PA 10-133 — sHB 5360

Select Committee on Children

Human Services Committee

Appropriations Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING CHILDREN IN THE RECESSION

SUMMARY: This act creates new state agency responsibilities and reporting requirements intended to provide an emergency response to children affected by the recession (see BACKGROUND). The Department of Social Services (DSS) is the agency most affected, but the other state agencies to which the act gives new responsibilities are the departments of Children and Families (DCF), Education (SDE), Labor (DOL), and Public Health (DPH). The added responsibilities are all to be achieved within available appropriations.

Among other things, the act:

1. designates the state's Child Poverty and Prevention Council as the children in the recession leadership team to make recommendations for the state's emergency response to children affected by the recession;

2. requires DSS to develop a plan for comprehensive state services;

3. specifies how DSS can spend emergency funds received through the federal American Recovery and Reimbursement Act (ARRA);

4. makes attending a two- or four-year degree program an acceptable work activity for Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) participants when the unemployment rate is high;

5. prohibits DSS from changing eligibility criteria for the child care assistance program (Care4Kids) without 30 days advance notice;

6. increases state agency responsibilities for administering programs for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness;

7. calls for greater focus on reducing (a) the number of low birth-weight babies, (b) homeless children and families, and (c) food insecurity;

8. requires DSS, SDE, and DPH to submit reports to the Appropriations Committee that includes information on their progress in implementing the provisions of the act they have been assigned; and

9. immunizes state agencies and officials from civil liability for actions undertaken in complying with most of the act's requirements. The immunity does not apply to (1) non-negligent acts, (2) research efforts concerning the viability of establishing a children in the recession fund, (3) coordinating youth leadership information, and (4) complying with reporting requirements.

EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage, except the provisions on food outreach take effect July 1, 2010

1 — LEADERSHIP TEAM

The act designates the state's Child Poverty and Prevention Council as the state's children in the recession leadership team that “must make recommendations for the state's emergency response to children affected by the recession. ” It directs the team to work in consultation with government agencies to develop and promote, within available appropriations, policies, practices, and procedures that:

1. mitigate the long-term impact of the economic recession on children;

2. provide families with appropriate assistance and resources to minimize the number of children who enter poverty as a result of the recession; and

3. reduce human and fiscal costs of recessions, including foreclosures, child hunger, family violence, school failure, youth runaways, homelessness, and child abuse and neglect.

Composition and Meetings

The act permits the council to establish a subcommittee to act on its behalf with respect to the activities listed above. The council or subcommittee must meet quarterly if the state DOL reports that the unemployment rate has been 8% or greater for the prior three months.

Accomplishing Its Goals

To accomplish its goals, the act requires the council to use strategies to mitigate the impact of the recession on children, including:

1. resource information-sharing and strategic planning to address an emergency response to children in the recession;

2. training pertinent personnel on the availability of services, access points, and interventions across agencies, including child trauma treatment;

3. developing linkages between job training and education programs and services;

4. developing and implementing efforts to coordinate outreach and increase and improve access to services, including establishing multiple enrollment sites where feasible;

5. reducing current response times to clients for safety net programs, including the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); the Temporary Family Assistance (TFA) program; subsidized child care; heating and rental assistance, eviction prevention; free and reduced preschool meal programs; and the National School Lunch and other federal school nutrition programs;

6. identifying appropriate revisions to regulations and procedures to increase program access;

7. maximizing availability of targeted case management and intervention services;

8. assessing the unique needs of children of soldiers serving in, or returning from, war or other military service; and

9. maximizing all federal funding opportunities.

Reporting

By January 1, 2011 the council must prepare a report on (1) its progress in implementing the act's provisions and (2) other governmental actions taken to reduce the recession's impact on children and families. The council must submit its report to the Appropriations, Children's, and Human Services committees.

2 — COMPREHENSIVE STATE SERVICES PLAN

The act requires DSS, in consultation with DCF, SDE, DOL, and DPH and within available appropriations, to promote efficiency, reduce costs and administrative error rates, and simplify application processes. To accomplish this, the department must, within available appropriations, develop a comprehensive plan that may include:

1. developing and promoting a single, simplified, on-line application and enrollment process for DSS-administered programs that serve children or families;

2. using the Internet to develop and increase access to on-line screening tools, benefit calculators, and on-line applications that facilitate prompt access to DSS-administered programs and benefit information; and

3. promoting access to direct assistance with application and enrollment processes through community based organizations.

DSS must submit the plan to the Children's and Human Services committees by January 31, 2011. It may consult with, and accept donations from, philanthropic organizations to finance and accomplish the plan's purposes.

Client-Friendly Applications and Notices of Programmatic Changes

The act also requires DSS to develop a client-friendly application process that will not require applications to be re-submitted if a family applies for services and, not more than 30 days after submission, (1) the family experiences a change in circumstances that makes it eligible for services or (2) a program with closed intake reopens. In those situations, the applicant need not submit a new application.

7 — MAXIMIZING FEDERAL FUNDING IN TFA PROGRAM

Within available appropriations, the act directs DSS to assist families facing unemployment, housing crises, increasing debt, homelessness, or other hardship by maximizing federal funding opportunities from the TANF Emergency Fund created by the ARRA. That federal act creates both short-term benefits and subsidized employment funding categories.

