Social Current has begun to develop its 2025-2027 Federal Public Policy Agenda, which will address key challenges within the human services sector. We aim to ground the agenda in the wisdom, insight, and expertise of our network and want to hear from you about the challenges your organizations are facing, as well as the changes you hope to see.

Through a series of virtual focus groups, we hope to illuminate the most pressing challenges within your organization and community. These conversations will serve as a stepping stone to collaboratively determine avenues for meaningful, sustainable change. To fully capture our collective vision, this agenda-setting process is intended to be progressive and for each stage to build upon the last.

Virtual focus groups will be held:

Each session will offer opportunities to share your experiences within the human service sector, challenges your organization and community are facing, and areas you hope to see change.

In jointly leveraging our voices for change, we will be able to amplify the power of the social sector.

Congress Examines the State of Child Care

On July 9, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing titled “Examining the State of Child Care: How Federal Policy Solutions Can Support Families, Close Existing Gaps, and Strengthen Economic Growth.” Senators and expert witnesses stressed the importance of high-quality, affordable, and accessible child care as well as concurrent workforce challenges. The hearing follows the Congressional Budget Office’s 2024-2034 Budget and Economic Outlook release, which considers child care due to its potential to impact labor force participation, household incomes, and overall economic productivity as well as government spending.

Sen. Wyden (D-Ore.) opened the hearing by contrasting the lives of billionaires and the millions of working families for whom child care remains unaffordable. He stressed the need to identify targeted ways to ensure families have access to the resources needed to thrive. Wyden highlighted previous measures, including a permanent, annual increase of $633million to the Child Care Entitlement to States through the American Rescue Plan Act. He also mentioned the Building Child Care for a Better Future Act (S.1842) and the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024 as key steps to further support families.

Ranking Member Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) echoed the importance of affordable, accessible child care and stressed the importance of evaluating existing programs to understand the most and least effective factors. He highlighted states as uniquely positioned to leverage existing programmatic flexibilities and to design and deliver benefits. However, Crapo spoke against rising costs that would follow federal government mandates on child care provider wages and approved sites of service.

The discussion among key witnesses highlighted critical issues in the child care sector. Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, emphasized the profound disparities stemming from high costs, low wages, and inadequate facilities, stressing that investing in early child care yields substantial long-term benefits. She advocates for federal support through acts like the Child Care Stabilization Act and the Building Child Care for a Better Future Act to establish a robust, inclusive system. Megan Pratt, the assistant professor of practice within Oregon State University’s College of Health, underscored the scarcity and affordability challenges of formal child care, particularly in rural areas, advocating for governmental aid and streamlined processes to improve workforce retention and child development outcomes.

Katharine B. Stevens, founder and president of the Center on Child and Family Policy, focused on the financial strain faced by low-income families and providers, proposing direct subsidies and enhanced parental empowerment to improve access and quality. She suggests integrating federal programs and reducing bureaucratic barriers to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in child care provision. Her federal recommendations extended to leveraging Rural Development Grants and child tax credits, integrating and streamlining federal ECE programs, reducing bureaucratic inefficiencies and silos, and piloting a Federal Performance Partnership.

Ryan Page, the director of child care for the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, followed by sharing the extensive steps Iowa has taken to ensure high quality child care is affordable and accessible, prioritizing consumer education and parent choice. One initiative includes a Child Care Assistance Pilot Program, which provides a child care subsidy to those employed in a direct service position within child care, regardless of income. HHS has further worked to grow sustainability through the Shared Services Framework to achieve full enrollment, full fee collection, and revenues that cover per-child cost. Additional efforts include cost sharing agreements between businesses and child care facilities, child care solutions funds to support wage enhancements for child care providers, and a tiered eligibility structure to prevent the loss of care with modest wage gains.

The hearing underscored key challenges families are facing—insufficient choices that often fail to meet their unique needs and exceed their financial means. The data shared by expert witnesses illustrated how investing in the child care workforce benefits the economy and strengthens future generations. They further encouraged a dual lens of considering the needs and perspectives of parents alongside child care providers in ensuring high-quality affordable childcare remains accessible.

Costly Impacts of Inflation to Everyday Americans

On July 9, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing titled “Everyday Expenses and Everyday Americans: How High Costs Impact Children and Families.” Senators and witnesses detailed the daily impact of economic challenges on families and small businesses, as well as avenues to alleviate the pressure inflation often places.

Sen. Casey (D-Pa.) opened the hearing by detailing how corporations have profited from recent economic uncertainty at the expense of consumers, artificially rising prices, and surging costs. He shared details from Greedflation, the special report he authored in November 2023, about how corporations have achieved unprecedented profits at the expense of American families. He introduced the Shrinkflation Prevention Act of 2024 and has encouraged accountability for corporate price gouging.

Ranking Member Sen. Tuberville (R-Ala.) echoed the harm inflation has done nationwide, negatively impacting Americans’ daily lives. He expressed concern for the growing deficit and stressed the need for supply side growth to leverage the free market to improve the economy, citing economic policies and data under the Trump administration to detail its potential.

Dan Lee, owner of Farina Pasta and Noodle in Philadelphia, highlighted the persistent challenges his small restaurant faces, including sustained, high pre-pandemic food prices; labor costs; and steep delivery service fees, which erode profitability. He emphasized the precarious struggle of needing to cover costs and maintain a margin without alienating an already shrinking customer base. Erin Wiggle, a Pennsylvania resident and retired Army veteran, discussed how rising costs have strained her family’s budget, including expenses for her nonprofit animal rescue. She echoed concerns about inflationary pressures and supported efforts against “greedflation” and “shrinkflation,” advocating for fairness in corporate practices.

Emily Gee from the Center for American Progress criticized decades of lenient antitrust policies and anti-union labor laws, blaming them for consolidating corporate power and limiting economic choices for consumers and small businesses. She proposed reforms to restore economic balance through enhanced worker protections and corporate transparency. David Malpass, an economic analyst, underscored the impact of regulatory hurdles on economic growth and recommended a supply-side strategy emphasizing increased production and a more focused Federal Reserve approach to stabilize prices and interest rates swiftly.

Hearing participants shared the far-reaching impact of elevated prices, from health care to child care and similar expenses of daily living. They further stressed the disparities rural communities face and disproportionate impact on lower-income households. Witnesses and senators shared the necessity of a fair economy where companies do not exploit inflation for profit.

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On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision in United States v. Rahimi to uphold a federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8), that prevents individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing a firearm. The longstanding federal protection is essential to protecting victims and survivors of domestic violence from their abusers.

Firearms can severely escalate risk within incidences of domestic violence, posing credible threats of death which can prevent individuals from leaving abusive relationships. Perpetrators of domestic violence may use firearms to further threats and intimidation, force compliance, or as psychological abuse. However, their use is not necessarily restricted to acts of coercive control. Victims and survivors of intimate partner violence are five times more likely to die when an abusive partner has access to a gun.

The danger of firearms within incidences of domestic violence enforces the gravity of the Supreme Court’s decision. Protective orders are a key step countless advocates have worked to protect, especially as guns are weaponized to further abuse. Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion, which Justice Kagan joined, highlighted the danger communities face. In approximately one quarter of cases in which abusers have murdered an intimate partner, they have also killed an additional individual, such as a child, family member, and roommate. The Supreme Court’s decision similarly benefits law enforcement officers as a study of those killed during domestic disturbance calls revealed 95% of homicides were committed with a firearm.

The ruling upholds key precedent protecting survivors and victims. The federal statute has been associated with a 27% reduction in state-level intimate partner homicide rates. The ruling of United States v. Rahimi is supported by President Biden and his administration. In a statement issued by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, the Justice Department vowed to continue to enforce the statute and utilize all available resources to support law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and victim advocates in addressing the pervasive problem of domestic violence.

