Criminal Justice Bill

Criminal reform passed the house (358-36) on Thursday with a vote on S. 756, the legislative vehicle for the “First Step Act” that made its way through the Senate earlier in the week. It now awaits the president for signature.

The bill intends to reduce mandatory minimum sentences, reduce recidivism, and build opportunities for those formerly incarcerated by advancing innovative programs and solutions delivered in partnership with community-based organizations among others.

The measure “takes lessons from history and from states — our laboratories of democracy — to reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars and strengthen faith and fairness in our criminal justice system,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) explains in a Dec. 18 news release.

Other provisions in the bill:

  • Prohibit solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.
  • Reauthorize grant programs, partnership with CBOs to help former prisoners rejoin their communities after they’re released.
  • Authorize $75 million annually from fiscal 2019 through 2023 for programs to reduce recidivism.
  • Require inmates to be imprisoned within 500 miles of their primary residence assuming facilities are available.

Government Spending

The debate over funding for the Border wall continues to be the wedge that keeps a funding bill the president will sign, from moving through congress. National news wires are reporting multiple quotes from lawmakers, and the president has turned to Twitter this morning causing the debate around this issue to escalate. In DC, the news is no different – there is a not surprising impasse. How this impasse will end seems to be another story, one that may likely play out today and after a partial government shut down.

With several minibus bills over the past several months, any potential shutdown will be limited to only a component of government services i.e. National Park Service and the Departments of Interior, Agriculture*, Justice, Transportation, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The extent of disruption to departments like National Parks, depends on where they are in their budgeting process and the depth of effect of a shutdown for programs like public housing, or housing choice vouchers, both housing subsidies for low-income families and seniors will vary. Each of these programs will be subject to the local administering agency’s (i.e. a housing authority) budget and reserves – can they carry services and continue to pay for the local support, until a federal budget is passed? In the event of a shut down, even though holiday breaks may impede getting answers, we suggest you reach to your housing providers, homeless shelters, and community action agencies, and others in the partial shutdown to see how they intend to approach the shut down and service delivery in your community.

In any case, essential employees are still required to report to work. Examples of essential employees include Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers and air traffic controllers in the Department of Homeland Security who will have to remain on the job. 

*Statement made prior to president signing the farm bill on Dec. 20. Farm and nutrition programs will now not see an interruption in the event of a government shutdown.

Farm Bill

As reported last week, H.R. 2 - Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, aka “the farm bill,” agriculture and nutrition programs will be reauthorized for five years, through fiscal 2023 or the related crop year, as soon as the president signs the bill, presented to him this week on Dec. 19. The president signed the bill into law on Thursday fixing terms, programs, and authorization for the next five years. Within the act, work requirements remain largely the same for adults ages 15-60. Also included is an additional $13.9 million for employment and training programs.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) “illegal”

In a ruling last week in Texas, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional now that Congress has eliminated the penalty for those who decline health insurance. The ruling came because of a lawsuit brought by 20 states seeking to strike down the ACA.

This decision and the president’s subsequent actions, sent the GOP scrambling and rallied Democrats to state they will bring action on this issue after the first of the year. In any case, CMS Administrator Seema Verma tried to calm public concern citing the case will still need to advance through the courts, helping to confirm the decision is not final, and that the market place is open for business as usual.

The National Imperative in action

Earlier this week, aligned with the Alliance and APHSA report, A National Imperative: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America, north star number five, Regulatory Modernization, CMS Administrator Seema Verma tweeted “Regulatory burden is a major driver of our country’s #healthcare costs. The @AHAhospitals found that health care providers spend nearly $39 billion a year on regulatory compliance. We’re working to change that. Learn how we’re taking action here.” As we head into 2019, the Alliance will continue to work with various departments to reduce the regulatory burden to streamline reporting and regulations, thereby reducing the burden and cost to CBOs. Join us for our public policy agenda setting webinar on Dec. 27 to help define what this looks like.


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