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Continuing Resolutions Leave Kids Hanging in the Balance

| January 16, 2018 |

Welcome to a new year with the same broken budget process.

This week, Congress faces yet another deadline to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18). Of course, the start of FY18 is long behind us—107 days, to be specific. Unable to compromise on an omnibus spending bill to fully fund all of the government’s discretionary programs, Congress has instead passed a series of short-term spending bills. These “stop-gap” measures, called continuing resolutions, keep things running at levels from the prior Fiscal Year (in this case, FY 17.)

On the one hand, continuing resolutions are an important tool to keep the government from shutting down in the midst of partisan gridlock. But with Congress likely needing to pass a fourth stopgap measure this week before it can work out the details of an omnibus, it’s important to take stock of what these endless continuing resolutions have meant for kids.

Perpetual divestment in children’s programs: as First Focus illustrates in Children’s Budget 2017, the share of federal spending going to children continues to decrease and is now at an all-time low. Federal spending in FY 17 is illustrative of our lawmaker’s mismatched priorities, with just 7.47 percent going to programs serving children. Meanwhile, due to inflation and growing need, this “level” funding actually functions as a cut for many already underfunded children’s programs.

Planning for children’s programs left in limbo: Many of the federally funded programs serving kids are operated through government agencies at the Federal and State level. As these agencies wait in limbo to hear how much money they’ll have for the year ahead, they lose their ability to successfully plan and implement critical support for children.

Children become bargaining chips: Congress’ inability to pass an omnibus spending bill for FY 18 has made the appropriations process the chief vehicle by which lawmakers respond to pressing legislative issues and emergencies. The fact that a spending bill is (in theory) “must-pass” makes it an avenue for lawmakers to accomplish other legislative priorities, especially when Congress is gridlocked. Take the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, protection for those in danger of deportation due to the termination of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, and much-needed disaster relief for areas devastated by natural disasters during the fall. Rather than deal with these critical policy areas on their own, lawmakers have tied them to the spending negotiations. As a result, millions of children continue to wait in limbo: for healthcare, for their families to be safe from deportation, for assistance after having lives ravaged by hurricanes and wildfires.

If Congress is serious about investing in kids, it will stop relying on stopgap measures and start focusing on good faith efforts to fully fund the government on time, and with robust support to programs supporting families and kids. It’s time to get to work.


Terminating TPS will Force Families to Make Desperate Decisions

| January 8, 2018 |

Today the Trump Administration ended the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for almost 200,000 Salvadorans who were granted protections from deportation when multiple earthquakes shook El Salvador and displaced more than one million people in 2001. The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement to lawmakers informing them that recipients would have until September 9, 2019 to either leave the country or find a new way to obtain residency.

There are approximately 325,000 TPS beneficiaries currently living in the United States. The highest number of recipients are from El Salvador.

Because the conditions that warranted this TPS designation have continued to persist in countries such as El Salvador, many beneficiaries have resided legally in the United States for more than two decades. They have established lives, have U.S. born children, have mortgages, participate in the workforce, and contribute to the national economy.

According to the Center for American Progress more than one third of TPS recipients are homeowners and will contribute $164 billion dollars to the United States GDP over the next decade.

Collectively, TPS beneficiaries from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti have over 273,200 US-born children. Without a protected immigration status, these families will be forced to make desperate decisions. Families that choose to return to El Salvador will be faced with few job opportunities due to conditions of extreme poverty. Additionally, parents must contemplate returning to a country with their children at a time when there is a mass exodus of children and young people fleeing gang violence. Other families may choose to stay in the U.S. and risk working without legal authorization. This means that after decades of providing for their families they will be forced to look over their shoulders and fear separation from their loved ones on a daily basis.

The decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador will be devastating for hundreds of thousands of families and children. There is no pathway to citizenship for TPS holders. Congress must recognize that these mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons deserve a place to call home and to live free from fear.

Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD.), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) sponsored the SECURE Act to protect TPS recipients. In a press conference, they were joined by allies MomsRising, CASA, and UndocuBlack to urge lawmakers to work toward a solution that will provide a pathway for hundreds of thousands of families to stay together in the U.S. Senator Feinstein stated, “Our bill would provide a path to citizenship for those who have been living, working and raising U.S. citizen children in the United States for two decades. These individuals have established deep roots in their communities. It would be cruel and inhumane to separate these families.”

