Preventing Another Government Shutdown

Congress has a deadline of Feb. 15, next week, to reach a bipartisan deal to prevent another shutdown. While lawmakers may have had some common immigration reform priorities, President Trump has repeated that any negotiations that don’t lead to the construction of a border wall would be a non-starter for him. If Congress does not reach a deal or if the deal is not palatable for the Administration, President Trump has said there is a good chance he would declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and build the wall. Negotiations will continue into next week.

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.

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Proposed Rule on SNAP -  Work Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults

Last week, USDA released a new proposed rule that would restrict states’ flexibility to provide SNAP to “able-bodied adults.” Current federal law limits able-bodied adult without dependents who are not working, to receive 3-months’ worth of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits within a 36-month time period. If an individual meets the work requirement, working an average of 20-hours a week, they will continue to receive monthly food assistance. Current federal law also allows states to temporarily waive the 3-month time limit in areas that have unemployment rates of 10% or higher. The U.S Department of Agriculture has proposed to make state SNAP waiver request less flexible since the economy and unemployment rates have consistently been strong. While the Administration argues this proposal will save about $15 billion over 10 years, many advocacy groups are speaking out against this rule and don’t want to see programs like SNAP restricted. The deadline to submit comments is April 2.   

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”

Bills Recently Introduced in Congress

  • Two bills were introduced last week by Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) – in the Senate and House respectively. This bill would make sure that religious organizations can continue to provide services to children. (S. 274, H.R.897)
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is the main sponsor of a bill that would amend IRA tax codes to recognize Indian tribal governments for the purpose of determining adoption credits for special need children. (S. 305)
  • Tuesday morning The Advancing Care for Exceptional Kids Act (ACE Kids Act) was reintroduced in the U.S Senate by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Chuck Grassley (D-IA). The ACE Kids Act would improve health care conditions for children with disabilities who are covered by Medicaid. This would make it possible for health care providers to coordinate care, lower medical costs and improve outcomes for children with complex medical conditions. 

These bills are at the very beginning stage of the legislative process, each bill has been assigned to a committee where it will be debated and voted on before it can be considered on the floor of the House or Senate.

House Budget Committee Hearing on Discretionary Budget Caps and the Economy

The House Budget Committee heard from four expert testimonies Thursday morning on the critical need to raise the discretionary budget cap for 2020. If action is not taken, programs funded by annual appropriations will be cut off immediately. Congress originally imposed this discretionary cap as part of the deficit reduction plan established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Witnesses included:

  • Sarah Abernathy (Deputy Executive Director, Committee for Education Funding)
  • Steven Kosiak (Adjunct Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security)
  • Dr. Umair A. Shah, MPH (Executive Director, Harris County Public Health; Immediate Past President, National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO))
  • Gordon Gray (Director of Fiscal Policy, American Action Forum) 

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