Policy News

Dec. 6 Federal Update: Government Shutdown Averted, Build Back Better Stalled

Social Current
December 6, 2021

Late last week, congressional leaders reached a deal to avoid a government shutdown by passing a short-term continuing resolution through Feb. 18. The current budget was set to expire last Friday. This will push the fiscal year 2022 budget conversations into early next year. Congress is still under pressure to get several things done before the end of the calendar year, including an extension of the debt limit, which will help the U.S. avoid defaulting on our loans.

In addition, President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan negotiations continue. After passing in the House of Representatives last month, the Build Back Better Act has fallen in line behind several other priorities in the Senate, including raising the debt ceiling. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) stated the social spending bill, which would dedicate almost $2 trillion for universal pre-K, affordable child care, housing investments, and climate tax credits, among other things, would be pass by Christmas. However, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal (D-Mass.), predicts the process might drag into 2022. Democrats in both houses of Congress are debating whether to raise the $10,000 deduction cap on state and local tax payments, a provision strongly supported by Democrats in high-tax states but opposed by others as a tax break for high-income families. Paid family and medical leave is another source of friction, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) continues to oppose its inclusion in the overall package. If the bill is ultimately passed early next year, families may lose access to the child tax credit monthly installment in January, a possibility that is creating urgency for lawmakers leading up to Christmas.

In other news, the Biden administration unveiled its new winter COVID-19 mitigation strategy. According to senior administration officials, people with private insurance will be able to get at-home tests reimbursed because of laws set forth in the CARES Act. The administration is also putting out new travel requirements, including extending the mask rule on domestic flights through March, creating new testing protocols for people flying to the U.S., and more. The U.S. is also scheduled to deliver 200 million vaccine doses abroad in the next 100 days. The administration is launching a booster shot publicity effort, including notifying all Medicare recipients.

New Toolkits for Building Your Advocacy Muscle

Social Current offers two newly updated advocacy toolkits, one with general public policy advocacy how-tos and another with tips for media relations and social media to support advocacy. Inside, you’ll find sections on creating impact stories, engaging with legislators, developing media relations, hosting special events, and conducting social media outreach. They also contain brand new sections on virtual advocacy, constituent engagement and coalition building.

Read about how COVID-19 has changed the rules for meeting with legislators and download the toolkits from the Policy Action Center.

Rebecca Jones Gaston Nominated for Top Child Welfare Role in Administration

Recently, President Joe Biden nominated Rebecca Jones Gaston to become the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services. She currently serves as the Child Welfare Director for the Oregon Department of Human Services. In this role, she will oversee the Children’s Bureau and the Family and Youth Services Bureau. Her appointment is now pending the confirmation process in the Senate. Under her leadership in Oregon, the state launched a major transformation built on trauma-informed, family- and community-centered, and culturally responsive programs and services. She previously served as executive director of the Maryland Department of Human Services’ Social Services Administration. She has worked in the field of child welfare and human services for nearly 25 years as a social worker, advocate, therapist, consultant, and administrator. She has worked as a Director at Casey Family Programs providing technical assistance to child welfare agencies in the past.

New Legal Rulings Halt Vaccine Orders

Two out of three of the federal vaccine mandates have been halted by the courts until further notice. First, the OSHA rule, which mandates either vaccination or testing for organizations with 100+ employees, remains in limbo because a federal circuit court has temporarily blocked it. Multiple lawsuits have been filed from various states, and they have been consolidated into one proceeding that currently sits before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Additional rulings are expected in the coming weeks. The second rule, which relates to health care facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid dollars, was blocked last week by a federal court in Louisiana. This rule requires all covered health care facilities to require vaccination for all employees, trainees, students, and volunteers. Covered facilities include clinics, community mental health centers, immediate care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities, programs for all-inclusive care for elderly organizations, hospitals, immediate care, long-term care facilities, psychiatric residential treatment facilities, home health agencies, and more. Excluded entities include certain community-based services, assisted living facilities, group homes, and home- and community-based services Ultimately, the case could end up in the Supreme Court.

A third mandate, pertaining to federal contractors, is still moving forward. This mandate requires all federal contractors (not grantees) to get vaccinated.

Social Current will continue to share information as we receive it. For more information, check out our vaccine mandate resource collection, and for a candid discussion with executives at community based organizations, watch the recording of last week’s webinar on vaccine mandates.

21st-Century Children and Families Act Introduced in the House

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced the 21st-Century Children and Families Act, which would modernize the child welfare system and increase the likelihood of children in foster care returning to safe, permanent families. Specifically, the law would automatically terminate a parent’s rights when a child has been in foster care for 24 months. Currently, parental rights are modified if a child is in foster care for 15 out of 22 months. The law also would create exemptions to the 24-month timeline when a parent is actively engaged in services, or if the parent is incarcerated or in detention by the Department of Homeland Security. The goal of the law is for children to return to safe and stable homes, rather than stay in foster care and age out of the system. The bill would also strengthen non-discrimination laws in foster care services and placements and require states to report on disproportionality and disparities in access to services.

USDA Invests $86 Million in Rural Areas

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced 218 project investments in infrastructure, economic development, housing, health care, and high-speed internet in rural communities. The funding will impact 425,000 people in 46 states through programs like Tribal College Initiative Grants, Rural Community Development Initiative Grants, Housing Preservation Grants, Delta Health Care Grants, Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grants, and Water and Waste Disposal Grants.

As examples, the funds will help low-income families improve the safety and health of their homes in Central Florida, and in rural Pennsylvania, they will provide business development technical assistance to women-owned agricultural cooperatives. The USDA says these investments will improve equitable access to jobs, housing, and health care.

New Texting Feature for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has signed off on a plan to allow individuals to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline via text in addition to calling. In a statement, the FCC said that texting allows for increased anonymity compared to having a conversation over the phone, thereby increasing access for individuals in crisis. The FCC is requiring that texting providers connect individuals who text ‘988’ to the Lifeline by July 16, 2022.

Individuals can continue to access the lifeline by dialing 1-800-273-8255 or via chat on the website.

New Data on Nonprofit Workforce Crisis

The National Council of Nonprofits released a preliminary analysis of its recent survey to gauge the effects of the workforce shortage on the nonprofit sector. As of Nov. 15, 700 nonprofits responded from 47 states and nearly half reported vacancy rates between 0% and 9%. Of respondents, 15% have a vacancy rate of 10-19%, while another 26% have a rate of 20-29%.

The top barriers to hiring or retaining staff are:

  • Salary competition from other sectors (80%)
  • Child care challenges (23%)
  • Vaccination policies (21%)

For 27% of respondents, job vacancies have extended waitlists for services to more than a month. Many organizations said that they have had turn people away or expand caseloads per social worker to meet demand for services. The survey also asked respondents for solutions to the workforce crisis. Nonprofits cited outdated reimbursement rates, the lack of cost-of-living increases and the burden of indirect costs as major obstacles to financial stability and salary competitiveness.

Complete the survey online.

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