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Schumer: Give after-school programs, camps, senior centers access to FBI background checks

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) holds a letter addressed

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) holds a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray calling on the Department of Justice to implement the Child Protection Improvements Act during a news conference at his Manhattan office Sunday. Credit: Charles Eckert

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday called on the U.S. Department of Justice to implement the Child Protection Improvements Act, legislation passed last year that calls for the department to provide summer camps, after-school programs, senior centers and other organizations that deal with vulnerable populations access to FBI fingerprint background checks. 

Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the act was intended to help organizations screen for sex offenders and others who abuse vulnerable people and that Justice Department officials put children, people with disabilities and seniors at risk by failing to make background checks available in March as required. 

“Today we are here to say make this list available as the law requires, so our kids, the elderly, the disabled, can be much more certain they won’t be around sex offenders and other people who might cause them a lot of harm,” Schumer said during a news conference in Manhattan. 

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. 

The Senate minority leader said he and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sent a letter earlier this month to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking why the Justice Department has failed to implement the law. The letter also called for an update on a timeline for a public comment period to solicit input from organizations that serve vulnerable populations about their background check needs. 

“The trouble is, while the FBI and the Department of Justice have a big list of every sex offender in the country, they don’t let our schools, our after-schools, our camps use the list,” Schumer said. “So they have to hire a private-sector person. A) It costs them hundreds of dollars for each check, and B) the check isn’t as good.” 

The Child Protection Improvements Act expanded and made permanent a Justice Department pilot program that gave some organizations access to the FBI database. The FBI received 115,000 requests for information about job applicants during the pilot program — and 8,500 were offenders, the senator said. 

“It worked, and that is why the law passed, and it passed pretty overwhelmingly,” Schumer said. 

Schumer held several events across New York State, including a 2016 stop at Coleman Country Day Camp in Freeport, to make the case for the bill. He said sex offenders often seek jobs in camps, school and other facilities that give them access to children, and that move from state to state to avoid detection. 

Schumer said there are about 39,000 sex offenders in New York State and more than 800,000 nationwide. 

The law is backed by the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. 

“There are dire consequences for children when pedophiles and other unsafe adults in positions of trust gain access to them,” said Steve Forrester of the children's advocacy group. “In-depth background checks are one of the most important tools that administrators of child-serving organizations have for hiring safe and appropriate employees and volunteers.”

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