Senate Finance Committee Discusses Challenges Social Security Insurance and Social Security Disability Insurance Recipients Face Alongside Potential Reforms

On Tuesday, June 4, the Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing titled, “Work and Social Security Disability Benefits: Addressing Challenges and Creating Opportunities.” Senators and expert witnesses discussed the challenges individuals with disabilities face in seeking employment as well as saving for key life expenses without endangering the benefits Social Security affords, including health insurance. They discussed key legislation and guardrails to ensure individuals with disabilities who wish to work do not exceed their eligibility limits. A loss of benefits can be especially harmful for recipients as their disability prevents them from working full-time.

Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) opened the hearing by commending the efforts of Senators Brown (D-Ohio), Casey (D- Pa.), Lankford (R- Okla.), and Cassidy (R- La.) in introducing the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Savings Penalty Elimination Act. The Act adjusts savings allotted from $2,000 to $10,000 for individuals and from $3,000 to $20,000 for married couples, while adjusting for inflation annually. Wyden highlighted an additional safeguard he introduced alongside Sen. Cassidy, the Work Without Worry Act. The act prevents a parent’s work history from disqualifying an individual from receiving Social Security benefits. The final protection outlined in the act lay in a pledge made by Martin O’Malley, the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (SSA), to offer Americans increased time and flexibility in correcting overpayments.

Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) highlighted the challenges individuals with disabilities can face in rejoining the workforce and the complexities of work incentives. He emphasized the importance of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which created a provision permitting the Social Security Administration to create a data-sharing agreement with payroll providers. Despite the delay in its implementation, Crapo emphasized the importance of such steps to prevent or limit work-related overpayments before they occur. Alongside the reform, Crapo encouraged the SSA to update occupational data to ensure relevant careers are included in determining an individual’s eligibility for disability benefits.

William R. Morton Analyst, an Analyst in Income Security at the Congressional Research Service, provided an overview of the Social Security Administration’s disability programs, including eligibility requirements and available work incentives. He discussed potential barriers to employment, including an individual’s physical or mental condition, feeling discouraged by previous work attempts, inaccessible workplaces, and the inability to find a job for which they are qualified. Morton also spoke of barriers within the SSI and Social Security Disabilities Insurance (SSDI) programs, including the complexity of work incentives. Overpayments may further discourage employment, leading the SSA to revise its guidance on recovering and waiving overpayments to reduce the burdens beneficiaries may experience. 

Susan Wilschke is the Associate Commissioner of the Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support at the SSA. Her testimony centered on work incentives, highlighting SSA’s efforts in providing a path to jobs with self-supporting futures while removing work determents. Wilschke additionally discussed a comprehensive study conducted in 2021, examining four decades of SSA’s disability demonstration research. Notably, implementation issues and the complex nature of interventions reduced their overall effectiveness. For most demonstrations, a small number of individuals took up work programs offered through SSDI. Wilschke shared how additional funding may assist in improving service levels and reducing wait times, especially as the number of Social Security beneficiaries rise. 

Erin M. Godtland, the Assistant Director Education, Workforce, and Income Security for the United States Government Accountability Office highlighted three key disincentives to work: the loss of cash and medical benefits, overpayments, and complexity of rules surrounding work. Despite research to examine the potential impact of policy changes, a comprehensive study examining 11 demonstrations found there were “essentially never increases in [program] exits” and “rarely reductions in [disability insurance] expenditures.” Difficulty addressing key issues and modernizing have led the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to place SSA’s disability programs on its high-risk list since 2003. The challenges are exacerbated by the agency’s staffing shortages, although the SSA is working with local offices to potentially increase pay and implement initiatives to improve job satisfaction, recruitment, and retention.

Katherine Zuleger is the manager of the Wausau, Wisconsin Social Security Administration field office and the President of the Chicago Social Security Management Association. Zuleger testified on behalf of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, a professional association comprised of those providing direct assistance to SSI and SSDI beneficiaries.  In detailing the complexities of SSI and SSDI, she recommended standardizing the treatment of work across both programs. She further suggested pursuing early intervention measures once a beneficiary is enrolled and raising the substantial gainful activity limit to encourage individuals to return to the workforce. Lastly, to ease administrative burden, Zuleger proposed simplifying SSI wage reporting through automatic updates to the agency’s system without requiring faxing or mailing pay stubs, which require manual updates.

The challenges and associated reforms discussed are essential to addressing key obstacles which individuals who receive SSI and SSDI benefits face, including earning livable wages and understanding complex, stringent work limits. The reforms discussed take vital steps to ensure recipients retain access to needed benefits, including health insurance.

The Immediate and Long-Term Challenges Facing Public School Teachers: Low Pay, Teacher Shortages, and Underfunded Public Schools: A Senate Hearing Recap

On June 20, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing titled, “The Immediate and Long-Term Challenges Facing Public School Teachers: Low Pay, Teacher Shortages, and Underfunded Public Schools.” Senators and witnesses discussed key challenges our schools are facing, from the underlying causes of teacher shortages to declining test scores.

Chairman Sanders (D-Vt.) highlighted the daily challenges teachers face due to low pay and independent costs of maintaining their classrooms, often leading educators to obtain a second, part-time job. He reiterated his commitment to fair wages through his introduction of S. 766, the Pay Teachers Act, which provides funding to support education programs and addresses teacher shortages. Sanders concluded by thanking teachers and commending their profound impact on students.

Senator Cassidy (R-La.) similarly opened his remarks by highlighting the profound influence his teachers have had on his life before expressing concern surrounding the state of public education. He stressed the decline of reading and math scores before fourth grade alongside spikes of absenteeism, despite the dramatic increase of education spending. Cassidy issued multiple recommendations, including screening for dyslexia, addressing the negative impact of Tik Tok and social media, examining the impact of school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rising cost of college.

John Arthur is a National Board Certified Teacher who has taught at a Title I public school in Utah for 11 years. He spoke of how increasingly difficult conditions have challenged the joy teaching brought him and countless of his colleagues. Arthur illustrated through his testimony how compensation, community, respect, and room to grow as professionals are the key elements teachers need to thrive.

Gemayel Keyes is a middle-years special education teacher in a Philadelphia public school and a member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, a local branch of the American Federation of Teachers. Keyes began his career as a bus attendant before becoming a paraprofessional, in both positions earning such a low salary he struggled to afford daily necessities, let alone further education. He stressed the importance of investing in teachers and paraprofessionals as well as creating pathways to assist paraprofessionals in becoming teachers.

Dr. William Kirwan, the vice-chair of Maryland’s Accountability and Implementation Board, discussed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a recently enacted PreK-12 education reform legislation. The bill outlays a multiyear, comprehensive plan which addresses all aspects of a child’s education from birth to high school completion, including the recruitment, retention, and compensation of high-quality teachers. The foundation of the Blueprint lies in five practices of the highest performing schools internationally: invest in early childhood development and education; prepare, compensate, and treat teachers like other professionals; develop a fully aligned, rigorous PreK-12 instructional system; invest heavily in students who need the most support to be successful; and require a high degree of accountability at the school level. Through his testimony, Dr. Kirwin emphasized the importance of addressing childhood poverty, pointed to the utility of community schools, and stressed professional growth and collaboration between teachers.

Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow for the American Enterprise Institute, highlighted the limitations of increasing teacher pay in addressing burnout, specifically in light of their growing responsibilities, poor preparation, and deteriorating classroom conditions. He pointed to a 2022 poll conducted by the National Education Association in which nearly half of teachers reported a desire or plan to quit because of school climate and safety. In addition to student behavior, Pondiscio described how time creating lessons can detract from time available to analyze students’ work, offer feedback, build subject matter expertise, and cultivate strong relationships with students and parents. While pay is an essential component, he reiterated the importance of examining the scope of a teacher’s role and responsibilities.

Nicole Neily, the president and founder of Parents Defending Education, expressed concern surrounding the topic of the hearing as incongruent with families’ concerns and priorities. Neily pointed to falling test scores and literacy rates as well as ruptured relationships between parents and their child’s school. She illustrated instances of curriculum differing with families’ values. Neily further stressed limited transparency, particularly in instances related to school safety capacity. While she maintained teachers deserve to be paid commensurate with their worth, she reinforced the need for a careful evaluation of educational quality and examination of how education funds are distributed and utilized. The hearing underscored the value and profound impact teachers hold while addressing the complex and multifaceted issue of teacher shortages. Low wages, unsustainable workloads, and difficult working conditions are just a few factors contributing to declining rates of teacher retention. Means of supporting teachers and students are especially important to consider as districts continue to witness high rates of absenteeism, low literacy rates, and declining test scores.

Overtime Final Rule Enjoined in Texas Ahead of Designated July 1 Implementation 

Judge Sean D. Jordan of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted Texas’ request for an injunction on Friday, June 28. The ruling temporarily prevented the U.S. Labor Department’s Overtime Final Rule from going into effect for the state of Texas, as an employer. Private sector employers, including charitable nonprofits, are excluded from the ruling. 

The Department of Labor issued the rule in April with the intent of ensuring fair compensation.  Previously, the Fair Labor Standards Act exempted certain white-collar employees from overtime pay requirements if they were salaried, met a certain pay threshold, and worked in executive, administrative, or professional capacities. The new rule automatically extends overtime eligibility to employees earning less than $58,656 a year if they work more than 40 hours a week.  

The first phase of the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect July 1, would have increased the yearly salary threshold for overtime eligibility from the current $35,568 to $43,888. Then, on Jan. 1, the salary threshold would rise again to $58,656, before updating every three years. Eventually, the rule is expected to expand time-and-a-half pay protections to four million workers who were previously ineligible.  

The court concluded the Department of Labor’s rule extends beyond their ability to define and delimit the exemption for employees in executive, administrative, or professional capacities. Judge Jordan clarified determining whether an individual works within an executive, administrative, or professional capacity depends upon their function and duties – not compensation. Moreover, the Fair Labor Standards Act does not expressly authorize the Department to utilize an objective salary level test.  

An additional lawsuit seeking a national injunction, Flint Avenue LLC v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, No. 5:24-CV-130-C (N.D. Tex.), is pending.

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On June 12, the Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing to address concerns regarding the treatment of children in some Youth Residential Treatment Facilities (YRTFs), focusing on instances of abuse, unsafe conditions, and inadequate care. This hearing followed a report detailing such harms. However, it is essential to note that most of these facilities operate safely and are standards-based, providing critical care to children with complex needs.

Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) emphasized the trauma that children can endure in certain facilities and criticized profit-driven motives leading to falsification of records and understaffing. He vowed to end the abuse cycle and praised survivors for their courage. Wyden stated, “The experiences and trauma these kids are left with read like something out of a horror novel” and called for bold actions to improve oversight and standards for YRTFs.

Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) highlighted the need for oversight and patient-centered, best-practice-informed care, emphasizing that residential facilities should be a last resort. He stressed the importance of integrating patients into the community as soon as possible and ensuring that facilities provide high-quality, medically necessary treatment in safe, therapeutic environments.

Reagan Stanford, an abuse and neglect managing attorney for Disability Rights Arkansas, described widespread abuse, neglect, unsafe conditions, and lack of therapy and educational services in some Arkansas facilities. She recounted numerous incidents of violence and neglect, illustrating the need for significant reforms. Stanford recommended investing in community-based services, discontinuing funding for inadequate models, and improving oversight and data transparency.

Elizabeth Manley from the University of Connecticut identified challenges like insufficient infrastructure and misaligned funding incentives in certain facilities. She emphasized the importance of accessible, community-based, trauma-responsive care. She highlighted the success of New Jersey’s model, which has resulted in low rates of group care utilization and youth suicide. Manley underscored the necessity of technical assistance and comprehensive care systems to effectively support children and their families.

Kathryn A. Larin from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) echoed prior GAO reports on the misuse of psychotropic medications and restraints and the need for better staff training, a single state agency for abuse cases, and information sharing on best practices. Larin’s testimony highlighted the challenges of monitoring out-of-state placements and ensuring the appropriate use of medications and restraints. She stressed the importance of federal and state oversight in safeguarding the well-being of youth in residential facilities.

Throughout the hearing, senators and witnesses stressed the importance of providing high-quality in-home and community-based services and the potential of allowing Medicare to incentivize such services. They highlighted the need for oversight of specialized treatment, aligning funding with effective, patient-centered care models, strengthening staff training and penalties for abuse, and improving data transparency and research to validate effective therapies.

While significant issues were highlighted during the hearing, it is crucial to recognize that not all YRTFs experience these problems. Many facilities strive to provide safe, supportive, and effective care for children in need. The majority of YRTFs operate with a commitment to high standards, offering essential services to children who cannot be adequately cared for in family or community settings due to the complexity of their needs.

Examining the Impact of Abortion Bans on Women’s Health and Equity: A Senate Hearing Recap

On Tuesday, June 4, 2024, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing titled “The Assault on Women’s Freedoms: How Abortion Bans Have Created a Health Care Nightmare Across America.” The hearing marked nearly two years since the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which granted states the authority to determine the legality of abortion. The focus was on the severe impact of abortion bans on women’s health care, particularly for those in marginalized communities, and how these bans intersect with broader issues of health equity within the current federal policy agenda.

Although Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, he asked Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to chair the hearing. In his opening statement, Sanders detailed the historical struggle for women’s rights and the ongoing lack of representation in the Senate, emphasizing the importance of this hearing in addressing these critical issues.

Senator Murray shared poignant stories about the daily struggles women and families face when forced to carry pregnancies against their will and the challenges in accessing reproductive care. She highlighted the threats physicians face, including the risk of incarceration and the loss of medical licenses for providing reproductive health services.

Ranking member of the committee, Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), acknowledged the diverse political views on abortion and encouraged continued dialogue. He emphasized the importance of supporting women throughout pregnancy and postpartum to ensure their health and wellness while underscoring the value of a child’s life before birth.

Madysyn Anderson, a college senior from the University of Houston, shared her personal experience with pregnancy just two weeks after Texas’s S.B. 8 law went into effect, banning abortion after six weeks. She recounted the difficulty of finding a clinic that would provide an abortion, eventually traveling to Mississippi at great financial and emotional cost. Her story highlighted the significant barriers and stress women face under restrictive abortion laws.

Dr. Nisha Verma, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, spoke about the severe impact of abortion bans in Georgia, where she practices. She described the challenges her patients face, including increased economic hardship, staying with violent partners, and serious health issues due to the lack of access to abortion care. Dr. Verma emphasized the broader implications of abortion bans on women’s overall health, including mental health conditions like postpartum depression, which is a leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S.

Destiny Lopez, acting co-CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, discussed the profound impact of abortion bans on people of color, those already parenting, and individuals with limited financial resources. She noted that the number of abortions provided by clinics increased by 10% from 2020, a testament to the resilience and determination of those seeking care despite the barriers. Lopez called for evidence-based policies that ensure all people have access to high-quality, affordable abortion care where they live.

Dr. Allison Linton, a complex family planning specialist, detailed the complexities of determining when an abortion is necessary to preserve a mother’s life under Wisconsin’s restrictive laws. She described the fear and confusion among physicians and patients alike, leading to delays in care and increased risks to women’s health. Dr. Linton stressed the need for clear guidelines and protections to allow healthcare providers to offer necessary care without the threat of legal repercussions.

Dr. Christina Francis, an OB/GYN hospitalist, presented the risks associated with abortions, including preterm birth and mental health issues. She highlighted the importance of in-person consultations to ensure fully informed consent and screen for coercion, intimate partner violence, and trafficking. Dr. Francis emphasized that while some view abortion as a necessary service, it carries significant health risks that must be carefully considered.

Melissa Ohden, founder of the Abortion Survivors Network, spoke about the experiences of individuals who survive abortion attempts and the need for comprehensive support beyond pregnancy termination. She stressed the importance of providing emotional, medical, and financial assistance to those affected by failed abortion attempts.

The hearing underscored how abortion bans disproportionately affect marginalized communities, exacerbating existing health disparities. Social Current, in its 2022-2024 federal policy agenda, considers abortion and other reproductive healthcare as critical health equity issues. The organization emphasizes the importance of advancing equity, ensuring equitable access to resources, and responding effectively to behavioral health needs. The testimonies highlighted the need for a holistic approach to health care that includes reproductive rights as a fundamental aspect of women’s health and well-being. Ensuring access to abortion care is essential for achieving health equity and supporting the broader goals of federal policy initiatives aimed at improving health outcomes for all communities.

