On Thursday, the House of Representatives went on recess without passing a single funding bill—just 10 days before the federal government is scheduled to run out of money. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tried and failed twice last week to pass a defense spending bill, all with the hope of building momentum in the chamber to pass a short-term continuing resolution that would fund the entire government. His latest overture to the hard-right members of his caucus included an 8% reduction in domestic spending, more stringent immigration laws, and establishment of a fiscal commission to recommend changes to entitlement spending. His proposed spending level was $1.526 trillion, $64 billion less than what he agreed to with President Joe Biden earlier this year and a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Despite these concessions, members of the far-right scuttled the defense spending bill, sending the entire process into chaos. With time ticking toward the Sept. 30 deadline, it is unclear how Speaker McCarthy intends to pick up the pieces and avoid a disastrous government shutdown that, by some estimates, would cut GDP by 0.2 percentage points for each week in duration and could force the economy into a recession.

Democrats Introduce Bill to Save Child Care

On Sept. 13, leading Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives introduced the Child Care Stabilization Act, which would fend off an impending catastrophe in the child care sector by funneling money to providers. The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Kathryn Clark (D-Mass.), would dedicate $16 billion per year in mandatory funding for the next five years to child care providers, keeping the sector afloat after a series of tumultuous years during and after the pandemic. On Sept. 30, $24 billion in stabilization assistance, which has been a lifeline to the sector, is set to expire.
According to one analysis from The Century Foundation, if no additional funding is found, 70,000 child care programs would shutter, 3.2 million children would lose care, 232,000 workers would be out of jobs, and states would lose $10.6 billion in tax and business revenue. The Child Care Stabilization Act would continue this much-needed funding stream and ensure child care centers can provide high-quality and affordable child care.

HUD Announces New Awards to Tackle Youth Homelessness

On Sept. 20, The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced $60.3 million in awards for efforts to end youth homelessness in 16 communities. The program, called the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, funds a variety of services depending on local needs, including rapid rehousing, host homes, and transitional housing. During the awards process, HUD engaged youth who had experienced homelessness, eliciting their feedback on applications.

Award recipients will use the funds to tackle their communities’ unique challenges, with a special focus on equitable approaches to disproportionately affected groups, including BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and differently abled youth. Each community is required to create Youth Action Boards, which are led by youth with lived experience and strive to design and improve programs. In total, 110 communities have received $440 million through the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program. In preparing this round of recipients, HUD worked closely with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to support development of the program. YHDP is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s All In initiative, which seeks to reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025.

New Initiative Focuses on TANF and Child Welfare Collaboration on Prevention

The Office of Family Assistance and the Children’s Bureau, within the Administration for Children and Families, announced a joint initiative called Families Are Stronger Together (FAST), which will create a new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) learning community built around collaboration between TANF and child welfare agencies, with a special focus on prevention. Because one of TANF’s goals is to ensure children are supported in their own home or in the home of relatives, TANF has a large role to play in providing economic assistance to struggling families. The learning community will develop new strategies for coordination between TANF and child welfare agencies that support families and prevent poor outcomes for children. Over the 12-month initiative, 10 teams made up of TANF and child welfare agencies from different states will work with coaches, attend in-person gatherings, and receive technical assistance.

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On Aug. 30, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a new rule that will directly impact overtime pay policies in the social sector. The social sector must have a seat at the table as the Department considers implementing its changes.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates minimum wage and overtime pay for eligible employees. An exemption known as the “white-collar,” or executive, administrative, or professional (EAP) exemption exists for certain employees, which is subject to specific criteria set by the DOL.

The proposed changes to the EAP exemption include:

The proposed changes aim to better define who qualifies for the EAP exemption by aligning salary levels with contemporary wage data. These updates are based on the DOL’s commitment to regularly review and adjust salary thresholds to keep pace with changing wages.

The Department estimates these changes could affect 3.4 million employees who would gain overtime protection and 248,900 employees affected by the HCE total annual compensation increase. The estimated direct employer costs over the first ten years would be $664 million, with $1.3 billion in annualized income transfers from employers to employees.

The proposed adjustments to the EAP exemption aim to ensure it remains relevant and effective in distinguishing between exempt and nonexempt employees while considering economic impacts on employers and employees.

Here are relevant resources to better understand the new rule:

Please read these resources and learn how it would impact your organization.

The DOL has opened the new rule to public comment for 60 days. Social Current is seeking feedback from the network to inform our response, which we will submit to the DOL by the deadline on Halloween. We also encourage network organizations to submit their own comments.

Please get in touch with our Government Relations Team at babelle-kiser@social-current.org and dkiernan@social-current.org with questions or feedback on the rule.

You can also submit feedback through this form.

New Nonprofit Workforce Shortage Crisis Report from NCN

The National Council of Nonprofits recently released its annual report 2023 Nonprofit Workforce Survey Results: Communities Suffer as Nonprofit Workforce Shortage Crisis Continues. The report, based on 1,600 survey responses from all 50 states and the District of Columbia in April, paints a stark picture of the social sector struggling to recover from the pandemic. Nearly three quarters of respondents reported job vacancies in their organizations, with 75 percent of respondents citing vacancies in program and service delivery positions, and 41 percent in entry-level positions. Almost 52 percent said they have more vacancies than before the pandemic, and 28 percent said they have longer waiting lists for services. The main staffing challenges are related to salary competition and budget constraints. 72 percent of respondents cited competition with other sectors as a barrier to recruitment and retention, and two-thirds referred to budget constraints/insufficient funds as a significant issue. About half of respondents named stress and burnout as an obstacle. Ominously, over 70 percent of nonprofits expect less or the same level of charitable giving in 2023.

