Government Affairs and Advocacy

June 20 Federal Update: Supreme Court Upholds the Indian Child Welfare Act

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June 20, 2023

Last week, the Indian Child Welfare Act, a guiding light of child welfare policy for over 40 years, survived a legal challenge that was brought before the Supreme Court, earning the applause of Native American tribes and child well-being advocates across the country. The Supreme Court voted 7-2 to uphold the law, which was passed in 1978 in response to investigations that found over one-third of Native children had been taken from their homes and placed with non-Native families. The law required officials to strive to place Native children with extended family, other members of the tribe, or another tribe, before considering placement in non-Native homes or institutions. The law defends long-held convictions backed up by mountains of empirical evidence that family preservation, community connection, and cultural affinity are cornerstones of child well-being.

Social Current President and CEO Jody Levison-Johnson released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s Decision:

“The Indian Child Welfare Act is consistent with best practice and child welfare’s shift towards strengthening families and promoting family preservation,” said Social Current President & CEO Jody Levison-Johnson. “By prioritizing the placement of children within their families, communities or tribal nations, we also prioritize stability and the opportunity to maintain continuity in schools, healthcare, and community participation. Today’s Supreme Court decision affirms this and ensures that we carry forward the practices and policies that we know create better outcomes for children.”

New Opioid Settlement Toolkit for Community-Based Organizations

Social Current is pleased to announce the release of the updated Opioid Settlement Toolkit for Community-Based Organizations. This toolkit offers strategy, resources, and advice to effectively advocate for over $50 billion in funds that have become available through settlements with opioid pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers, and retailers. States are currently deciding how these dollars are spent, so it is critical community-based organizations understand how the process works and use their expertise to influence policy makers.

Hearing on Anti-Poverty Tax Provisions

Last Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing called “Anti-Poverty and Family Support Provisions in the Tax Code.” In his opening remarks, Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called for the restoration of the one-year Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion from the 2021 American Rescue Plan, which increased the credit and made it fully refundable, allowing the lowest income Americans to receive the full amount. A study by Columbia University claims that the CTC expansion lifted 3.7 million children out of poverty. In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Crapo (R-Idaho) argued against the CTC because it also benefited parents who did not work, undermining the lessons of welfare reform in the 1990s, which encouraged work, self-sufficiency, and workforce training.

The first witness, Amy Matsui of the National Women’s Law Center, spoke to the positive impact of refundable tax credits on low-income households. She said during the pandemic the enhanced Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit together lifted 9.7 million people out of poverty, including 2.9 million women and 4.9 million children. Matsui was followed by Melissa Lester, a mother of two from Ohio, who told her story of struggling to pay for ever-increasing expenses, including child care, which costs more than her mortgage. She testified the $300 per month, per child from the enhanced Child Tax Credit gave her more breathing room and urged the committee to pass such family-friendly policies.

Another witness, Grant Collins of Fedcap, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps individuals attain economic well-being, discussed the Earned Income Tax Credit saying it provides various positives for the children of beneficiaries, including improved birth outcomes, higher likelihood of college enrollment, and increased food security. The final witness, Bruce Meyer of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, urged against restoring the enhanced Child Tax Credit from the American Rescue Plan, because it did not tie benefits to work.

Freedom Caucus Cedes Blockade

The House floor is once again functioning, following negotiations between Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the conservative Freedom Caucus.

Last week, a small group of Republicans joined Democrats in voting to prevent debate on a set of bills relating to gas stove regulation. Despite the issue’s popularity among Republicans, members of the Freedom Caucus “blindsided” Speaker McCarthy and paralyzed the House floor, preventing other popular party bills from passing as well. It appears that this rebellion was done in protest against the recent debt ceiling deal negotiated by President Biden and Speaker McCarthy, which some members feel violated the private deal made in January ensuring McCarthy’s election as speaker and did not go far enough to cut spending. Others say that the rebellion is not related to the January deals, and instead is a protest against threats made by House leadership to ensure that the debt ceiling bill would pass. On Monday afternoon, an agreement was reached and the blockade was ended after days of negotiations, with conservatives agreeing to help advance bills limiting gas stove and pistol brace regulations, two priorities of the Republican party.

