President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Overview 

On Jan. 14, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris unveiled their American Rescue Plan. This proposal has a price tag of $1.9 trillion and aims to build from some of the investments in the end-of-the year package that became law in late December. This initial proposal did not include legislative language, so some details still aren’t clear. Ultimately, it will be up to the new Congress to review and pass legislation. They will likely put their own stamp on it, with some changes and additions of other programs and funding.  The biggest obstacle to passage will be the United States Senate, which has a 50-50 split, with a tie-breaking vote by VP Harris. Senate Democrats are considering a process called budget reconciliation that would allow them to pass such a bill with a simple majority. We anticipate the process of passing this bill will take several weeks or months, with no guarantees. In the early days of the Biden administration, there is already some pushback to this proposal on both sides of the aisle.

Some of the proposed provisions impacting our network include:

  • A $350 billion investment in state, local, and territorial governments to help them keep services afloat
  • Provides an additional $40 billion, on top of the $10 billion provided in the end of the year package, to total $50 billion in child care relief funding

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the Council on Accreditation have put together a summary detailing all other provisions impacting our sector. We will continue to fight for additional relief funds for state and local government, loans, and grants for nonprofits of all sizes, (including those with more than 500 employees), an increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) Medicaid match, and other key priorities as this process unfolds in early 2021.

View our comprehensive summary for human service organizations. It will take additional advocacy to get our priorities included in this next relief package.

Associate Commissioner of Children’s Bureau, Jerry Milner, Departs

In an unexpected move a few weeks ago, Jerry Milner, the Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, gave notice that he would be stepping down on Jan. 15, 2021. Though Milner was a political appointee of the previous administration, there was some speculation that he may stay on through the beginning of the Biden administration. As many know, Milner was a champion for primary prevention and was passionate about working with young people impacted by the child welfare system to improve conditions and improve their lives. As news on political appointments to run the Administration for Children and Families and the Children’s Bureau are announced, we will share that information with our network.

Biden Issues a Raft of Executive Orders Against Trump-Era Executive Actions

Since taking office, President Biden has signed a host of new executive orders with many more slated for the next few days and weeks. Biden continued the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until March 31, extended the pause on student loan payments and interest until Sept. 30, re-entered the Paris Climate Accord, and reversed Trump’s Muslim Ban. Biden also included a push to tackle racial inequity, enlisting federal agencies to review internal practices and engage with underserved communities. Another executive order requires masks on federal property and in inter-state travel. The Biden administration has also foreshadowed more executive orders that will be announced once cleared through legal review. These executive orders will deal with issues like reopening schools safely, reforming the criminal justice system, expanding access to health care, and restoring dignity to families separated at the border.

Source: CBS

Executive Order on Implicit Bias Training Rescinded

On his first day in office, President Biden reversed the Trump administration’s executive order that had undermined implicit bias training and diversity and inclusion programs for federal workers and contractors. The previous executive order had already been delayed by a temporary injunction issued by the federal District Court for Northern California. In response to that injunction, the Trump administration had already stopped some elements of the executive order. Biden’s executive order will fully reverse the efforts of the Trump administration to end needed training against racism and sexism. This would have had a huge impact on human services organizations that partner with the government. Last week, we issued a statement about the importance of this decision. Previously, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities co-led a letter asking for a reversal of this dangerous policy.

HHS Ends Nondiscrimination Policy in Final Rule

On Jan. 12, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rescinded nondiscrimination regulations in its grant programs. The final rule, which was proposed in November 2019, would allow grantees to discriminate based on sex, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In particular, the rule would allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ foster youth and foster and adoptive parents in taxpayer funded programs. Though the rule does not come into effect until Feb. 11, the Trump administration said nondiscrimination policies would no longer be enforced. Organizations, such as Democracy Forward and Lambda Legal, have been at the forefront of legal action opposing this rule since its inception. We will be tracking the Biden administration’s handling of this rule and their likely efforts to reverse this decision.

Overview of the Budget Reconciliation Process in the U.S. Senate

Currently, the Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote. Though the Democratic majority is far short of the three-fifths majority (60 votes) needed to pass legislation through the Senate, Democrats can use a special legislative process – called budget reconciliation – to pass limited types of legislation with only 51 votes. As the Senate moves to consider President Biden’s expansive COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Plan, Senate leadership must identify which provisions can garner three-fifths majority support and which provisions must be passed instead through budget reconciliation.

Budget reconciliation helps bypass the infamous filibuster, which allows senators to torpedo legislation by extending debate on a vote indefinitely or simply threatening to do so. The filibuster can be wielded unless a bill enjoys three-fifths majority support in the chamber. With 60 votes, the Senate Majority Leader, Charles Schumer (D-NY), can invoke “cloture”, close debate, and move on to a vote. The budget reconciliation process, by contrast, does not require the 60-vote threshold to overcome the filibuster and pass legislation. It allows for an expedited process – not subject to the filibuster – for specific budgetary proposals, which requires only a simple majority to pass.

