Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Ongoing Impacts of the Sequester on Communities

The government-wide spending cuts known as the sequester took effect on March 1, forcing $85 billion in federal budget reductions by the end of September. As we previously described, these cuts, which only affect discretionary programs (i.e. programs for which Congress must annually appropriate dollars) have reduced the budgets of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Justice and Labor, among others. As the months have progressed we are increasingly seeing how these cuts at the federal level trickle down to impact states and communities, causing multitudes of reductions in services and programming.

A map from the Center for American Progress shows how the sequester is impacting states, including Head Start programs, public schools, housing assistance, tribal programs and programs for seniors. These stories from across the nation reveal just how much states and local governments depend on federal funds to maintain their levels of service. Head Start programs have been forced to develop longer waiting lists, cut children from the program, eliminate or reduce transportation for children to centers, and lay off staff. Some school districts have been forced to sell offices, reduce teacher personal days, lay off teachers and support staff, and eliminate arts, music and physical education programs. The consequence of these moves are larger classroom sizes and a lower quality of education. The sequester is also causing longer waiting lists for housing choice vouchers, and in some places leading to vouchers being taken back and current voucher holders being reverted to a waiting list if they have not yet secured a lease with a landlord.

Funds for tribal programs have also faced extreme cuts, including 21 percent cuts in tribal housing grants; a 23 percent cut to Native job training; and a 35 percent cut to Energy Assistance. The sequester is being felt much heavier in tribal lands because unlike states, tribes cannot levy property taxes on lands held in trust, or gain significant revenues from income taxes, given the chronically low incomes of most residents on Indian reservations. Although the federal government pays about 10 percent of the budget for a typical U.S. public school district; on federal lands, it contributes as much as 60 percent. This can translate to the reduction or elimination of education programs and services, including the elimination of summer school, vocational training for high school youth, and can lead to the inability to fill vacant teacher and support staff positions (such as school guidance counselors and mental health counselors). The effects of cuts for mental health programs in tribal schools can have devastating consequences for tribal communities because research shows that Native American children and youth have disproportionately high rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide.

The across-the-board cuts of the sequester are reducing services for people who immediately need them, but they also have long-term fiscal consequences.  For example, states have had to roll back on the Meals on Wheels program, reducing the number of visits seniors receive, and creating a waiting list for seniors in need of delivered meals.  This is a crucial service that enables seniors to remain in their homes. Not only does the delivery of meals provide nutrition assistance to seniors, but it serves as a check-up and social interaction for those who live by themselves and are sometimes otherwise socially isolated. Cutting these services actually costs taxpayers more money in the long term, because a tax dollar spent providing support services to someone at home can prevent having to spend many more tax dollars on providing full-time care to the same person in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility.

To deal with these, and likely future cuts to the federal budget, states will need to focus on policies that maximize their use of federal funds and intelligently and efficiently prioritize their own funds.  To make the best use of funds during tough fiscal times, it becomes increasingly important to budget using a results-based public policy framework. First, states should set priorities for budget decisions by engaging stakeholders and focusing on measurable results.

State and local policymakers are being forced to do more with less, and innovative strategies are needed to make this happen. Facing the current fiscal year of sequestration as well as other budget cuts, it will be ever more important for policymakers to support policies that maximize federal dollars, maximize return on investment and generate savings to invest in what works. This includes maximizing funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, utilizing the Food Stamp Employment and Training Program, taking advantage of the flexibility of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds to target priority areas, and ensure that families are aware of the benefits of filing for federal tax credits.    