The survey also asked respondents to mention solutions to the staffing difficulties they are facing. Four policy solutions topped the list, including reform of government grants and contracts, implementation of charitable giving incentives, support for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and funding for child care.

Possible Government Shutdown

With the deadline to pass the federal budget by Sept. 30 rapidly approaching, lawmakers in Congress are desperately trying to cobble together a continuing resolution that would avoid a debilitating government shutdown. Only three out of the twelve bills that constitute the federal budget are even close to passage in the Senate, and the House is nowhere near passing a single bill. Leaders on both sides of the aisle have agreed that a continuing resolution, which would fund the government at current levels for a short period of time, is necessary to buy time to reach a deal on the FY 2024 budget.

However, stark disagreements have emerged over supplemental funding for Ukraine and disaster aid many wish to see attached to the continuing resolution. The Senate supports President Joe Biden’s request for $24 billion in aid to Ukraine, but members of the House GOP are pressuring House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R- Calif.) to drop it. In response, McCarthy is considering exchanging Ukraine aid for stricter border policies on immigration and asylum that the Freedom Caucus supports. Theoretically, McCarthy has enough votes from House Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass a clean resolution; however, he has felt intense pressure from far-right caucus members to give in to their demands.

Ultimately, a government shutdown would be disastrous for the country, as job growth slows, interest rates rise, and policymakers work to avoid a recession.

HHS Proposes New Rule to Bolster Anti-Discrimination on the Basis of Disability

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a rule that would strengthen anti-discrimination provisions for people with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in access to health and human service programs that receive federal assistance. The rule would update and clarify Section 504 in light of the changing legal landscape of disability discrimination. It would prohibit medical professionals from using stereotypes and biases about individuals with disabilities, as well as judgments about their value and burden on others, as bases for making medical decisions. The proposal would also create enforceable standards for accessible medical equipment and require access to integrated, community-based settings when appropriate for people with disabilities. Finally, the rule clarifies non-discrimination provisions in the child welfare space, when it comes to areas, such as parent-child visitation, child removals and placements, as well as foster and adoptive parent assessment. The public has 60 days to register comments on the rule.

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On Tuesday, the Biden administration began accepting applications for a new student debt program called SAVE (Saving on a Valuable Education). This income-driven repayment plan will determine monthly payments based on income and family size, rather than loan balance. The administration says that many eligible borrowers will pay nothing in monthly payments, while others will save about $1,000 per year. These individuals will pay about 5% of their discretionary income, down from 10% previously. This low-income repayment plan comes after numerous recent setbacks for the administration in their work on student debt relief. As part of the budget deal with House Republicans earlier this year, the administration agreed to end the pandemic-era pause on student loan payments by Oct. 1. Furthermore, the Supreme Court shot down the administration’s far-ranging student debt relief plan earlier this summer. The SAVE program is another attempt by the Biden administration to help borrowers in need. According to the administration, it has cancelled $116 billion in student loan debt held by 3.4 million Americans.

Federal Budget Negotiations Roll On

This week, Speaker Kevin McCarthy told House Republicans that Congress will likely need to pass a stopgap bill, also known as a continuing resolution. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed Wednesday that he and McCarthy had recently agreed to pursue the resolution, a short-term government funding bill that could help Congress avoid a shutdown. When members of Congress return in September from their month-long August recess, there will be just a few weeks left to decide on spending bills if no resolution is passed. The continuing resolution would keep the government funded past the Sept. 30 deadline, giving the Democrat-led Senate and the Republican-led House more time to decide on the 12 spending bills that constitute the federal budget.

Congress must resort to a continuing resolution even though President Biden and Speaker McCarthy agreed earlier this year to a budget deal that would fund the government for an entire fiscal year. Since then, House Republicans proposed a budget that is $100 billion less than the brokered deal, while the Senate proposed spending $13 billion more. Leaders of both parties are urging their caucuses to drop unrealistic provisions and come to a compromise. Congress will hopefully overcome this impasse by the expiration of the continuing resolution, perhaps around Christmas. Social Current will continue to monitor the negotiation process and advocate for appropriations that are of vital interest to the social sector.

HHS Announces New Funding for Mental Health

On Aug. 23, the Department of Health and Human Services dispersed over $64 million in funding to help communities deal with the national mental health crisis. $59.4 million was made available as part of the $250 million for FY 2022-2025 in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which Congress and President Biden signed into law last year. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said, “With these critical investments, states and territories will be able to continue to serve as an invaluable safety net for mental health services for some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations, including those impacted by gun violence, disasters, and other emergencies.” The remaining $5 million in awards will support Mental Health Awareness Training grants, which provides training for individuals and communities in responding appropriately to people with mental health challenges. These grants will help first responders, teachers, and others care for people with mental health or substance use challenges and refer them to appropriate service providers.

HHS Reports Inflation Reduction Act Reduces Health Care Costs

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that, with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on Aug. 16, 2022, millions of consumers are already spending less on health care. The IRA extended subsidies for health insurance purchased on HealthCare.gov and state-based marketplaces, which led to a record enrollment of 16.4 million people during the 2023 open enrollment period. Of all signups, 90% are receiving subsidies toward their monthly premiums. The IRA also made significant changes to Medicare. Monthly insulin payments are capped at $35, saving 1.5 million seniors an average of $500 per year compared to costs in 2020. Also, more vaccines are available cost-free, including shingles, and hepatitis A and B. Finally, the IRA will implement a new out-of-pocket cap on prescription drugs in 2024, which will drop to $2,000 annually in 2025, saving almost $400 per year for more than 18.7 enrollees in Medicare Part D.

