Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill Advances in the House of Representatives

Several weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee marked up its fiscal year 2022 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. This represents the first big step in the process of drafting the annual budget for fiscal year 2022. The proposed bill includes increased funding for childcare and early childhood education, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), Community Services Block Grants, employment and training services, and more. It also includes a new policy that would limit funds from being used to house unaccompanied children in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody that are not in compliance with the Flores settlement. It also prohibits funds from being awarded to foster care organizations that do not comply with nondiscrimination regulations. This bill now awaits action by the full House of Representatives. The Senate has not marked up their version of the bill yet.

Senate Fights Over Infrastructure and Debt Limit

After a slight hiccup last week, the bipartisan infrastructure bill appears to be back on track and ready for debate on the Senate floor. More than a month after President Joe Biden stood in front of the White House with a group of bipartisan senators to announce an agreement on $579 billion in new physical infrastructure spending, negotiations stumbled when Republicans stated that they would not support a hike in funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – a provision in the initial agreement that would’ve partly funded the bill through higher tax collections. At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) forced a procedural vote on Wednesday in an effort to keep negotiations on time, a step that Republicans voted down. Later in the week, bipartisan negotiators focused on a Medicare rule as another pay-for in place of beefing up IRS tax collections. The rule, conceived but not implemented under former President Donald Trump, would’ve eliminated some Medicare drug rebates. The bipartisan group has floated the idea to further delay the rule, which would reduce Medicare expenditures and free up funding for the infrastructure bill. The bill is expected to be voted on early this week.

Simultaneously, senators on both sides of the aisle are participating in a larger debate over the country’s debt limit, which dictates how much debt the federal government can take on cumulatively from year to year. Currently, the debt limit is suspended. The suspension will expire on August 1, though Treasury officials say the deadline can be pushed back to October or November. Democrats want Republicans to agree to another suspension or a specific increase to the debt limit. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that he strongly believes no Republican will agree to either option. Without Republican support, Democrats would have to suspend or raise the debt limit through reconciliation, a budgetary procedure that can be passed with only Democratic votes. House Budget Chair John Yarmuth, however, doubts that a suspension could pass through the reconciliation process.  

Source: Bloomberg News

Slow Disbursement of Federal Rental Assistance

The federal government set aside $47 billion in rental assistance in two pieces of legislation since December, and barely any of it has been disbursed to individuals and families who are behind on rent, in some cases by over a year. Only 12% of the first round of money – $25 billion – has been distributed, according to data from the Treasury Department released last Wednesday. Excessive paperwork, ever-changing rules and regulations, and overburdened application systems are causing massive hang-ups. Excessive negotiations at the state level over the use of funds have delayed disbursement in some states like New York, which has not disbursed any rental assistance funds. The national eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of the month. Though many states and localities have their own moratoriums that extend past the federal deadline, many households will be in danger of ending up in eviction court.

Source: Bloomberg

Healthy Families Act Calls for Paid Sick Days

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2465) which would give workers in businesses with 15 or more employers the ability to accrue up to seven days of sick leave per year – or one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work. These days would allow workers to access preventative care, recover from illnesses, or provide care for a sick family member. The bill would also allow survivors of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault to use sick days to recover or seek assistance. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, 30 million workers, or 25% of the private sector workforce, do not have access to paid sick days. This bill is projected to prevent emergency rooms visits and save $1.1 billion annually, including $517 million in public health insurance savings. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor for consideration.

Source: National Partnership for Women and Families

Equity Bills Move Forward in the House of Representatives

The House Committee on Education and Labor voted four bills out of committee that, if passed by the House, would assist survivors of domestic violence, shield job applicants from age discrimination, desegregate schools, and increase anti-discrimination efforts in schools. The Family Violence and Prevention Services Improvement Act would fully fund domestic violence shelters, increase prevention efforts, and target resources to key populations. The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act would lower the standard for proving age discrimination by only requiring individuals to demonstrate that age discrimination was one of multiple motivating factors, rather than the only one. The Strength in Diversity Act provides grants to school districts to study and develop evidence-based plans and establish desegregation policies, such as school choice zones and open enrollment processes. Finally, the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act would allow students and parents to take schools to court for claims of disparate impact – a power that, since 2001, could only be exercised by the federal government.