Department of Community Health FY 12 Budget: On Thursday, 26 individuals signed up to provide comments to the House Appropriations Health Subcommittee on the 2012 DCH Budget. Voices provided testimony on the following issues: commending the Governor’s office and leaders within DCH for working to implement family-friendly enrollment and retention processes for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids while at the same time maximizing opportunities to receive federal funding; expressing concern over changes to the budget that may further restrict access to care for children by proposing a 1% provider reimbursement rate cut and also by implementing copays for children enrolled in PeachCare over age 6; and expressing concern over the proposed $2.9 million cut to the Children 1st Program.

Public Health: HB 214 (Rep. Mickey Channell, 116th District ) Rep. Channell introduced this bill to create a stand-alone Public Health Agency for the state. The bill was heard before the House Health and Human Services Committee earlier this week and received a Do Pass. One amendment was offered by Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, which also was passed, that was to move the Georgia Volunteer Health Care Program our from under Dept. of Community Health to the new Georgia Dept. of Public Health if and when that entity is created under law.

Medicaid Hearings and Appeals: HB 229 (Rep. Sharon Cooper, 41st District) The bill was heard on Wednesday afternoon by the House Judiciary Committee and received a Do Pass. Changes made to the bill before passage out of committee were to decrease from 30 to 10 the number of business days within which the Dept. of Community Health must send a copy of a request for hearing to the Office of State Administrative Hearings.

Georgia’s Pre-K: Governor Deal released his recommendations the funding and implementation of Georgia’s Pre-K. The plan commits to using one third of Lottery education revenues for Pre-K, includes the addition of 5000 Pre-K slots, but cut the Pre-K day from 6.5 hours to 4 hours. Some funds have been added to augment extended stay programs for low income children as well as transportation, but questions remain as to the effects such a significant cut in funding. Click here to read the Governor’s press release about his Pre-K and HOPE plan.

GA Pre-K Week: Both HR 362 (Rep. Brooks Coleman, 97th Dist.) and SR 183 (Sen. Fran Millar, 40th Dist.) were read and adopted, declaring the first week of October as Georgia Pre-K Week in recognition of the educational, societal and economic importance of preparing young children for kindergarten through pre-k programs.

Pre-K Day at the Capitol draws a crowd! Left to right: Robin Ferst, president and founder of the Ferst Foundation; Bobby Cagle, DECAL commissioner; Pat Willis, Voices executive director; and teachers, parents and children from local Pre-K centers. A big thank you to all of our supporters. More pictures available on Flickr (feed below on blog) !

Join Voices for Georgia’s Children and the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy for Pre-K Day at the Capitol as we show our support for early childhood education amid funding uncertainties.

Voices Executive Director Pat Willis recently spoke with reporters from the AJC and The Augusta Chronicle on how rumored funding cuts will negatively affect Pre-K and our children.

Pre-K Day at the Capitol
Tues, Feb. 22, 2011
Noon to 1 p.m.
Capitol Building, North Steps

Event speakers include Bobby Cagle, commissioner of the GA Dept. of Early Care and Learning; Pat Willis; and Robin Ferst, founder and president of the Ferst Foundation. In addition, Representative Brooks Coleman will present a resolution declaring October 3-7, 2011, as Georgia Pre-K Week.

Earlier today, DHS Commissioner Clyde Reese presented the proposed 2012 DHS Budget to the House Appropriations Human Services Subcommittee. After the budget conversation concluded, Representative Penny Houston, who chairs the Subcommittee, asked Commissioner Reese to comment on the recent deaths of children in Georgia which had occurred within the last few weeks. Rep. Houston stated that as she understood the facts, a DFCS referral had been made in some of those cases.

As part of his response, Commissioner Reese said that he wanted to “take a very hard look” at the practice of diversion. In cases of diversion, a decision is made to implement a short-term community-based DFCS response to an allegation of child maltreatment that’s not found to present evidence sufficient to cause concern. In such situations, the Department does not conduct any further assessment or intervention.  According to the Commissioner, one concern is that once a case is diverted, there’s no further follow up on the part of the Department. He said that while the Department is to be commended for decreasing the number of Georgia’s children who are committed to the care of the state and also for making an effort to keep families together, he questioned whether “the pendulum has swung too far the other way”. More specifically, he posed the question about the proper role of diversion in situations were child maltreatment is alleged.

It was a very honest conversation between two state leaders on an issue critical to the wellbeing and safety of children in our state. As the Commissioner and the Department look into this issue further, we’ll be watching to see what, if any, changes in practice and/or policy result.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Since lottery programs were launched in 1993, HOPE was given wings; Georgia Pre-K was kept in a straight jacket.  What should we expect for the future?  Better yet, what should we demand? 

