In Washington there are regular reports of senators meeting to create a budget compromise that could be taken up after the election. Some of the discussions are more public than others, and it is uncertain how much of it will turn into real action.
One of the latest examples came from a group of six senators – three Democrats and three Republicans – who joined together on September 24 to issue a letter that called for a balanced approach in addressing the pending January 2, across-the-board sequestration budget cuts. The six senators: Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) represent a different combination of senators from earlier efforts to find a senate deal on the federal budget.
The three Republicans have been emphasizing their opposition to future defense department cuts, and Sen. Levin has been holding some discussions with Sen. McCain on a possible compromise. The letter did not offer specifics but it did say, “We are committed to working together to help forge a balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid damage to our national security, important domestic priorities, and our economy.”
The use of the word “balanced” suggests the need to have “revenue enhancements,” meaning some tax increases in some way on some taxpayers. Democrats have been insisting on revenue raisers that would include letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire on those making more than $250,000, in addition to other proposals such as an additional tax on millionaires.
Republicans have been resistant to any such tax bracket changes, but some members of the party have suggested changes in tax policy, such as eliminating certain tax deductions, might be acceptable as a way to raise revenue.
There have also been reports of other senators holding behind-closed-doors meetings, including one group that includes the Democrats number two Senate leader, Richard Durbin (D-Ill). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is aware of these discussions and is willing to let them continue. Additional reports indicate that Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), the Senate Finance Committee chair, is holding a series of discussions on tax reform policy.
At the same time, at least one Washington report indicates that there are some conservative senators strategizing on how to stop a compromise if it isn’t to their liking. About the only thing that is certain is that the discussions will continue and will take different turns for each poll that shows one side or the other with the upper hand when it comes to control of the White House, Senate or House.
Efforts Continue To Extend Adoption Tax Credit
There are several tax laws that are set to expire beyond the ones referenced as part of the George W, Bush tax cuts. One has special importance to the child welfare community: the Adoption Tax Credit (ATC). The credit extends to all adoptions, but in recent years has been crafted to be more flexible and easier to use when it comes to the adoption of children from foster care by requiring less documentation in regard to adoption expenses and making it refundable. Those changes were included when the ATC was extended as part of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148).
By not requiring extensive documentation of costs and most importantly by being refundable, the credit has been a significant help to families that adopt children from foster care. The refundable feature has allowed lower income families to get the total credit even if their federal tax liability has been eliminated because of other deductions or because their income is so low. This is critical to child welfare because many of the families that do adopt children and sometimes sibling groups of children are low-income families.
For calendar year 2012, the ATC has a maximum credit of $12,650. It applies to all types of adoption—from foster care, internationally, or privately from the U.S.—other than stepparent adoptions. All provisions will expire on December 31 and a less generous benefit will return. In addition, although the adoption tax credit was refundable for tax years 2010 and 2011, it is not refundable for 2012.
On Friday, September 21, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced S. 3616 – Making Adoptions Affordable Act(the companion to House Resolution 4373). There are now bills in both the House and the Senate that would accomplish the goal of an adoption tax credit that is inclusive, flat for special needs adoptions, refundable and permanent.
Congress could still act to address the 2012 provision, as well as future adoption tax credits, but this is likely to all be a part of whatever post-election tax decisions that may take place in November and December.
Advocates are asking people to email or call your two Senators and to ask your Senators to become a cosponsor of S. 3616. For a sample letter and information go online: http://adoptiontaxcredit.org/advocate/sample-letter/ ) To find your Senators go to: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm .
Advocates can call the Capitol Operator at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to his or her office. Then ask to speak the legislative assistant that deals with adoption or tax issues. If you have not already, please also call or email your Representatives – urge him/her to cosponsor H.R. 4373. To report back your response or to get additional information you mail send an email to [email protected].
New Survey on SSBG Released
The American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) has published a report outlining how states are spending the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program funding: States’ Utilization of SSBG Funds and its Impact on Services.
APHSA asked state officials about their use of SSBG funds, how they report and track funding, and what services and people are aided by the funding. The survey also attempts to give a picture of the impact on people in need if these funds were cut or the program repealed. In May, the House of Representatives adopted a reconciliation bill (H RES 648) that will cut social spending by $238 billion including the complete elimination of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) (see the vote go online: (http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2012/roll247.xml).
According to the APHSA report, “SSBG was described by many of those interviewed as the bridge holding everything together, filling service gaps for programs that are underfunded or not funded at all by the major categorical funding streams. The population served incorporates a broad range of those in need—from infancy to old age. Children, adults, families, and elderly individuals facing obstacles to self-sufficiency are provided with services to improve their chances of success. Use of SSBG dollars crosses departments providing, among many others, health services to the disabled, including those living with developmental disabilities and those with mental and physical health issues, when Medicaid or Medicare funds fall short or when individuals are in need but not eligible for benefits; counseling and employment services to ex-offenders and those referred by the courts when no other funding sources are available; and preventive and placement services to tribal and military children and families not covered by Title IV-E.”
More than two dozen organizations came together to speak in support of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) at a Capitol Hill Briefing on September 12. The briefing included a panel that included a state representative, a county executive, a child welfare agency and a New York City Human Resources official. Like the APHSA survey, the briefing highlighted how critical SSBG is to various human service programs.
SSBG is the biggest federal funding source for state child protective services and contributes over $800 million annually to child welfare services. House legislation would eliminate the automatic across-the–board–cuts to the Defense Department budget scheduled for January 2 and substitute cuts to human services including the SSBG. To access the APHSA report visit: http://www.aphsa.org/Home/Doc/SSBG-Report.pdf
UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS
- Common Ground: A Roadmap to Investing in What Works for Children in Tough Fiscal Times. a panel discussion of distinguished guests who will examine the theme of common ground as it relates to federal policy decision making. Hosted by Child Trends, Tuesday, October 2, 4:00—5:30, House Vistors Center Room 201. Additional information: Bonnie Wahiba at [email protected].
- From Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) to Success for Young Mother Led Families, Wednesday, October 24, 10:00 am to Noon, Capitol Visitors Center (SVC – 212-10), the National Crittenton Foundation. RSVP to Jessie Salu at: [email protected]
John Sciamanna is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation.