Capitol to Capitol
An Information Service of NCSL's Standing Committees

Volume 18   Issue 32 - September 16, 2011

 

NCSL SCORES CHILD WELFARE WIN

It took three years, but NCSL succeeded this week in starting the renewal process for state child welfare demonstration projects. The House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved H.R. 2883, legislation that renews authority states have not had since 2008 to use federal funds to test innovative strategies in state child welfare programs. That same legislation accomplishes a second NCSL objective of reauthorizing the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program. The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Kentucky Rep. Jeff Davis and Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett, excludes any maintenance of effort (MOE) provision thanks to communications from state legislators about the state budgetary implications of MOE requirements. NCSL urged members of Congress to support H.R. 2883 in a Sept. 13, 2011 letter available at: http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=23576 . Companion Senate legislation (S. 1542) sponsored by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Montana Senator Max Baucus has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. Whether it heads to markup or Senate leadership decides to take action on a House-passed H.R. 2883 is uncertain at this time. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Emily Wengrovius


TRAINS, PLANES, AUTOMOBILES—ALL STILL RUNNING

Federal funding to states for surface transportation programs and airport improvement grants will temporarily continue with yesterday’s Senate passage of H.R. 2887. For highways, roads, bridges and mass transit, program authority and funding continues to March 31, 2012. For airport grants, program authority continues to January 31, 2012. Passage of H.R. 2887 marks the eighth extension of SAFETEA-LU and the 22nd extension of Federal Aviation Administration programs. The Senate sent a powerful signal to the House with its rejection of an amendment from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul that would limit future highway and mass transit spending to receipts in the Highway Trust Fund. The Paul amendment, reflecting the objective of a House reauthorization effort, crashed 14-84. NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Helen Narvasa


FEDERAL APPROPRIATIONS—TO BE CONTINUED

Message for states: when federal fiscal year 2012 commences Oct. 1, 2011, state-federal and all other programs will be temporarily funded at approximately 1.5 percent below FY 2011 levels. Why? For the 15th consecutive year, Congress will not complete work on its dozen annual appropriations measures by the end of the current fiscal year. In fact, it will not complete work on any of them. Therefore, a continuing resolution, H.J.Res. 79, is necessary to keep the federal government open. The 1.5 percent reduction derives from the deficit reduction/debt ceiling deal crafted last August. H.J. Res 79 gives Congress until Nov. 18, 2011 to fashion an omnibus FY2012 appropriations bill. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


TUG OF WAR ON DISASTER ASSISTANCE UNDERWAY

States reeling from the damage inflicted by hurricanes and other preceding natural disasters will get future federal emergency assistance. How much is not clear. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund is drying up. In a Sept. 9, 2011 request to Congress, President Obama is seeking $500 million in supplemental FY2011 funding for FEMA and $4.6 billion for FY2012. Yesterday the Senate passed H.J.Res. 66, legislation that would provide states with $6.9 billion in additional disaster assistance funding through Sept. 30, 2012. The House is poised to approve $3.6 billion ($1.0 billion of which is FY2011 supplemental FEMA funding) and it is contained in the continuing resolution (see above story). However, H.J.Res. 79 includes a $1 billion offset that would terminate an administration-favored advanced technology vehicles manufacturing loan guarantee program. 45 Senate members objected to a floor amendment to H.J.Res. 66 yesterday that would have offset emergency disaster funds, with 60 votes needed for passage. NCSL staff contacts: Susan Parnas Frederick, Jennifer Arguinzoni


CHARTER SCHOOL GRANTS BILL ADVANCES

On Sept. 13, 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives handily passed H.R. 2218, legislation allowing states to use federal charter school grants for development of new charter schools and for expansion of existing charter schools. The legislation strengthens the definition of what constitutes a quality charter school and makes financial audits more transparent. H.R. 2218 authorizes $300 million in annual funding for these grants. H.R. 2218 is the first in a series of House bills aimed at incrementally reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to pass the full House. Others likely to follow this year include H.R. 1891 (repeals 42 Department of Education programs) and H.R. 2445 (enhanced state authority for use of federal education funds). The Senate remains on an uncertain course to introduce a comprehensive ESEA reauthorization bill this year. NCSL staff contacts: Lee Posey, Michael Reed


NCSL COMMUNICATES ON VARIOUS ISSUES

A Sept. 9, 2011 letter from NCSL and other state and local government organizations urges the Governmental Accounting Standards Board to “extend (both) the field testing and comment period” on its Exposure Draft addressing state pension system accounting standards. A minimum 60-day extension (current deadline is Sept. 30, 2011) is sought so that “(public) comments can be informed by the field testing results.” The letter is available here: http://www.ncsl.org/documents/standcomm/scbudg/GASBfieldtest_Ltr.pdf.  A Sept. 6, 2011 letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction urges “…Congress’ continuing support and commitment to federal tax-exempt bond financing.” This letter can be viewed here: http://www.ncsl.org/documents/standcomm/scbudg/pfnlettergeneralsept6.pdf. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley (pensions, tax-exempt financing), Ron Snell (pensions)


VICE PRESIDENT TO LEAD FRAUD/WASTE PREVENTION EFFORT

On Sept. 14, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden announced the administration’s intent to accelerate and reinvigorate efforts to stifle improper Medicaid and unemployment insurance (UI) payments. This agency-wide prevention effort commenced in June and appears to be picking up steam as deficit reduction discussions intensify. The Vice President stated the administration is seeking to reclaim $2.1 billion in improper Medicaid payments over five years and to remedy an estimated $16.5 billion (2010 only) in UI overpayments. Regarding the latter, the administration has an on-line map depicting each states’ performance and error rates, available here: http://workforcesecurity.doleta.gov/unemploy/improp_pay.asp. NCSL staff contacts: Joy Johnson Wilson, Rachel, Morgan (Medicaid), Diana Hinton Noel, Michael Reed (UI)


ON THE DEFICIT FRONT

NCSL has posted a summary and additional details regarding the administration’s “jobs” bill presented to the Congress this week and the House Republican’s “jobs” outline (http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?TabId=23573). Speaker of the House John Boehner restated his party’s deficit reduction priorities in a Sept. 15 speech emphasizing spending cuts, entitlement reforms and broad tax reform that would lead to reduced individual and corporate income tax rates and loophole closing. He stated that he supported enhanced spending on infrastructure if it is tied to enhanced domestic energy production. This week the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction got an historical tour of policies that have contributed to the nation’s deficits and debts from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf. Next week it ventures into federal taxes and tax expenditures. 36 Senators signed a bipartisan letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction laying out six principles that they believe should guide the 12-member committee’s efforts (http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=23377). And House “Blue Dog” Democrats, along with many others, expressed their desire to see federal policymakers shoot for a much larger deficit target (http://ross.house.gov/BlueDog/Issues/FiscalResponsibility.htm). NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


ON THE HORIZON

Next week a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee will mark up H.R. 373, legislation amending the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. The bill will require the Congressional Budget Office to score new conditions of grant aid, an NCSL priority. It also aims to repair several UMRA regulatory impediments…NCSL’S Deficit Reduction Task Force comes to the nation’s capital Sept. 19-21, 2011 to advance NCSL’s deficit reduction priorities with members of Congress and the administration…And H.R. 2883 (see child welfare article above) has just been scheduled for full House consideration on Sept. 21, 2011.