News from the Hill – January 2011

CAPTA Reauthorization Bill Signed Into Law
On December 20, President Obama signed into law the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Reauthorization Act of 2010 (CAPTA), formerly S. 3817. The law promotes the use of differential response in child protective services, gives special attention to the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence, and sharpens the prevention focus of the community-based child abuse prevention grants. Funding for discretionary grants (research, training, technical assistance, information collection, innovations) and for basic state grants remain at $120 million in fiscal year 2010 and at “such sums as may be necessary” for fiscal years 2011-2015. NASW has advocated for the timely reauthorization of, and appropriate funding for CAPTA for many years.

Social workers in child welfare often seek additional training to meet the needs of those they serve. The law will require training of CPS workers in early childhood, child and adolescent development, and programs to address the needs of unaccompanied youth. Consistent with our recommendations to Congress on child welfare workforce issues, new data collection requirements will include reporting on the number of CPS personnel, average caseloads, education and training requirements, demographic information and workload requirements, and the number of children referred for early intervention services under IDEA Part C.

New Child Abuse Data Report

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) publication Child Maltreatment 2009, an estimated 3.3 million referrals of possible cases of child abuse and neglect were made to state child protective services (CPS) agencies in the United States in 2009, two-thirds (61.9%) of the referrals – 2.04 million reports — were accepted by CPS for an investigation or assessment, resulting in an estimated 702,000 children found to be victims of child abuse and neglect. Research indicates that poor and racial and ethnic minority children and their families are disproportionately reported, labeled, and mandated into the child welfare system. While thousands of social workers strive everyday to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our nation’s children, many social workers in child welfare are overburdened with high caseloads and mounting administrative details, while receiving low pay relative to other professions. NASW will continue to advocate for more federal investments in the child welfare workforce to ensure that children receive the services they need.

Political Climate

Whenever one party moves from the minority to the majority in a chamber of Congress, they tend to initially offer legislation that is strongly supported by their base.  In January of 2007, for example, House Democrats turned to their “100 hour plan.”  This included bills to raise the minimum wage, secure lower drug prices for Medicare, cut interest rates on student loans, and other reliably progressive goals.  In January of 2011, the Republicans launched an effort to repeal health care reform and otherwise undo various Democratic policies of the last few years.  The Senate will likely stop many of these efforts.

But these two examples have one thing in common: they fail to represent the full breadth of legislation that will be offered over the course of a two year Congress.  In 2007, the House eventually moved beyond their more prolific and base-pleasing bills to other issues that needed attention.  Mundane aspects of agriculture, transportation, and natural resources were eventually addressed as Congress went about its less controversial business.  This will undoubtedly occur in 2011 as well.  Bills will be proposed that have a fair chance of passing both houses of Congress and advancing to President Obama’s desk.  Throughout 2011 and 2012, we look forward to the opportunity to provide information and analysis about such bills.

House GOP Leaders Push Spending Cuts

House Republican leaders are moving quickly to reduce federal discretionary spending, rolling back spending to levels last seen in 2008, the final year of the Bush Administration. House leaders plan to enact a federal appropriations bill, cutting all agencies except the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. In its first year this funding plan would spend $100 billion less than requested by President Obama’s for 2011, and cut $84 billion or 18 percent below current spending levels.

The GOP plan applies an overall spending cap with adjustments made up and down for many agencies. Within the Department of Health and Human Services, reductions even larger than 18 percent are anticipated. Currently, the entire federal government is operating under a stopgap funding bill that expires on March 4. GOP leaders face a very difficult, but separate vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling this April or May, and they would like to make a down payment on deficit reduction in the agency appropriations bills now to help build support within their own ranks to later pass the debt ceiling increase. New House Labor/HHS Appropriation Chair, Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) announced last week his intention to reach the lower spending targets, and said he will fight to defund the healthcare reform law, particularly innovative programs to reform the health delivery system.

Debate Begins on Essential Health Benefits

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) signed last year, permits individuals and businesses to purchase health insurance directly through state-level insurance exchanges. The exchanges enable buyers to compare the coverage and costs of qualifying health insurance plans. The state exchanges will offer a choice of plans that vary in coverage levels, but they must meet national standards in categories of coverage services and limits on patient cost sharing. The law stipulates that qualified plans cover certain categories of benefits including: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services including oral and vision care. The details of the required health plan benefit must be defined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) based on a scope of benefits offered by a typical employer plan.

At the request of the HHS Secretary, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) will advise federal regulators on this crucial health reform provision, what services to include in the essential health benefits package that insurers will be required to cover when selling in state health insurance exchanges. The IOM faces the difficult challenge of balancing generous benefit design with cost-effective and cost conscious plan offerings. The more rigorous the minimum requirements, the more consumers will end up paying. The IOM Committee on the Determination of Essential Health Benefits held its first meetings last week and will continue to examine these difficult questions. Mental health and substance abuse benefit design was a focus of hearings held last week, and a variety of related topics will be considered in the coming months. For details on the process, see the IOM website here: IOM Study of Health Benefits.

Action Alert and Update Roundup

These are alerts that were posted since the last News from the Hill. They may no longer be active.

Health Care Reform: Ask Your Representative to Vote No to Repeal

NASW Mourns the Loss of Social Work Leader Gabe Zimmerman

Advocacy Blog Roundup

CMS Reverses Rule on Voluntary Advance Care Planning

HHS Report: 129 million Americans with a pre-existing condition could be denied coverage without New Health Reform Law

NASW Opposes Repeal of Health Care Law

NASW Mourns The Loss Of Social Work Leader Gabe Zimmerman

Washington Post article on the 25 year U.S. Senate tenure of social worker Sen. Barbara Mikulski

Must Watch: President Obama’s DREAM Answer

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy Repealed

Post Office Named in Honor of Social Worker – The Late Dorothy I. Height

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Efforts Moving Forward

Advocacy Listserv Activity

In the month of December, 716 activists sent 2,072 advocacy messages to Congress and the White House through Capwiz. The most active alert was about the DREAM Act (immigration reform). Thanks to all of you who took the time to take action! To see all alerts, go here.

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