The activities for which DSS can use the nonrecurrent, short-term benefit funds include:

1. mortgage assistance,

2. eviction relief,

3. car repairs,

4. work clothes,

5. domestic violence services,

6. home visitation services, and

7. on-the-job training.

Under the act, the emergency fund's subsidized employment category may be used for purposes including youth employment programs and the alleviation of specific labor and state worker shortages where the jobs created will help families apply for state services.

DSS must work with the private sector, including philanthropies, businesses, and nonprofit agencies, and consortia of such groups, for eligible purposes and as third party participants to qualify for, access, and maximize federal funding from the emergency fund through donations, in-kind contributions, and training of subsidized workers.

8 — MODIFYING TFA WORK REQUIREMENTS

The act requires DSS, within 60 days of its passage and available appropriations, to the extent permitted by federal law, to establish and implement a procedure to modify the TFA program after the labor commissioner determines that the state unemployment rate is 8% or more for the preceding three months. (The state unemployment rates for December 2009 and January and February of 2010 were 8. 9, 9, and 9. 1%, respectively. )

When this occurs, the act requires TFA's Jobs First program to allow and encourage poor parents to pursue higher education or training. The program must approve, as acceptable work activities, attendance at a two- or four-year higher degree program.

Under the act, the modification must remain in place for at least six months, even if the unemployment rate falls below 8% during that time. DSS may seek federal TANF emergency funds to pay for the modification.

3 — CARE4KIDS

Under the act, DSS must give the public timely notice if it closes Care4kids intake or if program eligibility or status has been altered. No change, except opening the program or expanding eligibility, can be implemented before the public has had 30 days notice of the change.

4 — IMPEDING HOMELESSNESS

The act requires DSS, in consultation with DCF and SDE and within available appropriations, to impede homelessness.

It must:

1. allocate existing funding and resources to ensure that homeless shelters accept intact families or help them find adequate alternative shelter that enables them to stay together;

2. review program eligibility requirements and policies to ensure that an unaccompanied homeless child (for example, a runaway) has access, to the fullest extent practicable, to critical services that he or she might otherwise have been prevented from receiving because of age or lack of a parent or guardian;

3. work, in accordance with state and federal law, to seek relief from income garnishment orders through the appropriate judicial authority if it is deemed to be in the best interest of children and families; and

4. require SDE, in collaboration with appropriate departments, to fully use the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Act to protect homeless children from school failure and dropping out and improve their access to higher education opportunities;

5 & 6 — REDUCING HUNGER

DSS

The act requires DPH, DSS and SDE to collaborate to decrease recession-related hunger by, within available appropriations, coordinating statewide access, information, and outreach, and promoting (1) cross-referrals and co-location of entry points and (2) application processes for SNAP, child nutrition programs, and WIC to increase federal reimbursements.

SDE

The act requires SDE to administer, within available appropriations, a child nutrition outreach program to (1) increase participation in the federal School Breakfast, Summer Food Service, and Child and Adult Care Food programs and (2) secure federal reimbursement for these programs.

SDE's outreach program must:

1. encourage schools to participate in the federal School Breakfast program and use innovative ways to serve breakfast in classrooms or elsewhere after school starts, rather than only in the cafeteria before school;

2. apply for state grants from the state's existing in-classroom breakfast program;

3. encourage local and regional school districts to (a) sponsor Summer Food Service Program sites, (b) recruit others to sponsor sites, and (c) make grants to sponsors to help them increase children's participation;

4. encourage day care centers to participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program; and

5. publicize the availability of federally-funded child nutrition programs throughout the state.

9 — DPH

The act requires DPH, within available appropriations and in consultation with SDE and DSS, to try to reduce the incidence of low birth-weight infants resulting from the recession and the state's costs associated with unnecessary hospitalizations. It must do this by (1) maximizing WIC and Medicaid enrollment; (2) targeting tobacco cessation programs at pregnant women; and (3) promoting the use of the centering pregnancy model of prenatal care.

DPH may recover the costs of implementing these programs through funds available from the Tobacco and Health Trust Fund and the TANF emergency fund.

10—RESEARCH

The act requires the Commission on Children to consult with the private sector to research the viability of enacting a state children and the recession fund that would provide funds and low-interest loans to families facing a short-term crisis in housing, utilities, hunger, and unemployment.

The commission must report its findings to the Appropriations Committee by January 12, 2011.

11—YOUTH LEADERSHIP

The act requires the Commission on Children to coordinate information on youth leadership opportunities that keep youth engaged in the community. The commission must inform the legislature and public of such opportunities.

13 — RESULTS-BASED ACCOUNTABILITY REPORTS

The act requires SDE, DPH, and DSS to each submit results-based accountability reports detailing the policies and interventions it promoted as required by the act's terms. The departments' reports must include key outcome indicators and measures and set benchmarks for evaluating progress.

The reports must be submitted to the Appropriations Committee by January 1, 2011.

BACKGROUND

Economic Recession

Although there is no universal definition of economic recession, the widely accepted National Bureau of Economic Research definition is that a recession occurs when gross domestic product has dropped for three consecutive quarters. Under this definition, the United States is not currently in recession. But, high unemployment rates are also a strong indicator of a recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecticut's unemployment rate stood at 9. 1% in February 2010, up from 9% and 8. 9%, respectively, in the two preceding months.

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