In Focus

Apr 20, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Child Care Reauthorization Promotes Access and Stability

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

In November 2014, with broad bipartisan support, Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for the first time since 1996.  In addition to protecting the health and safety of children in care and improving the quality of care, the new law contains provisions aimed at making it easier for low-income working families to access child care subsidies and to keep their children in stable care even in the face of unpredictable changes in employment

Among the key provisions are:

  • Once a child has been determined to be eligible for child care assistance under CCDBG, states must consider that child eligible for a minimum of 12 months regardless of temporary changes in a parent’s work, education or training activities, or family income, as long as income does not exceed the federal eligibility levels.
  • States may not terminate child care assistance based on permanent job loss or cessation of education and training without continuing assistance for at least three months to provide time for the parents to search for a new job.

The law thus strengthens CCDBG’s dual role as a major early childhood education program and a work support for low-income families.  Children can attend child care without instability in parental employment causing additional instability for child care, and parents who temporarily lose jobs or whose hours of employment fluctuate will not lose their child care assistance as a result.

Policymakers and advocates who work on any public benefit programs should be aware of these changes, both because child care is a critical work support for low-income families, and because these changes can set the standard for other programs where states set policy regarding redeterminations and continuous eligibility.  For example, the new law requires states to describe how their redetermination procedures and policies do not require working parents, and in particular parents receiving cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), to disrupt employment in order to comply.  Such policies should be adopted in all public benefit programs.  Other agencies that have modernized their eligibility systems to make improvements such as maximizing use of existing data and allowing clients to self-report certain data may also be able to assist child care agencies in implementing the new provisions.

The reauthorization does not guarantee new funding to comply with its many new requirements, some of which will be costly to implement.  Spending on child care assistance through CCDBG and TANF is at an 11-year low. Already, only one in six children federally eligible for child care receive assistance, and unless states are able to increase funding for child care assistance, states may serve fewer families.

States have until October 1, 2016 to comply with these provisions. While details on how these requirements will be implemented are still forthcoming, now is the time for policymakers and advocates who work on both child care assistance and other programs for low-income families to set forth a vision for what a child care system that meets the needs of both parents and children would look like, and to build support for the resources needed to realize that vision.

 

For more information, see:

  • Implementing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization: A Guide for StatesThis guide, written jointly by CLASP and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), is designed to help policymak­ers and advocates gain a better understanding of what is entailed in fully implementing the law. It summarizes and analyzes key sections of the law, offering recommendations and cautions for states. It also includes a detailed chart compar­ing specific provisions of the new law with those of the previous law, an implementation timeline, a checklist indicating state compliance with select provisions of the law, a summary of the law, and state-by-state information on CCDBG funding and children served. The chapter

Apr 7, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Listen to the Evidence: Protect SNAP

By Randi Hall

In a recent hearing on the use of evidence to guide federal investments in social policy held by the Subcommittee on Human Resources in the House Committee on Ways and Means, a witness invited by the Republican majority, John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, highlighted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a program with a strong backing in evidence.  Bridgeland cited a 2014 longitudinal study of SNAP that illustrates the program helps to “[address] severe malnutrition and alleviate hunger,” while also increasing employment rates and reducing welfare receipt of poor mothers. 

In spite of the strong evidence of the effectiveness of SNAP benefits, the U.S. House and Senate Republican leadership have outlined FY2016 budget proposals that would slash SNAP and steeply cut the social safety net for millions of low-income children and families. In particular, the House budget would convert the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into a block grant and cut $125 billion from the program between 2021 and 2025.Turning SNAP into a block grant would mean that states receive a set amount of allocated funding for the program, which would dismantle the program’s current ability to expand during an economic decline to serve the growing needs of families as it did in the recent recession, and then retract as the economy recovers.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, the House budget’s cuts would come on top of recent and upcoming reductions that families and individuals are already experiencing. The 2014 Farm Bill cut SNAP spending by an estimated $8.6 billion over a decade.   In addition, over a million unemployed workers are projected to lose benefits in 2016 due to SNAP time limits.  

