Friday, December 14, 2012

What are the terms "Fiscal Cliff" and "Sequestration"?

You may have noticed the terms of "Fiscal Cliff" and "Sequestration" being discussed in the media recently, both of which will have negative impacts on the federal programs run by CAPs. Here is an explanation:

What is the "Fiscal Cliff"?

The “Fiscal Cliff” refers to the simultaneous expiration in January 2013 of several Federal tax and fiscal stimulus measures. It has four main pieces. The largest of which are the original Bush-era tax cuts, which reduces tax rates at all income levels. The second, which was implemented in 2010, was a cut to payroll taxes of two percentage points. The third, also implemented in 2010, was a succession of federal unemployment extensions. Finally, as part of an agreement reached in 2010 to raise the cap on Federal budget deficit spending (Budget Control Act of 2010), the U.S. Congress set up a system of across the board budget cuts that would take if a so-called congressional "Super Committee" (made up of Congressmen and Senators from both political parties) could not come to an agreement on a plan for reducing the Federal deficit. Since the committee failed in its task, a "Sequestration" was mandated.

What is "Sequestration"?

The Budget Control Act of 2010 sets out automatic spending cuts (“Sequestration”) that mandate cuts of $1.1 trillion in military and domestic spending over ten years.  Unless an agreement is reached between the President and the U.S. Congress by January 1, 2013, a cut of $100 million automatically will take place with a reduction of 9.4 percent to most military programs and 8.2 percent to most domestic spending.  However, with a Federal fiscal year that started on October 1, 2012, the true impact to our programs would be closer to 10 percent.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Use Twitter in May & Webinar For Beginners

A group of Community Action Agencies (including the National Training and Technical Assistance Center of CAP, Kansas Association of Community Action Programs, Virtual CAP, ABCD of Boston, Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, and Community Action Kentucky) are spearheading a Social Media celebration of Community Action Month in May through the “Hashtag of Promise: #CommunityAction” Twitter Campaign. We are hoping that Community Action Agencies will take the lead in encouraging your board members, staff, partners and customers to participate in this campaign in support of Community Action.

On April 13, 2012 from 3 to 4 pm Eastern Standard Time, we are pleased to offer "Twitter 99: When you are not quite ready for Twitter 101." This free webinar will provide participants with an introduction to the social media tool Twitter and how it has been used successfully by the Community Action Network to share information on events, highlight programs, raise awareness, and garner support. You will learn how to "tweet", when to "tweet", the role of #, and how it can be an important addition to your social media toolbox. For those many Community Action Agencies already using Twitter, this session may help you learn ways of increasing the impact of your tweets. We will also highlight our efforts to make May 8th Community Action Day on Twitter and how you can easily participate.

Please let any of the “spearheading” agencies know of any questions or concerns you may have, or if you would like information on the anticipated benefits to participating in this campaign.

Thank you for your consideration.

FY'13 House Budget Would Make Massive Cuts

On March 29th, the US House of Representatives approved Budget Chairman, Paul Ryan's (R-WI), House Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2013. This represents an outline of the direction that the House Republicans wish to go when it comes to federal spending and sets spending limits for the upcoming fiscal year, starting on October 1, 2012. While the plan does not provide any details on specific program cut backs, it proposes to make more devastating reductions than the amount agreed to in the Budget Control Act (BCA) last August by decreasing non-defense spending by nearly $1.2 trillion. These "savings" could not be achieved without making very deep cuts in crucial safety-net programs, such as CSBG. In addition, the proposal would raise Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67 and impose a voucher program for seniors to purchase insurance; trim $810 billion from Medicaid over 10 years and turn into a block grant program; cut SNAP (food stamps)by $134 billion over 10 years and transform it into a block grant program; and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Finally, the budget outline would continue the Bush tax cuts ($5.4 trillion over 10 years) and lower the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 35 to 25 percent ($4.6trillion over 10 years).

By the House Republicans setting a discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion which is $19 billion less than the $1.047 trillion agreed upon in the last August, the budget process for this year becomes more complicated. Democrats feel the discrepancy could once again create a scenario of a shut down between the Democratic controlled Senate and the Republican controlled House. Even if a shut down does not occur, it is likely that the government will operate on a Continuing Resolution (CR) until a new Congress (and possibly a new President) sits in January, 2013.

