Over recent weeks, the House of Representatives has been pulling together President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, drafting legislative language, and working on the details. Congress is using what’s called the reconciliation process, which that allows the Senate to pass a bill with a simple, 51-vote majority. Each House committee has marked up a bill in the last week or two, and we expect them to be packaged and voted on by the full House of Representatives as early as later this week, where it is expected to pass. Next, this will move to the Senate for its consideration.
Congress is hoping to have this bill completed by March 14, when several of the previous COVID-19 relief provisions are set to expire. That said, there will be numerous obstacles to overcome in the Senate, which has a tighter split between political parties.
So far, the bill is very favorable to many of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Council on Accreditation’s priorities for COVID-19 relief, as it includes a historic amount for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and access to the Paycheck Protection Program for midsize nonprofits.
Read our full overview of key provisions.
Biden Orders Review of Trump’s Public Charge Rule
On Feb. 2, President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders on immigration, including one that calls on the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the secretary of homeland security to create a holistic review of the Trump-era public charge rule, which can be used to deny individuals seeking to immigrate to the U.S. or change their status. To block individuals who are dependent on government benefits—in other words, “a public charge”—the rule allows immigration officers to scrutinize and reject an applicant based on past participation in an expanded list of public benefits programs including food stamps, Medicaid, and housing subsidies. It also allows them to consider an applicant’s current financial situation in considering whether an applicant could become a public charge in the future.
While Biden outright rescinded a related Trump-era order that required relatives of immigrants to pay back the government if they used public benefits, many immigrant advocates are asking why Biden opted to review, rather than rescind, the public charge rule, especially given its “chilling effect” on immigrant communities. According to a study from the Urban Institute, one in seven adults in immigrant families avoided using public benefit programs in 2020, fearing participation would impact their status. Reversing a regulation or rule, however, is much more complex than overturning a past executive order or memorandum, which may explain why the Biden administration chose to commission a review as a first step.
Sources: Forbes, Time
Child Tax Credit Steps into Spotlight
As part of his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden included a significant increase in the child tax credit to respond to the dramatic rise in the child poverty rate to over 16% in December. Under his proposed plan, families would receive $3,600 for each child under six and $3,000 for each child 6-17 years old, higher than the current $2,000 per child. The tax credit would be fully refundable, meaning even families without tax liability (many low-income families) would receive the credit in full. The credit would phase out for individuals earning more than $75,000 per year and married couples earning more than $150,000 per year. Furthermore, the credit would be paid out directly to recipients in monthly installments, rather than in a lump sum at the end of the year, providing immediate relief to families struggling through the pandemic. Biden’s proposal, which costs $150 billion, would last for one year; however, democrats are pushing to make it a permanent fixture of the tax code.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has also introduced his own proposal for a child tax credit. Romney’s plan, which would become permanent, would give families $4,200 for each young child and $3,000 for each older child, paid out in monthly installments. The credit would phase out for individuals earning more than $200,000 ($400,000 for joint filers). The tax credit would be paid for by eliminating other public benefits programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the state and local tax deduction. The Niskanen Center says that Romney’s plan would cut child poverty by a third and “deep child poverty” by half.
Food and Nutrition Services Releases Civil Rights Guidance
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) under the Department of Agriculture released civil rights guidance for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s Employment and Training Program (SNAP E&T). The guidance outlines protocols that all state agencies must comply with to ensure that no program participants are discriminated against based on race, color, national origin, age, sex, religious creed, disability and political beliefs. For instance, there must be no discrepancies in client referrals based on race and/or ethnicity. Each agency is responsible for providing interpreter services and designating an employee to oversee compliance with ADA/Section 504 requirements. Agencies must also ensure that all staff receive civil rights training on an annual basis.
Congressional Budget Office Report on Minimum Wage Hike Sparks Political Fight
In his emergency relief bill, President Joe Biden proposed an ambitious increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour, which would be phased in over five years. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a report highlighting the effects such a raise would have on the economy. According to the report, 27 million workers would see a pay increase and 900,000 workers would be lifted out of poverty, while the unemployment rolls would increase by 1.4 million, or 0.9%, by 2025. Significantly, the minimum wage increase would raise the deficit by $54 billion over 10 years because home health and nursing home workers in Medicare and Medicaid would be paid more. In the eyes of progressive Democrats, this allows Congress to pass the minimum wage hike through the reconciliation process, which is limited to provisions with budgetary impact and requires only a simple majority to pass. Though the question is still out on whether the minimum wage hike can technically be included, it may be moot because Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), both moderate Democrats with considerable influence in the divided Senate, have come out against a $15 minimum wage.
Groups from across the political spectrum have pounced on this opportunity to advance their goals and defend their interests. The Service Employees International Union, which started the original “Fight for 15” campaign in 2012, has already generated 3,000 calls to members of Congress, pushing the need to help frontline and low wage workers recover from the economic crisis. Legal and civil rights groups, like the National Employment Law Project and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 organizations, are also lobbying decision makers. Amazon has come out in support of a $15 minimum wage. The Chamber of Commerce, International Franchise Association and the National Restaurant Association strongly oppose the wage increase, warning that small businesses will suffer under the increased labor costs, especially after the pandemic.
Source: Bloomberg Government
Biden Administration Halts Discrimination Rule
On Feb. 10, the Department of Health and Human Services agreed to a court order that would halt implementation of a Trump-era rule which was finalized in January. This rule would have allowed states and other recipients of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant funding to discriminate against individuals based on faith, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors. The rule, which was first proposed in late 2019, would have eliminated essential protections preventing foster care, adoption agencies, and other federal grantees from discriminating on these characteristics when providing HHS grant funded services.
Source: Child Welfare and Mental Health Coalition
New Family First Prevention Services Clearinghouse Ratings Announced
In recent weeks, the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse issued ratings for four new programs. Two of them were found to not currently meet criteria, one was found to be “promising” and one was considered “well-supported.”
- Family-Centered Treatment: Does not currently meet criteria
- Family Check-Up: Well-supported (mental health/parent skill-based)
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depressed Adolescents: Promising (mental health)
- The Matrix Model: Does not currently meet criteria
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