Money and Children’s Issues Collide at the Capitol

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florida-state-capitalThe Governor this week released his proposed 2017 state budget at a time when his executive agency staff were presenting a spending reduction plan at the request of House leaders. The mini-drama highlighted the deep divide over philosophy and priorities between the two branches of government, which exists at this point in the process. The conflict has spilled its way onto the pages of most traditional and some social media.

Caught in the middle are children’s programs and services. Largely missing from either branch in its preparation or budget exercise was a well-formulated expression of the IMMEDIATE and ACTUAL unmet needs of Florida’s children, much less their projected needs based on state population growth and demographic birth trends taking household income and risk factors into consideration. Also receiving scant discussion is the staggering future costs of not rising up to meet these needs or worse, cutting existing services in child welfare, juvenile justice, health, early learning, after-school and more. It’s as if a large group of newly elected officials sitting in the chairs for the first time at the capitol need to see the numbers associated with “Pay Now or Pay Later”.

Governor Scott, in his 7th year of office, in his “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tax cut plan will slash revenue by another $618 million. This includes a 25% reduction on sales tax for business leases, a series of sales tax holidays, tax breaks on books including college textbooks and a higher exemption level on the corporate income tax. While a few good provisions appeared in the budget, overall, where do children fit in?  As advocates, parents and grandparents, we believe CHILDREN ARE THE FUTURE.

Children’s advocates are advised to pound the pavement to the local offices of their elected senators and representatives without delay! Information about need, cost and future impact is crucial across the range of children’s programs and services. There is not a minute to waste in putting the information forward.

Everyone is going to feel pain if the proposed budget cuts become reality, but children are likely to feel the brunt. Here’s a quick summary of some of the cuts offered by agency heads or their designates this past week:

    • The Department of Children and Families (DCF) offered up over $170 million dollars in cuts in state general revenue and trust fund spending. The total lost from the agency would be over $280 million when the reduction of federal drawdown dollars is added. Programs targeted include:
      • Family Safety program ($6.1 million), Child Safety Administration iStock_000027007974_Large($6.3 million), Sheriff Protective Investigation ($4.7 million) and Community Based Care Lead Agency ($55.3 million). These proposed cuts to child welfare come on the heels of a report by the Children’s Bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that found the state is underperforming in critical areas. The state has been given 90 days to come up with a plan to improve its care of foster kids.
      • Mental Health Services ($1.3 million), Community Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Program Office ($1.2 million) and Children’s Baker Act ($5 million).
      • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance payments ($62 million). A presentation last session by the Office of Economic and Demographic research found that over 24% of Florida children live in poverty, almost 11% of Florida children are in deep poverty.

According to a presentation by Kimberly McMurray, Chief Financial Officer of DCF, the impact of the proposed cuts may include reduced services, increased caseloads and decreased response time.

      • The Department of Health (DOH) presented their suggestions for cutting $49.7 million in general revenue and $90.9 million in trust funds ($140.5 million total). Programs identified include:
      • Children’s Medical Services ($39.6 million) the program that serves the sickest children in the state was put up for reduction because of a decline in the population served. This follows a tumultuous year where the program drastically changed eligibility and failed to make the change via rule, resulting in an admission freeze of many months long to the program.
      • Ounce of Prevention ($1.9 million) a public-private partnership that utilizes state and private dollars to fund community-based programs that serve at-risk children and their families.
      • Safe Haven for Newborns ($300,000), which prevents the loss of infant life and provides a statewide safety net for parents considering abandoning their infants.
      • Healthy Start Coalitions (almost $20 million) that provide women with access to prenatal care, care coordination, and wraparound services to promote healthy pregnancy. The DOH presenter assured committee members that Healthy Start receives the bulk of its funding from the Agency for Health Care Administration, and that she did not believe that the reduction would eliminate Health Start’s federal funding.
      • The Office of Early Learning (OEL) also presented on their $55.2 million reduction plan. Rodney MacKinnon, director of OEL expressed extreme difficulty in selecting areas:
        • iStock_000022973452_LargeThe School Readiness Program ($47.1 million) provides child care and early learning services to children of the working poor. The proposed reduction would serve almost 8,000 fewer children. Rep. Lee (D-Fort Pierce) voiced his concern about cutting child care after hearing from business owners in his district of women who couldn’t afford to go to work without the help of child care assistance.
        • Redlands Christian Migrant Association ($1.4 million) provides school readiness services to migrant families. Fine (R-Palm Bay) questioned whether the program served “illegal immigrants or…American children.” Director MacKinnon explained that a requirement for eligibility of the program is citizenship.