Similarly, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) introduced the ESPERER Act, a bipartisan bill that aims to adjust the status of certain TPS holders living in the United States. Rep. Curbelo stated, “While hoping and waiting they would be able to return to their native countries for years, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian immigrants have become essential parts of the South Florida community by contributing to our local economy and our culture.” He also stated that short term extensions and fixes have only furthered the anxiety and uncertainty felt by immigrants, and he called on Congress to come up with a permanent solution.

In 2017 the administration ended TPS for Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan and Honduras.

View our TPS Fact Sheet here.

 


Congressional Inaction on CHIP is Increasingly Dangerous

| January 8, 2018 |

Every person has empathy toward those who are closest. The challenge is to rise from having empathy for a few to having empathy for many. Our distracted society often does not allow the time for the cultivation of reflection and imagination so that we can put ourselves into the shoes of others distant or different from ourselves, especially those who suffer most.Rev. John J. Strynkowski, “In Their Shoes,”America: The Jesuit Review

Parents worry about their children’s health, safety, and well-being. The American people do too.

In a recent poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 88 percent of Americans believe that it should be a top or important priority of Congress to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Unfortunately, our nation’s political leadership does not exhibit the same concern. In September, Congress and President Trump allowed funding for CHIP to expire, and today their inaction during this holiday season threatens the health coverage of nearly nine million children and pregnant women.

While Congress dithers and fails to do its job, Jimmy Kimmel called out policymakers last week for their lack of support and attention for children.

This is not the first time Kimmel has spoken out on children’s health. Back in May, Kimmel went on his show Jimmy Kimmel Live! to talk about how his son faced a life-threatening heart condition at birth. Kimmel recognized how fortunate he was to have comprehensive health coverage for his son, but his compassion and empathy extended to other families he saw in the hospital worrying about the health of their children.

As Kimmel said, “I saw a lot of families there. And no parent should have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen.” Kimmel went on to make the case that health reform should improve and never threaten the health and well-being of children.

Child advocates embraced Kimmel’s words and were happy to defend him against false criticism of this statement because the special needs and challenges of children were neglected and ignored in the debate over health care earlier in the year. In both the House and Senate bills of that debate, proposals to slash Medicaid funding were written in a manner that would have disproportionately harmed children’s health.

Since that debate, the health of children has been put at risk again when Congress allowed funding for CHIP, which cover almost nine million children and pregnant women across the country, to expire on September 30, 2017 — nearly three months ago.

Despite endless promises by Congress to child advocates throughout the year, legislation to extend CHIP has been repeatedly delayed as Congress has been distracted by other endeavors.

Not only has CHIP not been extended, but it was put on the backburner so that Congress could focus on tax reform, which has been arguably another disaster for children. As Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic:

The House and Senate [tax] measures shower enormous benefits on households at the top of the economic ladder, a group that by all indications is older and whiter than the population overall. Then it hands the bill for those benefits largely to younger generations, who will pay through more federal debt; less spending on programs that could benefit them; and, eventually, higher taxes.

Jonathan Coppage, visiting senior fellow at the R Street Institute, adds:

The GOP tax plan will be very generous to middle-class families that make enough to capture the full credit on income taxes but will leave many working families that could most use tax relief lonely on the side of the road. My hopes for a pro-family conservative party will remain there with them.

In effect, Congress has arguably been doing double-harm to children through both its action on tax reform and inaction on CHIP.

In response to these developments, Kimmel said:

[CHIP] almost certainly covers children you know. About one in eight children are covered only by CHIP. . . Now, CHIP has become a bargaining chip. It’s on the back burner while [Members of Congress] work out their new tax plans, which means parents of children with cancer and diabetes and heart problems are about to get letters saying their coverage could be cut off next month. Merry Christmas, right? This happened because Congress, about 72 days ago, failed to approve funding for CHIP since the first time it was created about two decades ago. This is literally a life-and-death program for American kids.

He continued:

It’s always had bipartisan support, but this year, they let the money for it expire while they work on getting tax cuts for their millionaire and billionaire donors. Imagine getting that letter literally not knowing how you’ll afford to save your child’s life. This is not a hypothetical: About 2 million CHIP kids have serious chronic conditions. I don’t know about you, I’ve had enough of this. I don’t know what could be more disgusting than putting a tax cut that mostly goes to rich people ahead of the lives of children. Why hasn’t CHIP been funded already?

Unfortunately, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler wrongly chose to disparage parts of Kimmel’s statement. Kessler writes, “Kimmel starts to go off the rails by suggesting that support is no longer bipartisan. . . Few lawmakers are really against CHIP; the question is how to fund it.”

