June 13 Federal Update: Mass Shootings Spur Congress to Action
Following the recent tragedies in Tulsa, Uvalde, Laguna Woods, and Buffalo, a small, bipartisan contingent of centrist senators that had been meeting behind closed doors to discuss possible legislative responses finally reached a tentative agreement over the weekend. Leading the negotiations were John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). A broader group of moderate lawmakers was also influencing the talks. The proposed framework bolsters mental health resources, increases funding for school safety, and provides grants to states to incentivize “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to take guns away from individuals who are deemed dangerous to others. The deal also includes expanding background checks to include juvenile records for gun buyers under the age of 21, and a long-sought prohibition on dating partners – not just spouses – from having guns in cases of domestic abuse.
The White House had been pushing for a ban on assault rifles for individuals under the age of 21, and the House of Representatives passed its own bill last week that included a prohibition on sales of semiautomatic weapons to people under the age of 21 and a ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition. These bans, however, will likely not be included in whatever deal the Senate ultimately works out. Sen. Cornyn has publicly said that these types of bans are off the table. Though the tentative deal represents the farthest Congress has gone in recent decades on gun safety legislation, there are still details to nail down. For Democrats, the deadline for action is fast approaching; in the past, flurries of legislative activity after mass shootings have often dragged on without producing any results. Republicans insist on sticking to the negotiations and working out the details, no matter how long it takes. Both sides say that their colleagues are working in good faith. Any deal would need the support of all 50 Democrats, plus at least 10 Republicans, to bypass the filibuster and become law.
On June 1, Social Current CEO Jody Levison-Johnson released a statement about the recent gun violence and urged the social sector to treat gun violence as an urgent public health issue. Social Current will continue to address the underlying causes of gun violence by championing community-based violence intervention efforts, positive youth development programs, increased federal funding for research on gun violence, and trauma-informed and brain-science aligned policy principles, among other things.
Community Services Block Grant Reauthorization Passes the House
The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) Modernization Act of 2022, introduced by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), and James Comer (R-Ky.), passed the House of Representatives. The CSBG supports a network of over 1,000 Community Action Agencies (CAA), which help low-income families attain economic stability through skills training, educational empowerment, and housing services. If it passes the Senate and is signed into law, the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) Modernization Act would reauthorize funding for CSBG for another 10 years—the longest reauthorization in program history—and would increase the annual level of funding by $1 billion for the first five years. It would also increase the number of eligible people by raising the income eligibility threshold to 200 percent of the poverty line. Finally, the bill would create a new initiative called the Community Action Innovations Program, which would direct federal and state training and assistance to groundbreaking, evidence-based poverty-reduction programs. In 2019, CAAs served more than 9 million individuals. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, these community-based organizations helped people acquire personal protective equipment, access vaccines, and receive supplies for remote learning.
HUD Bolsters Eviction Protection and Diversion Program
Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $20 million in grants to 11 nonprofit and government legal organizations, as part of its Eviction Protection Grant Program. The previous round in November awarded grants to 10 organizations. Grant beneficiaries provide legal assistance to low-income tenants at risk of eviction. These services disproportionately assist people of color, people with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities. The program also helps landlords access resources for rent arrears. HUD cites multiple studies that show legal assistance services save taxpayers millions of dollars and mitigate evictions that would otherwise destabilize families. The Eviction Protection Grant Program is just one program alongside many, including the State and Local Emergency Rental Assistance program, that help families retain shelter during the recovery from the public health and economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
DELIVER Act Reintroduced in Congress
Reps. Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) reintroduced the Delivering Elderly Lunches and Increasing Volunteer Engagement and Reimbursements (DELIVER) Act, which would increase the gas reimbursement rate for volunteers who deliver meals to the elderly for programs such as Meals on Wheels. Especially during this time of inflation, gas costs for volunteers have gotten prohibitively expensive. This bill would raise the tax deduction for volunteer drivers from 14 cents per mile, a figure that hasn’t changed in nearly two decades, to 58 cents per mile, the standard business rate. This bill will ease costs for volunteers, allow senior citizens to continue living independently in their own homes, and foster more community and civic engagement.