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May/June Government Relations Report

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It has been relatively quiet on the domestic front in Washington as Congress has finally closed the books on Fiscal 2018 spending and begun to turn its attention to FY 2019.

On May 22, Secretary DeVos testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee. In her prepared testimony, the Secretary repeated her challenge to all parties to "rethink school." She reported on the progress made in implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and reported that she has approved 46 plans. She also pointed to regulatory relief achieved in the K-12 space and noted that rulemaking had begun in the higher education area. She reported that work to draft new proposed regulations on sexual harassment and misconduct is well underway. She also pointed to changes being made to modernize Federal Student Aid (FSA) technology and customer service and promised further improvements in the future. She also said, "this Administration is committed to swift action to keep our nation's students and teachers safe at school," and reported that the Federal Commission on School Safety is interested in hearing from anyone "who is focused on identifying and elevating solutions."

While she did not refer specifically to adult education, she did say "We must also rethink education after high school not to be a singular destination, but a journey with a multitude of possible and valid paths to take. We must embrace that a modern economy and society demands a model of lifelong learning, where education does not end with the movement of a tassel. We must put to rest the notion that a traditional four-year degree is the only pathway to success. Students have no shortage of dreams and aspirations, and there should be no shortage of educational pathways to help them get there." 

Read the secretary's full statement here. You can view the webcast video of the full committee hearing here

FY 2019 Appropriations

FY 2019 is the second year of a bipartisan budget agreement that substantially raised the caps on both non-defense discretionary and defense spending. The agreement will doubtless make the appropriations process go more smoothly, but there will be inevitable bumps in the road.

These bumps include the fact that this is an election year for the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Even if there is relative agreement about funding levels, there will be arguments about issues like funding Planned Parenthood and building the border wall as members seek to use the process for political advantage.

Also, we are well into Fiscal Year 2018 and Congress is just starting the process. This will make finishing the bills by the end of the Fiscal Year (September 30) virtually impossible.

The conventional wisdom is that despite its best efforts to govern according to "regular order" in which each of the 12 appropriations bills is considered by its subcommittee, then at the full committee level, and then sent to the House or Senate floor for a vote, Congress will run out of time and must pass a continuing resolution that will fund the government past the election. Then there will be a "lame duck" session in which Congress will take up spending issues again and resolve funding for FY 2019.

Further complicating matters, three current appropriations subcommittee chairs are running to be chair of the full committee (or ranking member, if the Democrats take control of the House) in the next Congress. The election takes place at the Republican Conference, whose priorities traditionally are not in the Labor-HHS bill. This contest might well influence how the committee puts its bills together and how each subcommittee chair proceeds to consider this bill.

While the Senate is likely to allocate all of the non-defense spending allowed under the budget agreement, the House may choose to spend less than the caps permit, making negotiations between the two Houses more complicated.

Finally, the President has threatened to veto appropriations bills and shut down the government if the bills are not to his liking.

House appropriations subcommittees are beginning to consider FY19 bills. Traditionally, Congress begins with the easiest bills and leaves the most difficult ones until last. The Labor-HHS-Education bill, which funds adult education, is inevitably one of the most controversial and will be among the last bills to be considered.

Historically, the appropriations committees publish the 12 subcommittee allocations at the beginning of the process. These allocations are effectively ceilings on what each subcommittee can spend.

You may recall that as a result of the budget agreement, the cap on non-defense discretionary spending increases by $18 billion above the FY 2018 level. But, because of some anomalies, there will be less than $18 billion more to spend. For example, the FY 2019 appropriation for Veterans health care has already been decided, meaning that there is $4.5 billion less to spend. Also, other policy changes have cost $2-3 billion. Thus, the effective cap is only about $11 or $12 billion above the FY 2018 cap. Also, we need to note that funding for the National Institutes of Health has increased by about $7 billion over the last three fiscal years and it is commonly assumed that this year's Labor-HHS bill will include a similar increase.

The House has indicated that the FY 2019 allocation to the Labor-HHS subcommittee will be $177 billion, the same as in FY 2018. Senator Blunt has indicated that the Senate subcommittee allocation will be $2 billion above the FY 2018 level.

Appropriations staff is tamping down expectations for increases and are instead talking about the committees' desires to maintain funding at current levels and to have "targeted increases."

