The top priority for new federal legislation for youth service agencies in the 107th Congress is the Younger Americans Act (YAA). The proposal, introduced in the House in January as H.R. 17 by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), would authorize spending up to $2 billion per year on youth development programs approved by local community boards. Hopes that the YAA would be on the fast track have not been realized.
As of late April no Senate version of H.R. 17 has made it into the hopper. Two things are staying the hand of Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. First is harmonizing as much as possible the YAA's House and Senate legislative language, including, says one House staffer, incorporating a "stronger emphasis on youth leadership" in grant-making. But the real stall in the legislative process is (you guessed it) politics.
Jeffords was one of three Republicans who abandoned their party and voted to trim President Bush's signature $1.6 trillion tax cut to $1.2 trillion. Before asking his fellow Republican senators to cosponsor the YAA, says a key Senate staffer, he wants to give them "a chance to chill."
Last September a kick-off event for the YAA featuring Colin Powell, then chairman of America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth, listed Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) as a participant, but he was a no-show and missed Powell saying, "Children - the future of this nation - transcend political and organizational boundaries." Thurmond and most of his GOP colleagues are now reading from the White House script, which calls for tax cuts first, cutting domestic programs second, and springing for any new spending not explicitly endorsed by the White House a distant third. Says Carmen Delgado-Votaw, senior vice president for public policy for the Alliance for Children and Families, "If the tax bill keeps going we won't have any money for good things," including the YAA.
In the House, which has already voted 230-198 to approve carte blanche President Bush's tax package, GOP supporters - led by Reps. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) and Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) - have be able to round up only eight Republican cosponsors, most from the most liberal wing of the House GOP caucus. Only one conservative, freshman Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.), has so far signed on. Miller and 23 other Democrats give H.R.17 a co-sponsorship of 32 - not an impressive number in the 435-member chamber. In 1996 it was the GOP that took the lead on an earlier version of the YAA known as the Youth Development Community Block Grant. One of its most vigorous supporters was Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), now the chair of the House Republican Conference. Still handling youth issues for Watts is Legislative Director Jack Horner. Commenting on the YAA, Horner confessed, "I didn't know it was introduced," over two months ago. Regardless, says Tim Briceland-Betts, a senior analyst at the Child Welfare League of America, "We're off to a good start," and he is confident that more cosponsors in both chambers are waiting in the wings.
So far the House Committee on Education and the Workforce's Subcommittee on Select Education, chaired by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), has not scheduled hearings on the YAA. Taking a higher priority in committee deliberations is the Bush administration's education proposals and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Jeffords' children's policy director, Kimberly Barnes-O'Connor, said, however, that the Senate's bill on YAA will be introduced "in the next couple of weeks," with hearings "to follow soon after." For updates on YAA, go to www.nydic.org.