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On May 22, over a dozen business organizations filed a lawsuit to block the Overtime Final Rule from going into effect. Filed in Plano, Texas, the same federal district court that struck down the Obama-era overtime rule, the business groups seek to vacate and enjoin the rule, declaring it beyond the Labor Department’s authority. They aim to block the salary threshold increases set for July 1, 2024 and Jan. 1, 2025 as well as the Department of Labor’s (DOL) plan to index the thresholds for inflation every three years.

The core argument is that the 2024 Rule raises the minimum salary threshold to a level the business groups believe is no longer a plausible proxy for the categories exempted from the overtime requirement by Congress. For over 80 years, salaried workers earning below a certain threshold have been entitled to time-and-a-half pay when working more than 40 hours per week. The threshold, however, has increased far slower than wage growth, excluding many lower-paid salaried workers from overtime protections.

The DOL’s rule will raise the minimum salary threshold for the overtime exemption for executive, administrative, and professional employees in two stages, additionally providing increases every three years to keep up with wage growth. This change will extend overtime protections to nearly one million workers, with an initial salary increase to $43,888 on July 1, up from $35,568. It will extend protections to about three million more workers on Jan. 1, 2025, with a second increase to $58,656 annually.

The plaintiffs argue the new rule will drastically increase labor costs and complicate employee relations, particularly for small businesses and non-profits. They claim the rule will require the reclassification of millions of employees from salaried to hourly workers, resulting in restricted work hours, reduced opportunities for advancement, and hindered job performance. The automatic indexing provision for salary thresholds is also seen as problematic, adding to potential operational costs and economic strain.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue the 2024 Rule will impermissibly deprive millions of employees of their exempt status, making their duties, functions, or tasks irrelevant if their salary falls below the new minimum. They claim the rule contradicts congressional intent and the statutory limits of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The business groups are seeking expedited consideration of their complaint to avoid the impending changes set to take effect in July 2024 and January 2025.

The outcome of this legal challenge will have significant implications for employers and employees across various industries, particularly in how businesses manage and compensate their workforce under the revised overtime regulations.

Senate Finance Committee Reviews Progress and Challenges of the Family First Prevention Services Act

On May 22, during Foster Care Awareness Month, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing titled “The Family First Prevention Services Act: Successes, Roadblocks, and Opportunities for Improvement.” The session gathered experts, policymakers, and stakeholders to discuss the progress and challenges of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) since its 2018 enactment.

Sen. Mike Crapo highlighted the bipartisan nature of FFPSA, focusing on transforming child welfare to prioritize prevention and family preservation. He emphasized the importance of mental health and substance use disorder treatments in keeping families intact and reducing reliance on foster care. Crapo noted recent regulations to reduce bureaucratic barriers for family members to become licensed foster parents, which support children living with trusted caregivers. Chairman Ron Wyden stressed the necessity of federal funding to empower kinship caregivers and the importance of prevention services to address mental health and substance use disorders. He called for removing bureaucratic barriers that prevent states from fully utilizing available prevention funds and urged better allocation of resources towards prevention services.

JooYeun Chang from the Doris Duke Foundation discussed the impact of FFPSA in shifting the child welfare paradigm toward prevention. She noted barriers to accessing necessary services and recommended structural changes to broaden eligibility for prevention services, including support for domestic violence and economic hardships. Chang emphasized community-based support systems and data-driven approaches to serve at-risk populations effectively. David Reed from the Indiana Department of Child Services highlighted Indiana’s success in reducing the number of children in foster care by over 50%. He emphasized the importance of flexible, comprehensive service models like Indiana’s Family Preservation Services, which address various family needs. Reed shared examples of targeted interventions, such as providing transportation support, which have kept families together and reduced racial disparities in child removals.

Rebecca Jones Gaston from the Administration for Children and Families discussed the broader implementation of FFPSA across states and tribes, emphasizing cultural responsiveness in prevention programs and regulatory actions to strengthen kinship care. She pointed out workforce shortages as well as the need for better collaboration across service systems. Gaston stressed the role of federal support in overcoming these challenges and the importance of continuous evaluation to measure prevention program effectiveness. The hearing underscored the commitment to improving child welfare through FFPSA. Significant progress has been made, but challenges remain. Continued collaboration between federal and state agencies and community partners is essential to refine and expand prevention services, ensuring all children can grow up in safe, stable, and loving environments.

Senate Committee Examines Reauthorization and Impact of the Older Americans Act

On Thursday, May 23, the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing to discuss the impact of the Older Americans Act and its upcoming reauthorization. May is recognized as Older Americans Month, celebrating the contributions of older persons to our nation and highlighting the need for resources and services to support the aging process. Chairman Bob Casey (D-Pa.) spoke of the Act’s success in helping countless older adults access nutrition services, legal support, and social networking, among other services. He emphasized critical priorities for the reauthorization, including the Strategic Plan for Aging Act to improve public-private partnerships and the importance of Long-Term Care Ombudsmen in monitoring nursing home safety.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) highlighted older Americans’ economic challenges, especially amidst unprecedented inflation. He emphasized the importance of innovation and flexible spending to meet individual needs. He addressed the administrative burdens and changing definitions of “Greatest Social Need” that impact access to nutrition programs. Braun advocated for transparency and increased oversight, requiring the Administration to summarize state ombudsman long-term care annual reports and publish a list of funded resource centers.

Janet Billott, a former nursing aide and recipient of Meals on Wheels, testified about the immense impact of the service during her illness, noting the connection she built with Fred, her delivery person. She also praised the Area Agency on Aging for providing transportation to medical appointments and vouchers for a local farmers market, advocating for the program’s expansion.

Laura Holscher, executive director of Generations Area Agency on Aging, discussed the funding provided through Title III B of the Older Americans Act, which enables critical interventions such as in-home services, senior transportation, home modifications, and legal services. She highlighted the flexibility of OAA Title III B in meeting community needs and recommended additional flexibility for Title III D funds to support evidence-informed programs.

Leslie Grenfell, executive director of Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging, detailed challenges her agency faces, including transportation, recruitment and retention of direct care workers, and increased reimbursement. She advocated for increased funding to meet the needs of a growing older adult population, noting the vital support provided by the American Rescue Plan Act.

Connecticut State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Mairead Painter emphasized ensuring residents’ rights in care facilities. She spoke about the challenges of insufficient and unstable funding, which hinder the Ombudsman’s ability to respond to complaints and monitor facilities effectively. Painter called for increased funding and refilling the national director position for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program to address these issues.

The hearing underscored the need for increased transparency in long-term care funding, flexible funding to serve diverse communities, and enhanced connectivity to combat the lasting effects of loneliness exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Older Americans Act is essential in helping older adults age healthily by increasing access to nutrition, healthcare, and transportation. Providing support before individuals reach higher levels of need can improve quality of life and generate significant cost savings. However, a rapidly growing aging population and workforce shortages have hindered service provision. Increased flexible funding that accounts for unique community needs is essential to maintaining the progress and value of the Older Americans Act.

Senate Finance Committee Addresses Comprehensive Strategies to Combat Fentanyl Crisis

On May 23, the Senate Finance Committee held a crucial hearing titled “Front Lines of the Fentanyl Crisis: Supporting Communities and Combating Addiction through Prevention and Treatment.” The hearing underscored the severity of the fentanyl crisis and brought together experts and policymakers to discuss strategies for combating this epidemic, which has wreaked havoc across the United States.

Sen. Mike Crapo emphasized the devastating impact of fentanyl on communities, particularly highlighting a nearly fourteen-fold increase in overdose deaths involving fentanyl in Idaho from 2017 to 2022. He called for a comprehensive approach that addresses both the supply chain of fentanyl and the need for expanded access to mental health and substance use disorder treatments. Crapo also stressed the importance of bipartisan efforts to develop treatment options and reduce barriers to care.

