Public Policy

May 22 Federal Update: Lawmakers Make Last Minute Scramble to Avoid Default

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May 22, 2023

After repeated warnings from the Treasury Department that the federal government could run out of money and default on its debts as soon as June 1, lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a deal to keep the government solvent. In exchange for raising the debt ceiling, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the House GOP caucus insist the president agree to spending cuts for fiscal year 2024 – a non-starter, according to the president. However, given the prospect of a default, top staffers of McCarthy and President Joe Biden are working around the clock to come up with a compromise, with both sides hinting progress has been made. The outline of a potential deal revolves around the following issues:

An agreement on top-line spending numbers for fiscal year 2024 must be reached; however, members of both parties are opposed to decreasing portions of the discretionary budget, including military, environmental, and health care spending. Unspent funds of approximately $56 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, from previous COVID-19 packages are on the table for clawbacks, risking money already allocated to economic assistance. While Biden says he will not consider any changes to Medicaid access, McCarthy is pushing to include new work requirements for benefits programs, including Medicaid, food stamps, and TANF. Finally, members of both parties support reform to the permitting process for energy and other projects, but disagreements remain over the details.

President Biden cut his trip to Japan for the G7 meeting short so he could be back in Washington, D.C. to finalize the deal early this week.

HHS Reveals New Website to Find Mental Health Resources

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a new website, FindSupport.gov, to help the public find resources and treatment for challenges related to mental health, drugs, or alcohol. The website offers visitors information on coping strategies, types of treatment, ways to help others, and payment options for treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services partnered to create the website after research showed the public sought a reliable and objective resource for dealing with mental health and substance use issues. Over the course of the project, HHS engaged 50 subject matter experts and collected feedback from people of all races, ethnicities, genders, education levels, and ages. FindSupport.gov is another national resource in addition to SAMHSA’s national helpline, 1-800-662-HELP, and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. According to SAMHSA, almost one in three adults suffer from mental health and/or substance use isues.

New Fact from HHS on the End of the Public Health Emergency

To mark the end of the public health emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a new fact sheet called “End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” which details what will stay the same and changes to occur after over three years of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fact sheet, the administration touted its accomplishments: 270 million people who received at least one dose of the vaccine as well as 750 million free COVID-19 tests, among other things. Since Jan. 2021, COVID-19 deaths are down by 95 percent and hospitalizations have decreased by 91 percent. With the end of the PHE, HHS says certain factors will remain the same, including telehealth flexibilities under Medicare through Dec. 2024 and indefinitely under Medicaid. However, Medicare and Medicaid will no longer have some of the other major flexibilities implemented during the pandemic. Certain waivers that expanded access and facility capacity, for example, will be halted. Moreover, the requirement of private insurance companies to cover COVID-19 testing without cost sharing ended on May 11.

New Low-Income Housing Bill Gains Bipartisan, Bicameral Support

On May 11, the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act made a comeback in the House of Representatives and the Senate with bipartisan support. Reps. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), and Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), along with Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the bill, which would increase the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, an important tool for incentivizing private investment in the construction and renovation of affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act would increase the available credits by 50 percent, spurring the construction of 1.94 million additional affordable homes over the next ten years. It would also create almost three million jobs, increase tax revenue by $115 billion and support $333 billion in wages and business income. The bill would also incorporate stronger protections for veterans, victims of domestic and dating violence, as well as other underserved communities into the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

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