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Clinton Signs Legislation to Speed Adoption Process

From Associated Press

With dozens of adopted children and their families looking on, President Clinton signed legislation Wednesday to speed the movement of children from foster care to “permanent and loving homes.”

Foster homes have an important place, the president said, “but children should not be trapped in them forever, especially when there are open arms to welcome them.”

“Fundamentally, this bill will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable children.”

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The law aims at doubling the number of adoptions each year to about 54,000. The White House said about 500,000 American children await adoption.

Clinton called on many more American families “to open their homes and their hearts to children who need a loving home.”

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Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly (D-Conn.), one of the bipartisan team responsible for passage of the legislation, said: “It not only gives a child back their childhood, but it gives a child hope.”

Although he was not present for the signing ceremony, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) issued a statement saying he had a special reason for supporting the legislation.

“As someone who was adopted, I know what a difference it makes to be welcomed into a loving and supportive family,” Gingrich said.

Clinton signed the bill with a flourish during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, which echoed with the cries and exclamations of dozens of adopted children.

In a step designed to encourage a speedier adoption process, the new law offers states $20 million in bonuses for each of the next five years.

For every additional child adopted over current levels, a state will receive $4,000. An additional $2,000 bonus will be paid for each adoption of a child with special medical needs.

At present, children who have been removed from their natural families and cannot safely return to them typically wait three years or more to be placed in permanent homes.

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The new law requires that permanency hearings be held no later than 12 months after a child enters foster care, six months earlier than the old law.

It also spells out situations in which states are not required to make a “reasonable effort” to return a child to his or her natural parents. These include cases in which a parent has been convicted of murdering another child or when a child has been abandoned, tortured or abused.

The law forbids delaying or denying adoptions across state or county lines.

Other bills Clinton signed Wednesday were:

* The District of Columbia’s 1998 budget, which provides money for a rescue package for the cash-strapped nation’s capital.

“It is our hope we have now ended the financial crisis for the city,” said Franklin D. Raines, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, an architect of the rescue plan.

The $4.2-billion budget provides money for the federal government to take over running prisons and courts in the city as well as paying pensions and most Medicaid. The budget includes $8 million for management reform of city agencies.

The rescue plan initially sparked outcry and protests from residents because of provisions that stripped Mayor Marion Barry and local elected leaders of their authority over key city agencies. That power was instead given to a financial control board, which was appointed by Congress to handle local finances and the day-to-day running of agencies at least until 2000.

* A 2.1% cost-of-living increase in payments to veterans disabled while in service and to the survivors of those killed.

“By maintaining the real value of these payments, we honor those sacrifices,” Clinton said.

The increase will benefit about 2.3 million veterans and more than 300,000 surviving spouses and children. It takes effect Dec. 1 and is identical to the increase in veterans’ and Social Security pensions will receive in January.


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