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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Social Current, a leading advocate for the social sector, has announced the release of its 2024 Policy Priorities, which represent key areas of focus from the 2022-2024 Federal Public Policy Agenda for the year. This document provides a strategic roadmap aimed at enhancing the effectiveness, resilience, and impact of human and social service organizations across the U.S.

As the social sector faces evolving challenges and opportunities, Social Current’s priorities for the year hone in on government contracting reform, government grantmaking reform, and bolstering the overall health of the social sector.

2024 Policy Priorities Highlights

“This year marks a pivotal moment for our organization as we intensify our advocacy and strategic efforts,” stated Blair Abelle-Kiser, senior director of government affairs. “Through championing significant legislative reforms and advocating for systemic improvements, we are committed to fostering a more supportive, innovative, and resilient environment for human and social service organizations. Our collective endeavors will strengthen the operational capacities of these organizations and magnify their impact on communities nationwide.”

“While representing our key areas of focus, Social Current will continue to advance and collaborate on advocacy efforts that support the organizations in our network and the sector,” said Jody Levison-Johnson, president and CEO.

The 2024 Policy Priorities document is a testament to Social Current’s commitment to leading the charge for meaningful change in the social sector. By addressing these key areas, Social Current aims to ensure that human and social service organizations continue to be powerful forces for positive change in society.

Advocacy Amplified Training and Hill Day
Build your skills and confidence to advocate for your organization and communities by participating in Social Current’s upcoming public policy and advocacy training and Hill Day, June 11-13 in Washington, D.C. The two-day training will culminate in the Hill Day event, where participants will meet with their legislators. New and seasoned advocates are encouraged to participate. Social Current will handle all the meeting logistics, so you can focus on connecting with your elected officials.

Lawmakers are on the verge of finalizing a significant deal to break the funding gridlock in Congress before a partial government shutdown on March 2. Discussions center around a potential arrangement in which a pilot program narrowing food options for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries would be launched in return for increased funding for other nutritional programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Championed by Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Andy Harris (R-Md.), the proposed pact includes the SNAP-choice pilot program within the Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration spending bill. The bill bolsters WIC, which faces an imminent funding shortfall.

The pilot initiative, designed to encourage healthier dietary decisions, has ignited controversy within nutrition advocacy circles as well as the food industry. Despite these ongoing disputes and reservations, the increased funding allocations for a range of nutritional programs signals a comprehensive endeavor to tackle funding challenges and strengthen food assistance initiatives. There is opposition from some House Democrats who advocate for disentangling the SNAP-choice initiative from bipartisan WIC funding endeavors; however, the deal has already been elevated to congressional leaders who, reportedly, will finalize it within days.

New HHS Study Highlights Positive Fiscal Impact of Refugees and Asylees

A recent comprehensive study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) reveals the substantial positive fiscal impact of refugees and asylees on the American economy from 2005 to 2019. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said, “This historic federal study is important data-driven evidence demonstrating that over time, refugees, asylees, and their immediate families have made significant positive fiscal contributions to our country.”

The study underscores the notable contributions made by refugees and asylees to both the U.S. government and society. Key findings indicate, during the 15-year period, refugees and asylees had a positive net fiscal impact of nearly $124 billion, with substantial contributions to government revenue totaling $581 billion. While the study acknowledges the initial costs associated with governmental expenditures on refugees and asylees, it emphasizes the long-term positive cumulative effects on government budgets. According to ASPE, the report helps the public to understand the positive financial return on assistance to refugees and asylees.

HUD Releases Update to Equity Action Plan

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) unveiled the 2023 update to its Equity Action Plan, in line with the Biden-Harris Administration’s overarching equity agenda. In a statement, Secretary Marcia L. Fudge emphasized HUD’s dedication to rectifying historical disparities, particularly affecting marginalized groups like Black, Brown, and low-income individuals. HUD’s Equity Action Plan aims to embed equity into all facets of its operations, echoing the administration’s directive to prioritize racial equity.

Since its initial release in 2022, HUD has facilitated homeownership for approximately a quarter of a million Black individuals through Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages. Additionally, HUD has advanced initiatives such as finalizing rules on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) to address housing inequality as well as reinstating the Discriminatory Effects Rule to combat systemic housing discrimination. The agency has also expanded access to housing counseling and provided $10 million to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for housing and community development research. Moreover, HUD allocated $30 million to fair housing organizations and implemented measures to provide second chances for individuals with criminal records in public housing.