After 1993, the legislature expanded the HOPE program almost every year to cover more audiences and higher tuitions.  The original target was new high school grads, then they added all graduates before 1993, a second chance for those whose grades fell below the required “B,” unlimited HOPE grants at the tech schools, special military scholarships, and home-schooled students.  Private college scholarships were quadrupled, and the Board of Regents raised tuition regularly, assured it would be covered by HOPE.  When lottery revenues were forecast to flatten out, the legislature tinkered with the definition of high school GPAs and course requirements and limited total college credit hours to try to control spending. 

Pre-K, on the other hand, was immobilized almost from the start.  Our “universal” program actually limited the number of kids to be served.  As many as 10,000 4-year-olds have waited for an opening.  Qualified providers requested 13,070 additional slots in 2010; 11,000 were denied.  Even more egregious, while tuition went up in colleges, we ignored the parallel increase in costs of Pre-K.  “Tuition,” the per child reimbursement for Pre-K, has been essentially flat for 15 years!  We required higher credentials for Pre-K teachers but we didn’t pay for them.  Another audience in great need, much like those pre-1993 high school grads, were 3-year-olds, especially disadvantaged children.  The legislature has ignored them.  

Neither unfettered funding for HOPE nor constricted funding for Pre-K will yield the results Georgia needs for education and economic success.  Please, Governor Deal, limit the changes to lottery programs this year.  We need an open discussion and a clear vision, informed by solid research and Georgia’s identifiable needs.   We don’t need the pressure and politics of the legislative session to drive these decisions.

Earlier this week, State House Representative Mickey Channell introduced House Bill 214, legislation that would create a new and separate Department of Public Health. Currently, Public Health resides as a Division within the Department of Community Health. Two years ago, it was a Division within the Department of Human Services (then called the Department of Human Resources).

In response to the dropping of this bill, in an interview with Georgia Public Broadcast, Governor Deal stated that he’s fine with the recommended change and referenced that services provided by the Division of Public Health are different from those of the Department of Community Health, whose main function involves running the Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids Programs.

Within the past year, the Georgia Public Health Commission was created and charged with addressing the question of how and where Public Health should be structured. The work of the Commission culminated in December of last year with a recommendation that Public Health should operate as a separate state agency.

Any thoughts in response to the recommended change?  After years of transition, will Public Health finally have a home of its own?

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health
Voices for Georgia’s Children

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Let’s Move Campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Atlanta to visit elementary schools and to address a large and enthusiastic crowd (which included Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed) gathered at North Point Community Church. The mission of the Let’s Move Campaign is simple: raise a healthier generation of kids. The campaign focuses on increasing physical activity and on improving the nutritional quality of food that kids eat.

The First Lady mentioned how national, state, and local policies can encourage healthier living among kids. She specifically referred to the provision in the Affordable Care Act that now allows kids to access free preventive care screenings under their insurance plans. She likewise talked about initiatives to bring salad bars into school cafeterias.

But what really seemed to resonate with those in the crowd was when she acknowledged how hard it is as a mother to make sure that her kids eat healthy and lead active lives. She commented on how sometimes it’s easier to allow kids to sit in front of the tv for a couple of hours to keep them preoccupied, or how tiresome it gets to negotiate with her kids day after day to try to get them to eat healthy come-cooked food instead of the fast food that they really want to eat. She recognized that it’s easy to say that we want our kids to be healthy, but it takes a high level of commitment to see that they are.

One charge that she made to all adults in attendance was that we need to set the example for the kids in our lives.  We need to eat healthier.  We need to be active.   For tips on how, visit the Let’s Move website.  After all, kids aren’t the only ones who should get to run around and play!

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Georgia owes the Federal Unemployment Account about $620 million in loans taken out to pay unemployment benefits during the economic downturn. Under current regulations, states will be required to repay these federal loans, plus 4% interest. With double-digit unemployment figures, expectations are that Georgia borrowing will accelerate through the first quarter of this year. Labor Commissioner Mark Butler predicted it could reach $820 million in April. Georgia has the 16th highest loan balance nationally and the fifth highest among southern states behind North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Where will the money come from to repay this debt? Higher unemployment taxes? Fewer unemployment benefits? Cuts to social services? An amount of this magnitude combined with Georgia’s existing and significant revenue burden would most likely affect children in struggling families.

President Obama is proposing to give states a two-year delay before automatic unemployment tax increases would hit employers, and before states would have to start paying interest on the loans. Perhaps by then, more people will be working and more families will be functioning at an economically stable level.

Learn more about the President’s Proposal by clicking here.

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