Kessler misses Kimmel’s point that, if the program were truly a bipartisan priority, CHIP should have been extended months ago. In fact, the juxtaposition of Congress demanding $8 billion in offsets to extend CHIP, even though the legislation is merely an extension of current law, compared to using the Congressional Budget Act to waive $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for corporations and the richest people in society is astounding. The $8 billion in “required” CHIP offsets are less than 1 percent of the $1.5 billion in tax cuts that Congress has chosen not to offset and subsequent increased debt will be passed on to children to pay off.

In short, despite Kessler’s criticism, there is no question that Kimmel is right to point out that Congress is “putting a tax cut that mostly goes to rich people ahead of the lives of children.”

The American public believes the priority should be the opposition. In the Kaiser Family Foundation poll, voters were more than twice as likely to say that President Trump and Congress should make CHIP a top priority (62 percent) than either reforming the tax code (28 percent) or repealing the Affordable Care Act (29 percent), even though Congress spent nearly the full year focused on the latter two issues while failing to extend CHIP funding, which expired at the end of September.

In another poll by Morning Consult and Politico, voters said, by an astounding 67–23 percent margin, that they believed CHIP was important enough to prompt a government shutdown until funding was renewed. We may be at that point now.

That leads to Kessler’s worst argument when he said that the “impasses over funding had led to some uncertainty in a handful of states, but there is no immediate crisis. . . .”

NO IMMEDIATE CRISIS?!

Frankly, the current situation is the exact opposition. Congress’s failure to extend CHIPs’s funding has become an absolute disaster to many states and families across the country.

With respect to the states, Governing’s Mattie Quinn reports:

. . .at least one state — Minnesota — had already exhausted those redistribution funds and resorted in the last few weeks to using its own money to make up for the loss of federal funding. Oregon was also anticipating having to tap its bank this month to keep the program running.

Other states are being forced to make similar decisions. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO) just requested nearly $10 million in emergency funding from the General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee. According to Gov. Hickenlooper, “Vulnerable children and pregnant women are being used as bargaining chips. This request is not a cure. It’s a one-time only band-aid as we wait for Congress to do what’s right and secure CHIP funding.”

As Emily Piper, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, explains:

I don’t think Washington is working the way anyone in the country expects it to work right now. A dysfunctional Washington has real consequences for people.

Meanwhile, states such as Colorado, Connecticut, and Virginia have already sent out disenrollment notices to families whose children rely upon CHIP and others are planning to do so.

Linda Nablo, the chief deputy director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, told Robert Pear at the New York Times:

CHIP is being used as a pawn in larger debates and negotiations. It has fallen victim to the dysfunction and partisanship in Congress. And we are getting very close to the point where some children will also be victims.

Alabama is preparing to send out its own notices to families and is preparing to impose a freeze enrollment on January 1, 2018, and not renew any coverage after that date. Cathy Caldwell, director of the Bureau of Children’s Health Insurance in Alabama, explains:

It surprises me that it’s come down to the wire like this. We’ve been talking about the need for continuing funding for at least a year now, certainly with the anticipation that it’d get done before this point. What we’re asking for is a straight extension.

Caldwell is right, but the more amazing thing about that quote is that she said that three months ago. It was a problem then, but now it is having negative consequences for real families.

Earlier this week, Caldwell told reporters:

Our phones are ringing off the wall. We have panicked families wondering what in the world they have as options.

in Colorado, Heather Richter received a disenrollment notice from the State for her child Ari’s coverage. Ari suffers from Type I diabetes and was once transported by helicopter to save his life. CHIP is critical to his life and health. According to Richter:

It’s not a choice for us. We need this. We pay our mortgage, or we pay for the life-saving supplies my son has to have. We have to choose this first, or Ari would die without insulin.

Richter added, “I would just really hope Congress would look at this and look at these children and families and do what’s right.”

Sonja Reynolds, who is from Pleasant Grove, Utah, and has five children enrolled in CHIP, including two with Crohn’s disease, concurs. As Reynolds said in an event sponsored by First Focus on Capitol Hill earlier this week:

I am here to call on the Senate to do the right thing and invest in our nation’s true future, invest in the children, to save CHIP and to save children’s lives.

The crisis is both real and growing. In an Op-Ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Myra Gregory describes the threat that the CHIP funding expiration poses for her 11-year-old son Roland, who was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year. In the editorial, Gregory writes:

States across the country are already taking emergency measures to keep their programs operating. Nonetheless, many will be forced to begin notifying parents that their children will lose their CHIP coverage unless Congress restores funding for the program.