Senate HELP Committee Holds Hearing on Drug Prices

On Feb. 8, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hosted a hearing entitled, “Why Does the United States Pay, by Far, the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs?” The first panel was made up of CEOs from three major pharmaceutical companies: Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb. The CEOs highlighted their companies’ contributions to healthcare innovation and pressed lawmakers to support policies that encourage innovation, price transparency, and health equity while avoiding policies like drug price controls.

The second panel of experts began with Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen, who underscored the financial obstacles to medication access, particularly for vulnerable populations, and criticized pharmaceutical companies for exploiting their market power through patent abuse. He acknowledged recent efforts by the Biden administration but urged further reforms to alleviate the crisis, such as targeting practices of specific companies.

Tahir Amin from Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge argued the rampant use of patent thickets to extend market monopolies in the pharmaceutical industry is a widespread issue. He suggested Congress redefine what qualifies as a patent-worthy invention, as many patents are granted for trivial modifications rather than truly innovative breakthroughs. Darius Lakdawalla of the University of Southern California Schaeffer Center emphasized the need to balance medical innovation with affordability, cautioning against blunt price controls and advocating for policies that align drug prices with their value to stimulate beneficial innovation. He suggested legislation promoting transparency and affordable insurance coverage can help address accessibility issues for American families.

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On Jan. 31, the House of Representatives passed (357 to 70) a significant $78 billion bill which expands the child tax credit and reinstates certain business tax breaks. Republican Rep. Jason Smith, the main sponsor in the House, praised the bill as beneficial for growth and employment. It enlarges the child tax credit, though at a reduced level compared to the pandemic period, and revives business tax breaks until 2025. Additionally, it enhances tax benefits for low-income housing and disaster victims. The package of tax breaks is paid for by curbing the pandemic-era employee retention tax credit. Lawmakers see the bill as a positive bipartisan achievement amidst a divisive political climate.

Despite overwhelming approval in the House, the bill faces challenges in the Senate. The main proponent, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has argued its benefit to families and businesses, and pointed to the bipartisan nature of the bill’s passage in the House. Senate Republicans, however, have reservations, particularly regarding the impact of the expanded child tax credit on parents’ work incentives. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) highlighted a provision that permits parents to collect the larger credit by claiming earnings from previous years, thereby discouraging work, in his eyes. Despite these challenges, the bill is supported by President Biden as well as many senators and could gain momentum in the coming weeks.

HHS Highlights Progress After Two Years of Overdose Prevention Strategy

On Feb. 1, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) marked the second anniversary of its Overdose Prevention Strategy. From 2019-2021, the United States witnessed alarming increases in overdose death rates. Recent efforts, however, have successfully stabilized this trend. According to the administration, over the last three years the rate of increase in overdose deaths has plummeted by over 90%, with a consistent decline observed almost every month.

The administration argues that significant investments in overdose prevention programs have contributed to these positive outcomes. Key initiatives encompass primary prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services. Such efforts include SAMHSA’s Youth Fentanyl Awareness Prize Challenge, which elicited advice from youth aged 14-18 on best practices for educating young people; the Building Communities of Recovery program, which brings together community resources to support long-term recovery; and telescribing, which has made it easier to access treatment.

Other highlights include naloxone sales, which have surged notably in the past year, signaling wider availability of this life-saving medication. Concurrently, there has been a significant rise in the number of individuals receiving buprenorphine treatment, indicating enhanced access to evidence-based care.

Despite progress, challenges persist as provisional data indicate a persistently high number of overdose deaths. HHS unveiled bold new steps, which include new opioid use disorder treatment rules, aiming to make flexibilities introduced during the pandemic permanent, aligning standards of care with evidence-based practices, and broadening access to interim care with methadone.

Border Bill Introduced and Then Falters in the Senate

Last week, the Senate faced difficulty advancing legislation for aid to U.S. allies after rejecting a bipartisan plan to boost border security. Four months of negotiations, initiated by Republicans wary of increasing aid to Ukraine without linking it to stricter border controls, ended in the plan’s failure, after House Republicans and former President Donald Trump expressed opposition to the proposal. Like many immigration and border proposals in the past, the way forward is uncertain with Congress divided over border security measures in an election year.