We will need to continue to build on the progress we made to secure increased funding for adult education. Our Educate and Elevate campaign to reach elected officials had 77,000 contacts at last count.

Our goal for funding adult education is $664.5 million, the level authorized in WIOA for FY 2019. Please use the Ignite software at COABE.org to write your Senator or Member of Congress to urge that adult education be funded at $664.5 million, the level authorized for FY 2019 in WIOA.

It now appears that both the House and Senate subcommittees will meet to consider (or "mark-up") their bills next month. The Senate mark-up is scheduled for the week of June 25. The House date has not been announced.

Prospects for Funding Increases

We have been meeting with Senate and House staff to discuss adult education funding issues. It is interesting how many staff report hearing from constituents in the private sector about labor shortages in their states or districts and who see adult education as part of the solution to this problem. Virtually everyone has asked for success stories to help bolster the case for increased funding. Please send success stories to your Senators and Representatives.

Rescission Package

You may have read that the President signed and criticized the omnibus appropriations bill, vowing never to sign another such bill.

Earlier this week, the Administration proposed a so-called "rescission" package of about $15 billion to capture funds that had been previously appropriated but have not yet been spent. None of the funds proposed for recapture are part of the FY 2018 appropriations package. All are from FY 2017 or earlier.

About half the funds come from the Children's Health Insurance Program. Other funds are from transportation accounts and AmeriCorps, among other programs. These accounts are frozen, pending Congressional consideration of the package.

This rather arcane process is intended to prevent Presidents from "impounding" money that Congress appropriated by having Congress vote on the proposals within 45 legislative days. If Congress does not approve, the funding is again available to be spent.

What is unusual about this package is its size. Press reports suggest that the proposal is likely to pass the House but not the Senate (where passage requires only 51 votes). Leadership in the Senate, as well as House appropriators, does not support the idea. 

There are persistent rumors that the Administration will send up additional rescission packages in the future, which would have the effect of freezing spending on those accounts, at least temporarily.

Other Legislation

There are rumors that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chair of the Senate HELP Committee and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Committee's Ranking Democrat have begun to discuss a CTE reauthorization. You may recall that a CTE bill passed the House but has been stuck in the Senate because Murray and Alexander disagreed about how much authority the Secretary of Education should have.

While Congress is capable of acting quickly when it decides to, it is beginning to look like such potentially controversial bills as the Higher Education Act reauthorization will not get done this year.

Finally, on Friday, May 18, the House failed to pass the Agriculture Committee's version of the Farm bill. This is relevant to us because the Farm bill funds the SNAP program and the bill proposed significant new work requirements for SNAP recipients. It is possible that the House Republican leadership will attempt to bring the Farm bill back next week for another vote. Experts believe that the House bill cannot pass the Senate and are awaiting a Senate bill.

 

COABE NCSDAE Legislative Alert

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April Government Relations Report

Things are relatively quiet in Washington these days on the domestic front. On March 23, the President signed the Consolidated Omnibus Appropriations Act which, as you know, included $35 million more federal funds for adult education. This six percent increase brought funding up to $631 million. This is the largest increase in federal funding in memory.

Now, the focus shifts to FY 2019 appropriations.

Senators Reed (D-RI) and Blumenthal (D-CT) circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter seeking $664.5 million, the level authorized in WIOA for FY 2019. The letter, addressed to Senators Blunt and Murray, the Chair and Ranking Member, respectively of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations subcommittee, got 23 signatures (an increase of seven over last year's effort). Other Senators signaled their support for adult education but said they don't sign such letters. The signers include:

Coons (DE)
Hirono (HI)
Warren (MA)
Brown (OH)
King (ME)
Cantwell (WA)
Whitehouse (RI)
Stabenow (MI)
Hassan (NH)
Duckworth (IL)
Shaheen (NH)

Reed (RI)  
Blumenthal (CT) 
Baldwin (WI) 
Gillibrand (NY) 
Durbin (IL)  
Markey (MA)
Van Hollen (MD)     
Smith (NM)
Merkley (OR) 
Sanders (VT) 
Cortez-Masto (NV)
Murphy (CT)

Thank them, please.