If Congress forces Missouri to drop Roland’s coverage, our family will be in an impossible situation. I don’t have the savings to pay for Roland’s care out of pocket. I don’t have family and friends — much less a bank — who will loan us tens of thousands of dollars for Roland’s treatment.

I understand that our society is divided right now. I understand that Republicans and Democrats can have honest differences of opinion. What I cannot understand is how the U.S. Congress could make the health security of kids like Roland a guessing game, and their lives bargaining chips. Watching my baby fight for his life this past year has been agonizing. I’ve held him in my arms while he cries in pain, I’ve experienced anxiety and stress I thought I would never overcome, and I have had to have conversations with Roland’s younger brothers that no child should have to have. I have always known that our situation could get worse, but I never imagined that Congress would be an obstacle in my son’s battle with cancer.

Congress should not be an obstacle and no parent should have to fear for their child’s health and well-being in this way. Their inaction is now dangerous.

As Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) explained:

Some members of Congress are obsessed about getting the tax bill done. They’ve been waiting for this, some of them, their whole lives. They think it’s the most important thing in the world. But, my God, if you can spend months and weeks making sure that the corporate tax rate is just where it needs to be, so that you can satisfy corporate leaders, if you can tinker with that, and have tax breaks for the superrich, if you can work that hard, why is it so hard to get a bipartisan children’s health insurance bill done?

Congressional leadership say they care about CHIP and its future.

But children need action from Congress and not just words or tweets. They need congressional leaders to make the extension of health care funding for the nine million children that rely upon CHIP a priority NOW.

Nearly 1,000 national, state, and local organizations have written congressional leadership urging them to take immediate action to extend CHIP.

On a bipartisan basis, so have our nation’s governors. In a letter to congressional leadership at the end of November, the National Governors’ Association wrote:

CHIP is a Congressional success story to be celebrated — with the un-insurance rate for children age 18 and younger across the country dropping from 14.9% to 4.8% since first enacted. . . Absent congressional action, states will be forced to take steps including the notification of thousands of families of the loss of CHIP health care coverage. Taking steps to avoid those worst-case outcomes places a tremendous administrative and financial burden on states and sows confusion among vulnerable populations.

Alan Hassenfeld, former chairman and chief executive officer at Hasbro Toys, said it best when he wrote in The Hill:

No member of Congress should leave for the holidays without taking care of our children. It’s as simple as that. Do the right thing this holiday season. Fund CHIP now.

We strongly agree and ask that you to call your two senators and member in the U.S. House of Representatives to demand that they extend CHIP in the next 48 hours before children are further harmed.

Children deserve better than such neglect.


Kids Will Pay the Price for USDA’s Push for “Flexibility” in Food Assistance Programs

| December 7, 2017 |

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has recently amped up its push for “flexibility” in two food assistance programs that provide food insecure children with access to consistent, healthy meals.

In the past week, we’ve seen a couple major developments on this front. First, FNS published the School Meal Flexibility rule. If implemented, this rule would further delay the full implementation of important nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) that Congress established with the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act in 2010. Next, the Acting Deputy Under Secretary of FNS announced that in the coming weeks, the bureau will be working to give states increased flexibility in administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), especially with respect to eligibility requirements.

SNAP is a vital monthly support that helps low-income households—63 percent of which include children—put food on the table. Last year, 20 million children benefited from SNAP, receiving nearly half of every dollar in benefits.

In both cases, the USDA is arguing that program administrators simply need some leeway to make sure that SNAP and the NSLP function efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, the likelier result of the USDA’s embrace of “flexibility” is that these two crucial supports, which disproportionately benefit children, will be weakened.

Upon examining the National School Lunch standards, program operators have had several years to implement heightened nutrition standards and updated meal patterns, with 98 percent of all school districts in compliance as of 2016. Research shows that children across the nation are eating healthier school lunches under the new standards. While some program operators have certainly found implementation to be challenging, weakening the standards for milk, whole grains and sodium in the name of flexibility is hardly the answer. Instead, this rule could reduce the nutritional quality school meals. Given that low income, food insecure children are major beneficiaries of the NSLP and are also at increased risk for poor diets, this rule could be especially harmful to them.

Similarly, the changes being hinted at for SNAP (food stamps) would likely harm disadvantaged children. SNAP is a vital monthly support that helps low-income households—63 percent of which include children—put food on the table. Last year, 20 million children benefited from SNAP, receiving nearly half of every dollar in benefits. Yet the FNS announcement argues that more “state flexibility” for SNAP will lead to increased independence, personal responsibility, and work amongst SNAP participants. This language indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the vulnerable populations relying on SNAP, especially during economic downturns.