In its current form, the proposal would introduce new emergency measures that greatly limit access across the border, triggered when crossings exceed an average of 5,000 a day over the course of a week or 8,500 in one day. Under these measures, asylum seekers would have to apply at designated ports of entry, scheduling appointments via a government app. Asylum officers from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, previously U.S. immigration judges, would decide on asylum cases at the border. Successful applicants would need to demonstrate they could not relocate within their country to avoid persecution. Asylum seekers who pass initial screenings would immediately qualify for work permits, while others could appeal to an asylum review board. The proposal also would expand the use of Alternatives to Detention for migrants awaiting asylum case decisions, such as ankle monitors and cell phones for check-ins with authorities.

HUD Releases New Factsheet on Agency Support for Black People

In a newly released factsheet, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), under the leadership of Secretary Marcia L. Fudge, outlined several initiatives undertaken to support Black communities in homeownership, economic empowerment, and housing stability. Notably, HUD broke down systemic barriers to homeownership, facilitating approximately 250,000 Black Americans in purchasing homes with an FHA mortgage since 2021. Additionally, foreclosure prevention measures implemented during the pandemic helped 160,000 Black homeowners retain their homes amidst financial challenges. HUD expanded access to housing counseling, invested in Black-owned, small, disadvantaged businesses, and awarded over $10 million to historically Black colleges and universities for wealth building and housing research.

Efforts to combat racial discrimination in housing continue with HUD working to eliminate bias in appraisals and promote fair housing practices. Furthermore, HUD expanded rental assistance programs, including emergency housing vouchers targeting homelessness, with a significant portion benefiting Black households. Finally, the Secretary oversaw efforts to review HUD regulations, policies, and guidance that discriminate against people with past criminal records. These initiatives demonstrate HUD’s commitment to advancing equity, homeownership, and housing stability for Black communities under Secretary Fudge’s leadership.

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The bipartisan Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act, co-led by House Committee on Ways and Means Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), received overwhelming support (40-3) in a Republican-led committee vote, advancing it to a full House vote.

The plan includes temporary expansions of the child tax credit and revived tax breaks for businesses. The bill proposes increasing the child tax credit incrementally from the current $1,600 to $1,800 in 2023, $1,900 in 2024, and $2,000 in 2025, as well as boosting tax credits for low-income housing construction. The proposal, if enacted, could lift 400,000 children out of poverty in the first year and reduce poverty for an additional 3 million. By 2025, it is expected to move around half a million children out of poverty and reduce poverty for about 5 million other children.

To fund the deal, a COVID-19 tax break for businesses that retained employees during the pandemic would be terminated, saving an estimated $79 billion. Despite strong support for the legislation in committee, during the markup concerns were raised the child tax credit expansion still may not adequately meet the needs of low-income families. There is also resistance from some House members who demand full restoration of state and local tax deductions. The House is set to return on Jan. 29. The bill has yet to make it out of committee in the Senate. Nevertheless, there is optimism that Congress may pass the tax measure before the April 15 tax-filing deadline, providing families with the expanded credit for the 2023 tax year.

Federal Budget Deadline Extended

On Jan. 19, President Joe Biden signed a stopgap spending measure to keep federal departments and agencies open into March, averting a partial shutdown that was set to begin on Jan. 20.

With negotiations on budget allocations dragging on for weeks, however, lawmakers are already growing concerned about the impending funding deadlines in March. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the Appropriations Committee chairs, have yet to reach an agreement on top-level defense and nondefense spending figures for the 12 appropriations bills. Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Susan Collins (R-Me.) expressed worry about the ability to fund the government by the March 1 and March 8 deadlines. While Murray blamed the House for the delay, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) criticized Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for not bringing more appropriations bills up for vote.

Simultaneously, negotiators are on the brink of finalizing a border and immigration deal tied to aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Senate GOP leaders, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), aim to pass a comprehensive bill despite presidential candidate Donald Trump’s public opposition to the deal. The latest discussions involve a new authority to suspend asylum in some ports of entry when daily migrant crossings exceed a certain threshold, as well as expedited decisions on asylum cases and limited use of parole. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and negotiators are working around the clock to finalize the deal. While challenges in crafting legislative language persist, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) noted there is a 90-plus percent agreement on the text. If the bill passes, it will be the first major immigration bill to pass since the 1990s.

Historic Enrollment Numbers for ACA Marketplace

The Biden-Harris Administration announced 21.3 million people selected health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace during the 2024 open enrollment period. This figure includes over five million new enrollees and 16 million coverage renewals. The enrollment period is ongoing in four states and Washington, D.C. until Jan. 31.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the American Rescue Plan contributed to the affordability of Marketplace coverage. Due to the IRA, four out of five HealthCare.gov customers found 2024 plan coverage for $10 per month or less after subsidies.

