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Capitol to Capitol | Oct. 5, 2023

October 5, 2023

Questions? Please use the email icon at left to contact NCSL’s State-Federal Affairs Division.

NCSL Updates

NCSL Sends Letter in Support of State Revolving Funds

NCSL sent a letter to House and Senate leaders and Appropriations Committee chairs expressing concern for the impact that congressionally directed spending, or earmarks, will have on the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. The funds, which are passed through the Environmental Protection Agency but administered by states, are vital state-federal partnerships that enable a wide range of water quality projects, ensuring clean and safe drinking water and wastewater services nationwide. NCSL calls on Congress to support these established programs and ensure states have the capacity necessary to administer and maintain the solvency of the funds. States have shown their ability to prioritize the safety and modernization of the nation’s water infrastructure and must be able to continue to do so without the diversion of funding for federal priorities. Read Letter

Congressional Updates

Senate Committee Passes SAFER Banking Act

Last week, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee approved the NCSL-supported bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act of 2023, paving the way for a floor vote in the Senate. The SAFER Banking Act (S. 2860), which passed 14-9, would allow financial institutions to serve legitimate cannabis-related businesses operating within their respective state laws. Without this provision, the conflict between state and federal cannabis law has forced cannabis businesses to operate as cash-only entities, rendering them prime targets for theft, burglary, armed robbery and other property crimes. NCSL urges its members to encourage their congressional delegations to support the SAFER Banking Act.

Read NCSL’s most recent letter to Senate leadership here.

Shutdown Averted: Disaster Assistance Appropriated, Flood Insurance and FAA Authorization

While the stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown did not include aid for Ukraine, it did include $16 billion in supplemental disaster relief for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program through Nov.17. The legislation also authorized the Federal Aviation Administration until the end of the calendar year, giving lawmakers a few more months to negotiate a deal on a full five-year reauthorization. The House passed its version of the FAA bill, but the Senate bill has not yet moved. Stay tuned to NCSL for updates. Read more.

Administration Updates

States May Face WIC Shortfalls Absent Funding Boost

The food cost per participant in the WIC low-income nutrition program in the first half of fiscal year 2023 exceeded the administration’s projected budget request for FY 2024, according to Department of Agriculture, which administers the program. The president had initially requested $6.3 billion for the program but, due to updated enrollment numbers, subsequently requested an additional $1.4 billion as part of the stopgap funding measure passed Sept. 30 to avert a government shutdown. While the stopgap funding measure will keep the program running through mid-November, states may be forced to initiate waiting lists and/or scale back benefits if sufficient funding is not included in final appropriations. It is estimated that WIC, known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, will need roughly $7.2 billion to maintain projected enrollment and current benefits in FY 2024.

The WIC program serves over 6 million people per month, including an estimated 39% of all infants in the United States. Program costs increased after Congress expanded cash vouchers for fruits and vegetables in 2021, a change based on a congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2017. Modernization of the program, including the use of telehealth, has also boosted participation.

Department of Education Finalizes Gainful Employment Rule and Financial Value Transparency Framework

The regulatory package includes a new Gainful Employment rule, which assesses how certificate programs and all degree programs at private for-profit colleges perform on two debt-to-earnings metrics. The department estimates 32,000 programs will be subject to these metrics. Programs that fail the same metric in two of three consecutive years will be ineligible for federal student aid programs.

The regulations also create a Financial Value Transparency Framework that will provide information on all postsecondary programs, including typical earnings outcomes, borrowing amounts and cost of attendance. Institutions will begin reporting this data starting July 1, 2024, and it will be made public on a new federal website starting in 2026. Read more.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Releases Final Rule on School Meals Program

The regulation lowers the threshold for participation in the program known as the Community Eligibility Provision by reducing the minimum identified student percentage to 25% from 40%. A school or district with 25% of students who qualify for free lunch will have the option to use the program to provide free meals to all students. The rule starts on Oct. 26. Read more.

HHS Issues New Regulations Supporting Children and Families in Foster Care

The Administration for Children and Families released three new rules that will make it easier for kinship caregivers to become foster caregivers, and for child welfare agencies to protect LGBTQI+ children in foster care and expand access to legal representation for children and families in the child welfare system.

The kinship care rule is a final rule that will provide states with new flexibilities to simplify the licensing process and increase age limits for kinship caregivers as well as permit kin children to share sleeping spaces. The rule also requires states to provide kinship caregivers with the same level of financial assistance as other foster care providers.

The administration also issued a proposed rule requiring state child welfare agencies to ensure that LGBTQI+ children in their care are placed in foster homes that are safe and appropriate for an LGBTQI+ child, including being free from mistreatment related to sexual orientation or gender identity, having access to mental health services and being placed with caregivers who have received specialized training.

The third rule is a proposal that would allow child welfare agencies to use federal funds to expand access to legal services for families. According to the administration, access to legal services can prevent placement in foster care in some instances and expedite reunification and promote permanency in others. The rule would also allow tribes to be reimbursed for the legal costs of intervening in a state foster care court proceeding over the parental rights of a Native American child. Tribes have the authority to intervene under the Indian Child Welfare Act, but such action can be costly.

Comments on both proposed rules are due by Nov. 27. Read more.

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