All children and youth deserve a safe, stable, and loving home to call their own, especially the thousands already in Nevada’s child welfare system. I am proud that Congress achieved real progress in 2008 with the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, the most significant child welfare reform legislation in the past decade that will help move more orphans and foster care kids into adoptive and kinship families. In December 2010, when the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Reauthorization Act (CAPTA) was signed into law, we took another step forward in efforts to protect our children from abuse and neglect. CAPTA renewed federal support for local domestic violence services programs, continued assistance for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and allowed for greater flexibility for state and local coalition to provide community specific projects. The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act of 2011 continued the bipartisan commitment to improve the child welfare system modifying and extending two key child welfare programs, the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services program and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program. The act extends the programs through Fiscal Year 2016 and grants states more flexibility in providing mentorship, stable education, health and mental health services for children in foster care.
Still, more needs to be done to prevent child abuse and neglect, to support families and children at-risk of needlessly entering the child welfare system, and to help affected kids thrive and become successful adults. I look forward to continuing to work in Congress on these important priorities.
Inevitably, some of our young people make bad choices and violate the law. When these violations occur, we must be sensitive to the needs of children. Although some young adults are involved in violent crimes and need to be dealt with firmly, most children are placed in the juvenile justice system due to relatively minor infractions. Many are locked up because of status offenses such as truancy, alcohol use, or running away from home. These children have different needs than adults, and can usually be rehabilitated. We cannot sustain a system in which children enter juvenile facilities with manageable problems and emerge as hardened criminals. Studies have shown that investing money in services and helping young people with their problems early on saves taxpayers money in the long run. I strongly support the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which would help implement some of the best juvenile justice practices from around the country. The policies and programs in JJDPA will help us turn kids who have faltered into productive and successful members of society.
I am deeply concerned about the growing problem of youth homelessness. A stable environment is an extremely important component of a child’s growth and development. It is especially important in today’s highly competitive economy to give young people a secure foundation so they can acquire the skills necessary to become productive adults. Because of the housing crisis, many children end up on the street because of foreclosures. Other young people run away, often to escape abuse or neglect at home. Regardless of the cause, it is important for us to address the problem. I supported the passage of the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act that was signed into law in 2008. This bill provides grants for youth shelters, education assistance, and programs that help youth find and maintain safe and stable housing.
I also was pleased that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), which became law in 2009, included $1.5 billion to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless and help those who are experiencing homelessness to be quickly re-housed and stabilized. Additionally, the bill contained $70 million for the McKinney-Vento program to ensure that homeless youth are able to enroll, attend, and succeed in school.
Access to high quality and affordable health care is important for all Nevadans, but especially for our growing children. This is why I worked tirelessly to pass the Affordable Care Act, which will lower costs, create greater choices, and improve the quality of health care for American families. Signed into law on March 23, 2010, this landmark legislation will ensure improved health care quality and affordable coverage for Nevada’s children:
- Coverage for Children on Their Parents’ Policies Up to Age 26: The new law's provision allowing young adults to remain on their parents' health insurance has already helped 2.5 million young people.
- Reauthorization and Extension of Nevada Check Up: After leading the efforts to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 2009, I am proud to have added an additional two years to Nevada Check Up in health reform legislation. The new law also provides states with additional funding to ensure access, outreach, and enrollment. Nevada’s CHIP program covers more than 22,000 children each month.
- Better Benefits for Kids: The new law requires coverage of basic pediatric services under all health plans and includes oral and vision care. Under the new law, children will have access to free recommended preventive services with no cost sharing. The new law also develops health care quality priorities for children and promotes children’s quality measurement and reporting to improve the care of Nevada’s children.
- Improved Access to Pediatricians: The new law expands the health care workforce, including pediatricians, pediatric nurse practitioners, specialists in pediatrics, and pediatric oral health professionals, to ensure that children have access to quality primary care. The law requires that insurers allow parents to select their child’s pediatrician from among any participating provider, and provides increased Medicaid payments for primary care in 2013 and 2014.
- Initiatives to Combat Childhood Obesity: The new law provides $25 million in funding for the Childhood Obesity Demonstration Project which was established through legislation I had successfully passed in 2009.
- School Based Health Clinics (SBHCs): The new law provides an emergency $200 million appropriation for SBHCs’ construction and equipment needs and an authorization for an SBHC grant program for operations. These funds will ensure that millions of children and adolescents gain access to quality health care without concern for students’ ability to pay.
- Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Programs: The new law creates and funds a $1.5 billion grant program to develop and implement maternal, infant, and early childhood visitation programs targeted at reducing infant and maternal mortality by improving prenatal, maternal, and newborn health, child health and development, parenting skills, school readiness, juvenile delinquency, and family economic self-sufficiency.