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The Biden administration has begun publicly pressuring states to reevaluate internal processes that are leading to massive decreases in health care coverage across the country. In April, states started to make determinations about whether beneficiaries enrolled in Medicaid during the pandemic could stay in the program – a process known as Medicaid unwinding. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 4.3 million people have lost Medicaid coverage since April, and 74% of disenrollments occurred for procedural reasons, like failure to fill out paperwork in a specific timeframe, rather than ineligibility based on income. There are widespread concerns that many beneficiaries abandon attempts to re-enroll due to long wait times at call centers, language barriers, and arduous bureaucratic processes that states force them to go through. Last week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent letters to states asking them to address procedural challenges that are stopping eligible people from continuing coverage. The letters recommended states make call center enhancements, use non-English language materials, and opt for automatic over manual renewals. CMS also urged states to implement ex parte renewals, which draw data from sources like the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to confirm income eligibility, rather than waiting for paperwork from beneficiaries.

FDA Approves Pill to Treat Postpartum Depression

On August 4, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first pill meant specifically to treat postpartum depression. The pill, Zurzuvae, is taken once daily for 14 days to treat severe depression following pregnancy, a condition that affects about 1 in 7 new mothers. The pill could be commercially available as soon as October and appears to provide more immediate relief than antidepressants. While the cost is not yet known, experts call it a “hopeful step forward” in making treatment more accessible. Currently, the only other FDA-approved treatment on the market is a $34,000 IV treatment.

Treating postpartum depression can prevent child fatalities and advance child safety and development. Social Current’s efforts to improve child welfare, such as the establishment of the Within Our Reach office, reflect the importance of parental mental health treatment in promoting child safety. This includes recommendations for postpartum depression screening to be conducted at pediatric appointments, a practice that could now lead to mothers being diagnosed and offered a more accessible treatment if Zurzuvae proves to be successful.

President Biden Touts Value of CCBHCs

In recent weeks, President Biden has been boosting mental health care. After proposing new rules that would reinforce the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and ensure equal access to both mental and medical benefits, the president addressed the role that Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) play in eliminating barriers to mental health care. In remarks from the White House, Biden said, “These clinics provide a range of services, including crisis support available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and they serve anyone who needs care, regardless of ability to pay.” In the six years since the first CCBHC opened, over 500 others have sprouted up across the country, offering access to mental health care for low-income communities. CCBHCS work in tandem with the new Crisis and Suicide Lifeline, immediately connecting people in crisis to care. In addition to the impact of health and well-being, CCBHCs led to the creation of 11,000 new behavioral health jobs across the country.

DOE Audit Finds Room for Improvement in Charter School Grant Oversight

An audit released on Aug. 3, entitled “The U.S. Department of Education’s Processes for Overseeing Charter Schools Program Grants to Charter Management Organizations for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools,” aimed to assess whether the U.S. Department of Education supervised grants in such a way as to ensure accurate annual performance reports and program spending in line with grant requirements. The Department and the Charter School Programs (CSP) office had designed processes to ensure accurate grantee reporting and proper fund utilization. Generally, these processes were followed, but there were shortcomings. For example, the CSP office failed at times to comprehensively fill out Academic Performance Review (APR) forms or communicate concerns with grantees, leading to less than reliable data. The CSP office also lacked proper record-keeping, resulting in the inability to locate a significant number of APRs.

The audit recommends that the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education take several actions:

  1. Monitor CSP program officers to ensure accurate completion of APR review templates and effective communication with grantees about issues.
  2. Implement procedures to complete corrective action plans, detailing recommended actions and their implementation by grantees.
  3. Establish a system for retaining records that demonstrate grantee compliance with corrective actions for fund usage issues.

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Last Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs marked up the Streamlining Federal Grants Act of 2023, which was introduced by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) on July 17. In his introductory remarks, Sen. Peters thanked Sens. Lankford and Cornyn for their hard work on the bipartisan bill. He lauded the bill’s potential to help nonprofits apply for and manage grants, reduce government waste, and promote language access. After a series of amendments were introduced and voted down, the bill passed out of committee, clearing the way for a vote before the entire Senate in the months to come.

Social Current has been a strong and outspoken champion of the bill, which would simplify the grant application process for the social sector, particularly nonprofits, which face the most challenges in applying for grants. After the bill’s introduction, Social Current President and CEO Jody Levison-Johnson said:

“I am thrilled to see the introduction of the Streamlining Federal Grants Act of 2023 in the Senate, which reflects in part the Relief4Charities policy asks to strengthen and support the nonprofit sector. This legislation will greatly improve access to federal grants for underserved communities and streamline the application process.”

The bill would create a Grants Council with representatives from all federal grantmaking agencies, which would guide reforming complex and outdated procedures. Proposed reforms include everything from streamlining the application, administrative, and reporting processes to enhancing user experiences and soliciting grantee feedback. The legislation also requires federal agencies to seek input from non-federal agencies, including nonprofits, in the development and implementation of their agency plans. Finally, funding opportunities will be required to provide short, clear, and accessible summaries, so that potential applicants can readily understand them.

Social Current will continue to advocate for the passage of the Streamlining Federal Grants Act of 2023 and to keep the network updated on its progress through congressional negotiations.

Learn more about the legislation’s provisions that benefit charitable nonprofits in this one-pager from Social Current and the National Council of Nonprofits.

Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) Compromise Passes the Energy and Commerce Committee

On July 19, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously to pass H.R. 4531, the Support for Patients and Communities Reauthorization Act. The bill included a compromised version of H.R. 4056, the Ensuring Medicaid Continuity for Children in Foster Care Act, which would grant federal Medicaid coverage to children in foster care receiving treatment from Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs) classified as Institutions for Mental Disease (IMDs).

A QRTP is typically classified as an IMD if it has over 16 beds. Currently, states cannot receive federal Medicaid payments for services provided to individuals in an IMD setting. This means that while a Medicaid-eligible child in an IMD does not lose their Medicaid benefits, states must bear the total cost. The classification of large QRTPs as IMDs aims to discourage congregate care for foster children and encourage states to increase the use of family and foster family care, which has been shown to have significantly better outcomes for children.

