Congregations for Children sets session agenda


Special to the Advocate

The 2008 session of the Mississippi Legislature opened Jan. 8 in Jackson.

Congregations for Children has established several priorities for the Legislature. Congregations for Children is an ecumenical organization advocating to improve the plight of children in Mississippi. The group was founded by the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Jackson Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi.

CFC has scheduled a news conference featuring the bishops of all three groups for noon on Jan. 24 in the first floor rotunda of the state Capitol. All are invited to attend.

Here are the legislative priorities as listed in the CFC’s most recent newsletter: 

• Full funding of education. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program was fully funded in 2007 for the first time since its inception. However, MAEP must be fully funded each year to provide schools with a stable funding source that is necessary for long-term planning. The estimated funding is $11.1million.

• Additional funding for at-risk students. Mississippi has one of the highest populations of at-risk students but the state provides the lowest funding for additional resources to support these students. Prior to making a recommendation on what amount is needed above the 5 percent allocated from the 2007 session, the Mississippi Department of Education is waiting on an at-risk study commission report.

• Pilot pre-kindergarten program.  The Early Learning Collaborative Act passed in ‘07 authorizing a voluntary Early Care and Education Grant Program. Also, legislation passed in the 2006 session to expand the Mississippi Child Care Quality Step System and provided for a Statewide Child Care Resource and Referral System. However, the programs were not funded. An estimated $20 million is needed to fund them.


Child Care
The Mississippi Low-Income Child Initiative will again push for legislation that will appropriate some state funds for child care assistance using Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds and suggests that it be done through the Department of Human Services.

Second, push for legislation to provide grants to child-care providers who implement the quality rating improvements. The current legislation is unfunded.

This will be an avenue to get money into the child-care centers that are participating in the Quality Rating System Assessment program.

State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)/Medicaid Program

Some 146,000 Mississippi children are uninsured. From 2005 to 2006, the number of people reporting coverage under Medicaid dropped from 601,000 to 497,000. The increase of uninsured has been placed on the face-to-face certification and re-certification process implemented by the Division of Medicaid.

Mississippi is one of few states that require this process at re-certification. Other states use mail-in or phone re-certification process.

During this legislative session, advocates will push for legislation to remove the face-to-face requirement to one that has fewer restrictions and is more accessible to the people.

Grocery-Cigarette Tax Bill
Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature that would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes to $1 and reduce the sales tax on groceries by half from its current rate of 7 percent. The change would have been phased in over a period of two years.

Mississippi has the highest grocery tax in the nation and one of the lowest cigarette taxes in a state where the poverty rate is one of highest in the nation. During the ‘08 session, this bill will be on the table again.

Juvenile Justice Legislation
CFC will support the Mississippi Youth Justice Project legislation which includes legislation to reform Columbia Training School, changes in laws relating to children tried as adults, a detention re-entry confidentiality bill, a bill relating to restrictions on detention placement for abuse and neglect and Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) legislation.


Foster Care
CFC calls for funding the Department of Human Services Foster Care services to bring supervisors and staff up to professional standards.