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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

FEMA’s Disaster Declaration Process: A Primer

Francis X. McCarthy
Analyst in Emergency Management Policy

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (referred to as the Stafford Act - 42 U.S.C. 5721 et seq.) authorizes the President to issue “major disaster” or “emergency” declarations before or after catastrophes occur. Emergency declarations trigger aid that protects property, public health, and safety and lessens or averts the threat of an incident becoming a catastrophic event. A major disaster declaration, issued after catastrophes occur, constitutes broader authority for federal agencies to provide supplemental assistance to help state and local governments, families and individuals, and certain nonprofit organizations recover from the incident.

The end result of a presidential disaster declaration is well known, if not entirely understood. Various forms of assistance are provided, including aid to families and individuals for uninsured needs and assistance to state and local governments and certain non-profits in rebuilding or replacing damaged infrastructure.

The amount of assistance provided through presidential disaster declarations has exceeded $140 billion. Often, in recent years, Congress has enacted supplemental appropriations legislation to cover unanticipated costs. While the amounts spent by the federal government on different programs may be reported, and the progress of the recovery can be observed, much less is known about the process that initiates all of this activity. Yet, it is a process that has resulted in an average of more than one disaster declaration a week over the last decade.

The disaster declaration procedure is foremost a process that preserves the discretion of the governor to request assistance and the President to decide to grant, or not to grant, supplemental help. The process employs some measurable criteria in two broad areas: Individual Assistance that aids families and individuals and Public Assistance that is mainly for repairs to infrastructure. The criteria, however, also considers many other factors, in each category of assistance, that help decision makers assess the impact of an event on communities and states.

Under current law, the decision to issue a declaration rests solely with the President. Congress has no formal role, but has taken actions to adjust the terms of the process. For example, P.L. 109-295 established an advocate to help small states with the declaration process. More recently, Congress introduced legislation, H.R. 3377, that would direct FEMA to update some of its criteria for considering Individual Assistance declarations.

Congress continues to examine the process and has received some recommendations for improvements. Given the importance of the decision, and the size of the overall spending involved, hearings have been held to review the declaration process so as to ensure fairness and equity in the process and its results.

Date of Report: May 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: RL34146
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Missing and Exploited Children: Background, Policies, and Issues

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Beginning in the late 1970s, highly publicized cases of children abducted, sexually abused, and often murdered prompted policy makers and child advocates to declare a missing children problem. At that time, about one and a half million children were reported missing annually. A more recent count, in 1999, estimated that approximately 1.3 million children went missing from their caretakers that year due to a family or nonfamily abduction, running away or being forced to leave home, becoming lost or injured, or for benign reasons, such as a miscommunication about schedules. About half of all missing children ran away or were forced to leave home, and nearly all missing children were returned to their homes. The number of children who are sexually exploited—defined broadly to include a continuum of abuse, from child pornography to commercial sexual exploitation—is unknown. Over 278,000 verified incidents of child pornography were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) from 1998 through 2010.

Recognizing the need for greater federal coordination of local and state efforts to recover missing and exploited children, Congress created the Missing and Exploited Children’s (MEC) program in 1984 under the Missing Children’s Assistance Act (P.L. 98-473, Title IV of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974). The act directed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to establish both a toll-free number to report missing children and a national resource center for missing and exploited children; coordinate public and private missing and exploited children’s programs; and provide training and technical assistance to recover missing children. Since 1984, NCMEC has served as the national resource center and has carried out many of the objectives of the act in collaboration with OJJDP.

In addition to funding NCMEC, the MEC program currently supports the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force program to assist state and local law enforcement cyber units investigate possible incidents of online child sexual exploitation. The program also funds technical assistance for the AMBER Alert System, which coordinates state efforts to broadcast bulletins in the most serious child abduction cases. Other initiatives supported by the program include membership support services for a nonprofit missing children’s organization, which serves families of missing children, and as of FY2010, efforts to respond to sexual exploitation involving youth perpetrators and victims.

