Last Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) marked up and passed the bipartisan Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment (CAPTA) Reauthorization Act of 2021 out of committee. This bill will now move to the full Senate for consideration. A similar bill passed earlier this year in the House of Representatives.

Each year, at least one in seven children experience child abuse or neglect, and in 2019 alone, more than 1,800 children died in the U.S. due to abuse and neglect. The pandemic has further exacerbated stressors and conditions that families experience including isolation and economic insecurity.

Alliance-COA has made CAPTA reauthorization a longtime policy priority, working with lawmakers to target more resources to the front end of the system, with a focus on primary prevention, and to provide more support for families and for prevention of child abuse and neglect. Over the last two years, our advocacy team and Within Our Reach Office have provided recommendations for policymakers on improvements to the law. Through collective advocacy efforts, we secured several key wins in this legislation. First, the bill takes a public health, trauma-informed approach to improve the child protective services system. Second, it focuses on expanding access to community prevention and family strengthening services. This legislation improves data collection to better understand the nature and scope of child abuse and neglect and enhances data-sharing between agencies. The bill also addresses equity issues by reducing bias in the child protection system and reducing unnecessary investigations of families based solely on circumstances related to poverty or housing status. Finally, the legislation significantly increases authorization levels to around $600 million, driving more resources toward primary prevention than ever before.

Read the Alliance-COA statement on the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2021. 

USDA Releases Memo on Emergency Broadband Benefit for School Districts

The Food and Nutrition Service released a memo on the new Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) that will help school districts assist students and families access internet service during the pandemic. The EBB, created through the American Rescue Plan Act, offers qualifying families a monthly discount of $50 for broadband service and a one-time discount of $100 for a laptop, desktop, or tablet. The memo states that any child is eligible if they participate in the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program in either the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school years. Additionally, households qualify if they live at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or at least one member of the household received a Federal Pell Grant this year; is enrolled in Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit; or experienced significant income loss during the pandemic and the household’s total income is below $99,000 for single filers ($198,000 for married couples). Families can find participating service providers online. The memo also includes an outreach toolkit and additional resources that school districts and community-based organizations can use to overcome language barriers and program enrollment hesitancy in local communities.

Infrastructure Negotiations Hit Snag, then Reboot

Last week, President Biden ended negotiations on infrastructure with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), the lead negotiator for Senate Republicans. Over the course of four weeks, the president came down to $1 trillion after an initial offer of over $2 trillion in new spending on infrastructure, while Capito increased her initial offer of $257 billion by $50 billion. In the end, the negotiations could not overcome the wide gulf between the two spending proposals, mechanisms to pay for the proposals, and the parties’ different definitions of infrastructure.

The attention now turns to the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of moderate senators. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) lead the way. They propose $762 billion in new spending over eight years, in addition to $487 billion in baseline spending. The proposal would include $959 billion for transportation, including $518 billion for highways and roads; $64 billion for bridges; $155 billion for transit; $25 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure; $120 billion for Amtrak passenger rail; $41 billion for airports; and $25 billion for waterways and ports.

At the same time, progressive democrats are pushing to pass a much larger infrastructure bill through a process called reconciliation, which requires only democratic votes in the Senate. Progressives anticipate that the second round of negotiations are likely to falter as well, with all parties far away on how to pay for these provisions. Debate around raising corporate taxes to pay for any infrastructure bill is still controversial with Republicans, and the White House rejects the idea of paying for it through user fees or repurposed funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Source: Bloomberg News

Hearing on Universal Housing Vouchers

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Financial Services, chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), held the hearing, “Universal Vouchers: Ending Homelessness and Expanding Economic Opportunity in America.” It featured experts from major think tanks, including the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, the Urban Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute. The hearing explored the idea of universal housing vouchers as a policy response to the rising challenge of homelessness, particularly during the pandemic. Housing vouchers allow eligible individuals or families to pay only 30% of their income toward rent, with the remainder of the rent paid to the landlord with a federal voucher. Currently, only one in five eligible households receive vouchers. Universal vouchers would make housing vouchers available to everyone who is eligible, much like an entitlement program, such as Medicaid or SNAP. The Urban Institute projects that such a program would cover an additional 8.2 million households and cost an additional $62 billion per year. In his remarks, ranking member Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) strongly opposed the cost of universal vouchers and stated that the program would further increase demand, forcing rental prices even higher.

Behavioral Health HHS Appointee Slated for Likely Senate Approval

Last week, Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, nominee for assistant secretary of mental health and substance use appeared in a nomination hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The hearing went relatively smoothly, and many expect her to move through the confirmation process with little trouble. There were many questions related to the opioid crisis and how she would address it.

Delphin-Rittmon currently serves as associate professor adjunct of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. If confirmed, she would lead the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  She has held several key positions at the state and national levels. She previously served under the Obama administration as a senior policy advisor to the administrator of SAMHSA, working on health equity, workforce development, behavioral health, and health care reform. In her role in Connecticut, she has expanded treatment options for people with opioid use disorders, utilizing federal and state funds to expand access to services and medication assisted treatments.

Source: Yale School of Medicine

House Homeland Security Committee Hearing on Unaccompanied Children at the Border

On Thursday, the House Committee on Homeland Security conducted the hearing, “Unaccompanied Children at the Border: Federal Response and the Way Forward.” Following on the heels of another hearing in April with nongovernmental partners, last week’s hearing featured representatives from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of State, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Over the last several months, tens of thousands of children, escaping violence and economic devastation in their home countries, have undergone a perilous and dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border to apply for asylum. Presenters stated that the Biden administration has worked with border officials to ensure children are humanely and legally processed and provided resources and support in Department of Health and Human Services facilities before they are reunited with their families. In addition, the White House is taking action to help Central American countries recover from the pandemic and create safe and prosperous conditions for their citizens over the long term.

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