For more results-based public policy, visit

Monday, July 29, 2013

Helping Families Afford a Decent Place to Live

Housing insecurity can have serious negative impacts on the health of young children. Research shows that when a child’s home is overcrowded or their family has to move multiple times due to financial pressures, children are at risk of poor mental health, have difficulty coping with stress, difficulty with social relationships and suffer from poor-quality sleep. Research on housing insecurity states that:

·         Housing insecurity increases the risk for childhood injuries, elevated blood pressure, respiratory conditions, and exposure to infectious disease

·         A history of multiple moves is associated with an increased risk of substance abuse, behavior problems, poor school performance and teen pregnancy for older children and adolescents

·         Adolescents who experience school moves are 50% more likely not to graduate from high school

·         Multiple moves in childhood are associated with lower overall health in adulthood

·         In some cases inadequate housing is a contributing factor in an increased risk of children being removed from their homes by child welfare services 

In light of the negative impacts of housing insecurity on the health, well-being and life outcomes of children, effective housing policy is crucial to keeping children safe, healthy and well. This includes both policies to help homeless families find proper housing and policies to prevent families from losing their housing in the first place. However, budget cuts at the federal, state and local level mean that many local housing agencies are unable to meet rising demand for housing assistance.  Federal funding cuts to the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly known as Section 8) due to sequestration means that thousands of eligible people including very low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities are unable to get the assistance they need to afford the rent on a decent place to live.

Housing vouchers are a critical support for many working, poor families who live in areas where rents are high and affordable housing is in short supply. Under the program, families pay 30-40% of their income on rent and the voucher covers the remainder. As funding for the program has fallen, many housing authorities have closed waiting lists (which already number in the tens of thousands in many states) and have stopped issuing new vouchers. Some have laid-off staff to avoid cutting off assistance to families who currently have housing vouchers and might become homeless without them. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated earlier this year that 125,000 households will lose their housing assistance due to sequestration.

People who have been on the waiting list for years and finally reached the top  are being told that they won’t be getting help after all; for instance, the New York City Housing Authority is no longer accepting new applications or processing new vouchers, and says that “[f]or Section 8 voucher holders who have identified an apartment and not yet scheduled an appointment to have the housing unit inspected and for those voucher holders who are still searching for an apartment, the vouchers will be terminated immediately.”  The Housing Authority of New Orleans had to recall housing vouchers recently issued to 700 families who had spent years on the waiting list and who now will have to find some other way to avoid homelessness. In Hartford, Connecticut 20 families have had their vouchers rescinded, as have 42 families in Fairfax County, Virginia. In El Paso, Texas, 100 families currently receiving assistance were told in March that their vouchers were being taken away and they would have to either leave their homes and move into public housing or figure out another way to keep a roof over their heads. In Washington DC, the United States Senate is currently considering the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill, which would provide funding for housing choice vouchers and other housing and homelessness measures; however, at the moment local housing authorities do not know if next year they will face further cuts or be able to issue vouchers again.

Receiving a Housing Choice Voucher for a family whose housing is insecure is an invaluable support.  However, even if a family is one of the lucky few who receive a voucher, in most states landlords can legally refuse to rent to potential tenants simply because they are receiving rental assistance. Due to the widespread discrimination against tenants receiving housing vouchers, in recent years some state and local policymakers have acted to reduce the obstacles preventing low-income families from finding a place to live. Earlier this month, Oregon passed a new law prohibiting discrimination against tenants who pay part of their rent with a housing voucher. Chicago has a long-standing city ordinance prohibiting such discrimination, and in May an amendment to Cook County’s Human Rights Ordinance extended these rights countywide. States such as Minnesota, Vermont and Massachusetts have similar tenant protections, as do some other municipalities including New York City.

Legal protections and housing assistance programs help to reduce barriers to housing security, but ensuring that affordable housing is available in communities is critical to the success of such measures. A number of states have created innovative policy approaches in recent years in an attempt to increase the availability of affordable housing so that families are not priced out of the market in their area. The Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act requires that at least 10% of housing in each community have affordable rents or mortgages. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have similar statutes. Such policies help to encourage the expansion of affordable housing so that families are not forced to repeatedly move due to rising rents or remain in areas of concentrated poverty because no other affordable housing is available.