The administration also allocated almost $100 million in Navigator Awards to organizations, supporting the hiring of staff trained to assist consumers in finding affordable and comprehensive health coverage. This initiative expanded access to affordable coverage for middle- and lower-income families, illustrated by a 4.2 million increase in enrollment from the previous year for individuals with a household income less than 250% of the federal poverty level. Marketplace coverage played a critical role for those transitioning from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), with 2.4 million plan selections made by individuals who were previously enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP coverage.

HHS Releases New Guidelines for Foster Youth to Independence Program

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has issued new guidelines to assist Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) grant recipients in implementing the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) program. This program provides rental assistance and support services for young adults aged 18 to 24 who are transitioning out of foster care, facing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness. The guidance emphasizes the significance of housing stability for achieving self-sufficiency, especially during the critical transition to adulthood.

To access the FYI program, public child welfare agencies must refer eligible young adults to a local public housing authority. The guidance encourages RHY grant recipients to strengthen partnerships with child welfare agencies, and thereby gain information about the FYI program, facilitating connections with eligible young adults who may not be utilizing available resources. This collaboration is seen as crucial in addressing the unique needs of young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

Approximately 20,000 youth exit foster care each year, typically between ages 18 and 21. These individuals often encounter challenges in securing housing, leading to rates of homelessness higher than the general population. The guidance aims to equip communities with essential knowledge and tools to prevent and end youth homelessness.

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The Advocacy Amplified Training and Hill Day is a comprehensive and interactive three-day event in Washington, D.C., designed to empower individuals in the social sector with fundamental and advanced advocacy skills. Held at Social Current Headquarters and Capitol Hill, the event will focus on transforming expertise into impactful strategies, fostering relationships, and mobilizing support around the Streamlining Federal Grants Act and other policy topics important to the sector.

The event will begin with a two-day training to equip attendees with the information and skills to effectively participate in Hill Day. On day three, attendees will gain real-world experience through Capitol Hill visits. They will meet with legislators and staff to advocate for critical issues and deliver persuasive messages based on the training received the previous days. Social Current facilitators and guest speakers will drive engagement throughout the event. Learn more.

Proposal for Strengthened Child Tax Credit Goes Public

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Republican Representative Jason Smith (R-MO) released an $80 billion proposal – up from prior reports of a $70 billion proposal – to expand the child and low-income housing tax credits and restore recently expired business tax breaks and deductions. It would also tie the child tax credit to inflation moving forward. According to Wyden, the child tax credit changes would benefit the families of 15 million children and lift 400,000 children out of poverty by increasing the refundable portion of the credit on a per child basis. The proposal would also pave the way for the construction of 200,000 new affordable housing units across the country. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and President Joe Biden have not commented on the deal, and it seems like there isn’t yet a consensus at the committee level on bringing the bill to the floor in either chamber of Congress. Notably, progressives are pushing to increase the current child tax credit maximum from $2,000 to $3,600. The bill’s sponsors aim to pass the proposal before the Jan. 29 tax-filing season, possibly linking it to a must-pass funding bill to avoid a government shutdown on Jan. 19.

New Bill Introduced to Address Isolation and Loneliness Among Older Adults

On Dec. 7, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Chris Murphy (D-C.T.) introduced the Addressing Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults (SILO) Act to combat the crisis of social isolation among older Americans and adults with disabilities, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed legislation aims to enhance social connections and diminish loneliness by allocating funding to Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and community-based organizations. The bill responds to the profound mental and physical health impacts of social isolation, emphasizing that isolation and loneliness have long been significant issues for older Americans and people with disabilities. The SILO Act establishes a new grant program, allocating $62.5 million annually, dedicated to supporting AAAs and community-based organizations.

These funds will be utilized for training programs, outreach to at-risk individuals, creating community-based solutions, connecting at-risk individuals with support structures, and program evaluation. As of 2019, 25% of the 54 million adults aged 65 and older in the U.S. experienced social isolation. The legislation addresses the serious public health risks associated with social isolation, contributing to poor health outcomes and significant excess Medicare spending, estimated at $6.7 billion annually. The SILO Act aims to ensure older adults and individuals with disabilities can age without experiencing isolation and loneliness in their later years.