Chairman Ron Wyden focused on integrating healthcare services into the fight against fentanyl. He criticized the high rates of prior authorization required by big health insurers, which delay access to life-saving medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Wyden advocated for better support for individuals reentering society from incarceration and stressed the need for innovative pain management therapies to prevent opioid addiction from developing in the first place.

Dr. Caleb Banta-Green from the University of Washington highlighted the persistent treatment gap in opioid use disorder care. Despite the effectiveness of medications like methadone and buprenorphine, many individuals remain unable to access these treatments. Banta-Green called for a new model of care that combines low-barrier clinical models with community-based access points and team-based care to improve engagement and outcomes for people with opioid use disorder.

Dr. Jeanmarie Perrone from the University of Pennsylvania emphasized the role of emergency departments as critical touchpoints for initiating treatment. She detailed a successful program in Philadelphia where emergency physicians provide immediate access to MAT, supported by peer-led models that help patients navigate their recovery journey. Perrone highlighted the need for telehealth services to continue offering a vital safety net, particularly for individuals reentering the community from incarceration.

Dr. Abigail J. Herron from the Institute for Family Health discussed the importance of integrated, whole-person care models that provide primary care, behavioral health care, and addiction treatment in a single setting. She stressed the need for better reimbursement for case management and preventive mental health services and advocated for maintaining telehealth flexibilities to ensure continued access to care.

Tony Vezina, a person in long-term recovery and Executive Director of 4D Recovery shared his journey and the importance of youth-focused interventions. He highlighted the need for increased investment in prevention, treatment, and recovery support services, particularly for adolescents and young adults. Vezina called for the expansion of recovery centers and recovery residences, as well as greater access to medications for opioid use disorders in various settings, including jails and via telehealth. The hearing underscored the multifaceted approach needed to address the fentanyl crisis, combining supply chain interventions with robust treatment and prevention strategies. Continued collaboration and investment in evidence-based practices are essential to combat this epidemic, and support affected communities nationwide.

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On May 22, 2024, the Senate Finance Committee convened the hearing, “The Family First Prevention Services Act: Successes, Roadblocks, and Opportunities for Improvement.” This session was part of Foster Care Awareness Month, reflecting the ongoing commitment to enhancing child welfare in the U.S. The hearing brought together experts, policymakers, and stakeholders to discuss the progress and challenges of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) since its enactment in 2018. The discussions highlighted both the successes achieved under the act and the obstacles that continue to impede its full implementation.

Social Current submitted this written testimony, which incorporates feedback from our network.

Key Statements

Senator Mike Crapo’s Opening Remarks
Senator Crapo, the committee’s ranking member, emphasized the bipartisan nature of FFPSA and its role in transforming the child welfare system to prioritize prevention and family preservation. He highlighted the importance of front-end interventions, such as mental health and substance use disorder treatment, to keep families intact and reduce reliance on foster care. Crapo also noted the recent regulation to reduce bureaucratic barriers for family members to become licensed foster parents, which he believes will further support children living with trusted caregivers.

Chairman Ron Wyden’s Remarks
Chairman Wyden underlined the necessity of federal funding to empower kinship caregivers and the importance of prevention services to address issues like mental health and substance use disorders. He called for removing bureaucratic barriers that prevent states from fully utilizing available prevention funds and stressed the need for more comprehensive support systems to keep families together. Wyden also expressed concern over the government’s disproportionate spending on traditional foster care compared to prevention services, urging for better allocation of resources.

Expert Testimonies

JooYeun Chang, Doris Duke Foundation
Chang highlighted the significant impact of FFPSA in shifting the child welfare paradigm toward prevention. Despite its promise, she noted that many families still face barriers to accessing the necessary services. Chang recommended structural changes to broaden eligibility for prevention services and include support for addressing domestic violence and economic hardships. She emphasized the importance of community-based support systems and the need for data-driven approaches to effectively identify and serve at-risk populations.

David Reed, Indiana Department of Child Services
Reed provided insights into Indiana’s implementation of FFPSA, showcasing the state’s success in reducing the number of children in foster care by over 50%. He emphasized the importance of flexible, comprehensive service models like Indiana’s Family Preservation Services, which address various family needs, including economic support to prevent unnecessary foster care placements. Reed shared specific examples of how targeted interventions, such as providing concrete support like transportation, have kept families together and reduced racial disparities in child removals.

Rebecca Jones Gaston, Administration for Children and Families
Commissioner Gaston discussed the broader implementation of FFPSA across various states and tribes. She underscored the importance of cultural responsiveness in prevention programs and highlighted regulatory actions to strengthen kinship care and provide legal representation for families in the child welfare system. Gaston also pointed out the challenges of workforce shortages and the need for better collaboration across service systems. She emphasized the role of federal support in overcoming these challenges and the importance of continuous evaluation and data collection to measure the effectiveness of prevention programs.

Key Takeaways

Conclusion

The hearing underscored the ongoing commitment to improving child welfare through the FFPSA. While significant progress has been made, roadblocks remain to be addressed. Policymakers, advocates, and stakeholders must continue working together to refine and expand the reach of prevention services, ensuring that all children can grow up in safe, stable, and loving environments. The continued collaboration between federal and state agencies and community partners is essential to realize the full potential of the FFPSA and create a child welfare system that genuinely supports and strengthens families.

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In a significant shift in policy, House Republicans have announced changes to the annual process for funding community projects, excluding nonprofits from eligibility for Community Project Funding (CPF) through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Economic Development Initiative (EDI) account. This decision, part of broader modifications to align projects with federal community development goals, has sparked concern and opposition within the nonprofit sector.

The House Appropriations Committee, led by Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), emphasized the need for changes to avoid political conflicts related to earmarks, especially concerning contentious issues like abortion and LGBTQ services. “I shouldn’t have to have a political problem in my district because I voted for a bill that had your earmarks in it,” Cole explained, highlighting the bipartisan frustration with some earmark requests.

However, Democrats, including House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), argue that these changes unfairly target nonprofits, which play a crucial role in community development. DeLauro pointed out that nearly half of the 2024 House-funded EDI projects were directed to nonprofit recipients, including organizations like YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs.

“Deeming nonprofits ineligible for Community Project Funding in the Economic Development Initiative (EDI) account is a seismic shift,” DeLauro stated. “The restrictions House Republicans started last Congress were misguided. The changes to eligibility announced today are even worse. When House Democrats are in control next Congress, we will reverse these decisions.”
The nonprofit community, represented by leaders from major organizations, has expressed deep concern over the ramifications of this policy change. In a letter addressed to House leaders, including Speaker Mike Johnson and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, nonprofit CEOs outlined the negative impact this decision will have on their ability to serve millions of Americans.
“Nonprofits count on this funding to support and expand access to essential services,” the letter stated, listing programs such as child care, mental health services, affordable housing, and support for survivors of domestic violence. The exclusion from CPF grants will significantly limit the ability of nonprofits to provide these critical services, affecting the most vulnerable communities.

The controversy over nonprofit earmarks is part of a broader debate about the role of federal funding in community development. As the nonprofit sector grapples with increasing demands and decreasing charitable donations, the loss of CPF eligibility through T-HUD and other key appropriations bills poses a significant challenge.

Nonprofit leaders call on Congress to restore eligibility and explore alternative ways to support their organizations and critical services. The sector’s ability to meet the growing needs of communities, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, depends on continued access to federal funding.

As the debate unfolds, Social Current remains committed to working with lawmakers to find solutions that ensure the continued provision of essential services to millions of people in the U.S.

House Ways and Means Committee Passes Bills Impacting Nonprofits and Human Service Organizations

On May 15, the House Ways and Means Committee held a markup session and approved several bills that could have significant implications for nonprofits and human service organizations. The following summarizes the critical pieces of legislation and their potential impacts:

H.R. 8314 – No Foreign Election Interference Act
This bill, which passed with a vote of 25-15, amends the Internal Revenue Code to impose penalties on tax-exempt organizations that receive contributions from foreign nationals and then contribute to political committees. Nonprofits inadvertently violating these provisions could face severe financial penalties, undermining their operational capacities.

