WASHINGTON — When Congress adjourns for recess, youth welfare advocates often take a break during the summer. However, with the presidential election this fall, many advocates have been working to make the most of the brief time Congress will be doing business on Capitol Hill this session, which begins today.
The House will be in session until Sept. 30, while the Senate will adjourn Oct. 7, both returning Nov. 14, after the U.S. election.
“The pressure is on for Congress to get out of town quickly and try to get back in their districts,” said John Sciamanna, Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) vice president of public policy. “I think a lot of people think they will pass a lot of short-term funding before the election.”
Like Sciamanna, many advocates spent the recess working to promote issues like the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 (FFPSA). Sciamanna said CWLA has been encouraging its members to reach out to representatives to promote the bipartisan bill, which has already passed the House and would allow states to use federal foster care funding to pay for as much as a year of family services so more children can live with family members, rather than enter foster care.
“We are all hopeful that legislation can get out,” Sciamanna said. “Speaker (Paul) Ryan has expressed optimism of giving floor time to the omnibus criminal reform packages.”
Although a few members of First Focus have taken some time off during the recess, President Bruce Lesley said others have remained at work throughout the summer on the issue, along with other issues, such as promoting federal efforts to combat the spread of the Zika virus. One of the organization’s three summer interns has spent the recess putting together packages to promote FFPSA.
“People have really been working hard to raise awareness around these issues,” Lesley said. “There are a lot of things to hopefully get done in a constrained amount of time. Even if we can’t get things done in this period of time, hopefully we can lead into the next Congress and administration on some of these things.”
First Focus has contacted Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s campaigns to discuss the importance of children’s services programs and increasing juvenile services funding in Congress.
“In the last few days we’ve contacted both campaigns about that,” Lesley said. “We definitely want to see more attention go toward reducing poverty and homelessness. Despite that the recession has been receding, children homelessness is actually rising.”
According to a recent national poll by Children’s Leadership Council, 63 percent of Americans said the next president and Congress should invest more in children and youth. The organization has spent the recess raising awareness of the strong public support for funding juvenile aid programs.
Executive Director Randi Schmidt hopes Congress will take the poll into consideration as they move into session.
“From our polling it is clear that Americans support investing in child and youth well-being policies in a number of key areas, and want the next Congress and president to do more for our nation’s babies, children and youth,” Schmidt said. “So, positive efforts in these areas now should be a win-win for our nation’s children, and those elected to represent them.”