HUD Allocates $10 Million to Assist Vulnerable Families and Youth from Foster Care Facing Homelessness

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated $10 million to 13 public housing authorities across the nation. This funding, under the Family Unification Program (FUP), will provide more than 600 vouchers to identify and support homeless or at-risk former foster care youth as well as families whose inadequate housing is the primary reason their children are in foster care. The initiative aims to improve access to supportive services by enhancing coordination among public housing authorities, child welfare agencies, and Continuums of Care. “Keeping youth and families off the streets is essential to our efforts to reduce and ultimately end homelessness,” HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said. “This funding will help our local partners aid youth and allow families to get into more permanent and stable housing. HUD is committed to ending homelessness, and this funding and partnership help us continue that critical part of our mission.”

Administered by public housing authorities in collaboration with public child welfare agencies, the FUP provides housing choice vouchers to families where inadequate housing is a key factor in child placement and youth aged 18-24 at risk of homelessness after exiting foster care. FUP vouchers for families have no time limit, while those for youth are limited to 36 months, with possible extensions under the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities amendments. In addition to rental assistance, FUP youths receive supportive services for 36 months, focusing on skills like money management, job preparation, educational counseling, and nutrition.

HHS Releases New Healthcare Enrollment Report and Online Resource Hub

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has unveiled a detailed state-by-state examination of the efficacy of enrollment strategies implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The examination follows the resumption of full eligibility renewals post-COVID-19 to safeguard Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollment, particularly for children. According to the data, more than 88 million people, including nearly 40 million children, were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP across all 50 states and the District of Columbia as of Sept. 2023. Notably, states that expanded Medicaid and prioritized autorenewal (ex parte) rates experienced fewer disenrollments of children and youth. Conversely, the ten states that did not expand Medicaid—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—have collectively disenrolled more children and youth than the 40 states that did. This analysis underscores the pivotal role of state policy decisions and operational choices in preserving Medicaid and CHIP coverage for eligible individuals.

 HHS has also introduced an online hub designed to facilitate the renewal and transition processes for Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries. This initiative consolidates crucial resources, primarily developed by CMS, to aid partners in outreach and engagement endeavors. The hub aims to ensure that individuals with Medicaid or CHIP coverage are well-informed about the renewal process, facilitating seamless transitions to alternative coverage options like employer-based plans or Affordable Care Act Marketplace plans. HHS encourages partners, including community-based organizations, to leverage the new resource hub to guarantee appropriate coverage for children and families. The user-friendly webpage offers diverse communication materials and toolkits in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. It also addresses potential scams and fraud related to Medicaid renewals, providing valuable information for partner-led community education.

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House and Senate members are actively involved in last-ditch negotiations on a year-end tax deal that would address key issues for both Democrats and Republicans. Ahead of the 2024 election, Democrats are pushing for a strengthened Child Tax Credit (CTC) to address rising childhood poverty after a refundable CTC expired in 2021. Republicans are hoping to reinstate full deductibility for research and development investments, a provision that lapsed in 2022. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-Mo.) are collaborating on a potential package, with an estimated cost of around $100 billion.

If a deal cannot be made by the end of the year, both sides of the aisle are eyeing passage of the bill in January. This is good news considering a similar deal was attempted and failed last December, and talks did not continue into the new year. Nevertheless, the $100 billion tax deal is expected to encounter numerous challenges, such as determining the appropriate legislative vehicle to pass the deal as well as Congress needing to reach consensus on essential appropriations bills.

Special Committee on Aging Holds Hearing on Substance Use Trends Among Older Adults

On Dec. 14, the Senate Special Committee on Aging convened its 11th hearing of the 118th Congress to address substance use disorder in older adults. Chairman Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Ranking Member Mike Braun (R-Ind.) introduced the hearing by providing context. The National Survey of Drug Use and Health reported that nearly 4 million older adults had a substance use disorder in 2022. The committee is also addressing the overlooked issue of synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, with overdose death rates increasing by 53% among older Americans. According to the senators, the hearing aimed to shed light on the challenges faced by older adults with substance use disorders, emphasizing gaps in data, stigma, and barriers to accessing treatment, while also addressing the broader fentanyl crisis affecting different demographic groups and regions of the country.

