HHS Waiver Granted to Christian Social Services Group from Non-Discrimination Rule

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families recently issued a waiver to Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian social-service agency in South Carolina, from a regulation that bans discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation in foster care placements. Miracle Hill came under scrutiny when it turned away non-Christian and same-sex families from becoming foster parents through their program. The group received nearly $600,000 in state and federal funding last year to support foster care families. A regulation put into place during the Obama administration bans discrimination because of religious or sexual orientation. HHS is preparing to release a rule giving its newly established Conscience and Religious Freedom Division the ability to investigate and enforce religious discrimination claims, according to The Wall Street Journal. Share your organization’s position on this ruling by filling out this short survey to guide the best way for the Alliance Public Policy Office to respond.  

Government Reopening & Negotiations on Immigration and Border Protection Policies

Last week, President Trump and Congress came to an agreement to end the partial government shutdown and reopen the government until Feb. 15. As part of that agreement, a special bipartisan committee was formed to negotiate a deal on a possible border wall and immigration policy. If that committee does not reach consensus, or their proposal isn’t amenable to the administration, it is possible that the government could shut down again. 

This bipartisan committee of both House and Senate members are in discussions about a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would address border security, as well as other agencies that are not yet funded.

Democrats are offering a $55 billion package overall on appropriations, which includes $14 billion for Customs and Border Protection. Their proposal includes additional customs officers, funding for Border Patrol relocation and retention, technology in border security, more funding for opioid detection, and infrastructure improvements at ports of entry. However, this proposal would prevent construction of a physical barrier at several historic sites and national parks. Their proposal also includes $7.4 billion for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services including a $7 million increase in detention facility inspections. It would also phase out family detention by the end of the fiscal year. The plan would prohibit ICE from placing sponsors of unaccompanied children into removal proceedings (except those convicted of serious crimes or with pending criminal charges, or those who may pose a danger to children). President Trump has stated that if there is no wall included in these final negotiations, it’s a non-starter for him. Many congressional Republicans involved in the negotiations agree that they would like to see a wall constructed. President Trump has also stated that he would consider declaring a national emergency on border security, in order to fund the wall.  

Source: CBS News 

Important Notice for SNAP Participants

Though the USDA had the budget authority to fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for February during the shutdown, we are concerned that participants are not aware that they have received their February disbursement early (on Jan. 20) and will need to make it last. A recent article highlighted the hardships families are facing as they work to budget these dollars carefully.  

Health and human services agencies, community-based nonprofits, local food pantries, and other advocates need to advise SNAP participants who receive their February SNAP benefits on or around Jan. 20 that the issuance is not a bonus, but an early issuance of their February benefits. SNAP participants should be careful to budget their SNAP benefits to last them through the entire month of February. (Source: The American Public Human Services Association) If you have questions, please reach out to the Alliance Public Policy Office.  

TANF Bill Signed into Law

Recently, funds were not available for the TANF program. The majority of the recipients of these funds are children. In the interim, states had to cover the cost and did their best to pull together unspent federal funds. Over the past few weeks, the House of Representatives and Senate approved an extension of the TANF program through June 30, 2019, and it was signed by the president last Thursday. This is a big relief for advocates, as funding was caught up in the shutdown.  

Medicare for All Proposals

Some Democrats in Congress have been working together to introduce a new “Medicare for All” bill concept and plan to hold hearings on it in March in the House of Representatives. The current Medicare chief, Seema Verma said this week, “The reality is we can barely afford the program we have.” The “Medicare for All” concept is gaining momentum with several Democratic presidential contenders including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) who have all made this type of policy part of their health care messaging so far. The cost of such a system is unknown, but a cost estimate done by the Mercatus Center estimated that a past proposal by Bernie Sanders in 2017 would cost about $32 trillion.  

Source: Bloomberg Government  

Community Health Center Funding

 This week, leaders from both parties proposed a five-year extension on funding for community health centers. At a hearing this week in the Senate HELP Committee, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) talked about the importance of stability for these health centers so that they can serve underserved communities. In 2017, funding lapsed for the community health centers program because Congress missed their deadline to renew funding. That funding provides 70 percent of the program’s dollars.  

Source: Bloomberg Government  

Congressional Committee Ask Congressional Budget Office and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to Account for Social Capital in Health Care Cost Projections

Earlier this week, Joint Economic Committee Chairman Mike Lee (R-Utah) sent letters to both the Congressional Budget Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking for clarification on whether they take social capital into account when they create their health care cost projections for both federal and state governments. The letter also requests that if they do not already, they should take social capital into account. Recently a Joint Economic Committee report highlighted declining social support among the elderly, spurring this push.  

MIHOPE Impact Report Shows Benefits for Children and Families

Recently, HHS released the results of a multi-year study of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV). The study looked at work being done in communities to improve home visiting programs. Some highlighted outcomes include improved home environments, reduced psychological aggression toward children, fewer emergency room visits, fewer child behavioral health problems, reductions in experience of intimate partner violence, and reductions in parental depression.

Tomorrow’s Jobs Demand Higher Degrees

According to a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest declining occupations in the next decade are the ones with minimal entry-level education requirements, often because they are most vulnerable to automation and other technological advances. The fastest growing fields, on the other hand, are in fields requiring post-secondary education, often master’s degrees.  

Source: Bloomberg Government

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