Government Affairs and Advocacy

Dec. 19 Federal Update: Omnibus Budget Bill Gains Steam in Congress

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December 19, 2022

Last week, leaders in the House and Senate appropriations committees announced a deal framework for funding the federal government for the fiscal year 2023. The omnibus package has a $1.7 trillion price tag, with Democrats and Republicans agreeing to $858 billion in defense spending. The parties are still about $26 billion apart on domestic spending. To buy time to complete the negotiations, both chambers of Congress passed continuing resolutions to fund the government until Dec. 23, one week past the original deadline. Until recently, speculation was growing that the negotiations would need to continue into next year under the new Congress; however, both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have voiced support for this year-end deal, building momentum for its passage. Lawmakers are still negotiating the inclusion of a potential tax deal in the omnibus package that would include an expanded child tax credit and renewed corporate tax breaks. However, it remains to be seen whether the agreement will survive. It is also unclear whether the universal charitable deduction, a social sector priority, will be included. Social Current will continue to monitor the negotiations.

MIECHV Passes the House, Heads for the Senate

On Dec. 2, the Jackie Walorski Maternal, Infant, and Child Home Visiting (MIECHV) Reauthorization Act of 2022 passed in the House with a vote of 390-26. Named after the late congresswoman who advocated for MIECHV, the bill reauthorizes program funding for five years and improves program oversight. The bill increases the annual base funding by $100 million starting in the fiscal year 2023. It creates an additional phased-in federal matching component, through which the federal government contributes $3 for every $1 the states contribute. The new funding also includes asides for workforce support, research, administration, and technical assistance. The bill improves oversight by implementing a new “outcomes dashboard” for Congress to track the program’s outcomes for families, along with a requirement of a new annual report detailing the results of the program to Congress. These changes are geared toward helping new parents and their children from pregnancy until kindergarten with health challenges and school readiness. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week.

New Report from DHS on the Youth Mental Health Crisis

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) published a new report entitled National Guidelines for Child and Youth Behavioral Health Crisis Care in response to the rising toll of mental health challenges on children and youth in the US. The report rolls out guidelines to communities on providing this vulnerable population with services that are not currently delivered. For example, it encourages communities to take advantage of the new national 988 suicide and crisis lifeline, which gives youth and families around-the-clock access to counselors. The report also recommends using mobile response teams that meet children and youth in their homes, schools, and communities. Finally, the report suggests crisis receiving and stabilization services, like in-home and crisis care facilities. Overall, the new guidelines encourage crisis response teams to build formal connections with entities in the community to create a full continuum of care. 

Mental Health Parity Discussion Draft Released

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Senate Finance Committee members Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), released the fifth and final so-called “discussion draft” of the bipartisan mental health initiative that began earlier this year. This final report centers on mental health parity and ensuring mental and physical health are equally accessible and covered through health insurance. The team made several recommendations. For instance, the report asks Medicaid managed care organizations and Medicare Advantage plans to provide accurate and updated directories of providers and information on whether providers are accepting new patients. It also would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct two studies comparing the cost of mental health and substance use disorder services with the cost of physical health care under Medicare Advantage and Medicaid. Finally, the report requires that Medicare give providers guidance on how long they can provide partial hospitalization and particular outpatient services to beneficiaries with SUDs.

Hearing on AmeriCorps Focuses on Program’s Financial Health

Last Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investments hosted a hearing called “Examining the Policies and Practices of the Corporation for National Community Service.” Chairwoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL) opened the hearing with positive words for the CNCS, also known as AmeriCorps. Since 1993, she said, over one million Americans had participated in AmeriCorps, helping rebuild neighborhoods after Hurricane Katrina, for example, and aiding food-insecure families and mentoring students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Congresswoman Wilson stressed that AmeriCorps is “essential for our communities” and that the program has earned bipartisan support since its inception, it struggles from poor financial health. Deborah Jeffrey, from the Office of the Inspector General, detailed some of the agency’s challenges in accounting for its $1.3 billion budget, including reporting its grant funds in real-time. Michael Smith, CEO of CNCS, testified that financial management had been his top priority since he began as CEO last year and that needed reforms had begun to be implemented. He noted that the American Rescue Plan and recent annual appropriations had provided resources the CNCS needs to address some of these long-standing issues. 

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