State policymakers should consider new approaches to increasing the availability of affordable housing – to ensure that working families aren’t “priced out” of the market. They can also increase the legal protections that prevent landlords from discriminating against families who use housing assistance to make ends meet. Approaches to ensuring safe, stable and affordable housing options for families not only provides a critical concrete support now – but leads to better health, education and other well-being outcomes for children in the future.  
For policy strategies that promote affordable housing, please visit

A New Resource from SPARC! Raising the Bar: Child Welfare’s Shift Toward Well-being

The recognition of the need to improve well-being as a central focus of child welfare’s work has grown from an understanding of the importance of early childhood and adolescence in shaping outcomes, and the impact of toxic stress on the development of children and youth. The federal government has initiated efforts to prioritize well-being and encourage states to improve outcomes related to educational success, child health, social-emotional development, and connection and support to a child’s family, for children and youth in the child welfare system. Indications of that commitment are seen in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 and the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act of 2011.

CSSP is excited to have recently authored a paper for the State Policy Advocacy Reform Center (SPARC)  at First Focus, addressing well-being, Raising the Bar: Child Welfare’s Shift Towards Well-Being. The paper highlights the importance of ensuring the well-being outcomes for children in the child welfare system are addressed – and that while addressing safety and permanence we should also be ensuring that children are healthy, successful at school and meeting developmental milestones – not to mention engaging in normal activities like playing sports and attending social events. The brief summarizes the research and policy and practice trends related to well-being, and highlights federal, state, and local efforts.  It also outlines action l steps for policymakers and advocates to implement a policy and practice agenda in their community to enhance well-being. 

To read more, please access the brief here.  For more on promoting well-being and supporting children, youth and families involved in child welfare please visit CSSP and SPARCFor results-based policy strategies to promote well-being please visit PolicyforResults.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Extending Medicaid to 26 – A New Policy Brief!

The Center for the Study of Social Policy has released a new policy brief, The Affordable Care Act and Implications for Former Foster Youth, addressing the Medicaid regulations extending coverage until youth turn 26.

As highlighted in the brief, 41% of foster youth between the ages of 18-26 do not have health insurance, while these foster youth are almost more than twice as likely to struggle with mental health problems and have significantly higher rates of health needs in general. Despite the understandable need for easier access to healthcare, foster youth have fewer options in comparison to their peers. Medicaid is essential in providing the necessary care and insurance to foster youth as they transition into adulthood.

To better address the needs of children in foster care, provisions in the Affordable Care Act, and the corresponding regulations, extend Medicaid to former foster youth until age 26. To qualify for the extension of Medicaid, the youth must have been in foster care at the time of their 18th birthday, or have aged out of foster care based on their states’ age limits, and have been enrolled in Medicaid. These current Medicaid regulations require foster youth living within the state to receive eligibility for extended coverage.  However, coverage is important no matter where a young person grows up – so while it is only an option to provide coverage to youth who move from another state – it serves as an important support to these youth. 

The brief provides recommendations to states to maximize the health of children formerly in their care, including:
  1. Elect the option to provide Medicaid coverage to former foster youth in different states.
  2. Create an automatic enrollment process for youth prior to aging out of care.
  3.  Implement a one-time Medicaid eligibility determination until the age of 26.
  4.  Engage former foster youth and child welfare workers in designing an outreach campaign to identify successful outreach strategies in hopes of increasing the number of youth who enroll under this provision.
  5. Select the most appropriate managed care program, instead of automatic enrollment for state-selected plans, for foster youth when possible.
  6. Educate all child welfare agency representatives about the process of enrollment and to implement integrated care models, such as Health Homes.
  7. Work with Medicaid agencies to coordinate enrollment eligibility of former foster youth even after the age of 26.

Medicaid provides a concrete support for young people transitioning into adulthood. To learn more about concrete supports that help youth to thrive, please read CSSP’s brief on Concrete Supports in Times of Need. For more results-focused policy strategies for children, youth and their families visit PolicyforResults.