As we noted in our recent SNAP fact sheet, increased state discretion over time limits, work requirements, and other eligibility components for SNAP—even if aimed at childless adults—could have harmful effects on vulnerable children who rely on pooled resources from extended family members or live in immigrant families, as well as youth phasing out of foster care and low-income college students. Ultimately, efforts to restrict access to SNAP will weaken the program’s powerful ability to fight poverty and hunger, especially in children.

The changes being hinted at for SNAP (food stamps) would likely harm disadvantaged children.

Together, these announcements from the USDA signal that the agency is headed down a worrisome path with respect to flexibility, and millions of children may pay the price.


Calling All States – Take Action and #ExtendCHIP

| November 30, 2017 |

How much more information – or urgency – do we need regarding CHIP and its critical importance to 9 million low-income children across our country? Many states are sounding the alarm.

We’re now going on two months since federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) lapsed. States are running out of money or are about to do so. Warnings and notifications are piling up as state officials must alert parents and families, taking action in the face of this unexpected and inexplicable delay. While promises of federal funding have been extended for months, nothing has happened. Funding is uncertain at best. State Medicaid and CHIP Directors don’t have the luxury of “hoping” that federal matching funds for CHIP will materialize in time to avoid a complete disruption in their ability to pay for health care services. They need backup plans. They are notifying parents. Damage has already occurred and is happening now.

Worst-case scenarios of dropping vulnerable children and pregnant women from critical and, in some cases, life-saving, health care in a matter of weeks, with no viable or affordable alternatives, are becoming more likely.

Take California for example. As noted in a recent editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle, CA has 2 million children depending on CHIP, and its funding will run out at the end of the year. This leaves a “worst-case scenario” of “a state legislature scrambling for the $2.7 billion it needs to backfill the federal support.”

Minnesota has run out of federal funding for its CHIP program this month—and it’s the first state to do so. It’s looking for ways to divert state resources from other needs to make up for the lack of federal funding, as is Oregon. Whether or not they will be able to do so and meet the current need is unknown. The same uncertainty remains regarding the questions of what other needed care will suffer if states must make up for lost federal CHIP funding.

Pennsylvania, long known as the state that set a national model for CHIP, signed the program into law in 1992 under Governor Robert P. Casey. The state will run out of funding in February without federal renewal, leaving 176,000 children without health coverage.

Not all states can legally divert state funds to cover a shortfall in CHIP federal funds. Some are required to close their CHIP programs without their portion of federal funding. Colorado has notified its CHIP families that they may need to look into private options if federal funding doesn’t come through; the state is scheduled to run out on January 31, 2018. The deputy director of Virginia’s state Medicaid agency says their state will also shut down as of January 31 without federal funding. She calls the situation “mass confusion…People will lose their managed-care plans. They’ll lose their provider. It’s going to cause chaos.”

Children need consistent and high-quality health care and have better lives when they get it. A bipartisan and highly successful program has made that an increasingly widespread reality for 20 years. Why is it not a no-brainer to renew the CHIP program on time?

CHIP is a bipartisan, remarkably successful, federal-state partnership that has been responsible for improved health care and outcomes for vulnerable children and pregnant women for two decades. As my colleague Carrie Fitzgerald noted last month, after Congress allowed the September 30 deadline to lapse without extension, “[O]ver the last twenty years, along with Medicaid, CHIP coverage has brought the children’s uninsured rate to a record low of 5%.” Uninsured and low-income children, over the past two decades, have increasingly had access to and received better, more regular health care, resulting in a record low rate of uninsured children.

That is what we call a rare success story. That means catching developmental delays in time to help or even avoid a lifetime of difficulties (and public assistance), preventing serious illness, functioning better in school and in all settings. That means families can afford a child’s doctor’s visit and paying the rent, without having to choose between the two. That means improved life outcomes for all beneficiaries.

Children need consistent and high-quality health care and they have better lives when they get it. A bipartisan and highly successful program has made that an increasingly widespread reality for 20 years. Why is it not a no-brainer to renew the CHIP program on time?

Last night the National Governor’s Association, those on the front lines of ensuring coverage for CHIP kids in their states, sent a letter to Congress saying, essentially, “pass CHIP already”.

But the GOP-controlled Congress continues to allow an incomprehensible lapse in funding – and judgment—to occur, forcing states to expend resources on “what ifs” and “plan Bs”. And worst-case scenarios of dropping vulnerable children and pregnant women from critical and, in some cases, life-saving, health care in a matter of weeks, with no viable or affordable alternatives, are becoming more likely. This inaction, one of the worst examples of partisan paralysis, is causing panic-stricken parents across the country to wonder how they are going to pay for the care that their children need.

