Tell Congress to Stop Picking on Our Most Vulnerable Children!
It is unfathomable to me that week after week I must continue to defend the Medicaid program that for more than 50 years has protected the health and well-being of tens of millions of America’s most vulnerable. We know many of the 37 million children enrolled in Medicaid today are from poor or low-income families and that 40 percent of children with special health care needs benefit from Medicaid. Among these children are almost half a million foster children, nearly 40 percent of them under age six. These children, invisible to many, are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Most have been abused or neglected, removed from their families and placed in foster care—either a family foster home, group home or child care institution—clinging to hopes of returning to their families or finding a new permanent family through adoption or with a relative guardian. A growing number today are children of parents struggling with opioid addiction or other mental health challenges. Fortunately, foster children who suffer from physical and mental health conditions at much higher rates than their peers who are not in foster care are eligible for Medicaid to help put them on the path to success. But today Medicaid is facing the biggest threat in its over half a century history. The House of Representatives has voted to gut it and the Senate is poised to be equally cruel in the misnamed Better Care Reconciliation Act, jeopardizing the health and futures of millions of vulnerable children and families who have counted on Medicaid.
Virtually all children in foster care have suffered trauma in their lives and have greater health and mental health needs than children not in care. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics finds children in foster care are twice as likely as their non-foster care peers to have developmental delays, asthma and obesity; are three times more likely to have ADD/ADHD, hearing problems and vision problems; are five times more likely to have anxiety; are six times more likely to have behavioral problems; and are seven times more likely to suffer from depression. Not only does Medicaid ensure foster children access to basic health care but it gives child welfare agencies the opportunity to connect children to the critical behavioral health services and treatment they need to build a healthier future and enable them to live independently and contribute to society. Foster children represent 29 percent of Medicaid expenditures for children’s behavioral health services.
Jack and Linda Quirk became foster and then adoptive parents in California for Marissa, now 15; Reuben, 14; and Anna, 10, after their biological children went off to college. All three suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and intellectual and behavioral health challenges requiring extensive care. Reuben, who is on the autism spectrum, has severe behavioral control problems related to attachment disorder and fetal alcohol exposure and is often uncontrollably violent. The family has moved to Illinois to be near a specialized residential facility to remain close to Reuben as he receives needed care. Without Medicaid the Quirks could not have afforded their adopted children’s extensive specialized care and all three would almost certainly have been in more expensive long-term group care instead of a loving family.
Medicaid also helps keep children out of foster care by getting parents the treatment and services they need before they come to the attention of the child welfare system. The expansion of Medicaid to 11 million low-income adults in the Affordable Care Act gave many parents and other caregivers—some of them for the very first time—much-needed access to services to address problems that otherwise might have resulted in removal of children from their care.
Once children are in foster care, Medicaid helps child welfare agencies secure the funding necessary to offer mental health, substance abuse and other specialized treatment to parents to help stabilize families and return children home safely. Medicaid also helps place nurses and other health specialists inside child welfare agencies.
Without Medicaid to address the special needs of our vulnerable children placed in foster care, children are likely to stay longer in care, to be removed from families who can no longer meet their special needs, and to be placed in more restrictive and costly institutional settings at state expense. Although foster care is supposed to be temporary, the average length of stay is nearly two years. For more than 30 years, many of the children with special needs who exit foster care to adoptive families have been able to continue to receive Medicaid to help their new permanent families care for them.
Missouri mother Lori Ross, President and CEO of Foster/Adopt Connect, and her husband adopted a sibling group of eight from foster care. The children have complex trauma, developmental delays, serious mental health diagnoses, and very challenging behaviors. Without Medicaid the family would already have hit its private insurance lifetime cap, which doesn’t begin to cover the costs of their children’s mental health services. The in-home service for children with significant special needs developed with the help of Medicaid has given all of these children a permanent family and saved Medicaid tens of thousands of dollars annually in more expensive treatment options. Their oldest child, now 18, recently graduated from high school and is pursuing employment and independence with his parents’ love and support.