However, the nearly week-long obstruction has made clear the power the Freedom Caucus holds in the House, which Republicans hold by a narrow majority. This power seems to be growing, as two new members were added to the Freedom Caucus just last week. While the standoff is over for now, the group made no promises for the future. In fact, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) seemed to state the group is willing to block House bills again, saying “perhaps we’ll be back here next week.”

Hearing on Postsecondary Innovation

On Wednesday, June 14, the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development held a hearing entitled “Postsecondary Innovation: Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Opportunities.” Witnesses presented innovations in the higher education field that could advance equity, accessibility, and quality in postsecondary education, although some warned that funding innovative strategies without guardrails could lead to resources being wasted on low-quality programs.

Key Hearing Takeaways

  • A four-year degree can provide social mobility, but postsecondary education is unaffordable and inaccessible for many Americans
  • Georgia State’s National Institute for Student Success provides a model for using technology to ensure student success
  • The Student Freedom Initiative uses private sector resources to help students at Minority Serving Institutions
  • Changes in requirements, such as the four-year 120-credit-hour system, could reduce the financial burden of higher education while still ensuring students are prepared for the workforce
  • Experts recommend that guardrails are put in place as so that innovation in education does not lead to the funding of low-quality degrees and certifications

Subcommittee Chairman Burgess Owens (R-Utah) opened the hearing by highlighting the importance of America’s colleges and universities and addressing the poor graduation rates these schools currently face. Owens contends one of the reasons higher education is “unaffordable, inflexible, and outdated” is the Higher Education Act (HEA), which provides a legislative framework for higher education and has not been fully updated since 2008. He argues the HEA needs to be revisited to reflect the modern university experience, in which over 30 percent of students are non-traditional. Owens references innovations such as competency-based education, three-year degree programs, and online education, which can advance education but are constrained by the HEA.

Ranking Member Frederica Wilson emphasized the importance of equality, and the opportunities higher education provides in her opening statement. Wilson argues although higher education can be the key to the American dream and lead to significantly higher income, students and families are being forced to shoulder more of the costs, a problem that particularly burdens black college students. In emphasizing the importance of affordable college and wraparound student services, she praises some innovations in higher education while warning against sacrificing equal access and opportunity.

The first witness, Dr. Tim Renick, executive director for Georgia State’s National Institute for Student Success (NISS), discussed the success of Georgia State, particularly in implementing technology to provide personalized attention to students. As one of the largest Minority Serving Institutions in the country, Georgia State has used predictive analytics and AI to monitor students for risk factors and proactively provide support to those at risk of dropping out, leading to a massive increase in graduation rates, especially for minority students. Renick explained how this technology, along with working with community colleges, has helped Georgia State rank among top institutions for social mobility, and how NISS has helped other organizations to do the same.

Keith Shoates, chief operating officer for the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), after giving a shout-out to company donors, explained the pillars of SFI: alternatives to Parent PLUS loans, internships and certifications, comprehensive supports, and Minority Serving Institution (MSI) capacity building. Shoates states the overarching purpose of SFI is to attract private sector resources and create partnerships to alleviate the wealth gap in America through education. SFI is partnered with 56 institutions across 20 states with plans to expand. As an alternative to Parent PLUS loans, SFI provides Juniors and Seniors in STEM majors at participating organizations flexible loans with low interest rates, assists with obtaining certifications and paid internships, provides microgrants to students facing unexpected circumstances, and provides support for participating MSIs. Shoates contended that SFI’s model should be considered as an “effective, scalable, long-term solution to addressing the wealth gap through the lens of education.”

Lanae Erickson, senior vice president for social policy, education and politics at Third Way, a national policy think tank, explained the importance of improving the quality of education, not just access. After praising the increased access of higher education and the financial benefits it provides, Erickson pointed out the low graduation rates and lack of success some graduates face. She warned against innovative or experimental programs not backed by evidence, including expanding Pell Grants to short-term programs and funding online education. While these programs can be beneficial, Erickson recommends guardrails and transparency requirements that will ensure a high payout on taxpayer money invested in education.