Friday, July 19, 2013

How TANF programs support family economic success

This week the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing entitled What Really Works: Evaluating Current Efforts to Help Families Support their Children and Escape Poverty. The hearing is the second in a series of three on ways to reform the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program (commonly referred to as welfare). Although the federally-funded TANF block grant represents a small fraction of total social spending, it helps over a million low-income families make ends meet.  
One key aspect of state TANF programs is their role in helping parents find jobs by connecting them to job training resources and assisting with their job search so that they can find employment that pays a family-sustaining wage. However, approaches to supporting family economic stability vary widely from state to state. According to a report released earlier this year by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the current ‘workforce participation’ rules often make it difficult for states to help families lift themselves out of poverty. For instance, current work rules severely limit the amount of time that parents receiving TANF benefits can spend on educational activities such as getting their GED or completing a job training program.

 According to the witness testimony of Kristen Cox, the Executive Director of Utah’s Office of Management and Budget at this week’s hearing, current requirements mean caseworkers spend about 70% of their time proving clients are in compliance with rules and regulations. Ms. Cox explained in her testimony that caseworkers spend the majority of their time doing paperwork such as keeping track of how many hours each individual client has spent on work-related activities, which of the 12 categories of work each of those hours falls into and whether those hours are below the maximum number of hours allowed per week for that category of work activity. Ms. Cox suggested that additional flexibility in the rules related to job training and workforce participation is needed to allow states to innovate and help clients more effectively. She stated that rather than‘one size fits all’ solutions for assisting clients in their job search, states need room to implement new strategies and focus on what works to help families lift themselves out of poverty.  
Another witness, Tara Smith of the University of Texas at Austin’s Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources   testified that ‘work first’ policies are often very ineffective because they don’t take into account the obstacles that many families face in achieving economic stability or the local circumstances such as the unemployment rate or local growth industries. Smith stated that for many families, a two-generation focus that connects the education and employment sectors has been used successfully to help participants establish family-sustaining careers and begin building a better future for their children.

Some states are already rethinking how they use TANF funding to achieve better outcomes for children and families. States such as Maryland, Minnesota, Utah and Wisconsin have been refocusing the way they measure success to put more emphasis on helping families build a foundation for future economic stability by finding permanent jobs with higher pay. For instance, Maryland tracks the rate of paid work placement, the job retention rate and participants’ gain in earnings. Minnesota measures program success by looking at the rate at which participants leave the program for employment, their earnings at the time of placement and the ‘Self Support Index’, or number of participants who are able to partially or wholly support their families through employment after three years.
South Carolina’s TANF-funded Family Independence program more than doubled the number of families that successfully found employment by setting goals based on ‘positive closures’ (the number of TANF benefits cases closed because families’ earnings increased until they surpassed the eligibility threshold) rather than compliance with federal workforce participation activities. South Carolina’s organizational change efforts include utilizing data in decision-making to identify strategies that work as well as streamlining program implementation to let caseworkers focus more on helping clients and less on paperwork.  

State policymakers can re-evaluate the role of the workforce participation rate requirements in how success is defined and measured in their state’s TANF-funded programs and work toward a more effective framework for efforts to support family economic stability and reduce poverty. They may also wish to consider ways that data could be more effectively utilized to identify successful strategies and streamline implementation to focus more resources on what works.
For more on ways to reduce child poverty, please visit

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Immigration Reform and Benefits Access as a Means of Keeping Families Together

On June 27th, the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744), a comprehensive set of reforms of federal immigration policy. Title II of S. 744 contains many provisions of significance to low-income immigrant families, including the creation of a new immigrant status, an overhaul of current family and employment visas, policy on benefits access, and the creation of new farm worker and temporary worker visas.

The bill creates a new status, registered provisional immigrant (RPI), for people who were physically present in the U.S. on or before December 31, 2011; have maintained continuous presence until the date of application; have paid all federally assessed tax liabilities, fees and penalties; and have not been convicted of certain criminal offenses. RPI status may be renewed in six-year periods. After 10 years, individuals in RPI status may apply to adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR or “green card”) status. An additional three years in LPR status is required before people initially granted RPI status may apply for U.S. citizenship.

