americans Act, of which states could use $12.5 million for services to grandparent caregivers."
New Housing Options For Emancipated Youth
One of the few appropriations bills to be graced by President Clinton's signature, the bill known as the "VA-HUD" appropriations (HR 4635, which includes appropriations for the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and for sundry independent agencies, boards and commissions) includes an important provision for young people aging out of foster care.
Language added to the bill by Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) adds recently emancipated youth to the Family Unification housing Program (FUP). FUP is a HUD-funded program requiring collaboration between housing authorities and child welfare agencies. It provides Section 8 housing subsidies and supportive services to families at risk of losing their children to foster care, and those seeking to be reunified with their children. The new language allows youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who have left foster care to receive time-limited (up to 18 months) Section 8 vouchers under FUP.
It is not yet clear, however, whether this new legislation will result in new dollars being available. The Child Welfare League of America's housing specialist, Ruth White, says, "We are hoping though that we will be able to secure even more vouchers for the entire FUP pot by adding this new population."
Corporation for National Service
The VA-HUD legislation also includes funding for the Corporation for National Service. Within this appropriation, $7.5 million is targeted for America's Promise, another $5 million for Communities in Schools, and earmarks of $2.5 million to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and $1.5 million to the Youth Life Foundation, run by Washington Redskins football star Darrell Green.
Defense for Abstinence
One of the first appropriations bills approved was the Military Construction Act (now Public Law 106-246). Although the U.S. military does not conscript children into service, a few child-related pieces slipped into this bill - including $20 million in abstinence-only education funding, and a $3 million earmark for a children's psychiatric facility in Wading River, N.Y. This Act, referred to as "Mil-Con," also included $35 million in payments to states for foster care and adoption services.
Food and Art
Another of the completed appropriations bills is the agriculture legislation (PL 106-387), which funds nutrition programs, including Food Stamps, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Act. Child Nutrition received $9.54 billion, the amount approved by the Senate (slightly higher than the House approved amount). This includes a morsel tossed to Wisconsin: $500,000 to start a School Breakfast program.
The Department of Interior appropriation (PL 106-291) was signed into law and includes funding for health services to Native Americans provided through the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the Indian Health Services. Appropriations of $2.2 billion include increases of nearly $2 million for mental health services, plus $3.7 million in alcohol and substance abuse prevention and treatment services.
The Interior Department also provides federal support for the arts, and the new budget includes a new account of $7 million for Challenge America grants, designed to provide arts education and outreach to underserved areas. The congressional report language cautions potential grantees to avoid "obscene art."
Roads and Missing Kids
The Transportation appropriations bill (PL 106-343), as you might expect, funds airports, railways, highways, the Olympics and missing children. Included in the bill is a new provision (Section 506) providing $2 million in FY 2001 for the U.S. Secret Service to aid in investigations of missing children. Another section, "Transportation Planning, Research and Development," provides $1.4 million in funding for the 2001 Special Olympics and $2 million for the 2002 Olympic games to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Commerce, Justice, State appropriations (HR 4690) has been settled in Congress but faces a presidential veto. The conference report, as currently agreed upon, provides $6.8 million in funding for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), $16 million for mentoring programs, $227.5 million for the Safe Schools initiative, $95 million for delinquency prevention grants, $8.5 million for victims of child abuse and $288 million for the Violence Against Women Act programs.
In addition, this bill contains a laundry list of earmarks stretching the long arm of justice across the country, with South Dakota the big winner. Among South Dakota agencies designated for funding: $1.2 million for a youth enrichment agency in Aberdeen, $1.5 million for a juvenile detention center in Brown City, $250,000 for the Bowden Youth Center in Sioux Falls, $150,000 for the South Dakota Network against Family Violence and $120,000 for Intensive Juvenile Probation.
Other justice earmarks go to Big Brothers Big Sisters ($3 million), Parents Anonymous ($3 million) and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges ($3 million), for continuing legal education. Special projects in Vermont, Kansas, New Mexico and several other states also are provided with specially marked funds, as is the Culinary Education Training for At Risk Youth program in Miami, Fla.
