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Children's programs benefit, suffer as federal budget finalized

Children's programs benefit, suffer as federal budget finalized

The following article is courtesy of John Sciamanna and the Child Welfare League of America.

Last Tuesday night, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced a final federal budget deal that wraps up appropriations for the rest of fiscal year 2016. The House approved the package in parts, with approval of the appropriations, the final piece, coming on Friday. The Senate wasted no time in voting later that day to approve the combined two parts of the deal.

The two parts of the negotiations included all discretionary funding for both domestic and defense spending totaling $1.1 trillion. At the same time, tax committee members of Congress were settling a tax package that will cost approximately $660 billion. That tax package is not paid for and it affects 55 tax credits, deductions and incentives mainly for businesses.

Generally, child welfare programs remained where they have been for several years with no increases in the two Title IV-B programs: Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) at $335 million for the four core programs, Child Welfare Services (CWS) at $269 million, CAPTA state grants at $25 million, Adoption Opportunities at $39 million and Adoption Incentives at $38 million.

While CAPTA state grants remained frozen, there was a small allocation of $2 million to continue the NSCAW or National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. The study is a longitudinal examination of children and families that have been investigated by child protective services. Many researchers and advocates see it as vital to obtaining a deeper understanding of child abuse and neglect.

There were some increases within the child protection arena. CASA funding received its first significant increase in several years, restoring some more recent cuts when funding went from $6 million to $9 million. The Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) increased to $20 million. There had been concerns about both programs due to the way the budget agreement was reached, tapping into some of the Crime Victim’s Trust Fund dollars.

On a negative note, the Senate was successful in de-funding the $11 million for the Abandoned Infant program. The Administration had proposed a redirection of current funding as part of the reauthorization (the program is reauthorized along with CAPTA which has been delayed). When the reauthorization did not occur, the Senate used it as justification for taking the funding.

Entitlements

Foster care, adoption assistance and guardianships under Title IV-E are not allocated by appropriators but are included as an entitlement in the legislation. The final total for these entitlements will ultimately be determined by the draw-down by states based on the number of eligible children. The budget does project another significant increase in foster care spending, rising from a projected $4.289 billion in FY 2015 to $4.772 billion likely because of increasing foster care numbers.

The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) is a fixed block grant that is labeled an entitlement to the states. As such, it is mandatory money and not technically appropriated each year (although there is some long-ago history when appropriators of the past have attempted to cut it or increase it). It remains at $1.7 billion and can only be cut by committees of jurisdiction (House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committee).

The budget deal included a series of victories by omission in addition to outright increases. The final deal left out cuts to teen pregnancy prevention funding; they did not eliminate family planning funding (Planned Parenthood).

Early Childhood

On the increase side, child care funding increased by over $300 million, rising to $2.7 billion with much of the increase to assist states in addressing the new expanded safeguards and quality initiatives for families accessing child care that came about due to last year’s reauthorization of the child care block grant (CCDBG). Head Start increased by $570 million to $9.1 billion with $135 million of that increase designated for Early Head Start. Congress followed up their just-passed reauthorization of the education/ESEA by providing $250 million for pre-kindergarten grants.

Also, partially in response to the new ESEA, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Children and Youth Act received an increase from $65 million to $70 million to improve education access for students who are homeless.

In regard to the CDC there is also funding and a directive to CDC to expand surveillance of heroin addiction beyond the smaller project currently being conducted by that agency.

Tax Cuts

The tax “extenders” package included 55 different tax credits and deductions that expire every year or few years depending on how long the last Congress extended them. Over the years the collection of tax breaks has grown from less than a dozen two decades ago to today’s package. Some of the deductions/credits were extended permanently while others received two-years extensions. That was part of the many-weeks debate by members.

There was something for everyone, with Republicans getting a number of business write-offs while Democrats were successful in extending a more expansive tax credit for children and an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for the working poor. The expansion of the two credits increased coverage and the refundability to expand the amount and the pool of low-income families benefiting. The original expansions were part of the economic stimulus package of 2009-10. According to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, the two credits, as currently designed and expanded, lift 16 million people above the poverty threshold, including 8 million children.

During negotiations, both parties argued through more than 42 policy riders between Republicans and Democrats, but there were some grand bargains. Republicans got their wished-for provision that will allow for the importation of U.S. oil for the first time since the 1970s; in exchange, Democrats got rid of a number of environment riders and they were able to win extension of the tax credits for solar and wind power. The most controversial riders regarding Planned Parenthood, Syrian refugees and financial planning disclosure were all dropped.

To read a copy of the 2,000-page consolidated budget agreement, go to the Rules Committee site at HR 2029.

To see a chart of key child welfare and child abuse prevention and support programs, go to CWLA budget.