Open Letter to APHSA Members from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Article excerpt

Dear State and Local Human Service Professionals:

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Since 1930, the American Public Human Services Association has been a critical link between the federal government and state and local human service agencies, helping them work together to "improve the health and well-being of families, children and adults."

That mission has never been more vital than it is today. Families across the country are facing difficult times--too many people are out of work and finding it hard to afford the basics and provide for their children. The programs you administer at the state and local level, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, child care assistance, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are helping families put food on the table and a roof over their heads while giving them the opportunity to learn new skills and succeed in new jobs.

In addition to running these programs, state and local officials often have invaluable on-the-ground knowledge of the challenges people face, and which strategies and interventions are making the biggest difference in their lives. At the Department of Health and Human Services, we understand that we are more effective when we work in strong collaboration with states.

Over the last two years, we've relied on that partnership more than ever as we've worked together to help families weather the worst recession in 70 years.

Last February, President Obama signed the Recovery Act, which created the TANF Emergency Fund to provide relief for states facing an increased demand for services while also putting people back to work. The combination of new funds and state-level innovation led to the hiring of over 200,000 Americans in subsidized jobs that often led to permanent employment. In one county in Tennessee, the program helped reduce the unemployment rate by nearly half. For those families, it meant more than just bills that could be paid--it meant that people got back the dignity that comes with having a job.

As part of the Recovery Act, we also provided enhanced FMAP payments to cash-strapped states when it was sorely needed. And we extended the funds this summer to make sure that the most vulnerable people kept their health care and to save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of police officers, firefighters, first responders and teachers.

In addition, HHS continues to work with partners at the federal, state and local levels to raise the bar on quality in early education. The State Early Childhood Advisory Councils, funded by the Administration for Children and Families, are bringing together public and private stakeholders to build a vision for coordinated systems of early care and education across child care, Head Start, and state pre-Kindergarten. By integrating health and family support services into their early childhood development goals, these councils will help children and families get the full range of supports they need.

At the same time, HHS is elevating quality and accountability in the early education programs that we administer. ACF is working with state partners to improve child care quality through professional development systems for the child care workforce. And we've worked together to promote Quality Rating Improvement Systems a systemic approach to assess, improve and communicate the level of quality in early and school-age care and education settings in order to promote high-quality care for all children. …