The House has passed a new coronavirus bill, but the Senate has yet to take it up. The House bill has important provisions, but also leaves out some programs critical to children. The House and Senate are also moving along the regular appropriations process.
Fiscal year 2021 is the last year with spending caps. While the caps for FY 2021 were raised when the FY 2020 caps were raised, they are still very tight. Reports are that House and Senate appropriators have shown growing support for exempting Veterans Administration Mission Act spending from the spending caps (presumably as emergency spending), and according to Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL), President Trump accepts this approach. Exempting this from the nondefense discretionary caps would free up about $12.5 billion in spending for other programs in FY21. Under the current caps, total nondefense discretionary spending only would increase $2.5 billion, or 0.5 percent, over FY20, so adding another $12.5 billion would allow average increases of about 3 percent.
Senator Shelby has said he expects to send subcommittee chairs their spending allocations before the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess and that markups could begin the third week of June. The House Appropriations Committee has not set a timeline for when it will begin marking up its bills. However, the panel is unlikely to begin until after a new COVID aid package is agreed to.
While advocates are appropriately focusing most of their federal efforts on the COVID bills, it’s important to also ask your delegations to maximize regular appropriations spending for children, and in particular ask them to treat any spending related to COVID or recession costs as emergency spending not subject to the caps. Children’s programs are not getting the attention they deserve in the COVID response, so it’s even more important to get them support in regular appropriations.
The House COVID Bill
The House passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion coronavirus response bill. Below is an initial analysis of it. It has over 1800 pages, and I’m quite certain that the description below does not capture everything that will matter for children. This bill will be the starting point for negotiations with the Senate. So it’s important to both support strongly what you like and speak out about the gaps.
The House also passed legislation allowing it to vote remotely during the emergency. This means that they can pass future bills without unanimous consent or returning to vote. This strengthens the House leadership’s hand in negotiations if there is a second wave of the epidemic and Senators want to go home.
Since House members are mostly working from home, some Partnership members have found that they can get more lengthy (remote) meetings directly with members during this period and have set up meetings where they brought in affected constituents or key state officials.
The Senate and COVID
For now, the Senate is not publicly discussing possible coronavirus legislation and the official Republican leadership position is that they want to see how the first four bills work before tackling any more. In the meantime, the Senate is moving nominations. They are going to be in their home districts next week (the week of Memorial Day) and then plan to return to DC.
If the Senate remains in DC, passage of any Senate bill will require 60 votes, which means either a negotiated bipartisan bill (like the prior four), or a bill that at least 13 Democrats can support over their leadership’s objection. So far, Democrats have worked together and have not been willing to support a Republican bill without the Democratic leadership participation.
If there is a second wave of COVID 19, or if enough Senators get sick, and the Senate goes on recess in their home districts, any bill will require unanimous consent.
Thus, it makes sense to reach out to every member of the Senate about your priorities. Moderate Republicans are important. Senators who are up for reelection in close races are particularly important targets since Senator McConnell probably wants to save the Republican majority. Chairs of relevant committees are also worth targeting, and perhaps Senators in presidential election swing states. However, nothing remotely approaching regular order is in place. So any effort to get children what they need is about what Senators can get into a bill via negotiations as a condition of their support for the bill, not about supporting amendments on the floor.
While the Republican leadership is waiting to act, a number of developments should be putting pressure on them to move now. The chair of the Federal Reserve just said that the U.S. economy could become stuck in a painful multi-year recession if Congress and the White House do not authorize more aid to address the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout. States and localities are releasing new budget estimates showing devastating revenue losses and starting to lay off public employees needed during the pandemic. In addition, pretty much every industry is lobbying the Senate for protections.
There are a number of new surveys out showing how devastating the epidemic and recession are to families. The Census Household Pulse Survey just released the first two weeks of results. The Data Foundation has released two waves of its survey. The Brookings institute released a study showing that two in five households of mothers with children under 12 experienced food insecurity in April, and one in five households the children themselves were experiencing food insecurity (parents usually reduce their food consumption to protect children, so this means the food insecurity was severe enough that the children were directly affected). Feeding America reports that demand for food bank services is up significantly and that one in two children could experience food insecurity. The NAACP has released a poll showing the impact on black families. Two other surveys tracking somewhat different impacts are the Opportunity Insights Economic Recovery and the Understanding America Study.
You may want to urge all your Senators to tell the Republican leadership that they must act now, using this data to show how urgent the problems are; you may also want to tell your Senators about any current or threatened layoffs in your state of public employees that are essential workers due to budget shortfalls.
Advocates are being asked over next week’s recess to produce letters to the editor (or op-eds if you can place them quickly) and “grass-tops touches”-that is, ask key people in your state to reach out to the Senators to ask them to support state and local budgets and children’s programs, and ask them to pass legislation quickly.
