Today’s hearing reviews the implementation of the Fostering Connections law approved last fall. That law made important changes we all hope will benefit young people in foster care. The changes include stepped up efforts to place children with relatives instead of strangers and improved incentives for adopting children out of foster care.
I am especially interested in provisions designed to improve the school stability and performance of foster youth, among others. We need to do a better job ensuring foster youth stay connected to their school. Research, and common sense, suggests that will help more graduate on time instead of dropping out, as too often happens. We welcome the testimony of Kathy McNaught of the American Bar Association on that score, both on implementation of the law and on challenges that remain to making that vision a reality.
While it is certainly worth reviewing these issues, I am struck by what we are not considering today.
For example, this Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the special extended unemployment benefits program created in June 2008, which already has been extended and expanded twice. The Federal government has paid or promised a total of $73 billion in special extended benefits to date. Proponents suggested this would stimulate the economy and create jobs. Yet unemployment has risen to 9.7% — nearly two percentage points higher than stimulus supporters predicted. Further stretching the bounds of logic, last week the Administration claimed 1 million jobs had been created by the stimulus law, while the facts show 3 million jobs eliminated since February. This weekend National Economic Council Director Larry Summers said unemployment “will, by all forecasts, remain unacceptably high for a number of years.” Just currently approved spending has drained the State and Federal unemployment accounts, and will lead to deficits totaling more than $100 billion by late 2010 and nearly $200 billion by late 2012. Further extensions and expansions will add massively to that tide of red ink.
But what of the promised jobs? When will they arrive? And in the meantime, how high will unemployment spending, borrowing, and ultimately taxes go? How much will that tax hiking hurt job creation? Those would be good topics for future hearings, too. It’s past time for us to review how we can really increase jobs so laid off workers get paychecks, not unemployment checks.
We also recently learned that stimulus checks were paid to thousands of current prisoners. Was that intended? How much did that cost? Is that being fixed? Another excellent oversight hearing for us.
Or how about the fact that New York State recently issued $200 “back to school” checks to welfare and food stamp recipients, using Federal stimulus funds under our jurisdiction. That set off a mad scramble of ATM withdrawals and spending on liquor, flat screen TVs and who knows what else. All with Federal taxpayer dollars, all “for the children,” and all especially stimulative — we were told — because low-income folks were likely to spend the money quickly. They sure did. Yet New York’s unemployment rate remains high and rising, as does the debt we are leaving our children.
So while we welcome today’s hearing, I respectfully suggest there are other topics well worth exploring too. Those might also provide useful information about ensuring taxpayer dollars are well and effectively spent, and maybe even about creating real jobs. Everyone, including foster youth as they become adults, would benefit from that.