Calling all states: Please weigh in with your families – but please also alert your members of Congress about what is at stake, and how very dire the consequences will be if CHIP is not extended now.

For more information, including a CHIP toolkit for immediate action steps, please contact Carrie Fitzgerald, Vice President of Children’s Health Programs, carrief@firstfocus.org.


7 Ways Congress Can Honor Children on Universal Children’s Day

| November 20, 2017 |

Countries all around the world are celebrating children’s rights today. Today marks the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations establishing November 20 to be Universal Children’s Day and the 27th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child being adopted by the UN General Assembly. Globally, countries have used this treaty as a framework for putting the rights of children at the forefront of policy decisions and making progress in improving the health and well-being of millions of children.

Here, in the United States, we can be doing a lot more to ensure that children are thriving and support their rights. Below are seven ways that the federal government can do to improve the lives of children:

  1. Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We still haven’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty or adopted a similar child rights framework recognizing that children in the United States have rights. Children should be guaranteed to have their basic needs met, access to healthcare, a right to education, and freedom from any type of abuse or neglect. Without a federal framework, jurisdictions will continue to apply uneven standards, creating further disparities in outcomes for child well-being.
  1. Pass the Child Poverty Reduction Act and the Homeless Children and Youth Act. Currently, 18 percent of children are living in poverty in the U.S. with children experiencing poverty at a rate that is 62.5 percent higher than adults. Child and youth homelessness continues to skyrocket–in the 2014-2015 school year, the U.S. Department of Education identified 1.2 million homeless students, which is a 34 percent increase since the recession ended in the summer of 2009. Congress must pass the Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2017, which would establish a national target to reduce the number of children living in poverty in America by half in ten years and eliminating child poverty in twenty years, as well as institute a process to identify the most effective interventions to meet this target. In addition, Congress should pass the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2017, which would allow communities to use homeless assistance funding to target the most vulnerable homeless children, youth and families in their community, regardless of the form of homelessness. No child in the United States should have to worry about where they will be sleeping on any given night.
  1. Reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). 9 million children depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program designed specifically to meet the health and development needs of children. CHIP funding expired on September 30, 2017, and has not yet been reauthorized. Congress must reauthorize this vital program as soon as possible to prevent children from losing their health coverage. Ensuring that youth experience a healthy childhood helps them thrive and succeed as adults.
  1. Pass the Family First Prevention Services Act. There has also been an increase of children entering the child welfare system due to the opioid epidemic and substance use issues. These experiences can lead to lifelong struggles for families and children affected. Families need supportive environments to care for their children and access to treatment services and supports. The Family First Prevention Services Act would allow families to stay together by providing mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and in-home parenting skills for families at risk of entering the child welfare system.
  1. Reauthorize the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV). MIECHV provides funds for developing and implementing voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs that improve maternal and newborn health; reduce child injuries, abuse and neglect; improve school readiness, improve family economic self-sufficiency; and improve coordination and referral for other community resources. The funding for MIECHV also expired on September 30, 2017 and must be reauthorized to continue to make significant impacts in lives of young children and families.
  1. Pass the bipartisan DREAM Act and support refugee children programs. A quarter of Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients have U.S. born citizen children. With the Trump Administration ending the program, many of these children live in fear that their families could be ripped apart and they may have to live with one parent or a relative if their primary caregiver is detained or deported. Many of these children also saw DACA as a beacon of hope that they could apply for when they came of age to pursue their educational and career goals and bring them out of the shadows. Congress should pass a clean DREAM Act to allow immigrant children and children of immigrants to live without fear. In addition, many children are fleeing gang violence, rape, and economic instability in Central American and coming to the United States, where we must ensure they are treated humanely and given access to services to help them rehabilitate from the trauma they have faced. Ending protections for refugees ignores the rights of these children to live in a safe environment.
  1. Reject tax reforms that harm children. Congress should make sure that tax reforms are not made on the backs of children. The current proposals that are being discussed in the House and Senate take away much needed resources for low-income families with children. The well-being of children must be considered in making far-reaching policy changes.

The list above is just a few ways that Congress can honor Universal Children’s Day to make a difference for kids in the United States. Our children are the future and it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that they have rights and are given every opportunity to thrive and succeed.


New Groundbreaking Report Confirms High Prevalence of Youth Homelessness in the US

| November 15, 2017 |

Advocates working to end youth homelessness have known for a long time that there are many more youth experiencing homelessness on their own than get reported in national databases.