In addition, since the “Super Committee” was unable to reach a compromise last November on ways to reduce the Federal Deficit, there will be $109 billion in automatic, across the boards spending cuts (“Sequestration”) for Fiscal Year 2013 unless Congress finds a way to offset $1.2 trillion before January 1, 2013. Half of the amount is to come from defense spending and the other from domestic programs. The question is how that will be factored into the Fiscal Year 2013 budget in a Presidential Election year where nothing in a “lame-duck” Congress will be agreed upon. Therefore, since a budget probably will not be created until after January 1, 2013, in addition to the fact that the Republicans are not happy about defense spending reductions and Democrats are not thrilled about domestic spending cuts, there is talk in the Capitol that sequestration will not occur until March 2013.

Friday, March 23, 2012

How Are the Children?

"How are the children?"
Update #3 on the New Federal Head Start Rules

By: John J. Drew, former Head Start parent
and ABCD President/CEO

Why we must protect Head Start and its base in Community Action

At our ABCD Head Start Professional Development Training Day this year, a highly respected educational leader and champion for low-income, inner-city children and families, addressed our 600 Head Start teachers and staff who each day provide early education and care for approximately 2,400 Head Start children and their families.

She noted that in Kenya, the health of society is judged by the well-being of its children. When people greet each other on the street, rather than say "Hello, how are you?" the standard greeting is "How are the children?"

These words prompted a standing ovation from the hundreds of committed early education and care providers whose dedicated work in ABCD Head Start programs makes a difference every day for children from our city’s most at-risk families. I felt they were an appropriate opening for this update on the new Health & Human Services (HHS) rules on program competition, rules that put at risk a nationwide Head Start system with a documented track record for promoting the well-being of poor children and their families.

Lawsuit filed to prevent implementation of unfair competition rules

On Friday, February 24, the Ohio Head Start Association, Massachusetts Association for Community Action Programs (MASSCAP) and the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia against the United States Department of Health & Human Services and Secretary Sebelius to bar HHS' implementation of a new rule requiring certain Head Start programs to compete for the next five years of their funding.

As has been discussed in previous communications, this arbitrary "re-competition" targeted at 132 Head Start programs in effect terminates their grants for disparate reasons with no established standards for judging their performance. No appeal or fair hearing process is provided. They are then in the position of trying to continue serving children and families under the cloud of their suspended status which results in delayed employment decisions, facilities upgrades, new collaborations and affiliations. In effect, business as usual is suspended.

The agencies' selection for grant termination and competition is based on past reviews where even one "deficiency" which has long ago been corrected puts them on the list for competition.

We support healthy competition that is fair and balanced. If a program performs poorly, action should be taken. But the way this regulation has been drafted and implemented flies in the face of a fair process. High quality programs are pulled into the mix. Everyone's future is compromised – but most of all the futures of the low-income children and families who depend upon Head Start are put at risk.

A recent news report in Education Week about the brewing Head Start competition for grants in New York City showcases the confusion and potential harm created by the new regulations. Calling the situation "a sea change in the Head Start world," the article describes New York’s 200 Head Start providers "in limbo," as the process unfolds. How can normal hiring practices, facility upgrades, collaborations and affiliations continue amidst this disruption?  Some providers report being encouraged by Head Start officials to apply independently for Head Start grants, which would put them in direct competition with their current administration, a politically thorny and practically awkward situation.

None of this can be good for the children and families served by Head Start.

We will keep you updated regarding the litigation process.

Head Start Works! And there is solid research to document its value

There is significant evidence that America’s 22 million children and their families served by Head Start over the past 48 years have benefited immensely from that experience. It must continue without disruption.

At that Head Start training conference last week, we also heard about important Head Start research documenting the long-term value of Head Start. Many of you may be aware of this content, but hearing our audience of Head Start providers applaud these outcomes made me  feel more strongly than ever that we must all work together to preserve this all-important program and the strong community action presence that makes it work so well.  Here are some of the points we managed to capture at the conference…and some others that we pulled from the data base.

  • In a study conducted in 2011 at the University of California at Berkeley, men who had participated in Head Start had decreased incarceration rates and increased earning levels. There were still lower rates of incarceration and increased earning levels when children attended Head Start centers with higher budgets and when they subsequently attended high quality elementary schools.

    Thus – the researchers concluded:
    • "Head Start works!"
    • "Head Start works better when the investments in it are right."
    • "Head Start works even better when the schools children go to after Head Start are high quality."
  • Research also shows that Head Start is a wise investment for society. The preliminary results of a study of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, CA, showed that society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in these Head Start children. These benefits include increased earnings, employment and family stability and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition and special education. (Meier, J. 2003, June 20. Head Start Success. Preschool Service Department, San Bernardino County, CA)
  • Head Start children in the 2000 cohort of the Family and Childe Experiences Survey (FACES) demonstrated a greater increase than the typical child in vocabulary and early writing.
  • Head Start children are significantly more likely to complete high school and attend college than their siblings who did not attend Head Start. ("Longer Term Effects of Head Start," The American Economic Review, Sept. 2002, 92, 4:999-1012)
  • Several studies have found that Head Start children experience increased achievement test scores and that Head Start children show favorable long-term effects on grade repetition, special education and graduation rates. (Barnett, W., The Battle Over Head Start: What the Research Shows. Presentation at Science & Public Policy Briefing,  Federation of Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Sept. 13, 2002)

The list of positive research results goes on and on. See for additional information.