The MEC program was last reauthorized by the Protecting Our Children Comes First Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-240) through FY2013. The legislation authorized funding for specific activities for NCMEC, including formally authorizing activities that were already carried out by the organization. Although the ICAC program has been funded since FY1999 under the MEC line item in appropriations acts, it is formally authorized by the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-401). For FY2011, Congress appropriated $70 million for the MEC program.

The subject of missing and exploited children is broad and, therefore, this report covers only select aspects of the topic. The report begins with an overview of the topic, including definitions and estimated numbers of children known to be missing or exploited. It then provides information about the MEC program’s funding, oversight, and major components. Finally, it discusses related issues that may be relevant to Congress. The report briefly addresses other related federal programs and initiatives.

Date of Report: May 2, 2011
Number of Pages: 47
Order Number: RL34050
Price: $29.95

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Millennium Challenge Corporation

Curt Tarnoff
Specialist in Foreign Affairs

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) provides economic assistance through a competitive selection process to developing nations that are pursuing political and economic reforms in three areas: ruling justly, investing in people, and fostering economic freedom.

Established in 2004, the MCC differs in several respects from past and current U.S. aid practices: 

  • the competitive process that rewards countries for past actions measured by 17 objective performance indicators; 
  • the pledge to segregate the funds from U.S. strategic foreign policy objectives that often strongly influence where U.S. aid is spent; 
  • its mandate to seek poverty reduction through economic growth, not encumbered with multiple sector objectives; 
  • the requirement to solicit program proposals developed solely by qualifying countries with broad-based civil society involvement; 
  • the responsibility of recipient countries to implement their own MCC-funded programs, known as compacts; 
  • a compact duration limited to five years, with funding committed up front; 
  • the expectation that compact projects will have measurable impact; 
  • an emphasis on public transparency in every aspect of agency operations. 
In February 2011, the Obama Administration issued its FY2012 budget, requesting $1.125 billion for the MCC, a 2% increase from the enacted FY2010 appropriation and a 25% increase over the final FY2011 appropriation. Following a series of continuing appropriations, in April 2011, Congress approved H.R. 1473 (P.L. 112-10), providing $900 million for the MCC in FY2011. After applying a .2% across-the-board non-defense rescission, the MCC receives $898 million in FY2011, a 19% decrease from the FY2010-enacted level.

Congress authorized the MCC in P.L. 108-199 (January 23, 2004). Since that time, the MCC’s Board of Directors has approved 23 grant agreements, known as compacts: with Madagascar (2005), Honduras (2005), Cape Verde (2005), Nicaragua (2005), Georgia (2005), Benin (2006), Vanuatu (2006), Armenia (2006), Ghana (2006), Mali (2006), El Salvador (2006), Mozambique (2007), Lesotho (2007), Morocco (2007), Mongolia (2007), Tanzania (2007), Burkina Faso (2008), Namibia (2008), Senegal (2009), Moldova (2009), Philippines (2010), Jordan (2010), and Malawi (2011).

MCC issues include the level of funding to support MCC programs, the impact of budget reductions on MCC programs, the rate of program implementation, the results of MCC compacts, and procurement and corruption concerns.

Date of Report: May 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: RL32427
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

United Nations System Efforts to Address Violence Against Women

Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

The United Nations (U.N.) system supports a number of programs that address international violence against women (VAW). These activities, which are implemented by 36 U.N. entities, range from large-scale interagency initiatives to smaller grants and programs that are implemented by a range of partners, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), national governments, and individual U.N. agencies. U.N. member states, including the United States, address VAW by ratifying multilateral treaties, adopting resolutions and decisions, and supporting U.N. mechanisms and bodies that focus on the issue.

Many U.N. activities and mechanisms address VAW directly, while others focus on it in the context of broader issues such as humanitarian assistance, U.N. peacekeeping, and global health. U.N. entities do not specifically track the cost of programs or activities with anti-VAW components. As a result, it is unclear how much the U.N. system, including individual U.N. agencies, funds, and programs, spends annually on programs to combat violence against women.

