Federally funded children and youth services – touching just about everything from drug counseling and job training to foster care and juvenile justice – would undergo some of the most drastic changes in recent memory under the budget proposed last month by President Bush.
For the first time since he became president, Bush has used a budget proposal to lay out a significant new blueprint for federally funded services for youth – a blueprint that most of the country’s major youth advocacy organizations immediately set out to tear up.
Just days after the fiscal year 2004 budget proposal was released, the Children’s Defense Fund launched a publicity campaign to fight “the administration’s war on poor children.”
Numerous other organizations, including the National Center for Children in Poverty and the Coalition on Human Needs, have jumped in. “The overall impact is not going to be good for America’s poor children and families,” said Jane Knitzer, deputy director of the poverty center.
Concerns are not simply about spending levels. In some cases, the Bush administration would increase spending. And the administration has pointed repeatedly to the need for a strong national defense and homeland security, expensive priorities that cut into domestic discretionary spending.
Critics worry as much, if not more, about the policy proposals contained in the budget and its myriad accompanying documents. The administration, for example, proposes significant changes in state funding for foster care programs, elimination of a juvenile justice grant program and restructuring of youth labor and training programs.
But some conservatives say that many social welfare organizations would not be satisfied by any level of domestic spending. They note that domestic spending continues to increase, though perhaps not as rapidly as in past budgets.
“They’re grasping. It seems to me to be quite hyperactive rhetoric,” said Brian Riedl, senior federal budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank. “There’s some shifting between programs, but some programs work better than others.”
This is the Bush administration’s third budget proposal, but the first to offer many legislative plans for social and domestic policy. It is also the first to rely on a new internal review process to justify funding levels.
The executive branch used the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) to evaluate more than 230 federal programs before submitting the budget to Congress.
An “ineffective” PART rating led the administration to justify cutting – to $422 million – funding for the Safe and Drug Free Schools program, a reduction of $50 million from the current level.
The PART review said Safe and Drug Free Schools money is stretched too thin among too many eligible groups, and the program lacks an adequate performance measurement system. It is “well-intentioned” but has “failed to produce results,” the review said.
Several other high-profile programs lost administration support, at least in part because of the new review program or other assessments. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program was cut by 40 percent.
Following are summaries of the Bush budget plan and reactions to it, by subject:
The administration proposed eliminating the Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant (JAIBG) based on its “ineffective” rating due to a lack of accountability and funding priorities. “Several funding areas have only a tangential relationship to juvenile crime,” the PART report said.
The program has been funded since 1998, but did not go through the formal legislative process until last year, as part of a juvenile justice reauthorization that took years to craft (and that also dropped “incentive” from the name). Congress funded it at $249.5 million in fiscal 2002 and $190 million in fiscal 2003.
Grants are delivered first to states, then passed on to local governments. They can be used for numerous projects, including facilities, courts, diversion programs and information sharing.
The “ineffective” rating was unfair and the proposed elimination unjustified, juvenile justice professionals and advocates said, especially since the program was signed into law only last November.
“It would be a catastrophic decision to eliminate JAIBG,” said Troy Armstrong, director of the Center for Delinquency and Crime Policy Studies at California State University, Sacramento.
He argued that JAIBG money has been used effectively and that the flexibility of the grants has helped many smaller communities develop their own delinquency deterrence programs.
Others agreed that the decision to eliminate the program was too hasty, given that the government had no time to fine-tune the program according to the new authorizing language. “We think it really could have worked through some of the problems the president’s budget said it has,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, co-director of the education and youth development division of CDF.
The decision baffled other organizations that worked with the administration and Congress to craft the newly reauthorized juvenile justice act.
“This is a program that was included in a package that was just signed into law,” said Tim Briceland-Betts, a public policy analyst at the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). “Just a couple months later, the president’s budget calls for eliminating the funding.”
The charge that JAIBG funding criteria are too broad is also hard for some juvenile justice advocates to accept. The Republican Party has consistently eschewed what it considers the “one-size–fits-all” model of federal programs, and consistently proposes legislation to make federal funding more flexible on the premise that states and local governments know their own needs better than the federal government.
“It sounds paradoxical,” Armstrong said. As for the administration’s concern with effectiveness, “that’s a smoke-and-mirror issue. There’s always a question about effectiveness with social programs.”
Regardless of the justification, McCurdy and her peers are not happy about the proposed elimination or the proposed reduction in other juvenile justice programs.
“It’s apparent: To the administration, juvenile crime is not a priority,” said McCurdy. CDF intends to lobby Congress to fight the proposal.
Youth service groups are expressing equal concern and disbelief over the administration’s proposals for youth work programs that center on job training and readiness.
As part of his plan to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, Bush proposed changing the focus of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) youth training and employment program by targeting all its grants for out-of-school youth.