If Congress agrees once again to cut SNAP spending it could undermine the economic recovery for millions of low-income households. The Congressional Budget Office has conducted analyses of the effects of cutting SNAP spending by 15%, or $77 billion, in 2016. CBO examined the economic impacts on low-income households of three possible strategies to achieve this reduction:

  • Reduce the maximum SNAP benefit by 13 percent for all participants.  This would hurt households with incomes below $15,000 the most, decreasing their total annual income by 4 percent.
  • Increase the benefit phase-out rate from 30 to 49 percent. If the benefit phase-out rate were raised, SNAP benefits for households earning between $25,000 and $32,000 would fall by almost $1,200 a year.
  • Reduce the monthly income limit for eligibility from 130 to 67 percent of the federal poverty line. This change would affect households making between $15,000 and $25,000 the hardest, reducing their annual SNAP benefits by nearly 40 percent. 

Congressional Budget Office analysis of the effects of total SNAP Benefits in 2016 of three options to reduce SNAP spending by 15 percent.

According to U.S. Census data, SNAP lifted as many as 3.7 million people out of poverty in 2013.  Shrinking SNAP benefits would affect the country’s most vulnerable populations and would increase food insecurity among poor children.  Congress should listen to John Bridgeland, listen to the evidence, and preserve this highly effective program.

Mar 27, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Bipartisan House Bill is a Critical Step Forward for Children’s Health

UPDATE: On April 14, 2015, the U.S. Senate voted 92 to 8 to approve the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. The Senate considered but failed to pass an amendment to extend CHIP for four years rather than two. The legislation will now be sent to President Obama for signature.

By Suzanne Wikle

On March 26 the U. S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly, and with bipartisan support, passed H.R. 2, the “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.”  If enacted, this bill would provide a long-term plan for Medicare payments, permanently repealing the cuts to physician payment levels that have been patched every year (the so-called “doc fix”).

The bill also includes a two-year extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides affordable health insurance to 8 million low-income children. The passage of H.R. 2 is particularly important for children’s health because without additional funds the current funding will expire at the end of September, putting millions of children at risk of losing their health insurance.

In addition to the funding, the House bill maintains core policy components of CHIP that have made it such a successful program. These policy components include a requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that states maintain their CHIP eligibility and enrollment policies through 2019, a scheduled increase in the federal matching rate effective October 1, 2015, and $40 million dollars in grants for outreach and enrollment efforts. This blog from the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University provides more details about the important policy aspects of the CHIP funding extension.

The bill also includes a two-year extension of Express Lane Eligibility (ELE), which allows states to use eligibility findings of other public assistance programs (e.g., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) to determine Medicaid and CHIP eligibility for children, simplifying the process for families who would otherwise have to provide the same information to multiple agencies. 

In addition, the bill permanently extends Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA), which provides temporary health care coverage to families who have lost Medicaid eligibility because a member of the household found a job or received a wage increase but cannot afford to purchase insurance in the private market. It also permanently extends the Qualified Individual program, which pays Medicare Part B premiums for over 400,000 beneficiaries with incomes between 120 and 135 percent of the federal poverty level who have limited assets.  It would provide two-year extensions of the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program  and the Health Professions Opportunity Grants, which support career pathways for disadvantaged workers in the health sector.

The Senate is under pressure to pass this bill as soon as possible because the latest patch to the Medicare cuts expires on March 31. However, a vote in the Senate will not happen until at least mid-April, when Congress returns from recess. President Obama, along with advocates, supports this bill and wants the Senate to act quickly upon their return to send a bill to his desk. While CHIP funding does not expire until fall, this legislation is the best opportunity to extend it this year. Moreover, any further delays will make it hard for states to plan their budgets for next year.

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