In spite of these completed items, most of the FY 2001 appropriations process is a very dark hole. Of the five appropriations bills remaining, Congress has completed work on four of them, but presidential vetoes and political wrangling continue to prolong the process. In addition, when Congress returns from its extended fall recess and engages in a final lame duck session, it must still iron out an agreement on the stalled Labor-HHS appropriations bill, which includes funding for nearly all social services, health and education programs affecting youth.
While many of the funding levels in the bill have been agreed to by key members of Congress, staffers are remaining hush-hush until a final deal is cut. Since this is the last piece of work for the 106th Congress, there will likely be efforts to turn it into a "Christmas Tree," hanging all sorts of other unfinished business on it - possibly including the Child Support (and Fatherhood) initiative, the Family Opportunity Act and legislation related to health care for immigrants. The president has promised to continue to veto bills that come to his desk without including measures he has deemed "priorities".
Also hanging in the wind until a final Labor-HHS bill is approved is funding for family planning and adolescent family life services, Head Start, Healthy Start, The Center for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), foster care and adoption, services for runaway youth, Job Corps, the Workforce Investment Act, School-to-Work Opportunities and an array of education programs. Some congressional staffers speculate that the lame-duck Congress may simply go for yet another Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating until the new Congress, and new administration take office.
Stay tuned ...
What the Elections Mean for Youth
The outcomes of several Senate and House races will affect how the 107th Congress addresses children and youth issues.
The biggest impact may come from the defeat of Sen. Bill Roth (R-Del.) by outgoing Gov. Tom Carper (D-Del.). Carper's agenda targets improvements to public schools and health care. More significantly, Roth's defeat clears the way for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to become chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Roth, in his position as chair, frequently thwarted efforts to move legislation related to children and youth. Whether Grassley will be an improvement is unclear, but this is certain: With Grassley as chair of the Finance Committee, and Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) holding a subcommittee chair on the Ways and Means Committee, child welfare financing will be a front-burner item.
Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), as chairman of the judiciary subcommittee on crime, pushed for an aggressive and tough approach to juvenile crime in the deliberations on reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Act. He gave up his House seat to run for the seat of retiring Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and lost to Democrat Bill Nelson. McCollum's fellow traveler on juvenile crime issues, Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), also lost his race.
Respected child advocate Tom Birch had deemed the Michigan race between Democratic Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) as the most important for youth issues. Stabenow won. She has been an active voice for youth in the House and lists youth-related issues among her top priorities for the Senate. She will join two other newly elected women likely to make children's issues among their highest priorities: Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.), who defeated Ashcroft.
Defeating Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.) was Mark Dayton (D). For several years Dayton was a youth worker at Project Place in Boston, counseling runaway and homeless youth. He later served on the staff of Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) when the future vice president chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Children. Dayton's boss was Sid Johnson, now executive director of Prevent Child Abuse America, based in Chicago.
Two moderate Republican incumbents who faced re-election - Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) - retained their seats. Both have widely respected records on children's issues.
Bitter, party-switching Rep. Matthew Martinez (R-Calif.) was soundly defeated by state Sen. Hilda Solis (D). Solis has won high marks for her positions on women's issues, and continually speaks about "stemming the tide of youth and gang violence" as one of her top agenda items. Martinez held a key position on the Education and Workforce Committee.
Another California Democrat demanding more investments in early childhood and public education, Adam Schiff, defeated Rep. James Rogan (R) in one of the fiercest contests this year. Rogan's recent claim to fame was his tough guy role against Clinton during the impeachment trial.
Brian Kerns (R-Ind.) easily won the House seat of his boss, retiring Rep. Ed Pease (R-Ind.). Kerns, who had served as Pease's chief of staff, received notoriety during the campaign when former staffers accused him of being an abusive boss, and his ex-wife accused him of being a "deadbeat dad" on child support payments. Kerns denied both charges.
Powerful Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) survived a challenge from Elaine Bloom by fewer than 600 votes.