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Are you a political junkie?  Or are you just wondering about who is running in your district?  Are you planning to attend a political town hall meeting and do you want to be able to ask the candidate questions about issues facing children? Or, do you just want to make sure you know the correct date of the General Election?  Have we got a resource for you!

I’m excited by the new dedicated section of our website that Voice’s recently launched to keep advocates and candidates up-to-date on the 2010 elections. It was designed to provide useful information for both engaged advocates and average citizens who want to make sure that their vote counts for kids.

You can access the election page through our website at www.georgiavoices.org.  Click on the “vote” button on the right hand side of the page.  I’ll be bookmarking it as a “favorite” on my computer, and I hope that you will, too!

We want your feedback! Please send any information about non-partisan election-related events that you would like us to post, any links to important election information, or just suggestions about things you’d like us to consider including on the page to info@georgiavoices.org or by posting a comment below.

First of all, thanks to all of you who made phone calls yesterday to your U.S. House members urging them to pass HR 1586, which in part provides for additional federal dollars to help fund state Medicaid programs and also to help protect jobs in education. Your persistence in advocating on behalf of children paid off, as the House voted 247 to 161 to approve the bill, which was signed into law by the President earlier today.

Georgia now stands to receive an estimated $228 million in enhanced FMAP (which the most loyal of our blog readers now know is the amount of federal match dollars for Medicaid) and additional dollars to help protect teacher jobs within Georgia. 

One hurdle has now been cleared, but still others remain.  For one, while $228 million definitely helps fill the gaping hole in our current state budget, we still need about $150 million more to maintain a balanced budget.  Second, the additional funding for Medicaid and education was paid for, in part, through cuts in benefits within the food stamps program.  This is problematic, particularly given the current unemployment rate and overall economic downturn in Georgia.  Many of the families who rely on Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids to cover their kids are the same families who rely on food stamps to help feed their kids.  Cuts in food stamps benefits are not slated to begin until 2014, however, which does give us some time to advocate for restorative funding for this program.

While looking forward we may feel overwhelmed as we see obstacles that remain before us, looking back we should feel encouraged by all the hurdles we’ve already managed to overcome.  We simply need to maintain our stride. 

Joann Yoon, Associate Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

As was mentioned last month through this Blog, on July 1, Georgia began our state fiscal year in the red. The anticipated 6-month extension of the enhanced FMAP had not been passed into law, leaving our state short $375 million dollars. 

But earlier today, the Senate voted in favor of a bill that would provide $16.1 billion for FMAP and also $10 billion for education jobs within states.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called members of the House of Representatives to return from their August recess to take a vote on this measure next Tuesday.  Passsage of this funding would arrive at a critical time to help keep our state budget afloat. 

We are not completely in the black, however.  Of the $16.1 billion in federal funds, an estimated $228 million will flow to Georgia, still leaving us about $150 million short for our current fiscal year.  Unless additional dollars are made available to Georgia, we may once again have to brace ourselves for further cuts.

One of the ways in which federal legislators paid for this bill is through reductions starting in 2014 in extra food stamp benefits provided under the 2009 economic stimulus bill.  This is cause for concern since many of the Georgia families who rely on Medicaid and PeachCare coverage for their children also rely on food stamps to help put food on their table.  We understand the urgency of addressing current budget needs, yet we’re concerned about the future negative impact on the food stamp program.  The continuing recession is costing more of our neighbors their jobs, which leads to more kids without health insurance and more kids going hungry. 

Tough choices must be made–there’s no doubt about that.  We just want to make sure that the impact on kids and families is considered with every vote taken.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

On Monday, August 9th from 2 – 4 pm, SB 292, the Child Protection and Public Safety Act (more commonly known as the juvenile code rewrite bill) will be the subject of a public hearing down at the Capitol. Specifically Article 6, Children in Need of Services (aka CHINs) will be discussed.  Monday’s hearing is particularly noteworthy as it will be the first time we have had a public discussion about this new approach for intervening with kids who are currently considered “unruly” under Georgia law (more commonly known as status offenders). CHINs include children who have committed acts that would not be against the law but for the fact that they are under the age of 18, such as skipping school, running away from home, and violating curfew (status offenses).  CHINs also includes children and youth who are “habitually disobedient” to their parents and place themselves or others in unsafe circumstances through their behavior.

Under current law, court intervention with these kids is similar to intervention in delinquency cases, even though court involvement and responses like detention tend to exacerbate the problems that first led families to seek help.  Current research and best practices now suggest that youth and families in crisis require a faster response than courts can offer and that juvenile justice systems are often ill-equipped to provide the services these youth and families need.  Under Article 6, SB 292 creates a more holistic, service-oriented approach to these kinds of cases.  The CHINs framework acknowledges that these sorts of behaviors happen within the context of the family and school environment that the child is in, and that the involvement of the family and other important people in the child’s life is important to protect the child and help him or her become responsible member of society.  The key is implementing immediate, family focused alternatives to court intervention by referring young people and their families to services in their communities and use the juvenile justice system as a last resort.  Florida, New York and Connecticut have had successful reforms of their status offense systems under this new paradigm.  You can read their case studies in “Making Court the Last Resort:  A New Focus for Supporting Families in Crisis.”   I welcome the opportunity to discuss CHINs and how it can help troubled youth and their families here in Georgia.

Julia Neighbors, Project Manager-JUSTGeorgia

Pre-K is “arguably the best investment we can make in education.”  So said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 29 during a live broadcast on Sirius XM Radio.  When asked about the role of Pre-K in the upcoming reauthorization of the nation’s major education bill, Secretary Duncan was clear that K-12 needs to be invested in early childhood education.

Those who worry about college education likewise recommend investing in pre-school education.  The College Board recently decried the fact that the U.S. is slipping in its ranking of college-educated adults.  The solution?  According to Gasper Caperton, president of the College Board, we must  “think P-16 and improve education from pre-school through higher education.”

In the past 17 years Georgia has spent $12 billion of lottery funds to support both Pre-K and college access.  Yet we have not significantly increased our national rankings in either K-12 achievement or college completion.  Why not?  The objectives may be right but perhaps the program designs are wrong.  We need a better return on our investment.  This is the challenge for the next governor and legislature. 

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

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