The first witness, Keith Humphreys of Stanford Medical School and a former White House drug policy advisor, emphasized the need for urgent policy actions, pointing to factors such as the growing number of pharmaceutical products, changes in drug tolerance with aging, generational substance use patterns, and the expansion of synthetic drugs contributing to the crisis. The second speaker, James W. Carroll, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, advocated for tailored treatment for older adults, accountability in treatment centers, supply-side interventions to counter the influx of synthetic drugs, and comprehensive prevention efforts, including education, naloxone availability, and safe disposal of medications.

The next witness, Deborah Steinberg, representing the Legal Action Center, highlighted the organization’s Medicare Addiction Parity Project, which has found that financial barriers in Medicare persist. She recommended addressing remaining gaps, including discriminatory standards, barriers in Medicare Advantage plans, and the need to expand coverage for community-based and residential substance use disorder treatment. The final speaker, William Stauffer of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organization Alliance, highlighted the prevalence of negative attitudes and stigma surrounding addiction in society, especially affecting older adults due to ageism, leading to underreporting and insufficient support. The speaker proposed initiatives such as a Master Plan for Older Adults, investment in the substance use disorders workforce, and the establishment of an Older Adult Recovery Community Corps to utilize the strengths of older adults in recovery.

HHS Announces New Guidelines for HCBS Worker Registries

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has rolled out directives via the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to enhance accessibility to home- and community-based services (HCBS). The central focus revolves around the establishment and management of worker registries, advanced platforms that identify health workers delivering Medicaid-covered HCBS to specific groups, like those grappling with disabilities and the elderly. The guidelines underscore the availability of substantial federal funding, courtesy of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which earmarked aid to states for these registries. In a statement, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said, “The Biden-Harris Administration has distributed $37 billion from the American Rescue Plan across all 50 states for home- and community-based services. Additionally, we are delivering new guidance to states about how direct worker registries can help ensure more individuals receiving Medicaid-covered services can receive care in a setting of their choice.”

The guidelines are geared toward helping Medicaid recipients stay in their homes and neighborhoods, rather than utilizing nursing homes. Additionally, CMS highlights how ARP funds have been strategically injected to strengthen HCBS workers registries, allowing states to access a verified list of professional home care workers. This initiative dovetails with overarching endeavors in support of quality HCBS, which include increased funding, proposed rule adjustments around access and quality, and collaborative ventures with government partners to refine workforce data, all in sync with President Biden’s executive mandate amplifying access to top-notch care and supporting caregivers.

Biden Administration Urges All-of-Government Approach to Naloxone Access

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have jointly issued a letter urging collaboration between public health departments, health care providers, housing providers and agencies, and community-based organizations. The objective is to enhance access to naloxone and other overdose reversal medications, particularly in public housing facilities, multifamily housing and housing counseling programs, and programs for individuals experiencing homelessness. The joint effort aims to address overdoses happening within homes and encourage housing providers to ensure access to effective medications that can reverse an overdose. The guidance stresses the importance of making overdose reversal medications readily available in all public spaces, such as schools, libraries, and community institutions.

The guidance aligns with President Biden’s Unity Agenda, which calls for a collective response to the nation’s overdose epidemic, de-stigmatization of substance use disorders, and emphasis on recovery. “Naloxone and other overdose reversal medications save lives and should be as available in public housing as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers,” said to Richard Monocchio, HUD’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing. The letter underscores the federal government’s commitment to a flexible and collective response to the evolving overdose epidemic, working together at federal, state, and local levels. It also aligns with President Biden’s National Drug Control Strategy and the investments made in the State Opioid Response (SOR) grant program, which has already helped states acquire nearly 9 million naloxone kits and reverse over 500,000 overdoses.

Subscribe to the Policy and Advocacy Radar to receive our biweekly policy roundup, which includes commentary on issues in Social Current’s federal policy agenda, opportunities to take action, and curated news and opportunities.

More than 800 nonprofits have joined a sign-on letter to Congress in support of the Streamlining Federal Grants Act (S. 2286/H.R. 5934). Social Current has been active in advocating for federal grant reform, and in collaboration with the National Council of Nonprofits, has been educating the sector on the importance of this legislation that would enhance the efficiency and performance of federal grants and cooperative agreements.

Social Current’s Senior Director of Government Affairs Blair Abelle-Kiser commented on the importance this act has for the sector:

“I believe the Streamlining Federal Grants Act is a transformative step toward a more efficient and equitable grant administration system. By addressing critical issues and advocating for coordination, transparency, and equitable access, this legislation has the potential to empower nonprofits and uplift underserved communities across the nation.”