- Emergency Services for Children: The new law reauthorizes the Wakefield Emergency Medical Services for Children Program to continue improvements in emergency care for children.
In 2009, I was also proud to have helped the U.S. Senate to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. This important piece of legislation ensures children get the doctor visits and medicines they need when they’re sick and the checkups the need to stay well. Additionally, I am pleased to have supported a number of important initiatives over the years that have improved health care for children. For example, the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007, which educates parents and health care providers about newborn health screening; improves follow-up care for infants with an illness detected through newborn screening; and helps states expand and improve their newborn screening programs. The Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2008 has helped deliver much needed hope and support to children and their families who are battling cancer, and provide more resources for crucial pediatric cancer research programs. I also supported the Healthy Start Reauthorization Act of 2007, which is essential to helping our nation’s most disadvantaged children survive infancy and start life healthy. For more information on my work on behalf of Nevada’s children and all Nevadans in regards to health care, please click here.
Education has always been at the heart of achievement in America. As someone whose life was transformed by education, I know firsthand the importance of giving every child in Nevada and the nation a quality education. I am fighting for an agenda that will help Nevada schools address their unique needs as they work to provide a quality education and improve student achievement. There is no better investment for our nation's future than creating world-class schools. For more information on my work in the United States Senate on education, please click here.
Child Nutrition–School Meals
I went to primary school in a one room school house where all the grades were taught by one teacher. We went home for lunch each day and my mother did her best to make sure that my two brothers and I had a good meal in the afternoon. Even in rustic, hardscrabble Searchlight, we had a lunch that would get us through the day.
Unfortunately, not every child has that today. Especially, in communities that have been hit with high unemployment and foreclosure rates. In Nevada, there are more than 117,000 children living in poverty who do not know where they will get their next meal. The reality is sobering – more than 60,000 women, infants, and children participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, also known as the WIC Program. Science and good sense tell us that kids need healthy meals to succeed in their classes, be active, and lead healthy lives. The recession has taken a toll on the schools and local governments that provide a nutritious breakfast and lunch to school children and other programs that help families put good food on the table.
This is why I worked with my Senate colleagues in the 111th Congress to unanimously pass the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act. This important legislation, which President Obama signed into law, helps children, schools, and local government provide nutritious meals to children who otherwise would not eat breakfast or lunch. It reduces the paperwork and other red tape that cost schools money and increased the reimbursement rate so schools do not have to absorb the rising cost of food, an increase that has not been made since 1973. This bill also made several other critical changes in what our children eat in school:
- Provides money for fresh food instead of cheaper, processed food.
- Supports the sourcing of local produce and school gardens.
- Removes junk food and sodas from school vending machines.
- Helps states fund obesity prevention efforts and nutrition education; programs that help children eat better, and reduce health care costs for families and the state.
The Nevadans who rely on these nutrition programs are people who never thought they would need help. The Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act reduces the stigma of getting help by giving WIC participants electronic debit cards, and in high-needs schools, by giving free lunch to all students so those who cannot afford lunch are not singled out. The bill also increases eligibility for free meals to children who are in foster care. It makes good economic sense and begins the work of fundamentally changing the quality of food served in our schools.
Child Nutrition–Afterschool Suppers
In the fiscal year 2010 Agriculture Appropriations bill, I worked to ensure that Nevada was one of the 14 states authorized to operate the federally-reimbursable Afterschool Supper Program, which provides meals for children up to 18 years old who may otherwise go hungry. The Food Research and Action Center estimates that an Afterschool Supper Program serving 50 children for five nights a week during the school year could be reimbursed more than $22,000 by the federal government.
The Afterschool Supper Program is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and it is operated by the Nevada Department of Education. In addition to cash payments, participating supper providers also have access to food provided through USDA’s commodity program. Suppers are served in group settings, so there are no applications for parents or guardians to fill out.
I will continue to support nutritional programs like these in the 112th Congress. Well-fed children are happier, healthier and do better in school. Parents who have access to healthy food cook more nutritious meals. By supporting children and families through these hard times and continuing to create more opportunities to get Nevadans back to work, we build a healthier future where all children have enough to eat.
Nevada Non-Profits Children's Summit
Recently, it was my pleasure to host the Nevada Non-Profits Children’s Summit on Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, and Youth Homelessness. I was pleased to co-sponsor this event with the Children’s Advocacy Alliance and the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research & Policy. The well-being of our children and youth should always be a priority, as they represent our most important investment in the future of our state and the nation. Their status also reflects broader issues in the community and in public policy, pointing to successes to build upon and shortcomings to address. This summit served as an opportunity to constructively explore these issues, with a focus on three populations that are among the most vulnerable but also among the least visible in America. It was also an opportunity for local and national stakeholders to come together in a forum that fosters discussion and collaboration on a range of policy and practical matters.