How children fare in the CRromnibus

Child Abuse & Neglect
Children of Immigrants

Last Thursday evening, the House approved a $1.1 trillion bill funding most of the government through September despite opposition from Democrats and significant disagreement from members of both parties. The House also voted by unanimous consent on a two-day continuing resolution (CR), which expired on Saturday. The CR was intended to keep the government funded just long enough to give the Senate time to consider the “CRomnibus” package which includes an omnibus of 11 appropriations bills funding most of the government through September, and a continuing resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security through February.

Despite efforts by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), the Senate passed the CRomnibus on Saturday night. President Obama is expected to sign the bill quickly. Under a stopgap measure Congress passed earlier, the government is funded until Wednesday.

Packed with policy instructions or “riders” – many controversial – here are a few highlights that impact children:

  • The WIC program would receive $6.6 billion, reflecting a $93 million cut from last fiscal year. But the program will be required to ensure that “all varieties of fresh vegetables,including white potatoes, are eligible for purchase” through the program. We can thank the potato lobby for this language, as it has fought for some time to be included in the food assistance program.
  • Overall, the Education Department sees a slight decrease in funding at $70.5 billion, which is down $166 million from fiscal year 2014 and well below pre-sequestration levels. Special education grants to states do see an increase of about 0.2 percent, or $25 million, over last year, but this increase is not even enough to keep up with inflation.
  • Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture has long pushed for the ability of school districts to entirely opt-out of new, healthier school meal standards for one year if they can show prior financial distress in meeting those standards. These standards were set in place by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This so-called “waiver” provision did notmake it into the CRomnibus, and schools must continue to follow all of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s regulations — for now — including the contested provision requiring students to take half a cup of fruits or vegetables with their lunch instead of being able to pass on those foods. Unfortunately, a different waiver made it into the final bill and school districts which can demonstrate hardship in meeting the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s, 100% “whole-grain-rich” standard (requiring that all grain foods served contain at least 51% whole grain) will not need to meet this standard.  The bill also prevents improvements in sodium standards from being implemented because apparently we need additional scientific studies to support efforts to reduce kids’ salt intake. These provisions, along with the white potato provision in WIC, represent an unfortunately overreach by Congress as nutrition standards have traditionally been left up to child health and nutrition professionals.
  • The bill only funds the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the bulk of our immigration policy, until February. But the bill does provide additional funding for immigration programs at agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services which sees $948 million for its unaccompanied children program — this is an $80 million increase for the program which provides health and education services to young migrants. The department also gets $14 million to support school districts working with new immigrant students.

In terms of final appropriations for key child welfare programs, the news is not good. Nearly all child welfare programs were level-funded in the final agreement including the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) which provides funding for child abuse prevention programs and has been historically underfunded. The program is slated to be reauthorized this year.

We were disappointed to see that the Administration’s proposal for a new five-year demonstration to address over-prescription of psychotropic medications for children in roster care was not funded. This initiative was proposed as a collaborative effort involving the Administration for Children and Families and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It was designed to encourage States to provide evidence-based psychosocial interventions to children and youth in foster care, to reduce over-prescription of psychotropic medications that are disproportionately prescribed to foster children and improve outcomes for these young people.

Here is a preliminary analysis of the FY 2015 budget in key children’s and child welfare program areas.