Under the proposal, DOL would administer $750 million – roughly 75 percent of current “Youth Activities” funds – in grants to programs that target school dropouts, youth involved with the court system and young people transitioning out of foster care.
Another $250 million – the remaining 25 percent of “Youth Activities” – would be used to create a competitive grant program for states and local areas to address “unique youth development needs, such as summer employment and career exploration.”
That proposal could have a significant negative effect on school-based employment and training programs, said Seth Turner, manager of policy and advocacy for the National Youth Employment Coalition.
“There are a lot of programs out there that focus on in-school youth that, the way I look at it, won’t be able to get funding,” Turner said. “Serving in-school youth is an easier, more efficient way to go. You shouldn’t have to drop out of school to get job training.”
To make matters worse, Turner said, the 2004 youth grants funding level is $127 million less than two years ago, a 12 percent reduction.
Another proposal, for the Department of Education (DoE), could further reduce job-training and vocational education programs for students. The administration said the department’s vocational education program, which sends grants to states, has had “little or no benefit to high school students in terms of academic performance, job skills and postsecondary degrees.”
The budget proposes to eliminate all vocational grants to states and create a new “secondary and technical education” grant program. States could divert some of those funds to programs intended to help disadvantaged students.
“This approach gives states the flexibility to combine two separate federal funding streams serving high schools in a single program, simplifying program requirements and streamlining the delivery of educational services,” says the budget justification for the DoE.
The new youth labor grant program – labeled “Youth Grants” – would be funded at $1 billion, about the same level Congress approved for youth employment programs under the current structure.
Again, the administration relied on its new review system to justify its decision to change the way youth labor activities are funded. The review also cited the Youth Opportunity Grants (YOG) and the Responsible Reintegration of Youthful Offenders programs as “ineffective or duplicative,” and recommended they be discontinued as well. The budget includes $44 million for the YOG in order to phase it out over five years.
The budget proposal includes a modest increase for the Job Corps – which the administration called “effective” – from about $1.52 billion to $1.56 billion. Altogether, the administration proposed a $2.6 billion budget for youth training and employment programs at the department.
The administration is proposing a dramatic change to the way federal funds are channeled to states for foster care programs.
States receive foster care grants largely through two Social Security Act programs: Title IV-E grants, based on the number of children placed in foster care, have strict use restrictions. Title IV-B grants, which come from a much smaller pool of money, can be used for adoption and for family preservation, support and reunification.
States that opt into the new program would be given five years’ worth of Title IV-E grants in a lump sum payment, but would have the flexibility to use them for any purposes governed by the two child welfare titles. States could also apply for emergency funds if their needs grow in the five years.
In addition, states would no longer face the administrative burdens imposed by the two different titles, burdens the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considers “significant.”
Those states that opt out of the proposal would continue to receive separate grants from the two programs.
“If the fine print matches the proposal, this would be the best change in child welfare law in 25 years,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
The current funding is so restrictive that states are compelled to place children in foster care instead of focusing on alternatives, Wexler said. States are reimbursed between 50 cents and 79 cents for each dollar spent on foster care under the current system.
Wexler, whose organization supports family unification, said group homes, institutions and residential treatment centers are more expensive to administer than programs that would help families remain intact.
Other child welfare organizations are still studying the proposal and are waiting for a more comprehensive legislative proposal before taking a position.
“It seems to be some sort of block grant. We’re not sure how it would work,” said John Sciamanna, CWLA senior government affairs associate.
“If [HHS] is proposing to fix child welfare, I don’t see this as a fix,” said Liz Meitner, director of public policy with the CWLA.
In an effort to collect more child support payments from absent parents, the administration has proposed a new program that would tap into gamblers’ winnings. HHS would establish a database to cross-reference gambling winnings of more than $5,000 with the agency’s database of delinquent child support debtors.
Gamblers who show up on the delinquency list would have their winnings withheld and diverted to the custodial family. The administration estimated the government could collect an additional $709 million in delinquent support payments over five years.
Despite proposing an increase in education spending, the administration is drawing considerable criticism for not matching the spending levels authorized by the No Child Left Behind law.
The Children’s Defense Fund, the Coalition on Human Needs and the National Educa-tion Association (NEA) accused the administration of failing to follow through on its promises to promote education.
“The modest increase in the president’s budget does not disguise the fact it eliminates vital programs, promotes a risky voucher program and ignores the dire fiscal crises communities are facing,” said Reg Weaver, president of the NEA, the nation’s largest education union.
Bush requested a total of about $53.1 billion in discretionary spending for the Education Department, including more than $12.3 billion for grants for disadvantaged student programs. In fiscal 2003, Congress approved $11.8 billion for disadvantaged students, and nearly $56 billion overall.
Repeating his desire to provide more school choices for parents, Bush proposed $100 million for a program to help charter schools secure and improve facilities. The budget also includes $220 million for charter school operating grants.