Under budget reconciliation, the Senate can tackle only budgetary legislation related to spending, revenue, and the debt limit. Each of these three elements can be considered only once per fiscal year, either altogether or in separate bills. To pass a bill through the reconciliation process, the Senate must first pass a budget resolution that includes “reconciliation directives”, which are spending, revenue, and/or debt limit targets for the fiscal year. Relevant committees then decide on specific policy proposals to achieve the fiscal targets outlined in the directives. The resulting policy proposals are sent to the Budget Committee, now chaired by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), before they are sent to the floor for debate, which is limited to 20 hours.

The “Byrd rule” provides the roadmap for debate. If any provision within the proposed legislation does not change spending or revenue levels, or does so merely incidentally, it can be considered “extraneous” and therefore removable. Also, any provision that affects Social Security or raises the deficit after ten years is similarly objectionable under the Byrd rule. A senator may raise a “point of order” to remove any provision that violates the Byrd rule. This quick process allows bills to be whittled down to exclusively budgetary provisions without having to send the entire bill back to committee and start all over again. If the resulting bill gains majority support, it passes the Senate and heads to a conference committee, where Senate and House leaders decide on a final compromise.

The constraints of the budget reconciliation process limit the type of legislation that can realistically pass. A nationwide mask mandate, for example, is non-budgetary in nature and would not pass through reconciliation. The same goes for voting rights and immigration reform. Moreover, an increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which is currently in Biden’s COVID-19 relief proposal, would not be reconcilable because the budgetary effect – the increase in income and payroll taxes – would be considered an “incidental”, not direct, effect on revenues. To pass, these types of proposals would need 60 votes.

However, there are still many proposals in Biden’s relief bill that can pass through reconciliation. Increased spending through stimulus checks, unemployment insurance benefits, and school funding only need 51 votes. Revenue changes like an expanded child tax credit and Earned Income Tax Credit are similarly possible. Over the long-term, initiatives like spending boosts on Section 8 housing vouchers and tax increases on high incomes are potentially reconcilable. In a display of unity, the Biden administration has committed to finding common ground with Republicans and on many issues they may find 60 votes. In some cases, however, they will not and Democrats may choose to turn to the budget reconciliation process, if necessary, to provide relief.

Sources: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Vox, Bloomberg Government

ACF Issues Report on Permanency for Foster Youth

The Youth Engagement Team at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) released a report on attaining permanency for foster youth. The report is based on a series of roundtable discussions between foster youth and ACF leadership like Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner. It identifies three factors that are fundamental to permanency: engaging with and supporting kin; achieving relational permanency, or long-term, loving relationships; and facilitating older youth adoption.

Children’s Bureau Memo on Support for Relative Caregivers

The U.S. Children’s Bureau has released a new Information Memorandum, encouraging Title IV-E agencies to make use of existing flexibilities and options within Title IV-E, to help improve support for relative caregivers. These options include making use of waivers on non-safety related foster care licensing standards for relative foster care providers and participating in the Guardianship Assistance Program.  The Information Memorandum was accompanied by an attachment that breaks down Title IV-E agencies that have elected to waive non-safety related standards for relative foster family homes and that are approved to operate Title IV-E GAP.

Source: Child Welfare & Mental Health Coalition

Children’s Bureau Memo on Achieving Permanency for the Well-Being of Children and Youth

Recently, the Children’s Bureau released a new Information Memorandum, providing new information on best practices, recommendations, and resources for achieving permanency for children and youth to help prioritize their well-being. The memo also outlines typical patterns in exit outcomes for children and youth in foster care.

Source: Child Welfare & Mental Health Coalition

Children’s Bureau Memo on Civil Legal Advocacy to Promote Child and Family Well-Being & Address Social Determinants of Health

The Children’s Bureau has released a new Information Memorandum which highlights the importance of civil legal advocacy in advancing child and family well-being, addressing the social determinants of health, enhancing community resiliency, and strongly encouraging state, territorial, and tribal human services entities to work together to support access to civil legal advocacy.

Source: Child Welfare & Mental Health Coalition

Children’s Bureau Memo on Sharing Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

Recently, the Children’s Bureau released a new Information Memorandum, sharing lessons learned from the pandemic and highlighting some strategies and opportunities for child and family serving agencies and organizations to create equitable, proactive, and integrated approaches to support the well-being of children and families. ACF is strongly encouraging its grantees and public, private, faith-based, and philanthropic agencies to utilize the lessons of the pandemic as an opportunity to make positive systems change. It calls for transformational leadership across all sectors to promote equity, wellness, family integrity, and healing.

Source: Child Welfare & Mental Health