What Is In The House Bill
The House Bill has a number of important provisions, described below. However, it is weak on some key children’s issues.
o It has only $50 million for Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) for youth aging out of care. Advocates were seeking $500 million. Advocates were also seeking extending aftercare services to age 23, a moratorium on discharges, and a moratorium on participation requirements for work and school; these provisions are included.
o It has only $20 million for Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) Title I Grants to States and $20 million for CAPTA)Title II – Community Based Child Abuse Prevention Grants; advocates were seeking $1 billion for each.
o It does extend the increase in federal share of Medicaid to IV-E for foster care and adoption
The bill includes increased benefits for individuals and families, increased supports for state budgets and programs, and critical funding for democracy in the form of election, post office, and census funding.
Benefits for Individuals and Families
Hero’s Fund: It includes $200 billion for hazard pay for essential workers. This is apparently a priority for Senator Schumer. Employers would be able to apply for grants of up to $10,000 per essential worker.
Stimulus payments: The bill provides a second round of direct payments to households, with payments that pay the same amount for children as adults ($1,200 per member, with up to $6,000 per household). The bill also extends both these new payments and the stimulus payments authorized in the CARES Act to immigrants that filed their taxes using Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) filers and their family members, which includes millions of citizen children.
Unemployment Benefits: The bill extends the weekly federal $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplement to state and federal unemployment benefits authorized in the CARES Act through January 2021. The payments currently expire on July 31, 2020. The bill also requires federal, state, and local programs that receive any federal funding to disregard FPUC when calculating income in determining eligibility for benefits or assistance, and to exclude it from resource limits for nine months following receipt.
Paid sick and family leave: The bill expands the paid sick days and paid family and medical leave provisions established in the earlier Families First Coronavirus Response Act by remedying carve-outs that excluded millions of workers. It also strengthens OSHA standards to protect workers.
Access to health care: The bill:
Housing Assistance: The bill provides $175 billion in new funding to assist renters and homeowners with rent, mortgage, utility payments, and other housing-related costs.
Nutrition: The Act has several provisions to help feed families. It would strengthen SNAP by:
The bill would expand some really valuable child nutrition provisions. It would extend the Pandemic EBT program through fiscal 2021. P-EBT already lets states give out SNAP benefits for each child missing free or reduced price school meals. The time extension in this bill would ensure states could do this if schools have to be closed again next year. The bill also extends this program to children who would have been fed through CACFP and requires states to make it available to children who are newly eligible for these meals because of reduced family income. I think it also continues P-EBT through the summer, and recipients can both participate in it and get food at grab and go sites.
It would provide an additional $1.1 billion to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) program.
Additional nutrition provisions are described here: https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/FRACs-Analysis-of-House-C4-HEROES-Act.pdf
Other Direct Income Support: The bill expands the EITC, CTC, and CDCTC for a year. It doesn’t include new TANF funds but does relax some participation requirements.
Funds for State and Local Governments
Increasing the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage: It increases the federal share of Medicaid costs by 14 percentage points and making it effective July 2020 through June 2021. This protects people’s access to Medicaid and provides a critical infusion of funding for states.
Grants for States and Localities: it provides $540 billion for states and $375 billion for localities to protect the jobs of public employees. This would go a long way to closing state budget gaps created by reduced state tax revenues, but would not completely close the gaps.
Details on these funds are here and state by state allocations are here. The Center on Budget has also calculated how much states would receive using somewhat different assumptions about unemployment.
Social Services Block Grant: It includes $9.6 billion for emergency aid and services to disadvantaged children, families, and households through the SSBG.
Education Funding: It includes$100 billion, of which $90 billion is for k-12 and $10 billion for higher education
Juvenile Justice: It includes a new $600 million justice grant program that would provide states and localities with funding to support correctional facility releases at the state and local level (including pre-trial) and support reentry during the COVID-19 emergency, including $75 million for juveniles and $25 million for COVID-19 testing in facilities.
Home Visiting Programs: It includes $100 million, and flexibility in the services they can provide and allowing them to provide them remotely.
The bill has $3.6 billion in funding to make elections safe during a pandemic, with no state match requirement. It authorizes remote swearing in of new citizens, which will make them citizens in time to vote in November.
It has $25 billion to save the Post Office, which will run out of funds in September.
It has $400 million for the Census Bureau, extends the legislative deadlines for the Decennial Census by four months, and imposes monthly oversight hearings.
It also has a provision that would stop the Bureau from releasing a file of adult citizens, based on data collected by the Census Bureau from administrative sources, that states could use to redistrict based only on adult citizens, not all residents. This is unconstitutional at the federal level, but state laws would determine whether it could be used for redistricting state and local bodies (and of course a court challenge to an unconstitutional use of the data for the House of Representatives could fail). This would harm political power for communities with lots of immigrants and is generally believed to benefit Republicans, so this provision is likely to be fiercely contested.
Partnership for America’s Children