Children placed permanently from foster care with relatives also are eligible for Medicaid. This has been especially critical as relatives are sought out to care for more and more children impacted by the opioid crisis. And we cannot forget about the estimated 20,000 children each year who transition out of foster care as they turn 18 without permanent families. These young people often received Medicaid in foster care for mental health and other health care needs, and can benefit from continued treatment as young adults to help keep them on course as they attend school or begin work. Too often youths aging out of foster care are at increased risk of homelessness, joblessness and incarceration. When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enabling young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26, it also required all states to provide continued Medicaid to age 26 for youths transitioning from foster care at age 18 or older who had been in care in the state. The loss of Medicaid for these young adults would dramatically increase their vulnerabilities.
Medicaid’s indispensable services continue to be under unprecedented attack. The House of Representatives has already passed the American Health Care Act that would slash Medicaid funding more than $800 billion and put a severe cap on future spending. The Senate is planning to vote this month on its misleading Better Care Reconciliation Act that would provide worse care for millions of children. It would end Medicaid as we know it and slash funding by 26 percent in the first ten years, a cut that would grow to 35 percent in 20 years, with much of the savings created by these cuts and caps going to fund more unneeded tax cuts for America’s wealthiest individuals and corporations. The contrast is stark and morally reprehensible when you consider the futures of children like the Quirks and the Rosses have lovingly welcomed into their families.
Any of you who are parents, grandparents, foster parents—as my parents were—or have adopted children know there is nothing more crushing than the thought of losing a child. Yet the cruel threats to Medicaid being considered in the Senate make that fear very real for tens of millions. What do we value if we don’t value a family’s love for their child and the honor and commitment they have made to care for them? No amount of tinkering will make this terrible mean spirited bill safe for children in foster care, those adopted or other vulnerable children. Please call your Senators today. Call again tomorrow and the next day until they can open their eyes to the human reality that millions of children’s lives and needs for family and stability are more important than tax cuts to powerful rich corporations or individuals. Children deserve nothing less.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.
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Give Us the Ballot: Restore the Voting Rights Act
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
—The Declaration of Independence,July 4, 1776
Voting is not a privilege. It is a fundamental, constitutionally ratified right afforded to all eligible citizens. The right to elect your federal, state and local representatives and weigh in on proposed local policies via ballot measures is the very definition of democracy: rule by the people. Laws that deny eligible men and women the right to the ballot, legislation that strips the power vested in the people to elect their representatives and decide their collective fate contradicts that central definition and cripples our republic.
It is a shame that as we celebrated the 241st anniversary of that momentous occasion when our fledging nation famously declared its independence from England and pledged allegiance to a republic governed by the people, we remain caught in the clutches of a debate as old as the founding of these united states: whether to expand or limit access to the franchise.
Today, legislation and prejudicial partisan tactics that disenfranchise communities of color and groups perceived to be progressive voters are on the rise. Restrictions on voter registration, including the elimination of same-day registration, strict voter ID laws, and limiting or eliminating early voting are some of the tools in the toolbox that dismantle our democracy.
Fifty-two years ago, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was introduced and enacted to “break the grip of state disfranchisement” by prohibiting discrimination at the polls. The act also included a provision that monitored states with established histories of discriminatory voting practices, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Those states could not implement any change or law that affected voting until the federal government reviewed the law and determined that it neither had a discriminatory purpose or effect. Shelby County v. Holder changed everything.
In his Supreme Court opinion for the case, Chief Justice Roberts reasoned that “things have changed dramatically” since the adoption of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and with that the court struck down the provision that required pre-clearance, leaving states free to change their voting laws. The impact of the decision was immediate. Within minutes, then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot tweeted that the state’s voter ID law that had been blocked by the federal government would go into effect. In the year that followed the ruling, eight states that were previously monitored passed voting restrictions that disproportionately impacted Black and Brown voters. To date, close to 100 bills to restrict voter registration and access voting have been introduced in 31 states.