H.R. 8293 – American Donor Privacy and Foreign Funding Transparency Act
Passed by a vote of 23-17, this legislation requires tax-exempt organizations to report detailed information about contributions from foreign sources publicly. While aimed at increasing transparency, this bill could burden nonprofits with additional reporting requirements, potentially deterring foreign donations and straining administrative resources.

H.R. 8292 – Taxpayer Data Protection Act
Approved with a vote of 27-13, this bill increases penalties for unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer information. Although primarily targeted at government employees, the increased scrutiny and penalties could indirectly affect nonprofit organizations that handle sensitive donor information, necessitating enhanced data security measures.

H.R. 8291 – End Zuckerbucks Act
This bill passed with a vote of 22-18 and aims to prohibit specific tax-exempt organizations from providing funding for election administration. This restriction could limit the ability of nonprofits to support election-related activities, potentially affecting voter turnout initiatives and civic engagement efforts.

H.R. 8290 – Foreign Grant Reporting Act
This act, which passed with a vote of 24-16, mandates public disclosure of grants made by tax-exempt organizations to foreign entities. While transparency is crucial, the additional reporting could complicate the international grantmaking process for nonprofits, affecting their ability to provide timely support to foreign partners.

Next Steps and Potential Impacts
These bills must now pass the full House of Representatives and be considered in the Senate. While the chance of these bills becoming law is low, their passage in the House Ways and Means Committee reflects a shifting attitude among House Republicans regarding nonprofits and human services organizations.

The proposed legislation could impose significant administrative burdens on nonprofits, diverting resources from programmatic activities to compliance and reporting efforts. The penalties and reporting requirements associated with foreign contributions and grants could deter international collaborations and impact the funding landscape. Moreover, restrictions on election-related funding could hamper civic engagement and voter participation efforts, particularly those aimed at underrepresented communities.

Social Current’s Engagement and Advocacy
Social Current is actively engaging with legislators to voice the concerns of nonprofits and human service organizations. We will continue to track these and other developments closely, providing updates and advocating for policies that support the vital work of our sector. Nonprofits and human service organizations must stay informed about these legislative developments and consider engaging in advocacy to address their concerns.

President Biden Announces New Actions to Advance Racial and Educational Equity

On May 17, 2024, the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, President Biden announced new measures to promote racial and educational equity, ensuring all students have access to high-quality education. These actions are particularly relevant for nonprofit and human service organizations supporting underserved communities.

One key initiative is the allocation of $20 million in new Magnet School Grants to help create programs in seven states designed to attract a diverse student body and reduce segregation. Additionally, the Department of Education is establishing a new technical assistance center on fiscal equity to support states and school districts in developing equitable resource allocation strategies, enhancing fiscal data transparency, and prioritizing support for high-need communities.

To address ongoing racial inequities, the Department of Education will release a report highlighting access to math, science, and computer science courses, providing data to inform advocacy and program development. Furthermore, an interagency effort will focus on preserving historic sites, literature, and educational resources related to African American history, ensuring these integral parts of American history are accessible.

Significant investments are also being made in underserved schools. The American Rescue Plan allocated $130 billion to schools, focusing on underserved areas. At the same time, additional Title I funding and increased support for Full-Service Community Schools aim to close resource gaps and provide essential services like healthcare, housing, and childcare.

The administration is prioritizing efforts to increase teacher diversity, awarding nearly $450 million to programs to improve teacher preparation and retention. Over $23 million has been allocated to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to prepare diverse educators.
Finally, to improve school diversity, the Department of Education is investing over $300 million to enhance diversity through magnet programs and new initiatives to increase socioeconomic diversity. Increased funding for Head Start and the Child Care & Development Block Grant program will help close the readiness gap for Black children and improve long-term educational outcomes.

These initiatives support nonprofit and human service organizations in their mission to foster equitable, high-quality education for all students, building on the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education.

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The U.S. Department of Labor has announced pivotal updates to the Fair Labor Standards Act regulations, marking a substantial shift in federal overtime pay requirements for salaried employees classified under executive, administrative, and professional (EAP) exemptions. Scheduled to take effect on July 1, these revisions aim to extend overtime protections by raising the salary thresholds necessary to classify workers as exempt from overtime.

The newly established regulations will initially increase the standard salary level to $43,888 annually, an adjustment based on the previous methodology from the 2019 update. This threshold is set to rise to $58,656 beginning Jan. 1, 2025. These changes reflect the department’s commitment to ensuring the salary level continues to serve its function of effectively differentiating between exempt and nonexempt employees. Moreover, the rule introduces adjustments to the compensation threshold for highly compensated employees, with scheduled updates occurring every three years starting July 1, 2027, to respond to ongoing changes in wage data.

Acting Secretary Julie Su emphasized the rule’s intent to uphold the principle that employees who work 40 hours per week should receive appropriate compensation for overtime. The adjustments seek to correct imbalances in which lower-paid salaried workers performing similar tasks to their hourly counterparts receive no additional pay for extra work hours.

This revision came after extensive consultations with various stakeholders, including employers, unions, and workers, and considered over 33,000 public comments. The updates aim to provide better pay equity and more quality time with families for those affected.

Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman highlighted the rule’s benefits, stating it will bring more predictability and economic security to millions working long hours without corresponding overtime pay. By clearly defining EAP employees, the department ensures those deserving of overtime receive it, while others gain more time with their families.

The Department of Labor projects these updates will initially enhance the livelihoods of approximately one million employees, with millions more benefiting from the full implementation of the new salary thresholds. This regulatory change underscores a significant advancement in labor standards, aiming to reinforce numerous American workers’ earning potential and work-life balance.

Biden-Harris Administration Allocates $3 Billion to Eradicate Toxic Lead Pipes

In a significant move to secure clean drinking water for all Americans, President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda is dedicating $3 billion to replace toxic lead pipes nationwide. Announced in North Carolina, this funding is part of the president’s broader commitment, per his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, to eliminate all lead pipes in the U.S. within the next decade.

Lead exposure, known for its severe impact on health—particularly in children, where it can damage brain development—is prevalent in over nine million homes, schools, and other establishments that still rely on lead piping. This issue disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities, compounded by historic underinvestment in infrastructure.

The $3 billion investment is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of an unprecedented $15 billion explicitly allocated for lead pipe replacement. The initiative aims to rectify legacy health hazards and generate numerous high-quality jobs, many of which are unionized positions. This initiative aligns with the Justice40 Initiative, ensuring that 40% of the benefits from such federal investments are directed towards disadvantaged communities.

Furthermore, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is bolstering these efforts with nearly $90 million to mitigate health hazards in public housing, encompassing threats from lead-based paint and other environmental risks.

The funding has spurred action across the states, with North Carolina alone investing nearly $2 billion in over 800 water-related projects. Additionally, significant funds are being used to test for and eliminate lead hazards in schools and child care centers throughout the state, setting a precedent for nationwide educational safety standards.

This comprehensive approach not only addresses immediate health concerns but contributes to the workforce development in the water infrastructure sector. Unions like the Laborers’ International Union of North America and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters are actively training workers to replace lead pipes, highlighting the administration’s dual focus on public health and economic growth.

By fostering collaboration among federal, state, and local entities and directly engaging with communities most affected by lead exposure, the Biden-Harris administration is making a historic push toward a safer, healthier future for all Americans. This initiative promises to dramatically accelerate efforts to replace hazardous lead pipes, ensuring cleaner water and healthier communities nationwide.

Senate Finance Committee Hearing Addresses the Fallout of the Change Healthcare Cyberattack

On May 1, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee convened a crucial hearing titled “Hacking America’s Health Care: Assessing the Change Healthcare Cyber Attack and What’s Next,” with testimony from key stakeholders, including Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, which owns Change Healthcare. This hearing aimed to dissect the impacts and future implications of the February cyberattack on Change Healthcare—a significant incident that starkly compromised the U.S. health care system.

Overview of the Cyberattack Impact
The cyberattack, identified as a nation-state-associated threat, led Change Healthcare to disconnect its systems to thwart further data breaches. This move, however, severely disrupted health care operations across the country. Providers could not process insurance verifications, claims, or payments, significantly straining the health care delivery system. According to an American Hospital Association survey, over 90% of hospitals reported financial repercussions, with more than 70% noting direct impacts on patient care.