Grassroots advocacy by community-based organizations has been instrumental in building support in Washington, D.C., for the Streamlining Federal Grants Act. Since Social Current hosted its first-ever Capitol Hill Day on October 18, during which dozens of our network organizations met with members of Congress and staff, eleven members of Congress have cosponsored the bill.

These new cosponsors include Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Rudy Yakym (R-Ind.), David Trone (D-M.D.), Chuck Edwards (R-N.C.), Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), Yadira Caraveo (D-Colo.) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.).

Please sign onto the letter endorsed by more than 800 other nonprofits and help keep up the momentum!

HHS and DOE Release New Resource for Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have collaboratively issued an updated policy statement highlighting the value of integrating children with disabilities into early childhood programs. This revised statement expands upon a 2015 version, reaffirming dedication and urgency to surmount obstacles hindering these children from fully engaging in inclusive early childhood programs. The revision aligns with President Biden’s executive order focusing on enhanced access to top-tier care and bolstering support for caregivers. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, “Our nation’s youngest learners – including those with disabilities – deserve access to high quality early childhood programs that nurture their potential and provide a strong foundation for future success.”

With over 61 million U.S. adults grappling with disabilities and nearly one in six children experiencing developmental delays, the administration has advocated for a culture of inclusion spanning from birth to education and extending into communities and workplaces, according to HHS and DOE. The statement underscores the need for inclusive environments, presenting updated guidelines for implementing programs administered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Head Start, childcare, home visiting, preschool, and public schools. It also includes evidence-based models and resources to facilitate tailored programming for children with disabilities in early childhood programs.

Administration Launches 2024 Marketplace Open Enrollment Period

The Biden-Harris administration announced that more than 4.5 million people have opted for health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace in the ongoing 2024 Marketplace Open Enrollment Period (OEP), between Nov. 1 and 18. This data encompasses the 32 states using HealthCare.gov up to week three, and in the 17 states as well as the District of Columbia with State-based Marketplaces until week two. Among these selections, 920,000 individuals (20% of total) are newcomers to the Marketplaces for 2024, while 3.7 million people (80% of total) possess existing 2023 coverage.

In a statement, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra highlighted the robust launch of this year’s enrollment season, stressing four out of five individuals can secure a plan for $10 or less per month after subsidies on HealthCare.gov. According to the administration, the Inflation Reduction Act has played a role in reducing costs and enhancing benefits; it is anticipated 9 out of 10 customers will be eligible for savings. During the OEP, almost 96% of HealthCare.gov consumers have the option to choose from at least three health insurers. The highly competitive Marketplace for 2024 offers various plan choices, encouraging individuals to revisit and shop for plans that better align with their needs at a reduced cost.

The 2024 OEP spans from Nov. 1, 2023, to Jan. 15, 2024, and individuals enrolling by midnight on Dec. 15 can secure full-year coverage starting on Jan. 1, 2024. The administration also provides support through Navigator Awards to organizations aiding in consumer assistance.

Congress Punts Federal Budget Negotiations Until Next Year

President Joe Biden signed a temporary funding bill on Nov. 16, following the Senate’s bipartisan approval in a vote of 87-11. The legislation, referred to as a continuing resolution (CR), effectively averts the risk of a government shutdown until after the holiday season. The CR garnered substantial backing in the House, securing a vote of 336-95 on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) highlighted the significance of bipartisan collaboration in ensuring government operations without detrimental cuts or contentious provisions.

Crafted by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), the CR allocates funds to specific departments such as Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs until Jan. 19, 2024. The Defense Department, along with Health and Human Services, Education, and other government components, will receive funding until Feb. 2. Johnson’s strategy was aimed at avoiding a last-minute comprehensive spending package ahead of Christmas. Notably, the CR is characterized as “clean,” devoid of spending cuts or policy disputes that could isolate Democrats, and it excludes a supplemental package addressing matters like aid for Israel and Ukraine, humanitarian assistance, or border security.

This interim measure grants additional time for House Republicans to pass remaining appropriations bills and for negotiators in both the House and Senate to finalize funding agreements. Despite challenges, Johnson maintains an optimistic outlook, underscoring the ongoing process of consensus-building within the Republican ranks.

Subscribe to the Policy and Advocacy Radar to receive our biweekly policy roundup, which includes commentary on issues in Social Current’s federal policy agenda, opportunities to take action, and curated news and opportunities.