Current Legislative Update:

  • April 2014

    April 2014 On March 4, President Barack Obama released his annual budget statement, outlining the priorities and funding targets…

Legislative Updates

Keeping you up to date on policy action from the presidential administration and the U.S. Congress.

April 2014

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» From The Administration

“FY2015 Budget Released”
On March 4, President Barack Obama released his annual budget statement, outlining the priorities and funding targets for FY2015. Highlights of the budget include:

  • Increased investments in for the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Education, Justice, and Veterans Affairs.
  • Increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans (which are estimated to bring in $651 billion in revenue).
  • Aggressive cuts to deficit spending.
  • A $1.2 in deficit reduction over 10 years to replace the 2013 sequestration cuts.

A short summary noting key programs for African Americans within the president’s budget is available online. In “Opportunity for All: Supporting African-American Families,” the Administration focuses on investments in job creation and job training programs; health care and community health centers; education (particularly STEM) and school nutrition programs; and minority entrepreneurship through the Minority Business Development Agency as avenues to help people of color.

Different from last year’s budget, the proposed contains few compromise items (which were pursued last year to encourage a “grand bargain” with Congressional Republicans, but ended up going nowhere). The budget only serves as a blueprint; it is unlikely that the budget will be implemented in full.

“Open Enrollment Extended”
President Obama announced an extension in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Open Enrollment deadline, scheduled to end on March 31. Under the extension, all individuals who have begun the process of enrollment prior the proposed deadline will still be able to receive coverage without penalty. One day after the enrollment deadline improvements to the process and increased participation are apparent. The Washington Post reports that 8.7 million Americans visited over the past week, with 2 million this past weekend alone. The Administration is more confident that it will hit its target numbers and proudly touts what’s happening as an #ACASurge on social media pages. Follow this hashtag to see more results.

» Labor, Military, and Veterans Affairs

“Senate Considers Unemployment Compromise, House Skeptical”
On March 13, Senate negotiators released a highly anticipated bipartisan compromise to reinstate longterm unemployment insurance benefits for all Americans (which expired at the end of 2013). The legislation would extend the program for five months, and include a retroactive payment for beneficiaries cut off during the lapse. The bill now moves to the House where it faces much difficulty. Speaker John Boehner (ROH) has voiced concerns over costs. Other stakeholders, such as the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, have too, stating the bill would place a costly burden on states to implement.

“National Labor Relations Board Sets Stage for College Athlete Unionization”
On March 26, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that scholarship football players at Northwestern University (IL) can be considered employees, and are therefore are eligible to unionize. The ruling comes after a challenge by some Northwestern football players (who previously sought to form a union, but were rebuffed by the university). It does not, however, apply to non-scholarship (walk-on) athletes and will likely not cover students at public colleges. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Northwestern University oppose the ruling. The case is expected to be appealed extensively.

» Health and Human Services

“Senate passes Childcare Development Block Grant”
On March 13, The U.S. Senate passed legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCBDG) program until 2020. The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-M) and Richard Burr (R-NC). CCBDG provides funding to states to assist them in providing child care to low-and-moderate income parents and was last fully reauthorized in 1996.

The new reauthorization would update the program by providing greater support for evidence-based improvements to child care, that not only keep children safe while their parents are working or in school, but also provide them with a nurturing and enriching environment. The bill also requires states to invest more resources into training childcare workers, and updates health and safety requirements for CCBDG providers, including mandatory background checks. The bill now moves on to the House for consideration.

» Agriculture

“States Skirt SNAP Cuts”
When the Farm Bill was reauthorized last month, one of the primary concerns from advocates was the $8.7 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP or Food Stamps). The reductions primarily hinged on changes to a rule that automatically qualifies individuals for SNAP benefits if they receive state heating assistance, known as “Heat and Eat.” Sixteen states and the District of Columbia utilize the program, which previously allowed individuals who received as little as $1 per month in home heating assistance to receive increased benefits under “Heat or Eat.”

The new law raised the threshold for additional assistance to individuals who receive at least $20 in heating aid. However, several states have sought to avoid the reduction by increasing the minimum heating aid benefit in their states to $20. By doing so, a state stands to preserve potentially hundreds of millions of dollars of SNAP benefits with relatively tiny increases in heating aid. For example, Pennsylvania will pay out $8 million in additional heating aid, which will uphold $190 million in SNAP benefits. New York will spend an additional $6 million to receive $547 million from SNAP. So far, eight states have indicated that they will pursue similar increases.

» Law, Justice, and Ethics

“Obama Civil Rights Nominee Adegbile Fails Senate Confirmation”
On March 5, the Administration failed to garner the votes necessary to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division. The confirmation was hampered by concerns over Mr. Adegbile’s time at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, where he worked to overturn the death sentence of prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

» Education

” Wide Racial Disparities in School Discipline for Preschoolers”
As a follow-up to its January 2014 guidelines to improve school discipline policies, the U.S. Department of Education endorsed the findings of the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, which found tremendous disparities in suspensions and expulsions for African-American students and other students of color, as well as students with disabilities, and who identify as LGBT. The report found that discriminatory discipline practices begin for students as young as 3-and 4-years old. Read more here.

“U.S. Department of Education Releases For-Profit College Rule”
On March 14, the U.S. Department of Education released a new rule proposal intended to regulate forprofit and proprietary colleges. The proposed rule would redefine the standards for which schools would be eligible to accept federal financial aid. Currently the federal Higher Education Act requires that for an institution to qualify to accept federal student aid, it must meet certain programmatic benchmarks including preparing students for “gainful employment,” which is generally measured by employment, earning, and debt levels of graduates. The new proposed rule would set new debt-to-income requirements, student loan default rates. While the rule would apply to all institutions of higher education, it is primarily targeted at for-profit colleges, many of which fare poorly on such metrics. Public comment on the new proposed rule is due by May 27, 2014.

What’s Happening This Month?

  1. Financial “Literacy” or “Capability” Month – An awareness month that has been recognized by states across the nation and the federal government since 2004. It is seen as an effort to highlight the importance of financial literacy and to teach Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits. Read President Obama’s 2014 Proclamation here.
  2. World Health Day – World Health Day has been observed across the world since inception in 1948. It commemorates the founding of the World Health Organization and helps to spread awareness about diseases affecting all countries and to highlight determinants of global health. World Health Day 2014 is set to spotlight some of the most commonly known vectors – such as mosquitoes, sandflies, bugs, ticks and snails – which can transfer several deadly diseases. To learn more, click here.
  3. National Child Abuse Prevention Month – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Children and Families commemorates this month as “a time to recognize that we each can play a part in promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in communities.” Learn more.
  4. Alcohol Awareness Month – Sponsored by the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, this awareness month has been observed since 1987. The purpose of this celebration is to increase public awareness and understanding and reduce stigma surrounding alcohol and alcohol abuse. Learn more.