Statements from Senate Members
Senator Mike Crapo emphasized the extensive disruption caused by the attack, highlighting the federal government’s delayed response, which exacerbated the situation. He stressed the importance of learning from this incident to bolster cybersecurity measures across the health care sector.

Senator Ron Wyden criticized UnitedHealth Group for its inadequate cybersecurity measures as well as the lack of transparency and accountability in the aftermath of the attack. He pointed out the broader implications of such cybersecurity vulnerabilities, emphasizing the necessity for stringent cybersecurity standards and enforcement within the health care industry.

Testimony from UnitedHealth Group’s CEO
Andrew Witty expressed profound regret over the incident, detailing UnitedHealth’s immediate and extensive measures to mitigate the impact, including severing connections to affected systems and collaborating with law enforcement. Witty outlined the proactive steps taken to secure systems, ensure continuity of care, and support financial operations within the health care sector. He acknowledged the ongoing challenges but reassured the committee of the company’s commitment to restoring trust and security in its operations.

Committee’s Response and Future Directions
The hearing underscored the critical need for enhanced cybersecurity protocols and preparedness across the health care sector to prevent future incidents. Discussions focused on establishing mandatory security standards and the potential for more rigorous federal oversight and support for cybersecurity in health care.

The Senate Finance Committee’s hearing marks a pivotal moment in addressing cybersecurity in health care, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to safeguard patient information and ensure the resilience of health systems against cyber threats. The testimonies and discussions from this hearing will likely influence future legislative and regulatory actions to strengthen the nation’s defense against cyberattacks in health care.

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The Biden-Harris administration announced significant updates to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Guidance for Federal Financial Assistance. This pivotal move will make over $1.2 trillion in federal funds more accessible for families, communities, and small businesses. These modifications, representing the most substantial changes to the federal grants process since the Uniform Grants Guidance was instituted 10 years ago, are designed to streamline and clarify the requirements associated with federal funding.

The revised Uniform Grants Guidance focuses on reducing unnecessary compliance costs and administrative burdens. The goal is to make it easier for recipients, particularly those in underserved communities, to access essential funding without getting bogged down by bureaucratic complexities. The guidance notably emphasizes the importance of data and evaluation in program development and implementation, ensuring that federal funds are used effectively to achieve meaningful outcomes.

One of the fundamental changes includes the simplification of the Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs). By rewriting NOFOs in plain language and including an executive summary, they look to help non-experts and smaller organizations more clearly understand program objectives and application requirements. Furthermore, the guidance promotes equity by removing the requirement to use English in notices, applications, and reporting. The updates also stress the need for federal agencies to engage with affected communities actively. This involves consultations with nonprofits, labor unions, and Tribal governments, as well as the use of responsible contractors.

Accompanying the guidance revisions, the OMB has issued an implementation memorandum that directs federal agencies to adopt these changes by Oct. 1. This directive includes additional tools to strengthen the administration of federal financial assistance, ensuring that agencies and recipients can focus more on delivering impactful results, rather than navigating the complexities of administrative requirements.

This overhaul of the grants guidance was informed by a comprehensive review process involving over 50 federal agencies and considering more than 3,200 public comments, reflecting a broad spectrum of stakeholder insights. By making these adjustments, the Biden-Harris administration aims to foster a more supportive and transparent environment for federal grant recipients.

Senate Hearing Focuses on Solutions for the Long-Term Care Workforce Crisis

On April 16, the Senate Special Committee on Aging convened the hearing, “The Long-Term Care Workforce: Addressing Shortages and Improving the Profession,” chaired by Sen. Bob Casey. The hearing assembled a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss pressing issues facing the long-term care workforce and explore potential legislative and practical solutions.

In his opening statement, Sen. Casey underscored the dire situation in long-term care settings, where staffing shortages have become increasingly prevalent, significantly affecting the quality of care. He highlighted the introduction of the Long-Term Care Workforce Support Act, a legislative effort aiming to provide comprehensive support for the workforce, including improved compensation, respect, and a safe working environment.

Ranking member Sen. Mike Braun emphasized the importance of state-led initiatives and flexibility, critiquing a one-size-fits-all approach. He advocated for innovative local solutions to bolster the workforce without imposing burdensome federal regulations.

Testimonies from frontline workers and educators provided a personal touch to statistics. Brooke Vogleman, a licensed practical nurse, shared her journey and the ongoing challenges in the profession, including the reliance on temporary staffing agencies due to chronic understaffing and burnout exacerbated by the pandemic. Additionally, Nicholas Smith, a direct support professional, detailed his role’s physical and emotional toll, illustrating the critical need for better compensation and support systems to prevent burnout and ensure a sustainable workforce.

Dr. Matthew Connell from Ivy Tech Community College highlighted Indiana’s educational initiatives that address workforce shortages through targeted training programs, demonstrating the potential impact of academic and professional development opportunities. Assistant Professor Jasmine Travers from New York University provided an academic perspective, noting the severe impact of staffing shortages on patient care and calling for systemic changes to improve working conditions and compensation.

The hearing vividly depicted the challenges and opportunities within the long-term care sector. It called for a unified approach where federal and state governments, educational institutions, and health care providers enact meaningful reforms that ensure quality care for the aging population and respect and support those who provide this indispensable service. The testimonies and discussions from the hearing underscored a commitment to transforming the long-term care workforce into a more sustainable, respected, and professionally rewarding field.

Exploring the Biden-Harris Administration’s Vision for America’s Future

As the Biden-Harris administration forges ahead into the second half of its term, recent White House briefings offered a window into the diverse strategies that aim to reshape America’s economic and social fabric. These briefings, covering a broad spectrum of initiatives, underscored a commitment to steering the nation through pressing challenges while laying a foundation for sustainable growth. Each briefing articulated distinct yet interconnected objectives, reflecting the administration’s intentions to actively balance immediate needs with long-term goals.

Highlights from the FY2025 Budget Briefing
In a comprehensive briefing on the FY2025 budget, Shalanda Young, director of the OMB, outlined the administration’s strategic fiscal objectives aimed at fortifying the economic landscape of the U.S. Central to the budget are measures to reduce living costs, spur economic growth, decrease the federal deficit and safeguard entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

Key initiatives include continuing efforts to lower drug prices, exemplified by the imposition of a $35 cap on insulin and enhanced Medicare negotiations. The briefing also detailed fiscal supports for housing, with notable proposals like a $10,000 credit for first-time homebuyers and equivalent incentives for existing homeowners facing higher mortgages. Additionally, the budget advocates for expanded child care subsidies and a significant $150 billion allocation towards Medicaid home-based services. The economic growth strategy hinges on investments in manufacturing, clean energy, and healthcare, complemented by tax reforms favoring lower and middle-income families and robust measures against tax fraud.

The Biden-Harris Agenda for Bipartisan Collaboration

Emmy Ruiz, assistant to the president and political director, also introduced a session emphasizing bipartisan cooperation under the Biden-Harris administration’s Unity Agenda. Key areas of focus include tackling the opioid crisis, enhancing mental health services, supporting veterans, regulating big tech, and combatting cancer.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra elaborated on initiatives like the significant expansion of the 988 behavioral health crisis line and targets set by the cancer moonshot initiative to halve cancer fatalities within 25 years. Contributions from Dr. Rahul Gupta and other officials highlighted ongoing efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. They underscored the administration’s commitment to broad health care improvements, including increased drug affordability and enhanced treatment options for addiction.

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Last week, Congress passed the second and final package of bills that make up the federal budget. President Joe Biden signed it over the weekend. This marks the end of a drawn-out period characterized by months of continuing resolutions to bide time for negotiations. The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education bill included $225.4 billion, a $200 million reduction compared with FY2023. The bill includes a $1 billion increase for childcare and early learning programs within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Head Start will receive $12 billion and the Child Care and Development Block Grant will receive almost $9 billion, a 9% increase over last year.