H.R. 4056 aimed to remove this IMD exclusion for children in foster care and allow states to draw from federal Medicaid funds to pay for their treatment while in a QRTP, regardless of whether it is classified as an IMD. The compromise, Sec. 304, would permanently lift the IMD exclusion for substance use disorder and permit QRTPs to bill Medicaid for health care services outside these facilities’ walls. Essentially, the compromise allows QRTPs to bill Medicaid for the treatment a child receives elsewhere, such as doctor appointments, but still does not allow a QRTP to use federal Medicaid funds to pay for in-house treatment provided by the QRTP. While Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), sponsors of H.R. 4056, both made it clear that they do not believe this compromise goes far enough to support QRTPs, they described the move as a step forward.

HHS Proposes New Rules to Achieve Parity for Mental Health Care

On July 25, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed new rules to ensure people seeking coverage for mental health care and substance abuse disorder can access these services as quickly and affordably as people can access coverage for medical treatments. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was enacted in 2008 and built on the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 to lessen the barriers faced by those seeking mental health care. However, these barriers still exist 15 years later. To combat illegal restrictions on mental health and substance abuse treatment benefits, the U.S. Department of Health and Human proposes that plans and issuers make NQTL (Non-Quantitative Treatment Limitations) comparative analyses available to the Department of Treasury, the Department of Labor, the Department of Human Services, and eventually to Congress. If enacted, these new rules would be added to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and ensure plans and issuers are not putting unnecessary barriers in the way of receiving coverage for mental health care.

Family First Prevention Services Clearinghouse Posts New Ratings

The Family First Prevention Clearinghouse has posted new ratings for nine prevention services. Seven were found to be “promising,” and two were rated as “does not currently meet criteria.” The programs included mental health and in-home parent skill-based services. So far, 148 programs and services have been reviewed, and 76 have been rated as promising, supported, or well-supported. The new ratings are:

Proclamation Will Establish Monuments to Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley

Last week, on what would have been Emmett Till’s 82nd birthday, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation to establish a monument honoring Till and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley. The racially motivated murder of 14-year-old Till and the subsequent activism of his mother played key roles in the civil rights movement.

The monument, the fourth national monument designated by the Biden administration, will span three sites in Illinois and Mississippi that hold historical importance. The first site will be in Graball Landing, Mississippi, where Till’s body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River. The second site will be Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, where Till-Mobley held her son’s open-casket funeral. The monument’s third site will be the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, where an all-white jury acquitted Till’s killers.

In his remarks at the proclamation signing ceremony, Biden raised the importance of understanding our country’s history of racism as a means for moving toward social justice and rejected moves, such as those in Florida, to erase and twist it.

Biden noted, “At a time when there are those who seek to ban books, bury history, we’re making it clear — crystal, crystal clear — while darkness and denialism can hide much, they erase nothing. They can hide, but they erase nothing.”

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On July 17, the Streamlining Federal Grants Act of 2023 was introduced by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas). This bill would help enhance the efficiency and performance of federal grants and cooperative agreements. It proposes the establishment of a Grants Council composed of grantmaking federal agencies, which would guide reforming complex and outdated procedures.

Leaders from across the social sector shared statements of support for the bill in a press release from the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs. Among the quotes endorsing the bill was this one from Social Current President and CEO Jody Levison-Johnson:

“I am thrilled to see the introduction of the Streamlining Federal Grants Act of 2023 in the Senate, which reflects in part the Relief4Charities policy asks to strengthen and support the nonprofit sector. This legislation will greatly improve access to federal grants for underserved communities and streamline the application process.”

Social Current and the National Council of Nonprofits highlight the legislation’s provisions that benefit charitable nonprofits in this one-pager. Those provisions include:

Social Current is monitoring the progress of the Streamlining Federal Grant Act of 2023 and will share updates in our Policy and Advocacy Radar newsletter. Subscribe online.

Social Current Leadership on Grant Reform

Social Current has been active in advocating for federal grant reform and educating our network about the issue. Earlier this summer, we hosted a policy briefing about the issue, which can be viewed on demand.

Blair Abelle-Kiser, senior director of government affairs at Social Current, discussed how we can set the nonprofit sector up for financial success through government contracting and grant reform. The conversation was inspired by the op-ed, “Government contract reform is a must for social sector nonprofits,” authored by Social Current President and CEO Jody Levison-Johnson in New York Nonprofit Media in February 2023. While there is still advocacy work to be done, this bipartisan bill is a significant step forward.

Upcoming Opportunity: Igniting Advocacy Training and Hill Day

SPARK 2023 will feature the Igniting Advocacy Training and Hill Day. Build foundational skills and learn about advanced advocacy strategies during the two-day training. Then, put what you’ve learned into action when meeting with members of Congress in Washington, D.C. We will take care of the logistics so you can focus on having meaningful interactions with key decision makers. Learn more about SPARK 2023, Oct. 16-17 in Bethesda, Maryland, and Hill Day, Oct. 18. Register by Sept. 18 to save with the early bird rate.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to scrap affirmative action in college admissions, President Joe Biden delivered searing criticism against the ruling and the court, even saying, “This is not a normal court.” He cited instances where the court has undermined or ignored precedents that have stood for decades, including last year’s ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade. Rebuking the court’s ruling, Biden said, “Discrimination still exists in America. Today’s decision does not change that. It’s a simple fact.”

