As a member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, Stark is a vocal advocate for policies that support strong families and shield children from abuse and poverty. He advocates on behalf of programs that provide access to childcare and improve standards of care. He supports initiatives that will improve Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the nation's welfare program, by making the reduction of child poverty a goal of welfare. Stark has introduced numerous bills to reverse the increase in poverty that has taken place every year of the Bush presidency.
PAID FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE ACT: Building on a successful California law that expands Family Medical Leave Act protections, Stark introduced legislation (H.R. 3192) to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers to recover from serious illnesses, or to care for a newborn child or ill relative. Stark's bill strengthens families by providing workers with a safety net that pays up to 55% of their basic salary during a time of crisis. Paid family leave also helps employers by increasing productivity and decreasing employee turnover.
CHILD CARE: Prior to TANF's reauthorization, 280,000 families were on a waiting list for childcare assistance. As a result of recent changes to the nation's welfare program, hundreds of thousands of additional families will soon need assistance. But supply will not increase to keep pace with demand. According to the Congressional Budget Office, current childcare funding is $4.1 billion less than what is needed to meet the increase in demand. During TANF's reauthorization, Stark offered an amendment in committee that would have expanded existing support programs and provided assistance to families on the waiting list and to families soon to request help. Unfortunately, the Stark amendment to add $11 billion in childcare funding over 5 years was defeated on a party-line vote. Numerous governors and state legislatures have indicated that TANF changes amount to unfunded mandate. In response, Stark led a group of Human Resources Committee members in calling for oversight hearings of the implementation of TANF changes.
ENCOURAGING INTERSTATE COOPERATION FOR PLACEMENT OF FOSTER CHILDREN: Stark joined with former Majority Leader Tom Delay during his final days in office to pass legislation to improve the ability of foster children to obtain placement across state lines. This legislation is not a major priority in California, but will help tremendously in smaller states and localities -- like the District of Columbia that is 10 miles square and borders both Maryland and Virginia. The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Bush.
PROVIDING A FUTURE FOR FOSTER CHILDREN: Every year, tens of thousands of foster children "age out" of foster care without any family support or assistance as they transition to adulthood. Many of these children have no financial resources because the state has taken their social security disability or survivors benefits while they were in foster care. No other children in our country are expected to pay for their own care, yet we allow states to use foster children as a source of revenue. Stark brought this issue to the attention of the Ways and Means committee and has been working on legislation that would allow foster children to keep their own social security benefits in set-aside accounts. When foster children leave the system they will then be able to use the money to pay for education, job training, and housing.
PROMOTING SAFE & STABLE FAMILIES (S. 3525): Congress recently reauthorized funds for states to prevent child abuse, support and keep at-risk families together, and promote the adoption of foster children. Stark fought hard to secure $95 million in funding for workforce improvements for child welfare caseworkers. This money will be used to recruit, train, and retain quality caseworkers, who are the first line of protection for at-risk children. The continued distribution of money to states will depend on their progress toward meeting a goal of ensuring monthly caseworker visits to children in foster care.
GAO REPORT ON FAITH-BASED COMMUNITY SERVICE PROVIDERS: Stark requested the GAO examine the implementation of President Bush's Faith Based Initiatives. The GAO found that President Bush's faith-based initiative is rife with problems. The GAO reported that the initiative lacks adequate safeguards against religious discrimination by recipients of program money. According to the report, 70 percent of agencies questioned by the GAO did not inform recipients about permissible hiring practices. The GAO also found that no standards have been developed to ensure that program funds are not being used for inherently religious activities or the provision of services on the basis of religion. In addition, the faith-based initiative was determined to lack accountability. Few standards have been developed to evaluate the success of the faith-based programs. In short, the Bush Administration provided over $2 million in funding in 2005 alone to faith-based organizations without any way to measure their usefulness and absent sufficient safeguards against discrimination.
KEEPING FAMILIES TOGETHER ACT: Stark is an original cosponsor of bi-partisan legislation (H.R. 5803) that would help to eliminate the practice of parents being forced to relinquish custody of their emotionally disturbed children in order to get the health care services they need. Unfortunately, private insurance often does not cover the prohibitive cost of mental health services. The only way for children to qualify economically for state help with payments for mental health care is for their parents to hand over custody to the state. This bill would provide funding for states to implement programs to provide services to children while allowing them to remain with their parents.