Dr. Lori Carrell, chancellor of University of Minnesota Rochester and co-director of the College-in-3 Initiative, explained the work done through the College-in-3 experiment. Twelve campuses have experimented with pilot programs for the College-in-3 project and have found not only do these programs decrease financial burdens, but they can also be successful with evidence-based learning design and partnerships with employers. The group recommends the Department of Education initiates “Experimental Sites” for the project and that Congress supports the initiative through the fiscal year 2024 appropriations process as well as through HEA reauthorization by ensuring financial aid flexibility for accelerated learning pathways.

Following their statements, witnesses fielded questions regarding details of their programs and recommendations to Congress. Dr. Renick expanded on Georgia State’s use of technology to identify and assist struggling students, the importance of partnering with local community colleges, and areas in which other institutions would benefit from similar models. Mr. Shoates provided details on SFI programs, including which schools are currently sponsored and how microgrant and loan programs work. Dr. Carrell detailed the ways in which universities can retain quality degree programs while limiting the time it takes to complete them as well as the financial benefits doing so would provide. Ms. Erickson made recommendations for expanding dual enrollment, increasing equity in the K-12 system, and the importance of guardrails when implementing competency-based education programs.

Artificial Intelligence was a frequent topic of discussion, with questions about future degrees in AI and even how to prevent students from using ChatGPT to cheat. The hearing brought to light a seemingly bipartisan support for programs such as dual-enrollment and three-year degree programs that could advance both accessibility and quality of education in postsecondary schools.

HHS Secretary Goes before House Committee

On June 13, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), hosted a hearing called “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Department of Health and Human Services.” Secretary Xavier Becerra of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) opened by stating the department’s commitment to keeping healthcare affordable and providing mental healthcare on par with physical healthcare to all Americans, especially minors.

Key Hearing Takeaways

  • Secretary Xavier Becerra from HHS the emphasized their commitment to affordable healthcare and mental health services.
  • A large portion of the meeting focused on the safety of migrant children. Secretary Becerra assured the committee that HHS is doing everything possible to keep migrant children out of exploitative situations, specifically by partnering with the Department of Labor.
  • Serval members questioned Secretary Becerra about the safety of gender-affirming care for minors. Secretary Becerra responded all FDA-approved drugs are safe and effective, and each American’s healthcare journey is a conversation for the individual and a healthcare professional.
  • Secretary Becerra shared the Biden administration’s interest in expanding childcare by raising the salaries of childcare workers as well as a commitment to lowering maternal death rates.

A significant focus of the meeting revolved around the New York Times article, “Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the U.S.” Committee members questioned Secretary Becerra on how HHS keeps migrant children safe and out of exploitative situations, such as human trafficking. Secretary Xavier Becerra assured the committee the department is doing everything possible to protect migrant children in their care. HHS places migrant children with vetted sponsors, typically the child’s family or close relatives, but once they are placed with a guardian, HHS does not have jurisdiction to oversee those sponsors. HHS tries to contact children placed with sponsors to ensure their safety, but it does not have the authority to make the sponsors, or the children, respond. In the future, HHS plans to work with the Department of Labor to ensure safe workplaces in compliance with child labor laws.

Gender Affirming Care Upheld by Federal Judge

A U.S. District Judge in Florida has upheld the right of three minors to continue receiving gender-affirming care, despite recently passed legislation barring most transgender children from such care, like puberty blockers and hormone therapy. Judge Robert Hinkle also blasted the reasoning behind Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care for trans minors as likely unconstitutional. Judge Hinkle’s preliminary injunction only applies to the three families that brought the lawsuit. These families attest the ban violated their constitutional right for parents to make health-conscious decisions for their children. Hinkle states the plaintiff’s children will suffer irreparable harm if denied treatment. The ruling brings a temporary sense of relief to patients and families who have been denied access to gender-affirming care, but the legal path forward remains uncertain.

Judge Hinkle’s order comes in contrast to the series of anti-trans laws passed in Florida restricting transgender people’s access to medical care, school sports, and the ability to change names on IDs. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association support gender-affirming care for adults and adolescents.

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