On Sept. 16, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, unveiled proposals for legislation entitled the “Job Creation and Tax Cuts Act.” The measure was introduced as a substitute amendment to H.R. 4849, a package of small-business and job creation provisions passed by the House last March. The Baucus proposals would provide funding for a number of programs, including expiring provisions of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant program. The proposed legislation would provide a continuation of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund through fiscal year 2011 with an additional $1.5 billion, which would start Oct. 1, 2010. The bill would also put $293 million into the regular TANF contingency fund for FY 2011. In addition to addressing both of the emergency recessionary funds for TANF, the bill would extend the TANF block grant for another year as well as provide an additional year extension for the TANF supplemental grants that 17 states receive.
The measure would include support for 350,000 jobs for youth age 14 to 24 through funding to Workforce Investment Boards, and extend the federal match for child support enforcement incentive funds reinvested into the IV-D program. It is uncertain that the substitute amendment can move forward in the Senate due to a lack of bipartisan support and the floor time being devoted to other pieces of priority legislation such as the Defense Appropriations bill.
Also this week, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) urged his colleagues to support continuation of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund through FY 2011. Kerry sent a “dear colleague” letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Max Baucus with the request, which has been signed by an additional 30 senators. The letter implores Senate leadership to include the TANF ECF language as soon as possible in upcoming legislative business. Kerry said, “It’ s inconceivable to pull the rug out from under the same families who have been devastated by this recession. It makes no sense to shred a program that’ s been creating jobs and helping low-income parents make ends meet for the last two years.” The letter is available at http://kerry.senate.gov/press/release/?id=88fd15a0-720c-43a9-9393-1c2a0c577f65.
On Sept. 16, the Senate voted 61-38 to pass H.R. 5297, the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010. This bill establishes a $30 billion lending fund for small banks to lend to small businesses in an effort to create jobs. Also in the bill is approximately $12 billion in tax credits to small businesses. The House is expected to quickly approve the Senate version early next week.
On Sept. 14, the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) to repeal a tax reporting rule in the new health care law that he argued would burden small businesses. The new reporting rule was inserted in the health care bill to help ensure tax compliance and raise revenue to help pay for health care reform. The rule requires businesses to file 1099 tax forms for all transactions that add up to $600 or more per vendor per year. Had the Senate approved the Johanns amendment, it would have cut $11 billion in funding for wellness and prevention programs to help offset the loss of an estimated $17 billion in transaction taxes. After the Johanns proposal failed on a 46-52 vote, another amendment to reduce and limit the transaction reporting requirement was blocked by a Republican filibuster. A cloture motion to consider the amendment offered by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) fell four votes short on a 56-42 count. No Republican senators voted for the cloture motion to consider Nelson’ s proposal to raise the reporting threshold requirement from $600 to $5,000 and exempt firms with 25 or fewer employees. The tax reporting procedure is “a senseless obstacle” to job creation, Johanns said. Opponents of the Johanns amendment characterized it as the first Republican effort to delay and defund health care reform.
On Sept. 16, the Census Bureau released a report, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009. The report documents that the poverty rate increased for the third consecutive year to 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million persons, while the median income was not statistically different than in 2008. The report also noted that persons without health insurance coverage rose to 50.7 million, or 16.7 percent of the population, from 15.4 percent. The Census Bureau found that this number increased mainly due to private employers no longer offering health coverage to employees.
Reactions to the report included an annual panel discussion at the Brookings Institution on the same day. Ron Haskins of Brookings moderated the panel. Rebecca Blank, the undersecretary for economic affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce, gave opening remarks. Panel participants included Nicholas Eberstadt from American Enterprise Institute; Wade Horn, director at Deloitte Consulting LLP; Avis Jones-DeWeever, executive director, National Council of Negro Women; and LaDonna Pavetti, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Panelists discussed several subjects, including the role of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund in providing subsidized employment; the continued extension of unemployment benefits; and the various benefits provided by the American Recovery and Recovery Act. The Census Bureau report and additional information are available at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/poverty.html.
Also on Sept. 16, the Economic Policy Institute sponsored a conference call titled, “Economists Analyze 2009 Census Data on Income, Poverty, and Health Care.” The conference was led by Elise Gould, director of health policy research for the Economic Policy Institute; Heidi Shierholz, an economist from the institute; and Lawrence F. Katz, professor of economics at Harvard University. They said the new data provided the most detailed look to date of the human cost and great severity of the recession. The three discussed how the Census numbers show that the country is experiencing a tepid recovery, nearly a decade of decline in income for the typical American household, and a substantial increase in poverty, particularly for children and working-age families. They also said that without ARRA, the statistics could have been much worse. The three pointed to the deterioration in the labor market, the steep rise in child poverty, and the rapidly increasing number of people who are uninsured, largely due to declining rates in employer-sponsor coverage. Finally, Shierholz noted that the county has not yet seen the full effects of ARRA or the provisions in health reform.
