Capitol Update: It’s a wrap! How kids fared in the 2014 legislative session

The 2014 legislative session wrapped today, marking the end of a major budget rebalance that left many state agencies forced to make some difficult cuts. Despite it being a whirlwind session, we were still able to accomplish some important things for Oregon families this year.

Here is a summary of our 2014 priorities:

This year, Children First focused on access to child care assistance for working parents as a key issue. We asked lawmakers to invest in Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) to make the child care subsidy available to more families. While we did not receive the full investment we asked for, we were able to successfully advocate for 400 more program openings. Although we would eventually like ERDC to serve all eligible families, we are happy that more families will be able to use this program right away to seize job opportunities and enroll their children in quality care.

In addition, families currently eligible for ERDC will soon be able to receive child care assistance for the time they are in school. Previously, working parents enrolled in school could only receive child care assistance during working hours, but not during school hours.

A bill that would give kids more food options when they are out of school passed with unanimous support. The summer food program bill, House Bill 4090, will expand the use of state after-school food program mini-grants to include summer meal programs, so that more nutrition programs are available for children during summer break.

Despite gaining the support of the Senate health committee, the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act lacked the necessary support to move on to a floor vote. The bill would have required manufacturers to disclose the presence of harmful toxins in children’s products. It would have also required manufacturers to begin phasing out the use of harmful chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. Proponents plan to bring this bill back in 2015 legislative session.

Children First will continue to advocate for policies and investments that give our children opportunities to thrive and that give families pathways to security during periods of hardship.

Thank you to all of you who participated in our action opportunities this session and wrote your legislators in support of ERDC. We couldn’t do this work without you.

The 2013 legislative session is over. How did children and families fare?

The 2013 legislative session drew to a close this afternoon, wrapping up an intense budget negotiation defined by gridlock over revenue and PERS reform.

By failing to reach a compromise on revenue increases, legislators were unable to strengthen the strained human services budget, impacting programs for low-income children and their families. Although the final budget allowed for small reinvestments in child care, low-income assistance, and child welfare, several vital programs will remain underfunded in the coming year. As a result, thousands of families who need assistance will not be able to access services.

Here’s a summary of how our policy priorities fared this session:

Keeping Kids Safe:

The Foster Youth Bill of Rights passed with unanimous support. We are thrilled to have received such strong support from lawmakers for Oregon’s most vulnerable children. This bill will ensure youth know their rights while in foster care and will finally provide them with a safe way to report violations by establishing a foster care ombudsman in the Governor’s Advocacy office. This is also a big win for the members of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection, who are enjoying their fourth consecutive legislative victory. For updates on the work of OFYC to engage foster youth in child welfare policy, follow them on Facebook.

Although legislators did not fully restore child welfare prevention programs to their pre-recession service levels, the final budget allows for modest increases, including 113 new child welfare caseworkers. This will bring staffing levels from 67% of the minimum standard to 75%. While there is still room to grow, this is a much-needed first step. More staff will reduce caseloads on individual caseworkers, allowing them to perform more critical home visits and implement the Differential Response model, which connects families to the community resources they need to keep children safely at home.

Strengthening Families:

While lawmakers increased Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) by 500 families (up to 9,000 total), the program will remain capped well below the estimated need. Research released by Oregon State University last month shows that child care in some Oregon counties now averages twice the cost of college tuition. This cost places a significant burden on low-income working families trying to get a new start or struggling to get by in these difficult times. We urged lawmakers throughout this session to fully fund ERDC so that all 12,000 eligible families have the opportunity to work and provide their kids with safe child care arrangements. Learn more about how ERDC supports families, businesses, and the economy here.

In a big win for children experiencing poverty, lawmakers maintained, rather than reduced, the 60-month lifetime limit for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and invested additional funds in its job-training program. While this does not fully fund TANF, the added investment will allow the agency to serve more of its most vulnerable clients.

The budget maintains the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) at the current level (6% of the federal credit). Because EITC has proven itself to be the most effective approach to keeping working families out of poverty, we had hoped to see it expanded to the federal limit of 18%, so families could achieve greater financial security by keeping more of what they earn.

Senator Jackie Winters summed up the need for these investments best, saying “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had jobs where individuals could have their self-worth and dignity to take care of their own families? In the absence of that, we still need to have certainty that children and families are taken care of….”

We couldn’t agree more, which is why we will continue to advocate each session for budgets and programs that safeguard children and families through periods of hardship.
Thank you to all of you who participated in our action opportunities this session and wrote your legislators in support of ERDC and the Foster Youth Bill of Rights. We couldn’t do this work without you.