Today, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago released a groundbreaking report that provided hard evidence to back this up. In their report, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, researchers found that each year over four million young people in the U.S. experience homelessness on their own. This breaks down to 1 in 30 youth (ages 13-17) and 1 in 10 young adults (ages 18-25).

These youth and young adults are living in extremely precarious and often invisible situations. Two-thirds of the youth reported couch-surfing or other less visible forms of homelessness at some point. This was particularly true in rural communities, where the rate of youth homelessness was just as high as in urban and suburban communities.

These less visible forms of homelessness mean that youth are often invisible to public systems, putting them at high risk of harm, abuse and neglect, including trafficking. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, runaway/homeless and unstable housing statuses are among the top five risk factors for human trafficking.

These numbers are devastating and these youth and young adults deserve an immediate, robust, and cross-sector response. Solutions must include changing the paradigm of federal homeless assistance in the U.S. as well as building on the programs that are working through increased investment and resources.

Pass the Homeless Children & Youth Act (S. 611/H.R. 1511)

This bipartisan legislation would increase the visibility of homeless youth and allow communities to use federal homeless assistance funds to serve them. Currently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses a narrow definition of homelessness that doesn’t include couch-surfing and other less visible situations, so many homeless youth and young adults are excluded from receiving critical homeless assistance services. The Homeless Children & Youth Act would restore local decision-making so that communities can identify less visible homeless youth and work with other systems to connect youth with developmentally appropriate services.

Reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act

Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs provide vital services to homeless and runaway youth such as emergency housing with crisis intervention, basic life necessities, family interventions and when necessary, longer-term housing options including maternity group homes.

Yet these programs are long overdue for reauthorization. The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act will soon be reintroduced in Congress and will not only reauthorize these programs, but improve their effectiveness in stabilizing homeless youth across the country, whether they are in urban, suburban or rural communities.

Support Homeless and Foster Youth in Accessing Higher Education

We know that higher education is a critical gateway to help these youth & young adults find stability and escape homelessness. Yet too many homeless and foster youth face barriers to higher education and if they are able to attend a college or university, they often face hardships that make it extremely difficult to complete their studies and graduate.

Legislation such as the Higher Education Access and Success Act for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (S. 1795/H.R. 3740) and the Fostering Success in Higher Education Act (S. 1792/H.R. 3742) would help homeless and foster youth access higher education through removing barriers to financial aid, as well as increase support on campuses through housing assistance and resources to connect students to services.

Increase Investments to Stabilize Families and Prevent Homelessness

For many youth and young adults who become homeless on their own, they had first experienced homelessness or housing instability with their family. Nearly a third of youth also had come into contact with the child welfare system and nearly half had been in juvenile detention, jail or prison.

This means that in order to break the cycle of youth and young adult homelessness, we need investments in programs and resources that strengthen families and prevent incidents of homelessness, child welfare involvement and interactions with the criminal justice system. We must build on what works, and double-down on programs that provide cash assistance, mental health and trauma-informed care, substance abuse treatment, job training, rental assistance, affordable child care and pre-k, nutrition assistance and more.

For more information and to take action:


House Hearing Highlights Needs of Children in Opioid Crisis

| November 10, 2017 |

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development held a joint hearing on Wednesday, November 8 titled: Close to Home: How Opioids are Impacting Communities. The hearing exposed the harsh realities that many children and families are facing throughout the nation because of the opioid epidemic and witnesses offered ideas on how to ensure better treatment and support for families dealing with addiction.

There are a myriad of ways the opioid epidemic is affecting children and impeding their well-being. According to Chairman Rokita (R-IN), the number of babies born drug dependent increased by 500% between 2000 and 2014. These babies not only need specialized care, they also are at a higher risk for long term behavioral health issues and learning disabilities. Dr. Cox, Superintendent of Allegany Schools in Maryland, spoke about the increases in absenteeism in schools due to parents not being able to take their children to school because of drug use.

Substance use issues are also playing a significant role of children entering the child welfare system, as parents are unable to care for their children or dying due to overdose. In 2015, 38% of children enter foster care due to the drug or alcohol use of a parent. This is causing more children to live with relatives and kin, who often lack the supports to take care of additional children. Toni Miner, spoke of her own struggles with drugs and alcohol and how she is now a kinship caregiver for her own grandchildren due to the addictions of her children.