In remarks that his team had prepared in anticipation of the outcome of the affirmative action case, Biden described the outline of a plan to ensure diversity and opportunity within higher education. He called on the Department of Education to explore ways to bolster diversity on college campuses by accounting for hardships that applicants had overcome in their lives. This would include prioritizing applicants from less advantaged ZIP codes, with lower financial means, and who have experienced unique personal challenges. A similar admissions model, based on a “socioeconomic diversity index,” is utilized at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis, which is one of the most diverse medical schools in the country. Next month, the DOE will host a national summit on diversity in college admissions.

Bidenomics: The President’s Economic Vision for America

On Wednesday, June 28, President Biden gave a speech in Chicago touting his economic accomplishments and presenting his plan for the future. He defined his administration’s key slogan for his 2024 campaign: “Bidenomics,” a term coined by the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times and embraced by the administration. Bidenomics, as defined by the White House, has three pillars:

Biden criticized trickle-down economics, claiming that the philosophy failed the American middle class and contending that his plan will grow the economy from the “middle out and bottom-up.” In his speech, the president repeatedly emphasized his work with unions, calling himself “the most pro-union president in American history.” He detailed several successes of the economy under his administration, including low unemployment, high job satisfaction, declining inflation, and growing wages. He also mentioned some of his administration’s work, such as eliminating junk fees, reducing the cost of insulin, investing in education, limiting non-compete clauses, and supporting small businesses. He credited the American Rescue Plan Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law with much of the success of the American economy and praised his administration for reducing the federal deficit by $1.7 trillion.

For much of the speech, Biden looked toward the future, discussing goals to make the federal tax system fairer by placing a higher tax on billionaires while keeping his promise not to raise taxes for the middle class and continuing to invest in infrastructure and American jobs. In his conclusion, he summarized his plan, “It’s rooted in what’s always worked best in this country: investing in America, investing in Americans. Because when we invest in our people, we strengthen the middle class, we see the economy grow. That benefits all Americans. That’s the American Dream.” While “Bidenomics” is a relatively new term in the media, it is clear it will be a centerpiece in his 2024 reelection campaign and will be a key priority of the administration going forward.

New HHS Rule Would Lower Child Care Costs

The Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule to lower child care costs and financially support child care providers. The rule covers the Child Care and Development Fund, which subsidizes care for 1.5 million children and impacts 230,000 providers. Specifically, the rule would cap co-payments by families at 7% of income and allow states to eliminate co-payments for families at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. The rule would also cut down on bureaucracy and streamline eligibility criteria and the enrollment process for families. Finally, the rule would bring more providers into the program by offering higher payment rates and guaranteeing timely payments. In announcing the proposed rule, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said, “Our country cannot function without a strong child care system. … Child care is vital to the health and well-being of our nation’s families, businesses, and economy.” HHS encourages the public to submit comments on the proposed rule by Aug. 28.

Biden’s New Student Debt Relief Plan

On June 30, President Biden announced a new plan to provide student debt relief following the Supreme Court’s rejection of Biden’s original proposal to cancel up to $20,000 worth of federal student loans per person. Biden called upon the secretary of the Department of Education to open an alternative path for debt relief that could impact unprecedented borrowers. Moreover, the DOE finalized a new affordable payment plan to waive monthly payments for some borrowers and reduce yearly payments by at least $1,000 for others. There will also be a 12-month “on-ramp” to repayment from Oct. 1, 2023 to Sept. 30, 2024. Those who miss payments during this time will not be “considered delinquent, reported to credit bureaus, placed in default, or referred to debt collection agencies.”

LGBTQ+ Youth Suffer High Rates of Depression, Especially Youth of Color

A new study from Yale University provides scientific evidence that LGBTQ+ youth have higher rates of depression compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Those from Black and Hispanic households were 32% more likely to have symptoms of depression in states without anti-bullying legislation and conversion therapy bans. LGBTQ+ youth of color consistently experience higher rates of mental health challenges than their white peers. For example, while 12% of white youth had suicide attempts; more than 15% of Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Black, Multiracial, and Latinx youth had attempted suicide, with Middle Eastern and Indigenous ranking at 20% and 21%, respectively. Nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide, and LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates than their white peers.

Youth of color deal with multiple sources of oppression, which leads to increased rates of depression. When LGBTQ+ youth of color are exposed to support, specifically in a school environment, there is measurable improvement socially, academically, and emotionally. There are ways to alleviate these youths’ struggles, such as establishing gay-straight alliances in schools, having staff trained in inclusivity, setting aside safe spaces, and implementing anti-harassment policies.

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In the case of Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action in college admissions. The historic 6-3 decision last Thursday overturned decades of precedence. The majority ruled that “Affirmative Action,” the practice of considering the race of prospective students when determining admission, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “The Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause. Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably negatively employ race, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful endpoints. We have never permitted admissions programs to work that way, and we will not do so today.”  

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Kentanji Brown Jackson, wrote, “The result of today’s decision is that a person’s skin color may play a role in assessing individualized suspicion, but it cannot play a role in assessing that person’s individualized contributions to a diverse learning environment. That indefensible reading of the Constitution is not grounded in law and subverts the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.”  

President Joe Biden condemned the decision, along with many public figures, including Barack and Michelle Obama, saying that he “strongly, strongly” disagrees with the ruling and urging that the “decision must not be the final word” on the matter. Former President Trump applauded the ruling, calling it “a great day for America.” Former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, and other conservative politicians expressed similar sentiments.   

Some states have already banned race-based affirmative action, resulting in declining enrollment of students from underrepresented communities. Public opinion polls have shown mixed approval for the practice, with many voters conflicted. Knowing that the ruling would likely not rule in their favor, elite colleges and universities have been preparing for a change in their admission processes, with one dean stating, “We don’t want tools taken away from us or our hands tied behind our back. … I’m extremely worried.”

