Last week, negotiations on pandemic-related relief between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the administration resumed. The House of Representatives voted on a revised version of its HEROES Act last Thursday, which they first passed in May. The bill passed with a margin of 214-207, largely along partisan lines. The revised bill has a price tag of $2.2 trillion, as opposed to $3.4 trillion in the original bill. The revised HEROES Act includes many important provisions that would support community-based human services organizations and their communities. For example, it includes a $57 billion investment in child care, significant funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, education funding, $9.6 billion for the Social Services Block Grant, opening the Paycheck Protection Program to nonprofits of all sizes, and more. However, the bill still lacks support from the Senate and the White House. Last week, Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin counter offered a $1.6 trillion package on behalf of the administration. The two parties remain far apart on priorities, and it remains to be seen as to whether an agreement can be reached before the election.
Deal Reached on Continuing Resolution, Funding Government Until Dec. 11
The House of Representatives, Senate, and White House passed a continuing resolution extending current federal spending levels until Dec. 11 and increasing spending for some key programs. The continuing resolution averted a potential government shutdown, which would have added even more chaos in the weeks leading up to the November election. The deal included an $8 billion increase in nutrition support including the extension of waivers within the SNAP program, school lunch programs, and WIC. These dollars will go a long way toward addressing the rising hunger crisis. These provisions were attained by replenishing the Commodity Credit Corporation.
USDA Extends WIC Flexibilities
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that pandemic-related flexibilities for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program will be extended until the end of the National Public Health Emergency. WIC provides new and expectant mothers, infants, and children under five with foundational nutrition and health assistance including healthy food, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals for low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women. The USDA signed off on more than a dozen flexibilities including allowing participants to enroll in the program virtually, receive benefits remotely, and pick up food packages. Without action, these flexibilities would have expired at the end of September.
Administration Reinstates Public Charge Rule
The Public Charge rule, which was originally approved in 2019, was temporarily halted in July, after a federal judge found that it would undermine COVID-19 recovery efforts, only to be reinstated by the Trump administration in late September. The rule gives U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) the power to deny permanent residency to green card applicants who have participated, or are likely to participate, in social welfare programs including food stamps and Medicaid. In July, Judge George Daniels froze the rule because he thought it would dissuade immigrants from seeking public benefits, like Medicaid, and thereby undermine efforts to fight the coronavirus. On Sept. 22, however, the Trump administration reinstated the rule, after a series of court decisions weakened Daniels’ ruling. USCIS will now implement the public charge test to all pending and future green card applications submitted after Feb. 24, 2020.
Congressional Budget Office Releases Report on COVID-19 Legislation
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report detailing the effects of COVID-19 legislation on gross domestic product (GDP) and the deficit, in the short and long term. The report focuses on the impact of several provisions including the Paycheck Protection Program, enhanced unemployment benefits, one-time stimulus payments, and aid to state and local governments. According to the report, COVID-19 legislation will add $2.3 trillion to the debt in 2020 and $0.6 trillion in 2021. It will also increase GDP by 4.7 percent in 2020 and 3.1 percent in 2021. From 2020 until 2023, each dollar added to the deficit increases GDP by 59 cents. In the long term, this legislation will increase debt as a percentage of GDP, raise borrowing costs, decrease economic output, and reduce national income.
States Distributing Coronavirus Relief Funds
In the CARES Act, passed in late March, Congress allotted $150 billion for a Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) for states and localities. The funds were to be used to cover costs that arose due to the COVID-19 epidemic, including economic and public health costs, until Dec. 30, 2020. Though initially ambiguous, subsequent guidance from the Treasury Department clearly stated that funds can be directed to nonprofits to assist in the recovery. States have begun to signal how they plan to spend their CRF dollars. Some are putting aside funds for food delivery, distance learning, and caring for homeless populations—services that nonprofits naturally offer. Other states are offering financial relief to businesses and nonprofits. Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures website to see how your state is using CRF dollars.
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