The House and Senate scrambled to complete work and leave for the campaign trail last week. The last major action was the Senate final passage of a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through March 27, 2013.
The CR (H J Res 117) won final Senate approval early Saturday morning September 22. The approval was delayed as senators fought over amendments by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to cut off foreign aid to some Middle Eastern countries. The last vote was on rural legislation by Senator John Tester (D-Montana) who is in a tight race for reelection.
The CR provides funding at an annual level of $1.047 trillion, which is the level agreed to in last year’s debt ceiling agreement (PL 112-25). The CR has few additional items beyond straight funding extensions, but it does extend the life of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant for another six months.
It also provides a slight spending increase (six-tenths of one percent). It may not matter, since the bill only provides a half year of funding, and spending for the second half of the year would have to account for cuts mandated by the debt ceiling deal reached in 2011.
The House calendar indicates that the House will return on Tuesday, November 13. The Senate calendar is not as specific but will likely mirror the House action. The September session was one of the shortest in several decades as the month’s schedule was adjusted to accommodate the political conventions at the start of the month and the desire to start campaigning early at the end of the month. Despite this, the Senate and House struggled to finish this week. While the Senate struggled with the CR, House members debated a bill that attempted to restrict the administration’s guidance on TANF waivers.
There is a long list of items that could and likely should come up in the November. Front and center is the “fiscal cliff,” with a number of tax cuts scheduled to end along with mandated across-the-board budget cuts slated for January 2. There were several reports about the two most significant committees, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, having members’ only meetings on the fiscal cliff, and that some of those meetings involved members of the Administration.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this Congress’s inability to deal effectively with required issues was the farm bill. The Agriculture reauthorization includes all the farm programs, much of the nutrition funding including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-food stamps) and some environmental conservation programs. Normally the legislation is dealt with in a bipartisan fashion, with divisions frequently drawn more along regional lines and less along party lines. That is what happened in the Senate, with a lengthy debate of several days and a final bipartisan debate. The House did get a bill out of committee however Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring the bill up for a debate or vote. It was feared that it might divide his caucus. There was an attempt to force it out of committee late last week, but that did not succeed and the Agriculture bill expired. That is the first time Congress has failed to approve the reauthorization in time since 1973. Some farm programs will be held up, however the SNAP program received a temporary extension.
Aside from the Agriculture bill, other items for lame-duck could include further action on appropriations, a further extension of TANF, the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization (VAWA) (HR 4970/S 1925) and perhaps a drought relief bill as part of the agriculture bill.
Coalition Engages Consumer Financial Protection Bureau On Foster Youth
On Wednesday, September 19, the National Foster Care Coalition focused on potential financial exploitation of youth in foster care in a discussion with the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (www.consumerfinance.gov ). Desmond Brown and Patty Avery from the Consumer Education and Engagement Division are focusing on vulnerable populations in an effort to empower such populations by providing financial tools and information that can protect against financial exploitation and promote empowerment.
The discussion between participants and the Bureau focused on a range of challenges faced by youth leaving foster care. There was also discussion on possible tools and programs that might improve circumstances for such youth. The forum is part of an on-going effort by the Coalition to address some of the financial challenges youth in foster care face as they leave foster care.
The discussion was preceded by a presentation by Roque Gerald, Director of the Washingtonians for Children Foundation (http://washingtonians4children.org). The foundation is focusing in on providing support to youth that are in or have been in foster care and are now in college. The goal is to improve the graduation rates for former foster youth who make it into college. A very small percentage of foster youth make it into college, and an even smaller percentage complete four years as a result of a number of challenges. The National Foster Care Coalition will continue to collect information and comments and forward them onto the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
New Census Data On Income, Poverty and Health Care
On Wednesday, September 19, the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2011 American Community Survey.
More than 48 million Americans were counted as poor in 2011, which represents 15.9 percent of all Americans. The new data indicates that among the 50 states and Washington D.C., New Hampshire (8.8 percent) had the lowest poverty rate, and Mississippi (22.6 percent) had the highest poverty rate.
When broken down by large urban areas (populations of 500,000 or more) poverty rates ranged from a low of 8.3 percent in the Washington D.C. area (the metropolitan area includes parts of Virginia and Maryland), to 37.7 percent in McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas.
Between 2010 and 2011 the number and percentage of people in poverty increased in 17 states, and in 10 of those states this was the third consecutive annual increase. In 27 states, there was no change in either the number of people in poverty or the poverty rate.
For children, the poverty rate is now at more than 22 percent. In 12 states, more than one-quarter of children were poor. The states with the highest child poverty rates were Mississippi, 31.5%; New Mexico, 30.6%; District of Columbia (counting only people within District line), 30.2%; Louisiana, 28.6%; and Arkansas, 27.7 %.
The five states with the lowest child poverty rates were New Hampshire, 11.7%; Maryland, 13.2%; North Dakota, 14.1%; Vermont, 14.2%, and Alaska, 14.3%.
In regard to households, the median household income ranged from $36,919 in Mississippi to $70,004 in Maryland. The median income for the United States was $50,502, and in 27 states the figure was lower while 18 states had a median income that exceeded the national figure. In Washington D.C., North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Pennsylvania, median household incomes was generally the same as the U.S. as a whole.
Vermont was alone in not seeing any change in median income, the number of people in poverty and the poverty rate. For the 18 states that experienced a decrease in the household median income the range of decrease was 1.1 percent in Ohio to 6.0 percent in Nevada.
In regard to health insurance, the survey found that the insured rate of young adults (age 19 to 25) rose from 68.3 percent in 2009 to 71.8 percent in 2011, but that the rate of coverage for those 26 to 29 continued to decline, from 71.1 percent to 70.3 percent. No state experienced a decline in the insured rate of young adults from 2009 to 2011, while 37 states and Washington, D.C., had an increase in coverage. Again, Vermont stood out, having the highest increase in coverage among the young adult population, increasing from an insured rate of 75.2 percent in 2009 to 89.1 percent in 2011.
Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii and Louisiana had increases in the overall insured rate but not in the privately insured rate. Conversely, Arkansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Washington saw increases in the private health insurance rate of young adults, but not in the overall insurance rate. The numbers in regard to youth from 19 through 25 are significant because one of the first provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA/ PL 111-148) to take effect are the requirements that insurance companies allow parents to continue to cover their children until the age of 26.
The annual survey and the related reports provide greater detail on the U.S. population in some areas not covered by the ten year census. It is the only source of local estimates for approximately 40 topics including educational, work, language spoken at home, ancestry and various economic conditions for US households. For more information on this go online: (poverty): http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/acsbr11-01.pdf (Household income): http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/acsbr11-02.pdf (health insurance): http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/acsbr11-11.pdf
UPCOMING CAPITOL HILL BRIEFINGS/EVENTS
Common Ground: A Roadmap to Investing in What Works for Children in Tough Fiscal Times. a panel discussion of distinguished guests who will examine the theme of common ground as it relates to federal policy decision making. Hosted by Child Trends, Tuesday, October 2, 4:00—5:30, House Vistors Center Room 201. Additional information: Bonnie Wahiba at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) to Success for Young Mother Led Families, Wednesday, October 24, 10:00 am to Noon, Capitol Visitors Center (SVC – 212-10), the National Crittenton Foundation. RSVP to Jessie Salu at: Jessie@NationalCrittenton.org