The bill allows undocumented farm workers who can demonstrate a minimum of 100 work days or 575 work hours in the two years prior to the date of the bill’s enactment to be eligible for an agricultural card (“blue card”). Workers who work at least 100 days a year for five years or workers who perform at least 150 days a year for three years can adjust to LPR status. To be eligible for LPR status, agricultural workers must show that they have paid all taxes and fees, and have not been convicted of any serious crime.

The bill goes on to describe the applicability of benefits programs for these new immigrant statuses. A person granted RPI status or a blue card will not be eligible for nonemergency Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Supplemental Security Income for the duration of their provisional status. When they adjust to LPR status, they generally will be forced to wait at least five additional years before becoming eligible for these programs. A person granted RPI status or a blue card will be able to purchase private health insurance through the state Health Exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, as a RPI they are not eligible for the ACA’s premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions.

Immigration Policy’s Impact on Children and Families

The policies contained in this new Senate bill have important implications for keeping immigrant families together, because creating a legal means for families to remain in the U.S. will remove the threat of deportation, thereby preventing the children of immigrants from separation from their parents. Poor immigration policies and poor implementation and enforcement of policy can lead to severe consequences for immigrant families, in particular low-income undocumented children and families. In the first six months of 2011, the federal government removed more than 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children, and an alarming number of these children end up in foster care. Unfortunately, the exact number of children in foster care due to deportation of their parents is challenging to find because child welfare departments and the federal government do not document cases of families separated in this way. These children must wait months or years to see their parents, if they ever see them again at all.

The trauma of separation can be substantial for both immigrant parents and children. Parents are held in detention centers for an indefinite amount of time while their case is being reviewed, which leaves parents and children in the dark about when they will see each other again. Detention centers are on average 370 miles away from a detainee’s home, which can make visitation extremely difficult for families with limited resources. If the separation is long, the issue of language barriers can arise for infants and toddlers, who oftentimes must adjust to speaking English in their foster homes, and lose some of their native language. Loss of language can even become a major barrier to reunification, as some caseworkers and children’s attorneys deem communication between parent and child to be too difficult.

What Works

The Senate-passed bill would create new immigrant statuses that would bring millions of undocumented workers into more stability. While neither the Senate bill nor current federal policy extend public anti-poverty programs to families in RPI or LPR status, state policymakers have some leeway in supporting immigrant families’ ability to maintain their housing, meet their nutritional needs and support their ability to maintain consistent employment. Having access to these benefits can support families’ ability to maintain the extensive employment, income and fee requirements for RPI and LPR status, which would protect them from deportation, thereby preventing the devastating consequences of the separation of families, including trauma, parental alienation and loss of language and culture.

Immigrant families that live and work in the United States can be assisted in their stability and integration into the community with the help of public benefits. Federal statute limits the eligibility for essential means-tested social services, such as health insurance and food assistance, to non-citizens and legal residents who have lived in the U.S. for a minimum of five years. Under the Senate bill, an individual who began as a RPI would have to wait at least 15 years before becoming eligible to receive benefits from federal means-tested programs. However, states have the ability to use their funds to expand coverage to programs for low-income children and families who are not qualified for coverage under federal funding. States can:
  • Elect to provide Medicaid and CHIP to lawfully present immigrant children and pregnant women who meet the Medicaid state residency requirement.
  • Provide state-only food assistance to qualified immigrant families.
  • Expand TANF coverage to some or all qualified immigrants during the five-year ban. This could include cash assistance, childcare, transportation and/or housing assistance.
  • Implement welcome/outreach programs for new immigrants to assist with integration into society.
  • Support programs that assist eligible immigrants through the process of naturalization and increasing their civic engagement.
  • Support the policy force in addressing immigrant communities with proper communication and culturally sensitive measures.
  • Support policies that protect immigrants from deportation.
  • Create exceptions to the termination of parental rights timelines for incarcerated, detained and deported parents.
  • Institute “time-of-arrest” protocols for local law enforcement agencies to enable parents to decide who should take custody of their children.