Rumors are circulating that the White House, working with some House Republicans, is preparing a "rescission" package to roll back some of the increases included in the recently passed Omnibus Appropriations Act. The size of the package has not been made public, but a figure as high as $50 billion has been floated.

The Congressional Budget Act allows presidents to withhold or defer money from specific programs, as long as they get approval from Congress. If Congress does not enact a rescission bill within 45 days of continuous session, the President must spend the money.

There seems to be little appetite in either House to actually take up the package, with appropriators in particular, talking about the importance of adhering to the terms of the deal they just made. Senate staff confirms that there doesn't seem to be much support for such a package in the Senate.

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News that, "You can't make an agreement one month and say, 'OK, we really didn't mean it.'" Nevertheless, the package may move in the House.

Appropriations Testimony Due

Both the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees accept testimony from the public. Both COABE and the state directors will be submitting testimony.

The deadline to submit written testimony to the House appropriations committee is April 26. If you would like to submit testimony, please follow these instructions:

DEADLINE TO SUBMIT WRITTEN TESTIMONY FOR THE RECORD: THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2018.

If you would like to submit written testimony for the record, please send your testimony to: LH.Approp@mail.house.gov with the subject line: "FY 2019 Written Testimony for the Record." You may also submit this information via fax at 202-225-3509. All written testimony for the record must comply with the following requirements:

  • Your testimony should not exceed five pages.
  • Your testimony should be an attachment to your email.
  • Type on standard 8.5 by 11-inch letter-size paper.
  • Use double spaced type in 12-point font with one-inch margins.
  • Clearly indicate your name, title, and institutional affiliation (if any) at the top of the first page.
  • Clearly state in the first paragraph the agency, program, and amount of funding involved in the request.
  • Do not include color or detailed photos; however, the use of charts and tables and the use of appropriate bold type and bullets are acceptable.

Members may be inclined to focus on testimony from their constituents. The members of the House Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee are:

Tom Cole (OK), Chair
Michael K. Simpson (ID)
Steve Womack (AR)
Charles J. Fleischmann (TN)
Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA)
Andy Harris, M.D. (MD)
Martha Roby (AL)
John R. Moolenaar (MI)
Rosa L. DeLauro (CT), Ranking Member
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Mark Pocan (WI)
Katherine M. Clark (MA)

The Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations subcommittee is accepting written testimony from outside witnesses submitted by June 1.  Here are the instructions:

  • Testimony (including any supporting material) should be a maximum of four (4) pages, on 8.5 x 11-inch paper, single sided, single spaced, and have a 1-inch margin. Do not include a cover page. At the top of the first page, list the name of the person or organization submitting testimony. Note that it is prepared for the subcommittee on Labor and which department and/or agency the testimony is addressing.
  • Delivery is by electronic submission only, as described below. Please e-mail testimony to lhhs@appro.senate.gov with the subject line "FY2019 LHHS OWT." To facilitate printing, we can only accept testimony in Microsoft Word or Word Perfect formats. DO NOT SEND PDF FILES. In the email, please include contact information (name, email, physical address, and telephone).

All materials must be received no later than close of business, June 1, 2018. This deadline will be strictly enforced.

Similarly, if you want to submit testimony to the Senate subcommittee, the members are:

Murray, Patty, (WA), Ranking Member
Durbin, Dick (IL)
Reed, Jack (RI)
Shaheen, Jeanne (NH)
Merkley, Jeff (OR)
Schatz, Brian (HI)
Baldwin, Tammy (WI)
Murphy, Chris (CT)
Manchin, Joe (WV)

Blunt, Roy (MO) Chair
Shelby, Richard C. (AL)
Alexander, Lamar (TN)  
Graham, Lindsey (SC)  
Moran, Jerry (KS) 
Capito, Shelley Moore (WV)
Lankford, James (OK)
Kennedy, John (LA)
Rubio, Marco (FL) 
Hyde-Smith, Cindy (MS)

Other Legislation: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The House Agriculture committee is considering a bill to reauthorize several federal agriculture and nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The bill would expand funding for the SNAP Employment & Training (E&T) program while making significant changes to SNAP eligibility that could result in millions of Americans losing access to basic food assistance.

The draft bill would significantly increase the state administrative grant program from the current $90 million for FY 2019, to $250 million in FY 2020, to $1 billion for FY 2021 and subsequent fiscal years. The minimum allocation for states would be increased from $50,000 to $100,000.