Overall, while representatives raised several concerns regarding proposed cuts, they didn’t spend much time exploring where children go when programs are removed and if these new placements are appropriate and even more expensive in the short run.  They did stress, and we agree, the importance of evaluating programs to ensure their effectiveness and that outcome measures are showing positive results.

These cuts are not set in stone, and other positive revenue options exist beyond cutting crucial programs. Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) stated, “I’ve been here four years now and we’ve made significant tax cuts over the last four years. I wonder how much of those tax cuts are causing us to be in the position we are now.” The editorial board of the Sun-Sentinel agrees, instead urging lawmakers to “consider other, less detrimental ways to achieve savings,” including eliminating a 15% tax credit the insurance industry can claim on salaries paid for full-time employees ($300 million annually) and following suggestions from the Government Efficiency Task Force that could be worth up to $12 billion annually in savings.

Opioids and their Impact on Infants

iStock_000014286908_LargeOn Monday, the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee heard a presentation on the rise of opioid overdoses and neonatal abstinence syndrome cases by James M. Hall, an epidemiologist from Nova Southeastern University. The presentation offered data that the number of babies born addicted to opioids has risen from just 536 cases 10 years ago to a staggering 2,487 cases in 2015. Hall suggested several policy recommendations including the increased implementation of naloxone distribution, which reverses heroin overdose. Also intervention training for families, recovery support systems, intensive outpatient services, and relooking at appropriate prescribing by medical personnel. The Children’s Campaign believes this problem goes much deeper and affects all public systems of care inclusive of child welfare and the staggering increases in out of home removals. We will be writing more about this issue in the future.

New Dental Services for Low-Income Children

The House Health and Human Services Committee heard a presentation from OPPAGA Staff Director Mary Alice Nye regarding a recently released report entitled Review of Medicaid Dental Services. Medicaid Interim Secretary Beth Kidder was also present to answer questions from the committee.

Currently, a review of the program’s success is inconclusive. More time needs to elapse to further study the true effects of managed care on dental services.

The Children’s Campaign Involved in Tallahassee Premiere of Important Documentarythey-call-us-monsters

A film documentary on children tried as adults called They Call Us Monsters recently debuted at All Saints Cinema in Tallahassee. Roy Miller from The Children’s Campaign, Scott McCoy from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Cathy Craig-Myers from the Florida Juvenile Justice Association led a panel discussion following the showing.

The film follows the lives of juveniles transferred from the juvenile justice system to the adult system and the imbalances of justice involved. It also portrayed the extent to which the lack of reentry programs plays a key role in recidivism.

Bill Updates:

SB 196 – Juvenile Civil Citation and Similar Diversion Programs adopted an amendment that includes the expansion of mandatory offenses to include loitering. The bill was passed favorably in the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee with a vote count of 5 Yeas and 2 Nays. The Campaign strongly supports increasing the utilization of civil citations statewide and is working to improve language to minimize potential unintended consequences associated with outright removal of officer discretion. The bill will be heard next in Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. Similar bill, HB 205 has been referred to House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Passing the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee unanimously, SB 60 – Relating to Children Obtaining Driver Licenses, works to help children in foster care receive driver’s licenses through a driver’s education program. The Children’s Campaign and many other organizations waived in support. Many foster care children advocated for the bill including Chelsea Brambert, who found it difficult to attend school or work when she aged-out of foster care without a driver’s license. The bill is moving on to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. HB 217 is the companion bill and has been referred to Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee.

iStock_000000970200_LargeSB 192 – Relating to Juvenile Justice was temporarily postponed in Criminal Justice Subcommittee due to awaiting an amendment and a large fiscal impact note added by DJJ. The bill prohibits the transfer of a child to adult court under certain circumstances. The bill has been scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on February 6 at 4:00 PM in room 37 SOB.

Expanding the eligibility requirements for the expunction of criminal records to include a verdict of not guilty as well as providing punishment consequences for an entity or organization that does not adhere to the expunction of a record, SB 118 – Criminal History Records, passed Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously following the adoption of a strike all amendment. The Children’s Campaign waived in support of the bill since it expands the accomplishments of the organization last session in expunging juvenile records. The bill is now in Criminal Justice and the companion bill HB 395 has been filed.

HB 151 – Proceedings Involving Minors or Certain Other Persons provides judges with the authority to allow the use of service animals, therapy animals or facility dogs in court proceedings involving abuse, abandonment or neglect. The bill was heard and passed unanimously in the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee and is moving on to Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee. SB 416 was filed this week in the Senate and referred to committees.

 

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This Legislative Connection is brought to you by Amanda Ostrander, Nicki Harrison, Breanna Kim, Roy Miller, Karen Bonsignori and Tiffany McGlinchey

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Money and Children’s Issues Collide at the Capitol