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate this problem and witnesses at the hearing made a number of recommendations to the Committee. Dr. Wen, who is the Baltimore City Health Commissioner, spoke about the need for Congress to protect and expand insurance coverage for on-demand addiction treatment and to protect Medicaid coverage.

She also urged additional funding in the hardest hit areas, and funding for early intervention home-visiting programs. In addition, witnesses spoke about the need to reduce stigma about drug use, using peer mentors to help addicted people with treatment, education on the dangers of drugs in schools and other community-based settings, and coordination among providers.

At First Focus, we couldn’t agree more. Ensuring healthcare services for children and families by strengthening Medicaid coverage and reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a vital part of the equation in helping families get treatment and putting them on the path of recovery. We also strongly support home visiting programs and urge Congress to reauthorize the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) so that women and children can get the help they need before drug issues spiral out of control.

Finally, it is imperative the Congress pass the Family First Prevention Services Act which would allow services for families at risk of entering the child welfare system to get substance use treatment, mental health services and in-home parenting skills.

In 2016, 64,000 people died from drug overdose. Children and families cannot wait. Investments and resources must be made available as soon as possible to reverse this terrible trend.


Annie E. Casey Foundation Releases Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children

| November 3, 2017 |

“What could happen if the 18 million children of immigrants in the U.S. were given a path to opportunity?”

Recently, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2017 report, Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children. The report looks at the intersection of children, opportunity, race and immigration and discusses the barriers to opportunity and well-being faced by children of color including children of immigrants. According to Nonet Sykes of the Casey Foundation, “The data makes it clear: for children of color, a person’s race is a leading barrier to success in the United States.”

First Focus joined child welfare advocates from a broad spectrum of organizations to hear a panel of experts discuss the importance of the Race for Results report and the importance of this as a national conversation in 2017. It is clear that race continues to divide politics and that racially diverse American children continue to fall behind across multiple indicators.

Download the full report here.

In the report, the Annie E. Casey foundation acknowledges that the history of the United States contains numerous examples of mistreatment of people of color, and through decisions made by national, state and local leaders these disparities in access to opportunity were born. According to the report, 43 percent of children in the U.S. live in low-income households with a disproportionate number being kids of color. The report also measured key aspects of child development such as birthweight, early childhood experiences, and education achievement across geographical regions of the United States and found that African-American, American Indian and Latino children face some of the biggest obstacles to opportunity.

Children of immigrants face additional barriers especially in light of the current political climate. It is estimated that 5 million children live in homes with at least one undocumented parent. These kids now live in fear of separation from their families on a daily basis. Additionally, children who came to the U.S. to seek refuge from violence in their home countries are now targets for deportation and fear being sent back to a life of horrific violence. This creates anxiety and toxic stress that adversely affects the mental health of these young people.

Within the context of this conversation it is not only important to understand that these children face barriers to healthy child development, but it is also important to understand that by not increasing their opportunities for education and competitive wage earnings, we are increasing the likelihood of future economic decline. According to the report, indicators for education and early work experiences help assess children’s preparedness to participate in civic and economic life.

Similarly, a recent report by PolicyLink, Bridging the Racial Generation Gap Is Key to America’s Economic Future, highlights the dramatic increase in the gap between the number of seniors of color and the number of young people of color. The report suggests an urgency in policy response to ensure that all low-income children of color and English language learners can access education and supports needed to succeed in the future.

“What could happen if the 18 million children of immigrants in the U.S. were given a path to opportunity?” This was a question posed by Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. How different might our future look if we chose to embrace the strengths of all children regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status?

The strengths of our children are diverse and unique. We must work harder to implement policy solutions to reduce racial disparities and increase opportunities for children of color in the United States. They deserve a chance at a prosperous future and a chance to pursue happiness.

Download the full report here.


Where Does CHIP Stand Now?

| October 10, 2017 |

For families, providers, advocates, state officials, governors, and members of Congress, September 30th was a significant day in the world of CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That’s the day that the funding for CHIP expired. Over the last twenty years, along with Medicaid, CHIP coverage has brought the children’s uninsured rate to a record low of 5%. Across the country, CHIP covers almost 9 million kids. Though advocates and state officials have been pushing for CHIP’s funding renewal since January, the repeal and replace ACA bills took up all the health policy space in Congress over the last six months.

Failing to pass a funding renewal for CHIP by the end of September seems to have prompted the two mark-up hearings we saw last week, one in the Senate Finance Committee and the other in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Each committee marked up a different bill, but the policies included are closely aligned. The House bill was part of a package of bills that were marked up and all included some type of pay-fors. The Senate bill did not contain a pay-for for CHIP.  Read More