On Sept. 15, more than 40 APHSA local agency members participated in the first of a series of health care reform calls for local agencies. Rick Fenton, APHSA’ s acting director of Health Services, provided background information on health care reform issues that concern state and local government agencies. He discussed Medicaid program changes under the health care reform legislation, including Medicaid expansion, eligibility, income calculation, private insurance reforms, and establishment of exchanges. Fenton also discussed potential issues and potential positive changes to state and local programs, including new Medicaid coverage for low-income persons such as those currently served in some state-only programs. Local agency participants asked questions about the kind of flexibility they are given in terms of implementing the provisions of health care reform. Like their state counterparts, they seek guidance on regulation from the federal level. Among the questions asked were the role of public health in health reform, the lack of voice on the matter of behavioral health, and the vagueness surrounding the coordination of a simplified eligibility system in regards to Medicaid. One county director expressed concern about continuity in administrative and program knowledge in light of the more than three dozen states that may be facing gubernatorial turnovers but which may not affect local agencies.
Felton said members of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, an APHSA affiliate, have been collaborating with affiliates to work with state health directors and assist them with plans and implementation of health reform. He also said APHSA will provide periodic e-mail updates on health care reform materials to local agencies.
On August 31, the Office of Family Assistance released an information memorandum, TANF-ACF-IM-2010-02, on reducing TANF Improper Payments. The IM is part of the Obama administration’ s efforts to reduce improper payments while maintaining program access, and its stated purpose is to provide guidance to states on best practices for reduction of improper payments. Suggestions in the memo include: local office quality control reviews; making payment accuracy and proper case documentation part of the employee review process; developing a reminder system for critical case follow-up actions; creating a process to recoup TANF overpayments from applicable recipients; training intake workers and case managers on investigative interviewing; participating in the Public Assistance Reporting Information System, which can find duplicate cases in other states or territories; and using information available through the National Directory of New Hires. The IM notes that NDNH information has helped states identify previously unknown employment, assisting in determining benefit accuracy and has uncovered identity theft. The IM is available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/policy/im-ofa/2010/im201002/im201002.html.
The Children’ s Bureau has posted updated Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System data (Oct. 1, 2008–Sept. 30, 2009) on its web site. The site includes trends in foster care and adoption from FY 2002 through FY 2009; state-specific foster care statistics that review foster care entries and exits; and numbers of children based on state data submitted before July 2010. FY 2009 AFCARS data show that there were approximately 423,000 children in care, compared with 463,000 in FY 2008. In addition to the reduction of the number of children in care, foster care entries have moderately decreased by 18,000 children from FY 2008 through FY 2009. Recent AFCARS statistics also show that children mostly exit care by reunifying with their birth parent(s) or primary caregiver(s). The new AFCARS information is posted at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/tar/report17.htm. State-specific foster care statistics can be found at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/statistics/entryexit2009.htm. Trends in foster care and adoption data can be found at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/trends.htm.
The Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Child Support Enforcement has posted an invitation for comments on improving the income withholding process for child support payments. OCSE has been gathering input on how states handle Income Withholding for Support forms, or IWO, within the states as well as among other states. These attempts to streamline the IWO process are a result of a 2002 Government Accountability Office report that recommended the IWO process should be renewed and improved. This marks the second adjustment to improve the IWO system among states since the GAO report was issued. Two primary areas of focus of this review are IWOs that are not directed to state disbursement offices (as is the case with private third-party collection agencies, for example) and IWO forms issued that do not conform to the IWO format approved by the Office of Management and Budget. The OCSE is soliciting feedback on potential improvements to address these issues and has asked for comments by Sept. 30. Comments should be sent to Linda Keely at email@example.com. Full details are at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/pol/DCL/2010/dcl-10-14.htm.
The Ford Foundation has announced the “Work Support Strategies: Streamlining Access, Strengthening Families Initiative,” which will provide $15 million over a five-year period in competitive grants to states to build on recent state and federal innovations. The initiative is designed to let selected states test, design and implement a more integrated and streamlined approach to delivering support for low-income families for services such as health coverage, nutrition benefits, and child care subsidies. The initiative’ s Call for Proposals is available beginning Sept. 17, 2010, and written letters of intent are due by Oct. 1, 2010. Ford is partnering with the Urban Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in the initiative. Full details are available at www.urban.org/worksupport.
This Week in Washington is published by the American Public Human Services Association each week Congress is in session and on other dates. Editors: Larry Goolsby and Frank Solomon. Writers: Rashida Brown (child welfare), Ilana Cohen (health), Jordon De La Cruz (legislative affairs intern), Robert Ek (TANF, child support), Sue Hall (SNAP), Courteney Holden (child and family services), Kristen Knuth (communications intern), Bertha Levin (child and family services), Poornima Nayak (health), Ngozi Onunaku (child care), Bob Proctor (legislative affairs intern), Nanette Relave (health), and Emily Wengrovius (legislative affairs).