In addition, the proposal offers $75 million for a choice incentive fund and $25 million for a voluntary public school choice program. Both are intended to help parents move their children out of failing public schools.
Congress did not provide any of the $50 million the administration requested for the choice incentive fund for fiscal 2003.
Throughout his term, Bush has consistently extolled the virtues of mentoring young people, and has encouraged adults to volunteer. His 2004 budget proposes funding for two mentoring programs totaling $150 million.
One would be administered by the Education Department with cooperation from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The proposed $100 million school-based mentoring program would target at-risk youth. In fiscal 2003, Congress approved $17.5 million for a mentoring program in the DoE.
The second, to be funded at $50 million, would help mentor children of incarcerated parents. Congress approved $10 million for the program in fiscal 2003.
The school-based mentoring proposal was enthusiastically endorsed by the National Mentoring Partnership, which said it worked with the administration and the USA Freedom Corps (which oversees the CNCS) for nine months on a mentoring proposal.
Other organizations were not as quick to applaud. The Children’s Defense Fund noted that the president repeatedly called his mentoring proposal a $450 million plan, but did not mention that the funds would be spread out over three years. The organization also said the funding may come at the expense of other mentoring programs.
Juvenile mentoring programs at the Department of Justice were funded at nearly $16 million in the current fiscal year, with a $5 million earmark going directly to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. That funding would be eliminated under the Bush proposal.
Drug Abuse Treatment Vouchers
The administration proposed a $200 million voucher program for drug and alcohol treatment, dubbed “Recovery Now.” The program would involve workers reaching out to abusers in emergency rooms, health clinics, schools, jails, courts and other settings.
After assessment, individuals would be given vouchers and allowed to select their own treatment programs, which could include faith-based options, such as Teen Challenge of Springfield, Mo. The state grant program would be administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the HHS.
The voucher proposal has been debated in Congress before, usually associated with faith-based initiatives, and is akin to letting students use publicly funded vouchers at religious schools. Proponents believe that vouchers are a constitutional alternative to providing federal grants directly to faith-based organizations, and would help alleviate separation of church and state concerns.
The administration said the proposal would send more abusers and alcoholics to treatment programs by giving them broader choices. Some abusers may seek treatment at faith-based programs that currently are ineligible or unwilling to accept public funding.
“The transforming power of faith will now be available to heal those suffering from alcohol and drug abuse,” the administration said in releasing the proposal.
Opponents are not likely to buy the claim that the government benefit goes to the individual and not the institution, and will argue that federal money still ends up in the coffers of religious organizations. Those organizations would be relieved of many of the sectarian constraints imposed on them when they receive service grants directly from the government.
Vouchers for social services were a key element of the president’s faith-based and community initiative, which the House approved in the 107th Congress. The full Senate never acted on it.
Opponents criticized the voucher proposal before Bush sent his budget to Capitol Hill, arguing that it poses legal problems and raises constitutional issues.
“The Bush plan would entangle government with religion and jeopardize the health care needs of Americans struggling with alcohol and drug problems,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in January.
The proposal is part of the administration’s plan to provide an additional $1.6 billion for treatment over five years. Overall, Bush proposed $2.3 billion for substance abuse treatment for fiscal 2004, up from about $2.08 billion for fiscal 2003.
Bush continued his drive to include faith-based organizations in providing sectarian social services with federal grants. Altogether, the administration proposed funding five competitive grant programs targeted at faith- and community-based organizations.
The president proposed increasing funds for the Compassion Capital fund from $35 million to $100 million. The program provides grants to public/private partnerships to help charitable organizations find government grants and expand their services. It also promotes research on best practices among charities.
Another Bush proposal would provide $20 million for grants to promote responsible fatherhood and healthy marriages, which the administration said would help alleviate numerous social ills and save money for social services in the future. The welfare reform bill the House passed early last month would authorize $100 million a year for the next five years for a similar program.
The administration is also taking another shot at getting Congress to approve a maternity group home program. The proposal, which Congress has rejected twice, would provide $10 million for grants to give young pregnant women a safe place to live and access to the social services they need.
The other two programs included in the administration’s faith-based proposal are the vouchers for drug treatment and the mentoring program for children of prisoners.
Tim Briceland-Betts, Senior Policy Analyst
Child Welfare League of America
440 First St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2085
Jesselyn McCurdy, Co-director
Education and Youth Development Division
Children’s Defense Fund
25 E St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
Seth Turner, Manager of Policy and Advocacy
National Youth Employment Coalition
1836 Jefferson Place NW
Washington, DC 20036
U.S. Office of Management and Budget
725 17th St. NW
Washington, DC 20503
Richard Wexler, Executive Director
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
53 Skyhill Road, Suite 202
Alexandria, VA 22314