Key Congressional Committees and their 2019 Priorities

In recent Radar issues, we’ve talked a bit about the newchair people of key committees in Congress. In this week’s issue, we want to share some of the key priorities for the chairs of these committees in 2019. These are the issues that are likely to see hearings and perhaps related legislative action.

Senate Finance Committee – Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

  • Lowering the cost of prescription drugs
  • Access to affordable health care in rural communities
  • Trade deals that support rural farmers
  • Permanent tax-credits

Senate HELP Committee – Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)

  • Lower cost of health care
  • Extend federal funding for community health centers
  • Re-authorizing the Older Americans Act (nutrition support for older adults)
  • Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Reauthorization
  • Higher Education Act Reauthorization

House Committee on Ways and Means – Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.)

  • Protecting social security benefits
  • Protecting the affordable care act
  • Committee gaining access to Trumps tax records

House Committee on Education and Labor – Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.)

  • College affordability & Higher Education Act reauthorization
  • Every Student Succeeds Act implementation
  • Improving public school infrastructure
  • Raising the minimum wage

HHS Proposes New Rules to Improve Interoperability of Health Information

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed new rules to support seamless and secure access, exchange, and use of electronic health information. These new rules were designed to “increase innovation and competition by giving patients and their healthcare providers secure access to health information and new tools, allowing for more choice in care and treatment. It calls on the healthcare industry to adopt standardized application programming interfaces, which will help allow individuals to securely and easily access structured EHI smartphone applications.” CMS released a fact sheet that details the proposed rule.

Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS

Immigrant Families Affected by Family Separation Sue Trump Administration

Eight immigrant families that were separated at the border are suing the Trump Administration millions of dollars for what attorney Jones referred to as, "inexplicable cruelty that has left lasting psychological damage". Stanton Jones is the lawyer for the eight families and said, “The government was harming children intentionally to try to advance what it viewed as a policy objective. It’s heinous and immoral, but it’s also a civil wrong for which the law provides a claim for relief.”

Source: The Hill, "Immigrant families separated by US sue for millions in damages"

Funding for Education Infrastructure

Addressing deteriorating school buildings is a high priority for the House Committee on Education and Labor this year. Some schools have been reported to have poisonous mold, leaky roofs, and defective heating and air systems that schools don’t know how to cover the cost to repair. Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has drawn attention to this issue through his bill (H.R. 865) that would provide federal funding to low-income schools in need of major repairs. Other members, including Representative Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), believe that school buildings should be maintained by the state and local government. 

Examining the Crisis and Solutions to End Homelessness: Hearing

The House Committee on Financial Services held their first hearing for the 116th Congress Wednesday morning, which was also the first full Committee hearing on homelessness.  Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said in her opening statement that there are over a half million people experiencing homelessness in our nation, 160,000 of which are children. Representative Waters urges Congress to support her End Homelessness Act which would provide $13.27 billion to federal programs that prevent homelessness.

Federal Policy Could Ensure Children Have Legal Representation

Current federal law does not require that states provide legal representation for children. States are required though to have a non-attorney guardian or court-appointed special advocate present, although supportive of the child’s interest, a non-attorney guardian is not able to navigate the courtroom in the same ways as a skilled attorney. The Children’s Bureau at the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a policy reversal that would allow states federal dollars to pay for legal representation for child welfare cases. States have been allowed to do this in the past, but previous policy prohibited federal funding from being drawn down for this purpose. Reversing this policy would align with the Children’s Bureau goal to support family preservation, but states would still not be required under federal law to provide legal representation for children. 

Source: The Hill, “Children win with feds’ policy reversal supporting legal representation”