The bill would eliminate grants that allocate $20 million per year to states that provide guaranteed access to employment and training services for individuals at risk of losing SNAP eligibility (often referred to as "pledge" states), and would replace this language with a new reservation of not more than $150 million per year that would be set aside for eligible training providers identified under section 122 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

The bill would also maintain the current "50-50" program that allows states and service providers to be reimbursed for certain costs of operating SNAP Employment & Training programs (SNAP E&T). These proposed increases to SNAP E&T funding reflect growing bipartisan consensus on the value of investments in training and education to reduce poverty and help low-income individuals succeed in today's labor market.

The bill would also amend current language relating to employment or training activities that can be used to satisfy eligibility requirements to include subsidized employment, apprenticeship, and unpaid or volunteer work, although the last category of activity is limited to six months out of any twelve-month period.

Specifically:

The bill would require all non-exempt SNAP participants between the ages of 18-59 to engage in at least 20 hours of qualifying work activities per week, with the hourly requirement going up to 25 hours per week starting in FY 2026. This is a major change from current law, which does not generally impose specific hourly requirements on SNAP participants, except for individuals known as Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs), who are individuals between the ages of 18-49 who do not have dependents, and who are not disabled. ABAWDs are currently limited to three months of benefits in any 36-month period in which they do not participate in at least 80 hours of work or other qualifying activities.

The House bill would expand hourly work requirements to a broader population of SNAP participants, effectively eliminate state flexibility to operate SNAP E&T programs on a voluntary basis and instead mandate that all non-exempt participants engage in work or a training program in order to retain eligibility.

It also proposes stringent penalties for non-compliance with work requirements. A second violation would result in the loss of eligibility for 36 months.

The bill proposes to provide some protections for individuals by requiring a new mandatory level of service for all individuals who are subject to the expanded work requirements, including required case management services with individualized service plans. But there would be significant concerns about the capacity of states to provide meaningful levels of service.

It is estimated that these new work requirements could impact up to 7,000,000 individuals per year, which will likely create significant capacity challenges for states seeking to create sufficient work or training opportunities for impacted participants; the most recent data for the federally-funded workforce system indicates that Title I-funded programs only served 6.8 million participants in Program Year 2015, meaning this expansion of work requirements could effectively double required service levels through the American Job Center network and other system partners.

In addition, the new rules would require substantial new administrative capacity at the state and local level to help monitor and track individual participation in qualifying activities, making these programs far more cumbersome and costly for stakeholders to run.

As of now, only Title I programs qualify as meeting the bill's work requirements, but according to the National Skills Coalition analysis "While H.R. 2 does authorize a two-year transition period for states and does provide some welcome resources for SNAP E&T, it is unrealistic to expect states to develop and implement high-quality workforce programming for this many individuals, particularly given the long-term decline in funding for WIOA training and adult education programs over the past two decades."

The future of this bill is unclear.


Legislative Talking Points

  • Legislator Talking Points to use in presentations, customized letters, and on your website
  • Campaign Fact Sheets you can send or bring to meetings with reporters or elected officials
  • A one-page Fact Sheet with details on who we are, who we champion, who we lead, and who we equip

HOW TO ARRANGE AND CONDUCT A VISIT WITH A LEGISLATOR, LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT (LA), OR REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE

While face to face meetings may take more time to plan and follow up, they are the most effective way to communicate. A great opportunity to meet with your federal legislator is during Congressional recess when legislators are in their home districts.

BEFORE THE VISIT

Deciding With Whom to Meet
Even if you are unable to schedule a meeting with your legislator due to scheduling conflicts, the LA ultimately advises the legislator on the vote and is the person who actually drafts legislative language for consideration by the committees in the Senate and House. LAs also have a high turnover rate as they advance quickly throughout their legislative careers. One never knows where he or she will end up; running an elections campaign, becoming head over an agency, or joining the staff at the White House. Meeting with the legislator, the LA, or the regional representative are all very effective approaches for educating the legislator on adult education issues.

While one-to-one meetings can be very effective, it’s usually helpful to have a small group meet with the legislator, LA, or regional representative. Choose your group before scheduling the meeting.