Capitol View on Kids: The Latest News on Children and Families in Washington, D.C.

Senate To Take Up VAWA Reauthorization

The Senate plans to soon take up a new version of a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for the 113th Congress.  The legislation must be reintroduced due to the fact that all legislation dies when a Congress ends.

The legislation is largely the same as what had been passed by the Senate last year only to have it get bogged down in negotiations with the House.  The one main difference between this Senate bill and last year’s bill is that this version does not include a revenue-raising fee related to the immigration visas.  House leadership had argued that such a provision violated the Constitution since all revenue-raising actions must originate in the House.

The provision was taken out in an effort to remove one argument against the legislation.  Whether that works is unclear, since the real disagreement had actually been around three issues; 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 bill language that formally extends the law to cover domestic violence regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The new Senate bill removes a technical roadblock, although there were ways the House could have addressed the revenue constitutional issue. Now, whether it moves through the House will depend on the core disagreements.

CMS Publishes Proposed Regulations on ACA

On Tuesday, January 22 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a proposed rule implementing some key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the provision that provides Medicaid coverage up to age 26 for young people who were in foster care.  The full rule published in the Federal Register covers Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Programs, and Exchanges.

The ACA included language that attempts to give former foster youth the same protections that any other young people under age 26 now have.  Under the ACA, a young person under 26 can get health insurance coverage under a parent’s plan.

The rule interprets the law to mandate coverage under Medicaid if a youth was in foster care (whether IV-E eligible or not); enrolled in Medicaid; and either turned age 18 or aged out of care (with some states extending care to age 21).

According to the preamble  under the proposed rule “they are proposing to give states the option to cover individuals under this group who were in foster care and Medicaid in another state at the relevant point in time.” In other words a young person who moves may not necessarily be able to get such mandatory Medicaid coverage if a state decides not to provide coverage.

The potential problem is that if a young person left or aged out of foster care and then moved to another state, he or she may not necessarily have the health care coverage.  It becomes more important, since last summer’s ruling by the Supreme Court which allowed states the option on whether or not to extend Medicaid coverage to all families and individuals under 133 percent of the federal poverty income level.

In states that do not expand Medicaid to 133 percent of poverty and do not take this new option on Medicaid coverage for former foster youth, it opens the possibility that a young person leaving the state he or she resided in while in foster care may not be covered by Medicaid despite a having a low income.

HHS is specifically requesting comments on this interpretation of the statute. The deadline for such comments is February 13.

Comments that weigh-in on this option could help to strengthen this coverage by eliminating the state option.  The rule includes instructions on where to mail, fax or e-mail such comments by Feb. 13 at 5 p.m, eastern time.

New Date For Fiscal Showdown, March 2

On Wednesday, January 23, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 325, legislation that temporarily suspends the need to raise the national debt ceiling.  The legislation is the result of the Republican leadership’s new strategy that avoids a late February fight over raising the debt ceiling and now shifts attention to the scheduled across-the-board cuts in March.

The House action would suspend the debt ceiling until May 18 and requires the Senate to pass a budget resolution by the required annual deadline of April 15.  If the Senate fails, senators salaries would be placed in escrow (for technical reasons Congress cannot cut salaries mid-term).

House Republicans had been threatening a default on debt payments for several weeks, but due to concern over what that would do to the national and global economies they developed this alternative to allow them to have a fight over the pending sequestration and the expiration of FY 2013 funding on March 27.

The White House and the Senate leadership signaled their receptivity to the proposal.  The Senate has not passed a budget resolution in four years, although the spending allocations in the past two years were agreed to as part of the 2011 debt ceiling agreement. Under the Budget Act, created more than four decades ago to guide the appropriations process, the House and Senate pass their own budget resolution which designate overall spending for the year and further divides the spending total between the twelve appropriations committees.

The two resolutions then have to be negotiated between the two houses.  The President does not sign such a resolution, but it serves as a budget guide for the annual appropriations process.  A budget resolution can also allow the Congress to enact legislation through a reconciliation bill, which can speed up legislation and prohibit a Senate filibuster.  If this were to happen, it could serve as a vehicle for long-term budget cuts, including cuts to entitlements, and create a vehicle for a major tax reform effort.

The House proposal is unique because it suspends the debt ceiling rather than raising it, in effect ignoring what has been a common practice over the past several decades.  Once the ceiling is re-imposed, the ceiling would have to be raised again but it is expected that Treasury would have some room to move federal budget accounts and the actual need to raise the ceiling may not be reached until sometime later in the summer.

Growing Concern on Sequestration

There is a growing belief that the across-the-board budget cuts could very well take place on March 2.  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has advocated letting the cuts go into effect rather than negotiating a delay or  replacement if a budget agreement is not reached.

With the Speaker and other Republican leaders insisting that any such deal cannot include further tax revenue but must include entitlement spending cuts, the sequestration may become the best option for both sides. The sequestration total was reduced from approximately $110 billion to $85 billion as part of the December budget and tax package, but some of the cuts enacted must still be imposed.  Again, the cuts will apply equally to domestic and defense spending. The $85 billion would have to be imposed over the remaining seven months.  Earlier this year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) outlined how some of the cuts would be allocated.  For a sample of some cuts in key child welfare related areas, click here.

John Sciamanna is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation



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