On Monday, President Trump released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, which called for steep non-defense spending cuts (by 5 percent of the fiscal year 2019 cap level), as well as $8.6 billion for border wall fencing. It also requested a $1.1 billion cut to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. This includes a proposed elimination of the TANF Contingency Fund, a set-aside that allows states to draw down money during economic downturns. It also proposed converting Medicaid to a block grant system. The budget suggested an increase of $25 million to combat the opioid epidemic and $2.1 billion in new funds for health center programs and public health research. The Department of Health and Human Services budget included $456 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next decade, which would come from changes in how hospitals are paid by Medicare. Further, the budget recommended compete elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program. 

White House Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought testified before the House Budget Committee this week. Some members of the committee criticized the economic growth forecast and potential fiscal impact of the tax law put in place last year. Some members asked pointed questions about the defense budget and proposed cuts to school breakfast and lunch programs of nearly $1.7 billion over 10 years through restrictions around eligibility. Both Republican and Democratic representatives have expressed concerns over the level of cuts proposed to all these programs.

A president’s budget is always more of a suggestion or recommendation, as Congress ultimately determines final budget levels. Many Members of Congress spoke out against the budget this week, calling it “dead on arrival.”

Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Passes House Judiciary Committee

The House Judiciary Committee passed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a domestic violence federal grant program. Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that the house will vote on the bill the first week of April. The Violence Against Women Act expired Dec. 22, 2018, and reauthorization would continue the grant program.

Source: Bloomberg Government

Supporting Working Families Hearing 

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker & Family Support held a hearing last Thursday on leveling the playing field for working families. In the Subcommittee, Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) gave an opening statement, saying that the lack of affordable child care and paid leave is a problem that all Americans face. The chairman pointed out that barriers to work specifically harm poor communities by trapping them in poverty. He also mentioned the National Academy of Science’s child poverty report and said that Congress had the power to remove barriers for working families. 

Veterans Mental Health and Homelessness Hearing 

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies held a hearing on how to better support veterans with mental health care issues. Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) stated that, on average, 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Six out of those 20 veterans are recent users of VA services, meaning the 14 remaining veterans never received care from the VA. The chairwoman called for Congress to find better ways to support veterans. By providing more comprehensive mental health services to veterans she hopes to get to the root problem causing veterans to be homeless. 

House Hearing on Affordable Housing 

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies held a hearing to discuss the production of affordable housing. Studies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development have shown that more families are struggling to pay rent. Many of the people affected by this crisis are older adults, the disabled, low-income families with children, and veterans. Chairman David Price (D-N.C.) said that federal funding for housing has been limited, eliminating many categories of funding for affordable housing. 

Income Verification Act

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.) introduced identical bills this past week that aim to reduce the occurrence of fraud in government assistance programs. These bills would require states to use federal tax information to verify income eligibility when determining benefits for programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office conducted a random sample study last year and found that 82 out of 100 Medicaid recipients did not financially qualify to receive benefits. The Income Verification Act has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance, and the House Committee on Ways and Means.

College Admissions Fraud Scandal

On Tuesday, the FBI revealed an admissions bribery scandal involving some of the nation’s most prestigious and elite universities. They discovered that 12 wealthy and famous parents helped get their children accepted by financially bribing the university. Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, and Mossimo Giannulli are just a few of the parents who have already been indicted. The investigation will continue, with potentially more parents and students being charged. Schools that are currently wrapped up in the scandal include Georgetown, USC, and Yale. Read more.

Azar on Family Separation

This week Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar testified before Congress on the President’s fiscal year 2020 Budget proposal. During his testimony, he told the committee that he learned about the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy on border crossings through media reports. He claimed he was not consulted, but if he were asked, he would have raised significant child welfare issues. He also said he was not aware that Commander Jonathan White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corps was raising concerns inside HHS about the policy and influx of migrant children. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) called Secretary Azar’s testimony “really shocking.”

Source: Children’s Budget Coalition

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