Federal Budget Update
The House of Representatives voted on a continuing resolution to carry 2012 federal spending after the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. The stop gap funding measure continues funds until November 18, 2011, at a reduced rate across-the-board of 1.409% below FY 2011 spending levels, cutting spending for the first seven weeks of the new budget year. The Senate passed the bill soon after House passage.
Having bought time through mid-November to settle budget decisions for 2012, Congress is expected to develop a giant omnibus package to take all spending for the remaining 45 weeks of fiscal 2012, with the goal to pass that funding bill before Thanksgiving. This will mark the 15th year in a row that Congress has not passed all its regular appropriations bills before the start of the new fiscal year. While the House Appropriations Committee has cleared nine of the twelve funding bills, only six have passed the House floor. Among those yet to be drafted in the House is the funding bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS). In the Senate, only one appropriations bill – for military construction and veterans affairs – has been approved by the Appropriations Committee and passed the Senate floor.
On September 20, the Senate Subcommittee on LHHS Appropriations approved its version of the 2012 spending bill, holding most child welfare funding at current levels. Full committee approval followed the next day. Progress has been slower in the House. Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT), chair of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, released a draft plan of his proposals for a House version of the 2012 spending bill. However, Rehberg’s document was not approved or even reviewed by his subcommittee. Twice this year the House subcommittee has scheduled and then cancelled markup sessions. If no bill is reported by the subcommittee, this would be the first time in almost a decade that the House panel has failed to report on a bill.
NASW is concerned about the funding levels of the LHHS appropriations bill because cuts to LHHS could jeopardize the future of many programs that employ social workers and serve millions of clients. In addition, our 2009 written testimony to the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies stated that a social work workforce is needed to adequately serve the millions of Americans who are experiencing poverty, economic insecurity, a lack of health care, an inability to provide for their families, and even homelessness.
Despite holding a total of eight meetings, the Super Committee has not formally announced specific budget cuts. Members of the Committee are deferring to co-chairs Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who in turn have declined to reveal detailed information. All Members of the Super Committee are aware of how politically explosive such sweeping cuts could be if the public were aware of them, so the talks have been kept unusually confidential. The cuts must total at least $1.5 trillion in order to comply with the recently passed Budget Control Act.
Whichever cuts are made in the end, it won’t be long before Members of Congress and candidates for President are talking about their views on the subject. Florida recently moved their Presidential primary to January 31, 2012, meaning that the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary could actually happen in 2011 or very early in 2012. With several Republican candidates vying for the nomination and President Obama forming his own narrative about the cuts, this issue will remain prominently on the table for the foreseeable future.
NASW Supports the American Jobs Act
In September, President Obama spoke before the joint session of Congress to introduce the American Jobs Act. NASW is working with the progressive community in support of the legislation. NASW believes that the American Jobs Act would put more money in the pockets of almost 80 million working Americans, by cutting their payroll taxes next year and preventing up to 280,000 teacher layoffs by investing $30 billion to offset projected budget cuts. With profound economic uncertainty, the American Jobs Act will empower women, two-thirds of which are the primary financial stakeholders for their families, to invest in their communities and significantly improve upon the quality of life for themselves as well as their children. In 2010, according to the Census, 16.4 million children and 17 million women were living in poverty.
The Republican led House appears disinterested in considering the American Jobs Act any time soon. Further, it appears that Congressional leadership wants to divide the ideas of the bill and send them to slow moving committees of jurisdiction with little interest of sincere examination. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Democratic majority lacks the votes to secure passage. Congress seems intent to allow the bill to remain a political statement despite unacceptable unemployment rates, specifically among African-Americans and Hispanics.
Since its inception, NASW has tirelessly fought for social justice, inclusion and economic equality for all. The American Jobs Act is a common sense, bipartisan, cost-effective initiative that will reduce unemployment and revitalize America’s economy in the long term. By proposing to modernize our infrastructure and extending unemployment benefits for the unemployed, the American Jobs Act would be a strong initial step in restoring American prosperity and rebuilding the American dream. NASW will continue to advocate for initiatives that protect the marginalized and strengthen the middle class.
NASW Meets with Department of Education
NASW recently met with Department of Education officials to discuss their Proposed Employment Certification Form for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This form, once finalized, will be the tool used to determine eligibility for the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, that provides loan forgiveness for social workers and other professionals who pursue public service work. NASW worked to ensure that social workers were included in the legislative language. More information about this law can be found on the NASW loan forgiveness page, www.socialworkers.org/loanforgiveness
At the meeting, NASW was able to expand on our written comments that were submitted to the Department to David Bergeron, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Planning and Innovation and Eduardo M. Ochoa, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education. We expressed our concerns about the forms. The federal government is working to streamline the complicated and often confusing federal forms that students seeking financial assistance must submit to their colleges or universities as required by the Higher Education Act.
NASW supported the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and will continue to partner with the Department of Education as they complete the eligibility process for the Employment Certification Form for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
House and Senate Pass TANF Extension
On Wednesday, September 21, the House passed, by voice vote, a bill (HR 2943) that would extend the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and associated state maintenance of effort requirements through Dec. 31, 2011. The Senate on Friday, September 23, cleared the measure (HR 2943) by voice vote. It would extend the TANF program through the end of the calendar year at fiscal 2011 levels — an annual rate of about $16.5 billion.
NASW is interested in improvements to the TANF program including an increased attention to education, increased supportive services and addressing substance abuse. No changes were made to the TANF program in the extension, so NASW will continue to advocate for changes.
NASW is sending a letter to Ways and Means Committee members asking them to include extensive job training, supportive services and substance abuse services to the TANF program. NASW is also asking them to address TANF funding levels, benefit levels and needs of immigrants.
Nancy Pelosi Received the Frances Perkins Award
On September 13, NASW attended the 64th annual Americans for Democratic Action Awards (ADA) Banquet where Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi was awarded ADA’s inaugural Frances Perkins Award for Outstanding Government Service. Social Work Pioneer Frances Perkins was the Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945 and was the first woman appointed to the U. S. Cabinet. Pelosi said it was an honor to be the first recipient of the France Perkins Award.
Census finds Poverty High across the Nation
On September 13, the Census Bureau released the National Census data. In 2010, the share of Americans living in poverty reached 15.1 percent while the share of children in poverty hit 22 percent, both the highest levels in 17 years. That means the number of people living in poverty hit 46.2 million, the highest level on record with data back to 1959. Poverty rose in 49 states from 2009 to 2010, despite the official end of the recession in 2008. In 36 states, poverty rose more than 1.5 percentage points from just before the recession’s start in 2007 to 2010. In 37 states, unemployment rose by 50 percent or more from 2006 to 2010. NASW is concerned about poverty rates because our members serve clients who are impacted by poverty.
Congressional Social Work Caucus
The official website for the Congressional Social Work Caucus has been launched! Stay up to date on caucus activities and find out if your member of Congress is a member of this important caucus which seeks to support the profession of social work and the clients served by social workers.
Advocacy Blog Roundup
Advocacy Listserv Activity
In September, 726 activists sent 2,199 advocacy messages to Congress through Capwiz. The most active alert was about super committee. Thanks to all of you who took the time to take action! To see all alerts, go here.