On March 9, the Senate voted to reject budget proposals from both House Republicans and Senate Democrats that would have funded the balance of the current fiscal year. The Senate voted 56–44 against a House bill that would cut around $58 billion from the current budget over the rest of FY 2011. Senators also turned down a Democrat proposal that would have cut $4.7 billion. The votes mean that either Congress will have to clear another stopgap measure before the current resolution expires March 18, or the White House will have to drive negotiations to come to some agreement. President Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to help the parties come to a resolution, and although no further meetings have been scheduled, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) stated that the only way to an agreement is through negotiation. Senator Durbin also noted that in light of the $50 billion gap separating the two parties, Democrats have to be willing to give some ground. While the two parties try to identify how much discretionary spending to cut, the House has begun working on another short-term CR. The new CR would reportedly cover a period of two to three weeks and include cuts of $6 billion.
On March 10, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing entitled "Innovations in Child Welfare Waivers: Starting the Path to Reform." Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) presided over the hearing. They both stated that the purpose of this hearing was to determine if extending waiver authority could improve outcomes for children and youth who are in, or at risk of entering, the foster care system. Both also recognized the positive outcomes that states have achieved throughout the years due to the flexibility and the options that the waivers have provided them.
Those testifying included William C. Bell, president and chief executive officer of Casey Family Programs, who noted those states that have achieved paramount reductions in their foster care caseloads as a result of their participation and use of Title IV-E waivers. These initiatives also align with Casey’ s 2020 strategy to reduce the number of children in foster care by 50 percent by that year. Also testifying was Crystal Ward Allen, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, spoke in depth about the results of the Ohio waiver. The waiver has produced significant improvements in the 18 county-based child welfare systems that participate. Finally, Charlie McNeely and Jojo Murdock, two former foster youth, testified that youth need to be better informed of their permanency options. They also urged Congress to allow states the flexibility to use their federal dollars to invest more in prevention services, which would help stabilize homes for children at risk of coming into the foster care system. The National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators submitted a statement for the record in support of extending the waiver option to states and included its recommendations for reforming the federal child welfare financing structure.
On Feb. 28, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced the Foster Care Mentoring Act of 2011 (S. 420). Senator Landrieu is also the co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth and has introduced this bill in previous congressional sessions. S. 420 is identical to S. 986, which was introduced in the last Congress to support mentoring programs for foster youth. The bill would amend Part 2 of the Title IV-B Promoting Safe and Stable Families program by including a $15 million grant program for FYs 2012–2013 for states and eligible political subdivisions to apply for no more than $600,000 to expand or establish foster care mentoring programs. The bill also includes a set-aside amount of $4 million to fund a national coordination of statewide mentoring partnerships initiative, which would establish a national hotline service or web site to provide information to individuals who are interested in becoming mentors to foster youth. Mentors are also eligible for $2,000 in student loan forgiveness for every 200 hours served in a calendar year, not to exceed $10,000 per mentor. The text of S. 420 is posted at http://www.thomas.gov.
On March 9, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security held a hearing entitled "New Tools for Curbing Waste and Fraud in Medicare and Medicaid." Kathleen King, director of health care with the Government Accountability Office, submitted written testimony estimating that in FY 2010, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made over $70 billion in improper payments. King’ s testimony also provided five strategies for CMS to help reduce fraud, waste, abuse and improper payments, including strengthening provider enrollment standards and procedures; improving prepayment review of claims; focusing post-payment claims on the most vulnerable areas; improving oversight of contractors; and developing processes for addressing identified vulnerabilities. King’ s testimony is available at http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_ID=e3150ecc-3d8c-4ffd-8236-1358d876e761.
President Obama has issued a memorandum directing all departments and agencies of the federal government to work with state, local and tribal governments to reduce "onerous administrative burdens and regulatory requirements to achieve better outcomes at lower costs." Labeled as the administration’ s plan to "cut red tape, give states flexibility and save money," the memo instructs the director of the Office of Management and Budget to lead a coordinated process across federal, state, local and tribal government lines that will streamline procedures that cut across agency, program and geographical boundaries. Agencies are to work closely with these various levels of government to identify administrative, regulatory and legislative barriers in federally funded programs that currently prevent them from efficiently using tax dollars to achieve the best results for their constituents. Additionally, the president directs the OMB to review guidance regarding cost principles and audits for state, local and tribal governments to eliminate unnecessary, unduly burdensome, or low-priority recordkeeping requirements and to tie requirements to achievement of outcomes. The OMB must also standardize and streamline reporting and planning requirements in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act to develop efficient, low-cost mechanisms for collecting and reporting data and preparing expenditure plans that can support multiple programs and agencies, and must facilitate cost-efficient modernization of state and tribal information systems. Agencies are to report back within 180 days of the memorandum to identify areas that can be streamlined or eliminated, and where increased state flexibility could achieve the same or better results at a lower cost. The memo is posted at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/02/28/fact-sheet-win-states-and-taxpayers-president-obamas-plan-cut-red-tape-g.
On Feb. 28, at the recent national meeting of the National Governors Association, President Obama announced his administration’ s commitment to state flexibility upon implementation of the Affordable Care Act (P.L.111-148). On March 10, the president also announced his support of bipartisan legislation (S. 248) that would push back the start date to 2014 from 2017 for states to implement approved health care coverage innovation waivers as authorized through the ACA. S. 248 was introduced on Feb. 1 by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). In addition the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services, two of three federal agencies responsible for ACA rulemaking, filed a proposed rule in the Federal Register on March 7 outlining new criteria for states anticipating that they will take advantage of the pushed-back date.
This Week in Washington is published by the American Public Human Services Association each week Congress is in session and on other dates. Editors: Larry Goolsby and Amy Plotnick. Writers: Rashida Brown (child care, child welfare), Robert Ek (TANF, child support), Megan Lape (health), Bertha Levin (children and family services), Anita Light (children and family services), Nanette Relave (health), Alex Tenaglio (legislative intern), Gary Terpstra (SNAP), and Jessica Wiecezak (health).