Supreme Court Releases Batch of New Decisions

The Supreme Court released a batch of new opinions last week in the final days of its term. On Wednesday, it released opinions ruling against the Independent State Legislature theory, clarifying when online harassment can be prosecuted, and upholding a Pennsylvania law allowing any company doing business in the state to be sued there. Later in the week, the court also ruled on cases dealing with trademark infringement, religious liberty, affirmative action, and President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program.

In the two cases involving the law and religion, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious liberty and freedom of expression in certain contexts. In Groff v. DeJoy, the court sided with Gerald Groff, an evangelical Christian suing the U.S. Postal Service for religious discrimination. Groff, who observes the Sabbath, faced punishment for refusing to work on Sundays. Lower courts ruled in favor of the Postal Service, agreeing that accommodating Groff’s beliefs would cause an “undue hardship” for the employer. However, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, “it would not be enough for an employer to conclude that forcing other employees to work overtime would constitute an undue hardship. Consideration of other options, such as voluntary shift swapping, would also be necessary.” The lower courts will now decide Groff’s case under the new clarified standard.

In 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, the Court ruled 6-3 that an evangelical Christian website designer had the right to refuse service to LGBT customers under the first amendment. The Court ruled that a Colorado anti-discrimination law requiring the wedding website designer to create wedding websites for same sex couples was a violation of the designer’s right to freedom of speech. In the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote “The First Amendment’s protections belong to all, not just to speakers whose motives the government finds worthy”, continuing “In this case, Colorado seeks to force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance”. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class”.

Two other cases, Department of Education v. Brown and Biden v. Nebraska, overturned President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. While the decision on the first case concluded that the respondents lacked standing to bring a procedural claim against the program, Biden v. Nebraska ruled that the program was unconstitutional.

Once again in a 6-3 vote, the Court ruled that Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt relief to borrowers under the HEROES Act, which gives the executive branch the ability to waive or modify student loan debt terms during a national emergency, exceeded his authority. The majority opinion, written by Justice Roberts, stated that the plan was in violation of the highly subjective “major questions doctrine”, that states that any executive action not approved by Congress which the Court declares to be too “major” of a policy is unconstitutional. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan accused the court of “once again ‘substituting’ itself for Congress and the Executive Branch – and the hundreds of millions of people they represent – in making this Nation’s most important, as well as most contested, policy decisions.”

New Bill Introduced to Ensure Continuity of Exemptions to SNAP Work Requirements

On June 13, Ranking Member on the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) and Representatives Yadira Caraveo (D-Colo.) and Emilia Sykes (D-Ohio) introduced the Food Access and Stability Act. The proposed legislation would make permanent specific changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) implemented in the recent bipartisan budget deal. Though the agreement required more adults without children to work to receive SNAP benefits, it exempted veterans, unhoused people, and former foster youth from work requirements until 2030. The Food Access and Stability Act would ensure that these exemptions become permanent. In introducing the legislation, the representatives reminded the public that over 41 million people, or 1 in 8, relied on SNAP benefits last year to avoid hunger.

Appropriations Process Already Hitting Hurdles

Just a month after reaching a bipartisan deal on the outlines of next year’s federal budget, members of Congress are already nervous about the prospects of passing a full budget by the end of the year. According to the debt limit deal, Congress must pass the 12 bills that are part of the federal budget by New Year’s Eve or else trigger an automatic 1% reduction across all areas of the federal government, also called sequestration. There is even disagreement over the deadline, with some lawmakers arguing that the bills can be passed as late as April of next year. Another issue is the spending caps included in last month’s debt deal. Republican House members are marking up bills that spend $119 billion less than the targets—a symbolic protest against the debt deal, which didn’t cut spending enough in their view. The Senate, on the other hand, is preparing bills that go above the agreed-upon spending targets. How these approaches will be reconciled into a final budget package is unclear. Rumors are already swirling that each chamber will spend the summer marking up its bills, and then a handpicked team of negotiators will come together in the fall to hammer out the final deal.

Federal Judge Shoots Down Arkansas Gender-Affirming Care Ban

On June 20, a federal district court judge struck down an Arkansas gender-affirming care ban after finding the law violates the constitutional rights of transgender youth, their parents, and health care providers. A coalition made up of parents of transgender youth, as well as doctors and major medical organizations, opposed Arkansas House Bill 1570 (also known as Act 626) and sued the state (Brandt et al. v. Rutledge et al.). Act 626 was enacted by the Arkansas state legislature, overriding the previous veto by the Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2021. The bill barred state funds and insurance coverage for gender-affirming care and allowed private insurance to refuse coverage. Act 626 also prohibited health care professionals from providing “gender transition procedures” to individuals under 18. The federal district court judge found Act 626 to be unconstitutional.

Administration Rolls Out New Broadband Funding

Last week, the Biden administration announced the launch of Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD), a $42.45 billion grant program to fund high-speed internet infrastructure for each state, territory, and the District of Columbia. Each state will receive a minimum of $107 million. The funding for the program was authorized under the $1 trillion infrastructure law that President Biden passed through Congress in 2021. To receive the first 20% of the funding, states have until the end of the year to submit proposals to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on how the money will be allotted. By the end of 2025, all the funds will be dispersed. The Biden administration argues that the internet is as vital of a utility as water and gas, and all families should have access to reliable and affordable internet.

Broadband companies have hesitated to provide internet access for rural areas, as it is not a lucrative venture, even though over 8 million homes need access. During the COVID-19 shutdown, the lack of stable internet access in rural areas emphasized the crucial need for these areas of the country to have broadband access. Earlier this month, NTIA announced $930 million for 35 “middle-mile” broadband construction projects connecting large fiber and local networks. NTIA administration Alan Davidson said earlier this month, “Middle Mile infrastructure brings the capacity to our local networks and lowers the cost for deploying future local networks.”