The U.S. government supports many activities that, either in whole or in part, work to combat international violence against women. Some experts argue that when considering the most effective ways to address VAW on an international scale, the United States should take into account the efforts of international organizations such as the United Nations. Were the 112
th Congress to decide to use U.N. mechanisms to combat VAW, a number of programs and options might be considered. Congress has appropriated funds to the U.N. Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence Against Women, for example, as well as to U.N. agencies, funds, and programs that address types or circumstances of violence against women and girls. These include the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), World Health Organization (WHO), U.N. Development Program (UNDP), U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Senate has also provided its advice and consent to U.S. ratification of treaties that address international violence against women and girls—including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

At the same time, however, some policymakers contend that U.N. anti-VAW activities may not always align with U.S. foreign assistance priorities. They emphasize that rather than focusing on multilateral efforts, the U.S. government should focus on its own anti-VAW activities. Additionally, others may suggest that the U.S. government reconsider its efforts to combat international VAW in light of the global economic crisis, economic recession, and consequent calls to lower the U.S. budget deficit.

This report provides an overview of recent U.N. efforts to address VAW and highlights key U.N. interagency efforts. It also discusses selected U.N. funds, programs, and agencies that address international violence against women. It does not assess the extent to which VAW is directly addressed or is part of a larger initiative or program.

For information on international violence against women, including its causes, consequences, and U.S. policy, see CRS Report RL34438, International Violence Against Women: U.S. Response and Policy Issues.

Date of Report: April 21, 2011
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL34518
Price: $29.95

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Vulnerable Youth: Federal Mentoring Programs and Issues

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Youth mentoring refers to a relationship between youth—particularly those most at risk of experiencing negative outcomes in adolescence and adulthood—and the adults who support and guide them. The origin of the modern youth mentoring concept is credited to the efforts of charity groups that formed during the Progressive era of the early 1900s to provide practical assistance to poor and juvenile justice-involved youth, including help with finding employment. Approximately 2.5 million youth today are involved in formal mentoring relationships through Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of America and similar organizations. Contemporary mentoring programs seek to improve outcomes and reduce risks among vulnerable youth by providing positive role models who regularly meet with the youth in community or school settings. Some programs have broad youth development goals while others focus more narrowly on a particular outcome. Evaluations of the BBBS program and studies of other mentoring programs demonstrate an association between mentoring and some positive youth outcomes, but the effects of mentoring on particular outcomes and the ability for mentored youth to sustain gains over time is less certain.

In recent years, two mentoring programs—the Mentoring Children of Prisoners (MCP) program and Safe and Drug Free Schools (SDFS) Mentoring program—have provided a significant source of federal funding for mentoring services. However, the programs were short-lived: funding for the MCP program was discontinued beginning in FY2011 and funding for the SDFS program was discontinued beginning in FY2010. The Mentoring Children of Prisoners program was created in response to the growing number of children under age 18 with at least one parent who is incarcerated in a federal or state correctional facility. The program was intended, in part, to reduce the chance that mentored youth would use drugs and skip school. Similarly, the SDFS Mentoring program provided school-based mentoring to reduce school dropout and improve relationships for youth at risk of educational failure and with other risk factors. As part of its FY2010 budget justifications, the Obama Administration had proposed eliminating the program because of an evaluation showing that it did not have an impact on students overall in terms of interpersonal relationships, academic outcomes, and delinquent behaviors.

In addition to these programs, the federal government has funded short-term mentoring grants as well as programs that include mentoring as one of their core activities. For example, the Department of Justice has allocated funding for initiatives that provide mentoring for youth in the juvenile justice or foster care systems and other vulnerable youth populations. Youth ChalleNGe, an educational and leadership program for at-risk youth administered by the Department of Defense, includes mentoring as a major aspect of its program. In addition, federal agencies coordinate on federal mentoring issues. The Federal Mentoring Council was created in 2006 to address the ways agencies can combine resources and training and technical assistance to federally administered mentoring programs, and to serve as a clearinghouse on mentoring issues for the federal government. The recently enacted Serve America Act (P.L. 111-13) authorizes funding for Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) programs in which mentoring is a permissible activity.

Issues relevant to the federal role in mentoring include the limitations of research on outcomes for mentored youth, the potential need for additional mentors, grantees’ challenges in sustaining funding, and the possible discontinuation of federal mentoring funding.

Date of Report: April 27, 2011
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL34306
Price: $29.95

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