Both houses of Congress return this week, a traditional return made later by the two political conventions. As a result, congressional action for the fall session is likely to be one of the shortest with September days limited by the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah (September 16) and Yom Kippur (September 25) and the desire to leave Washington for the campaign before October begins.
It means that the most consequential Washington decisions will have to wait for a post-election lame duck session. That November-to-December session is sure to be shaped by the outcome of the November 6 election. Although political observers will have their own projections, it is safe to say that both houses of Congress and the White House are truly open to turnover.
Front and center for Congress is passage of a continuing resolution (CR) that will keep the government running when the new fiscal year begins on October 1. This is really the only must-pass bills before Congress leaves.
In August, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced they had an agreement to provide six months of funding through a CR, but the details have not been made public. What is known is that the funding will be set at an annual level of $1.047 trillion; slightly above the current year, the total agreed to in last year’s debt ceiling agreement, and a sum higher than what the House had approved for 2013 this past spring.
What happens after the election is also unclear. Even if the six month CR is adopted, it could be revisited but that would be unlikely short of an agreement on the expiring taxes, expiring unemployment compensation, and the across-the-board January cuts. It would take a spirit of political good will quite contrary to the current climate.
Other Possible Congressional Action in September
There are a few other issues that must be dealt with by Congress by October 1, but even these policies are likely to get a limited fix rather than a full reauthorization. Front and center is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Reauthorization. TANF (along with some of the child care funding) does run out on October 1, so Congress must at least temporarily extend funding or risk straining state budgets as well as impact on future Congressional Budget Office budget scoring if an extension does not happen.
One of the great challenges is that TANF has become a political football and has found its way into the presidential campaign. On July 12, HHS issued guidance to states allowing them to request waivers for TANF and while the guidance limits the extent of waivers and does not affect the time limits, it offers states the potential to apply for some modification to the general work requirements and offers states some flexibility in how work for adults receiving cash assistance is structured.
The waiver announcement drew immediate negative reaction on Capitol Hill from the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee David Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) offering strong criticism as well as legislation (HR 6140/S 3397) against the waiver authority. A possible agreement may include a few months of extension with restrictions on waivers, but whether that happens is not clear at all.
The Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization (VOWA) has been passed by both houses (HR 4970/S 1925), but as has been the case in the Congress, there are differences that have prevented agreement on a reauthorization that usually draws bipartisan negotiation and agreement. There are differences on three policy areas: tribal authority to prosecute non-Indian men who abuse Indian women, the number of visas that are issued to undocumented immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, and Senate bill language that formally extends the law to cover domestic violence when it involves issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. This may be one for a lame duck session.
Reauthorization of the Department of Agriculture’s benefits programs generally involves extensive debate frequently crossing party and regional lines but generally ending up with final bipartisan agreement. That process played out in the Senate with cross-party support drawing votes from 64 senators for S. 3240. The House leadership has not brought their bill to a floor debate and vote. The Senate bill reduced funding by $29 billion over ten years and found what many consider a middle ground on cuts to the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP/food stamps).
The House bill would propose bigger cuts, including cuts to SNAP. It is also possible a floor debate would increase those cuts. Complicating the matter for House leaders is the pressure to deal with drought relief, something in great demand by a number of states after the dry hot months of this year.
Children’s Bureau Issues New Information Memorandum on Quality
While Washington was quiet in August, the Children’s Bureau issued a new information memorandum (ACYF-CB-IM-12-07) on states continuous quality improvement (CQI) systems in child welfare. Under the Children and Family Services Reviews (CFSR), states were evaluated on how their child welfare systems measure the quality of services in their child welfare programs.
The IM indicates that as part of the CFSR process, the first round of reviews found 31 States meeting basic requirements on how they measure quality under the review process and that the number increased to 40 States in the second round of the CFSR. The Bureau said that some states have dismantled aspects of their quality assurance systems after the second round of CFSRs. The IM was another in a series of advisory documents to states on suggested practices.
It also indicates that the guidance was intended to help states while the bureau considers revisions to the CFSR process. According to the guidance, the five components essential to a functioning Continuing Quality Improvement (CQI) system in child welfare include:
-An administrative structure to oversee effective CQI system functioning
-Quality data collection
-A method for conducting ongoing case reviews
-A process for the analysis and dissemination of quality data on all performance measures
-A process for providing feedback to stakeholders and decision makers and as needed, adjusting State programs and process.
To read the full document, click here.
UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS
Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) Briefing. Held on Wednesday, September 12, 10:30AM, 202 Senate Visitors Center, U.S. Capitol Washington DC. The Visitors Center requires an RSVP. Attendees can send an e-mail to [email protected]
National Foster Care Coalition quarterly meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 19, 12:00 PM, (Brown Bag Lunch) American Bar Association, 9th Floor Conference Room, 740 15th St NW, Washington DC. Topics include a discussion with the Consumer Protection Bureau on financial challenge for youth in foster care and the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on child welfare. RSVP to: [email protected]
John Sciamanna is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation.