In a column July 12 ["Children Without a Lobby," op-ed], George Will highlighted the confusion that continues to surround the social services block grant passed by the Senate in June. He expressed concern about the ability of children to compete with other interest groups for limited social services funding. In doing so, Mr. Will echoed the arguments of opponents of the block grant the children are without an effective lobby and that provisions relating to adoption assistance and foster care, reformed just last year, are inadequately protected in the Senate legislation.
First, it's important to set the record straight on whether orphans and foster care children are with or without representation. There was perhaps no single group that was better or more forcefully represented at the time the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate deliberated on the block grant proposal. Senators and their staff, as well as the Finance Committee staff, have maintained close and ongoing communication with representatives from all over the country. Beginning in March with the Finance Committee's spending reduction hearings and continuing through to the present time, we have heard from such groups as the Child Welfare League, Children's Defense Fund, Association of Junior Leagues, National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse and the Emergency Campaign for Children and Youth, the latter group representing over 100 organizations and coalitions.
I might add that a number of concerned individuals and groups in Kansas made their views known as well. While it is certainly true that orphaned children are not an effective lobby, their interests have been effectively represented and, in my opinion, well-protected.
Our legislation evolved with strong statutory protection for the foster care and adoption assistance programs. Our desire was to maintain these significant programs at the state level while remaining consistent with the general philosophy of block grants.
First, under the bill approved by the Senate, every state would be required to maintain adoption assistance, foster care and child welfare programs with the same general restrictions and requirements as approved for the federal level in last year's legislation.
Second, all states would be required to maintain their current funding levels in these programs, minus a 25 percent reduction. The secretary of health and human services would also be required to monitor state administration of these programs. Any state that failed to comply with these conditions would be penalized by losing an appropriate amount of federal funds.
Finally, even though the programs for adoption assistance, foster care and child welfare services were combined into a single social services block grant, the legislation, as approved by the Senate and agreed to by the administration, would preserve them as an appropriated entitlement so that funding would be automatic each year.
In short, the committee made every effort to respond to the concerns of reprentatives of orphans and foster care children, without violating the spirit of the block grant.
It is my hope, and my belief, that orphaned children will not be adversely affected. I, for one, intend to monitor carefully the care of these children over the course of the months ahead to see that these programs function properly.