Other highlights include an $18 million increase for the 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline and $4.6 billion for substance use prevention and treatment programs. Title I-A grants and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs saw $20 million increases and school districts will receive $160 million to fund school-based mental health professionals. Finally, 12,000 Afghans will receive Special Immigrant Visas. With the two packages combined, defense spending equaled $886 billion, a 3% increase from FY2023, and nondefense spending totaled $773 billion, which is even with last year.

Sources: NPR and Senate Appropriations Committee

Administration Bolsters Patient-Focused Primary Care Model

The Biden-Harris administration has launched a new initiative to enhance investments in patient-focused primary care. Through the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Primary Care (PC) Flex Model, primary care providers within eligible ACOs will deliver innovative, team-based care to Medicare beneficiaries. This model, administered by HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), provides ACOs with a one-time advanced shared-savings payment as well as monthly prospective primary care payments. By equipping ACOs with resources and flexibility, it aims to cover formation and administrative costs to ensure optimal care provision. This initiative reflects the CMS commitment to fortifying the primary care system and promoting competition in healthcare.

By incorporating health equity considerations and incentivizing team-based care, the new model strives to address disparities. Implemented within the Medicare Shared Savings Program, it focuses on low revenue ACOs, aiming to improve efficiency and quality. The ACO PC Flex Model, a five-year voluntary initiative, will commence Jan. 1, 2025, with about 130 ACOs planned for participation.

New Executive Order on Women’s Health Research

President Joe Biden has issued an executive order aimed at bolstering women’s health research. This initiative, as part of a broader effort to address longstanding disparities, emphasizes the administration’s commitment to economic empowerment for women. Key provisions of the order include directing federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and HHS to explore the use of artificial intelligence in advancing women’s health research. It also mandates the expansion of data collection on women’s midlife health and prioritizes investments in menopause-related research.

Historically, women’s health research has faced disparities in funding and representation in clinical trials. To address this, the White House has proposed a $12 billion research fund for women’s health at the National Institute of Health as well as the establishment of a national network of women’s research centers. The order also focuses on menopause research, instructing the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to study and improve treatment for women in the military and veterans. This initiative underscores the administration’s commitment to addressing all diseases affecting women and aims to provide comprehensive support for women’s health and well-being.

Hearing on the Social Security Administration

The Senate Special Committee on Aging hosted a hearing titled “Keeping Our Promise to Older Adults and People with Disabilities: The Status of Social Security Today,” featuring Martin O’Malley, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA). O’Malley opened by saying the SSA faces significant challenges due to increased demand for services coupled with decreased staffing levels. After a FY 2018-2021 budget freeze, a $785 million funding increase in FY 2023 helped rebuild staff levels. However, due to a continuing resolution in FY 2024, hiring stopped, leading to a staffing decline and potential all-time low of around 55,000 staff.

Despite the lack of sufficient funding, O’Malley said the SSA has prioritized addressing challenges in service delivery. Through extensive engagement with employees and stakeholders nationwide via town halls and field visits, they gathered insights and ideas. By implementing quick fixes and long-term strategies such as technology upgrades and streamlined processes, SSA aims to improve both employee and customer experiences through reduced wait times and enhanced efficiency. Additionally, plans for increased onsite presence and automated data exchange demonstrate a commitment to innovation and responsiveness to feedback, ultimately enhancing the agency’s ability to serve the public effectively.

O’Malley emphasized that President Biden’s FY 2025 Budget proposal for SSA highlights the urgent need for increased funding to address staffing shortages and improve customer service. With a requested budget of $15.4 billion, the agency aims to restore staffing levels, reduce wait times for services such as the National 800 Number, and process more disability claims promptly. Approval of the budget would enable significant improvements in staffing, service delivery, and backlog reduction efforts, ultimately benefiting millions of beneficiaries.

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In a fiery State of the Union speech on Thursday night, President Joe Biden defended his record and laid out his vision for the future. While he tackled major issues in the news, such as immigration, foreign policy, and crime, he also dedicated substantial time to issues like health care, education, and housing.

President Biden highlighted progress in implementing Medicare drug price negotiations, fulfilling a longstanding Democratic ambition enshrined in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). With ongoing negotiations for 10 drugs, Biden emphasized potential cost reductions for seniors and positive impacts on the federal budget. He called for an ambitious expansion to 500 drug price negotiations over the next decade. He praised other provisions in the IRA like capping insulin prices at $35 as well as limiting Medicare out-of-pocket drug expenses to $2,000, and he urged Congress to extend these measures.

President Biden also outlined his administration’s education priorities, focusing on raising teacher pay, bolstering early childhood education, and expanding tutoring and career readiness programs. The agenda aims to address chronic absenteeism, promote universal pre-kindergarten, and alleviate student debt through initiatives such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. According to the administration, in the last three years, 800,000 people qualified for the PSLF program.

In the speech, President Biden revealed new housing policy initiatives, proposing tax credits to support first-time homebuyers and incentivize home sellers. The plan includes a $5,000 per year credit for middle-class first-time buyers for two years, effectively reducing mortgage rates by over 1.5 percentage points. Additionally, the president proposed a one-year credit of up to $10,000 for selling starter homes below the county median price to stimulate activity in the sluggish housing market.

Sources: KFF Health News, Washington Post, and Education Week.

Administration Proposes New Rule on Child Care Subsidies

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has introduced a new rule aimed at lowering child care costs and enhancing options for families receiving subsidies. This rule, which is in line with President Biden’s April 2023 executive order on increasing access to high-quality care and supporting caregivers, makes crucial updates to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), the nation’s primary funding source for child care affordability and quality improvement. Key provisions of the rule include capping family child care payments at 7% of household income, expanding child care choices, ensuring timely payments to providers, and simplifying application processes for families. By implementing these changes, HHS estimates around 100,000 children will benefit from reduced child care expenses. In separate statements, Vice President Kamala Harris and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra emphasized the administration’s commitment to affordable child care, highlighting the importance of these measures in supporting working families and child care providers alike.

WIC Gets More Funding, Child Tax Credit Expansion Still in Limbo

On March 6, aiming to prevent a government shutdown before the Friday deadline, the House of Representatives passed a $460 billion spending package to fund half of federal agencies. Due to opposition from some House Republicans, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) had to use an unusual process which required a two thirds majority to pass the bill. The package passed 339-85. The Senate also passed the bill and President Biden signed it into law on Saturday. The bill incorporated key Democratic priorities, including a $1 billion increase to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), additionally staving off attempts to limit the purchase of certain items within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

This agreement averts an immediate shutdown and ensures government operations continue. However, the new deadline is March 22 and challenges remain in reconciling differences over contentious issues within remaining spending bills. For example, Sen. Mike Crapo has expressed strong opposition to a $78 billion tax bill that would expand the child tax credit. Crapo criticized proposed changes to the Child Tax Credit, expressing concerns over potential implications for workforce participation and describing the bill as a shift from family tax relief to government subsidy. Amidst these debates, the path forward in the Senate remains uncertain, highlighting ongoing challenges in reaching bipartisan consensus on critical fiscal matters.

McConnell To Step Down as Senate Leader

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the longest-serving Senate leader, announced his plans to leave the position in November, marking the end of an era in American politics. McConnell, age 82, revealed his decision in the Senate chamber, reflecting on his journey from obscurity to leadership. His resignation marks a significant ideological shift within the Republican Party, transitioning from traditional conservatism in the style of Ronald Reagan to the populism of Donald Trump.

McConnell emphasized he plans to complete his Senate term, which extends until January 2027. His decision came amid mounting pressure from within his party, particularly from the faction aligned with Trump.

Notably, McConnell’s relationship with Trump soured after the 2020 election, culminating in McConnell’s blame of Trump for the Capitol riot. Despite criticism from within his party, McConnell remained steadfast in his convictions.

Throughout his tenure, McConnell wielded considerable influence, reshaping the federal judiciary and championing conservative policies. Despite his polarizing reputation, McConnell leaves a lasting legacy in the Senate, characterized by his strategic acumen and dedication to his party.

Looking ahead, McConnell acknowledged the need for new leadership in the Senate, signaling a generational shift. While his departure is the end of an era, McConnell remains dedicated to his role.

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