We need to make these findings more visible. We need an ongoing national campaign to proclaim the unparalleled success of the innovative idea – the brainchild of the best and the brightest of War on Poverty pioneers – that is Head Start. We need to give credit to all the Head Start providers and supporters who over the years have given their hearts and minds and untiring assistance to this essential program.

Invested in by our federal government, supported enthusiastically by the U.S. Congress and the American public for almost 50 years, nurtured by a community of committed child development experts, parents, educators, health providers, businesses and philanthropies, Head Start is a cornerstone of American opportunity.

Head Start is a national treasure. As are the community action agencies with staffers who work day in and day out, long and hard in the multiple pockets of poverty in this country, determined to make a difference for the 20.7 million disadvantaged Americans seeking pathways to a better life.

The members of the community action movement and the Head Start community have worked side by side to provide opportunities for those in need. We will continue to do so.

Thank you for listening! And stay tuned….

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Head Start "Recompetition": An Attack on CAAs?

In December 2011, the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services announced the first round of 132 agencies that would be subject to competition based on new, stringent regulations from the Head Start Reauthorization Act of 2009. In many cases, the reasons for agencies being placed on the list were minor and arbitrary "findings". In addition, many of the decisions were based on findings that were dismissed at the regional office, but then overturned by officials in Washington, DC. Most troubling is that there is no due process for appeal! HHS has announced a quota system for 10 percent of Head Start agencies subject to competition per year. RFPs are soon to go out inviting any party that wants to bid to assume control of a prorgam and the multi-year leases that agencies already have under agreement.

These actions by federal HHS are worrisome that officials have an alternative motive. These actions are on top of the Obama Adminsitration's proposal last year for a massive budget cut to the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) and then Administration officials confirming that the remainder would be put out for competitive bidding. As most community action agencies sponsor Head Start Programs, one has to wonder if this is a not so subtle message from HHS that the Administration is determined to take away Head Start contracts as a way of putting community action agencies in fiscal peril and then stripping their exclusive use of CSBG?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Economic Importance of LIHEAP

LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during both the cold winter and hot summer months. Even though the number of households eligible for the program continues to exceed those receiving assistance, this funding has been a lifeline during the economic downturn and rising energy costs, helping to ensure that people do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for food or medicine. Moreover, the funds invested in LIHEAP help stimulate the economy, generating $1.13 in economic activity for every dollar in benefits paid, according to economists Mark Zandi and Alan S. Blinder.

Americans continue to face challenging times. The U.S. Census recently reported that 46.2 million people lived in poverty in 2010, the largest number in the 52 year history of published poverty estimates. In addition, according to the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association (NEADA), last year LIHEAP provided vital energy assistance to 8.9 million households,an increase of 54 percent since 2008. Even more striking is that the number of veteran households served increased by more than 150 percent during the same period. Indeed, the number of veteran households served by LIHEAP has increased from about 700,000 in Fiscal Year 2008 to 1.78 million in Fiscal Year 2011, which represents an increase from 12 percent of total LIHEAP recipients to 20 percent since 2008.

The increase in recipients comes at an especially bad time. Congress recently cut LIHEAP funding by 25 percent from $4.7 million in Fiscal Year 2011 to $3.5 million in Fiscal Year 2012 which officially stared on October 1. The average grant reflect the cut, dropping to $308 from $417.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ready for 2012 Legislative Advocacy?

On January 24th, President Obama will give his State of the Union address and file his fiscal 2013 budget in early February. After last year's budget proposal to eliminate CSBG, we should be poised to advocate on behalf of Community Action, if the Administration proposes a cut to the program.

Hovering over this year's federal budget is the "sequestration" specter of drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary programs with the
failure of the Congressional Super Committee to reach a deficit reduction agreement. Established in last summer's Budget Control Act, across the board cuts of $1.2 trillion over a decade ($600 billion to each) would take effect in January 2013. This sequestration would be in addition to the $1 trillion over ten years in spending cuts in the form of budget limits on annual spending over the next ten years that was already passed by Congress under the debt ceiling deal.