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

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

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

New Opioid Settlement Toolkit for Community-Based Organizations

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

Hearing on Anti-Poverty Tax Provisions

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

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

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

Freedom Caucus Cedes Blockade

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

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

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

Hearing on Postsecondary Innovation

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

Key Hearing Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HHS Secretary Goes before House Committee

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

Key Hearing Takeaways

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

Gender Affirming Care Upheld by Federal Judge

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

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

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Last weekend, after weeks of negotiation, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Joe Biden agreed to a deal, in principle, regarding the debt ceiling and the federal budget. Bipartisan majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate voted in favor of the bill, which was then signed into law by President Biden on Saturday. The bill suspends the debt ceiling until 2025, after the next presidential election, in addition to freezing nonmilitary discretionary spending for fiscal year 2024 and granting a one percent increase in 2025. Both sides conceded they did not get everything they wanted, but, given the makeup of Congress and the occupant in the White House, a compromise was necessary to avert default and economic catastrophe.

Here are some of the bill’s major takeaways of interest to the social sector community:

The legislation introduces new work requirements on older recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP), or food stamps. Adults ages 50-54 without dependents will now be required to work or volunteer 80 hours per month. Previously, the work requirement was capped at age 49. The bill, however, exempts veterans, homeless people, and young adults aging out of foster care from work requirements. Though the White House claims these exemptions will result in the same amount of people being eligible for food stamps, poverty advocates say the new requirements will leave many adults worse off. The bill also incorporates stricter work participation requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

The compromise also terminates the pandemic-induced pause on student loan repayments and interest at the end of Aug., though it does not touch President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, which is currently under consideration by the Supreme Court. Additionally, it rescinds $10 of $80 billion the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) received through the Inflation Reduction Act last year, though much of that money will be repurposed to offset the cuts to nondiscretionary spending. Furthermore, the bill claws back $30 billion of unspent COVID-19 relief funds, but it does not impact the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds which many nonprofits have relied upon.

Key Hearing Takeaways: Solving the Child Care Crisis: Meeting the Needs of Working Families and Child Care Workers

On Wed., May 30, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing entitled “Solving the Child Care Crisis: Meeting the Needs of Working Families and Child Care Workers.” Although the data is incomplete, evidence suggests pandemic relief funds allowed states to stabilize child care industries and improve accessibility for families; however, discussion of extending or expanding these programs amid the federal debt negotiation was contentious.

Key Hearing Takeways

Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (D- VT) opened the hearing by calling out the nation’s “broken and dysfunctional childhood system.” He emphasized the high cost of child care, citing a survey showing 40 percent of parents in America have gone into debt to pay for it. Additionally, he highlighted the difficulty American parents face even in finding an available slot for daycare services as well as the low wages, or “starvation wages,” child care providers earn. Sanders also addressed the negative economic result of this crisis, stating there are hundreds of thousands of people, primarily women, who would like to join the workforce but cannot do so without accessible and affordable childcare. He concluded that while the American Rescue Plan was important progress, Congress needs to do more than just renew this funding; it needs a vision for the future in which every American family has access to high-quality, affordable health care and child care workers are given the wages they deserve.

Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R- LA) began by acknowledging child care in America is far too expensive for many families while disagreeing that an increase in federal funding is the appropriate solution. Cassidy centered his argument around the theme: “Don’t just do something, think,” pointing out the Government Accountability Office will not be able to report on how federal child care funding has been spent for several years, and there is still $18 billion in COVID-19 relief funds that has not yet been spent. Additionally, Cassidy reminded the committee that American parents do not want a one-size-fits-all approach to child care, as 51 percent prefer informal child care over formal. He also contends it is ironic to discuss a $600 billion “government-run institutionalized child care system” while the federal government is potentially days away from defaulting on its debt.

The first witness, Elizabeth Groginsky, New Mexico’s first Early Childhood Education and Care Department Cabinet Secretary, attested to the success of New Mexico’s use of federal funding to save the child care industry from collapse during the pandemic and create a high-quality, equitable, and affordable child care system. As one of only several states to create a cabinet secretary position and state agency for early childhood programs, New Mexico was able to stabilize the child care industry, increase employee compensation, reduce cost, and expand access. The popular program was implemented using federal pandemic relief funds, and Groginsky warned that continued federal investment is necessary to maintain the transformational gains her state achieved.

Lauren Hogan, Managing Director of Policy and Professional Advancement for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, explained the child care crisis by relating it to a deep hole in the ground surrounded by quicksand, in which parents and educators are standing on the edge, struggling to build a bridge across the chasm where public funding should be. Hogan explained child care is an example of market failure; neither families nor educators can absorb the true cost, leaving parents paying more for child care than college tuition and educators making poverty-level wages. She suggested relief funds stabilized the sand around this hole, but as these grants end, the cost will be passed to families and providers, who will be forced to increase costs, cut wages, and serve fewer children. She ended her statement by stating “The hole is deep, the quicksand is strong, and parents and educators can’t build the bridge alone. Thankfully, we know federal investments in child care work, and Congress must make them before it’s too late”.

Cheryl Morman, Family Care Provider and President of the Virginia Alliance for Family Child Care Associations, detailed the challenges of owning a family child care business and the relief provided by federal funding during the pandemic. Mormon was able to continue to provide care throughout the pandemic due to stabilization funds, with six of the eleven families in her care receiving financial assistance to subsidize care. She attested relief funding was critical to saving the child care industry, her own business included, but more is needed. For instance, she has vacant spots she could fill if she were to hire another employee, but she is not able to offer a wage that qualified employees will accept.