Before the rising tide of coordinated efforts to wrench the vote away from huge swaths of our country stand patriots, including Representatives Terri Sewell, John Lewis, Jim Clyburn, Judy Chu and Michele Grisham Lujan, who are committed to protecting the right to vote for all Americans. In its decision, the Supreme Court instructed Congress to come up with a modern-day formula that protects voting rights, and it has: the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization, which creates a new state coverage formula that applies to states with repeated voting rights violations in the last 25 years. To restore the promise of voter equality and restore the integrity of our elections, Congress must take up this bill and pass it into law.
The ability to vote, to have a say in the policies and people we choose to represent us, is democracy. It is far too sacred a right to allow it to become weakened over a partisan lust to win at all costs. Strict voter ID laws, race-based gerrymandering, obstacles to voter registration and a current federal investigation into debunked voter fraud claims that will only serve as a front to introduce more—and likely more severe—voter suppression laws inflict grave harm on our adopted form of governance and its integrity.
As we contemplate our country’s early battles for independence, and our national struggles to expand opportunity, equality and freedoms originally denied many Americans, it is clear that we have come too far to accept any rollbacks now. We must restore and protect every American’s access to the polls.
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Van Hollen on FBI: This is a Reckless Decision Made by the Trump Administration
We Will Work to Provide the Funding to Go Forward and Demand the Documents From the GSA as to What Was Behind This Decision
Washington, D.C.—On July 11, 2017, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, spoke at a press conference about the announcement that the Trump Administration, through the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is canceling the current request for proposals to construct a new fully consolidated FBI headquarters. Prince George’s County, MD, was home to two of the three finalist locations for the fully consolidated FBI headquarters. Below is a transcript of his remarks:
“Thank you, Senator Cardin. Thank you for your incredible leadership as head of Team Maryland in the United States Congress. It’s great to be here with our colleagues. Congressman Anthony Brown, who got to work straight away to support the project for Prince George’s County, for Maryland, and, more importantly, for the country. And Rushern Baker, Prince George’s County Executive, who’s also made this a priority, who’s invested a lot of effort and money in making sure that this project came to fruition. I also want to thank Steny Hoyer and Team Maryland—but Team Maryland, as Senator Cardin said, really working for Team USA to make sure that we have a modern, consolidated FBI Building—for two reasons.
“One, to make sure we strengthen our national security. That building is failing, it’s falling apart. The FBI is currently spread among 12 different offices throughout the Washington region. So if we want to avoid the stovepipe mentality and make sure that everybody is coordinating and communicating in a modern way, we need a new, consolidated FBI for our national security.
“As Senator Cardin said, it is also a big waste of taxpayer money to delay this decision. Right now, we’re going to have to be spending taxpayer money to put band-aids on the current building to keep it operational and continue paying leases on all the other buildings.
“I’ve never seen a decision handled with more mismanagement and more negligence than this one today. This is a reckless decision made by the Trump Administration.
“As Senator Cardin said, we have made the funds available, over $900 million to date. I will remind everybody that when the Trump Administration first advanced their budget… they zeroed out, they eliminated funding for the FBI building. It was the United States Congress that provided the funds in this current fiscal year. The FBI was allocated $323 million just a couple months ago and the GSA $200 million. That’s on top of the money Senator Cardin mentioned in FY 2016.
“And I remember the evening when Senator Cardin and I worked together in the United States Senate to put the current language in the bill. ‘It is the intent of Congress to provide funding in Fiscal Year 2018 necessary for the project to proceed expeditiously.’ In other words, a big down payment already there, already banked for the FBI, and a commitment by the United States Congress that was adopted in the Senate and the House that the remainder of that money would come in Fiscal Year 2018. So I can tell you, we’re going work very hard to get to the bottom of this decision. This decision does not make sense for the American people. I don’t know what was behind it.
“There was a briefing for some of our staff members just about an hour or so ago. The verdict from there was there was no good justification or explanation. So I look forward to working with Senator Cardin and our colleagues in the House in the upcoming appropriations process—both to make sure that we do provide the funding to go forward, but also to demand the documents from the GSA as to what was behind this decision. This decision just does not make sense. It doesn’t make sense for the American people. It doesn’t make sense for the national security of the United States. It doesn’t make sense from a fiscal perspective.”
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