Children and Families
While we are all feeling the effects of the economic downturn, our most vulnerable citizens are disproportionately affected by job cuts, higher food prices, turmoil in the housing market and other burdens that can have a devastating impact. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that our country’s poverty rate in 2010 was 15.0 percent, the highest it has been in almost two decades. Sadly, the same report stated that 21.9 percent of our children are living in poverty, making clear who has borne the brunt of our country’s economic woes. I strongly believe that the priority of Congress must be to raise the living standards of our working families and ensure that children born into poverty have the same opportunity to achieve the American Dream as any other child in our country.
A September 2013 Reuters investigation, “The Child Exchange,” brought to light an alarming trend of adopted children being “re-homed” into the custody of strangers without oversight. To combat this practice and to provide law enforcement with the resources necessary to protect children, I have introduced H.R. 2068, the Protecting Adopted Children Act.
This bipartisan legislation provides for pre- and post-adoptive counseling to ease the transition for children and families. The bill helps to fund treatments specialized for adopted children, including psychiatric residential services, outpatient mental health services, social skills training, intensive in-home supervision services, recreational therapy, suicide prevention and substance abuse treatment. Adoptive parents would have access to peer-to-peer mentoring and support groups in order to learn from experienced adoptive parents, and could access a 24-hour emergency hotline. The bill also calls for a GAO study of re-homing practices, including how children are advertised for adoption on the internet.
Securing a Bright Future for our Foster Youth
Foster children can be at a heightened risk for identity theft since their personal information passes through many hands, increasing the chances that someone could use their Social Security number for fraudulent purposes. Many young people leave foster care only to find their credit records already ruined, preventing them from finding housing, jobs or loans for school. For this reason, I am working to reintroduce the Foster Youth Financial Security Act, which will prepare foster youth who are transitioning to adulthood to properly manage their finances and protect their financial information while they are under the care of the state. This bill would empower foster children to make responsible financial decisions as adults by ensuring they receive a government issued identification card, information about housing and educational opportunities and financial literacy classes. Moreover, the bill establishes an individual development account for foster youth to provide initial funds for job-related expenses or housing when they leave state care.
In September 2011, President Obama signed into law the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act. This law also contained a provision from my Foster Youth Financial Security Act that requires states to provide youth age 16 or older with a free copy of any consumer credit report pertaining to them until they are discharged from care. This is the first step in addressing identity theft in the foster care system.
I sent a letter with 20 of my House and Senate colleagues to the President, asking him to expand funds for permanency planning for youth in foster care. Children who enter the child welfare system after the age of 14 are much more likely to age out of foster care than be adopted, leaving too many without a legal family once they exit the custody of the state. These children, already at a disadvantage, end up with no support network to which they can turn in times of crisis.
Funding Nutrition Programs
I have long supported increased funding for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. In Rhode Island, food pantries have seen dramatic increases in the number of people they serve. SNAP helps put food on the table, lifts some families above the poverty line, and provides quick and effective stimulus for our economy. For more information, you can visit www.eatbettertoday.com, Rhode Island’s outreach program for SNAP. I also support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides nutritious food, counseling on healthy eating, and health care referrals for low-income women and young children. In Rhode Island, WIC collaborates with local culinary programs and farmers markets on cooking demonstrations, healthy eating habits and children’s activities.
In the summer of 2013, Republicans put forth a farm bill that cut SNAP funding by $20 billion. I voted against this bill since it would immediately cut food aid for nearly 2 million Americans, most of them working families living below the poverty level. In addition, 210,000 children would be denied free school lunch and breakfast. Before casting this vote, I participated in the SNAP Challenge, eating on only $4.50 per day, because I believed every member of Congress should understand how the decisions we make affect the lives of hard-working Americans. The final version of the Farm Bill cut SNAP by $8 billion, a full third of the savings in the bill. Although I opposed the Farm Bill, I will continue to work with my colleagues to promote sensible agricultural policies that promote healthy eating, sustainable farming practices, and ample food for every American.
Enacting Sensible Child Care Policies
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that women are more likely to work before and after pregnancy than they were 30 to 40 years ago. Congress must legislate according to the changing makeup of our workforce, which includes allowing new parents guaranteed paid leave to help balance the demands between work and family. Our government should set this example, and for that reason, I am a cosponsor of the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which would provide four weeks of paid parental leave and eight weeks of unpaid leave for all federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child.
Ensuring Fair Pay
Despite greatly increased commitment to the labor force over the past 45 years, women working full time make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man – a less than 20 percent increase since Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. I am an original cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would narrow the wage gap between men and women. This measure would also strengthen the Equal Pay Act, which makes it unlawful for an employer to pay unequal wages to men and women that have similar jobs within the same establishment.