For more on how access to benefits can reduce child poverty and prevent child abuse and neglect, see

Helping Survivors of Domestic Violence Keep Their Children Safe

Domestic violence has a huge impact on children, even if the abuse is not directly targeted at them. Every day in America, far too many children witness their mother being terrified, humiliated and assaulted by an abusive partner. According to the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), 25.6% of children and youth have been exposed to family violence and 17.9% had witnessed a parent being physically assaulted by their partner.

The trauma experienced by children who live in homes with domestic violence can be significant and long-lasting. Even very young children are affected by the stress and tension their mother feels due to the abuse in a domestic violence relationship.  Exposure to domestic violence puts children at risk of having unhealthy relationships as adults. Further, children growing up in a home where abuse is the norm are more likely to become either perpetrators or survivors of domestic violence as adults.

In families where concerns for a child’s well-being are serious enough require the involvement of the child welfare system, it is crucial that child welfare professionals understand the complex needs of domestic violence survivors when considering potential interventions. Many survivors of domestic violence remain in abusive relationships because of barriers to safety such as lack of housing, counseling, employment and legal services to obtain protection orders, divorce and custody. If survivors and their children have support in overcoming such barriers, they often can rebuild their lives without the additional trauma of the children being removed from their parent and placed in foster care. The child welfare system has the potential to support child well-being through recognizing the dynamics of domestic violence in families and responding appropriately.

 Several states have taken steps to ensure that their child welfare systems are able to respond to domestic violence effectively and with sensitivity towards the specialized needs of children and survivors of domestic violence.  The Safe and Together model is being used in Connecticut, Florida, Missouri and Ohio to train child welfare professionals on how to work with families traumatized by domestic violence to achieve better outcomes for children. This model hinges on the basic principle that it is in the best interest of children to be safe and together with the non-offending parent or family member so that children can have the safety, stability and healing from trauma that they deserve. The model advocates for a partnership with the non-offending domestic violence survivor as the most effective and efficient way to promote the well-being of the children, as well as, when appropriate, intervention with perpetrators of domestic violence to help them build a healthier relationship with their children.
In addition to utilizing domestic-violence specific models, many states have instituted a Differential Response model in child welfare, which provides an alternative to the one-size-fits-all investigation approach to reports of child maltreatment. This allows child welfare professionals to assist families with a low to moderate risk of harm in accessing services to help address concerns about children’s well-being rather than taking the traditional investigative approach. This approach is not appropriate for all reports of child abuse and neglect; however, for many families-- including many survivors of domestic violence-- this alternative approach offers the opportunity to work in partnership with child welfare workers to ensure their children’s well-being.
In a randomized experimental study conducted in Minnesota comparing this alternative response to the  adversarial investigation’ approach, researchers found that families in the alternative response group had greater increases in child safety and a lower likelihood of a subsequent report of child maltreatment during the follow-up phase. Both families and child welfare workers were more satisfied with the alternative approach. This was achieved at a significantly lower cost which researchers found more than offset the initial investment costs of alternative response. Similar models are being implemented in a number of other states, and research in other states such as Nevada and Ohio has found similar positive outcomes.
State policymakers may wish to consider ways that policies can better meet the needs of survivors of domestic violence and their children, including trauma-informed services for child witnesses of domestic violence. They may also wish to evaluate the way the child welfare system responds to family violence, support systems of care in meeting the needs of families and advance research-informed approaches to achieving better outcomes for children and families who have experienced domestic violence.

For more information on promoting children’s social, emotional and behavioral health and  preventing child abuse and neglect, please visit For information on Strengthening Families, a successful approach to preventing child abuse and neglect, please visit