Carrie Lukas, President of the Independent Women’s Forum, argued American parents want choices when it comes to child care, not a “one size fits all government daycare regime,” and many Americans are satisfied with the child care arrangements they currently have. Lukas warned against day care centers operating like the K-12 system, contending that debates over curriculums, pronouns, sex-ed, and masking policies will soon be a part of American preschools if the government becomes the primary funder. Instead, Lukas believes the government should make child care more affordable by eliminating regulations not directly related to safety and quality of care and financially support families through tax relief or direct support to parents that is not conditional on whether the family pays for child care.

Kathryn Larin, Director in Education, Workforce, and Income Security in the Government Accountability Office explained what is currently known about how federal relief funds have been used by states and when more data will be available. Of the $52.5 billion allotted for pandemic relief child care funds and flexibilities, about $34.5 billion has been spent by states. Most of the funds, about $11.7 billion, were allocated through the American Rescue Plan, meaning states have until Sept. of 2024 to spend it. The rest must be spent by Sept. of 2023. There is some evidence these funds were successful at stabilizing child care industries, although state officials did face challenges in adapting their subsidy programs quickly after such a large increase in funding. Because not all the funding has been spent and because of significant lags in reporting of data, a full account of how funding was used will not be available until 2025 or 2026.

Following the witness statements, many Democrats called on Secretary Groginsky, Ms. Hogan, and Ms. Morman to affirm the need for increased federal funding for child care. Secretary Groginsky reemphasized the popularity and success of New Mexico’s program. She also expanded on details of the program and clarified families now have more choices than ever, and there is not a “one size fits all” approach as was suggested by Ms. Lukas and several Republican Senators. Ms. Hogan emphasized the need for federal funding to assist parents and educators and explained the failure of the market that necessitates such intervention. Ms. Morman expressed the importance of access to home-based care for all Americans, particularly families in rural areas, low-income families, and families of color.

Several Republican Senators called on Ms. Lukas, who expressed concern about federal funding, pointing to the cost of government programs and threats to religious education, as well as worries that preschools will function similarly to the K-12 system and that parents will be disincentivized from staying at home with their children. The discussion of curriculum was raised by Republican Senator Mullin, who read passages from a book entitled Our Skin: A First Conversation on Race and a lyric from the song “Jesus loves the Little Children,” and asked several of the witnesses which was better to teach. Senator Cassidy also raised concerns about curriculum, asking Ms. Hogan if she formally recommends educators tell parents about the content of material introducing children to the concept of “transgenderism.”

Amidst contentious partisan debate, including several interruptions of Senators and witnesses as well as Senator Mullin stating he is baffled Senator Sanders was chosen as the Committee Chair as a “self-proclaimed socialist,” Alaskan Republican Senator Murkowski seemed to agree federal funding was necessary to increase access to child care. Murkowski pointed out the lack of access to child care was not simply a workforce issue, but a military readiness issue as well, explaining the Coast Guard informed her they are struggling to remain in Alaskan communities without child care.

Senator Sanders concluded the hearing by reiterating the points from his opening statement, saying “I don’t think it’s too much to ask that in the richest country in the history of the world, all of our children, no matter where they live, no matter what their background is, get the quality child care and early childhood education they need in order to flourish later in life. I don’t think that’s a radical, socialistic, if you like, statement. I think that’s something that the vast majority of the American people believe in.”

Momnibus Bill Introduced

On Mother’s Day, May 15, Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), Alma Adams (D-NC), and Sen.Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2023, the most comprehensive legislation to tackle the appallingly high rate of maternal mortality in the United States. The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world, and the rate has increased by 89% in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Momnibus Act would commit over one billion dollars to ensure all mothers have the support and resources they need to be safe and healthy. Among other things, the legislation would address the social determinants of health that affect maternal health outcomes, including housing and transportation. It would also make the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) accessible during the postpartum and breastfeeding periods. Community based organizations that work with mothers would obtain new funding, and the perinatal workforce would receive funds to grow and diversify. Finally, the bill would put more emphasis on data collection and quality to ensure informed decision making and policy in the future. 181 members of the House of Representatives have endorsed the bill, as well as 200 organizations.

New Federal Housing Initiative Announced

On May 18, the Biden-Harris administration announced the launch of ALL INside, an initiative of All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, with the goal to decrease homelessness by 25 percent by 2025. The ALL INside initiative will coordinate efforts between the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, its 19 federal member agencies as well as state and local governments, including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix Metro, Seattle, and the state of California. The initiative will send one federal official to each community to ensure coordination with local officials on federal programs as well as to identify regulatory flexibilities and advance best practices. ALL INside will leverage Medicaid housing support and behavioral health care, as well as rental assistance and housing programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It will also engage other agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Labor to speed the transition to permanent housing and provide wrap-around services. ALL INside builds upon the administration’s past efforts to tackle homelessness, including the historic investments made in the American Rescue Plan.

New Study Shows the Futility of TANF Work Requirements

A new study from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University shows that strengthening work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program – one of the key pillars of the budget deal reached this week – could cost society up to $30 billion per year, rather than reduce the budget. In the negotiations, the House GOP caucus, led by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), pushed to decrease the debt by enforcing stricter work requirements in numerous federal benefits programs, including TANF, Medicaid, and food stamps. The study illustrates, however, that the TANF work requirements could lead to loss of benefits, which in the short and long-term carry immense social costs. Specifically, each dollar lost in TANF benefits translates into eight dollars in societal costs per year, in the form of increased spending on children’s health and child protective services, as well as decreased tax receipts from children’s future earnings. The exact number of families that will lose access to TANF is unclear at this point; however, the study offers numerous estimates. If 25 percent of families lose monthly TANF cash benefits, the economic and social costs could amount to $7.4 billion per year; if 50 percent lose benefits, the cost could equal $15 billion per year. At worst, the cost could rise to $29.6 billion per year if states cut TANF benefits to all families over strict work requirements.

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