CHN: Human Needs Legislation Stuck in Gridlock

Several human needs programs are caught up in end-of-the-session legislative gridlock as Congress races towards its early October target adjournment. In some cases, gaping differences between House and Senate bills have stymied attempts to find agreement. Others – the Family Opportunity Act, for example – have bipartisan support but may be left behind for unrelated issues.
The “undone” list is long: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Workforce Investment Act, Head Start, child care, Family Opportunity Act, Higher Education Act, and others. The Coalition on Human Needs developed a chart of human needs programs that needed to be reauthorized in the 2002-2003 session, which we last updated in early August. Here is an end-of-the session status report on some key legislation:

A bill that reauthorizes the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed both houses of Congress but is unlikely to go to conference committee this year. The IDEA program will continue to be funded through the appropriations process without an authorization. The House and Senate versions differ significantly.

The House bill ( HR 1350 ) authorizes $11.1 billion in special education grants for FY 2005, just $1 billion more than last year’s amount. This level falls far short of fulfilling the government’s promise to take on 40 percent of the cost of educating children with disabilities. (Currently, federal funding is at 18 percent). Advocates are also unhappy with the discipline provisions in the House bill, which allow students to be moved indefinitely to “alternative placements” for violating any part of a school’s conduct code, and which some fear will disproportionately punish minority children.

The Senate version of the bill ( S 1248 ) makes it easier for certain students to access special education and does not contain the strict discipline measures of the House bill – but also does not guarantee full funding of the program. An amendment proposed by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), which passed almost unanimously, authorizes $12.4 billion for FY 2005 and specifies annual appropriated funding levels. The suggested levels would put IDEA on a glide-path to full federal funding by 2011, but appropriators would not be required to abide by them. The Senate bill passed with broad bipartisan support and although advocates view the bill as less than perfect, it is seen as an improvement over the House version.

In the new Congress, the two authorizing committees – the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – will have new chairs as Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) step down from their chairmanships. Disability advocates will continue to push for improvements and increased funding.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is now operating on its seventh extension and the program will expire at the end of September if Congress takes no action. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) has said that Congress will not be able to complete TANF reauthorization this year. Advocates are encouraged to urge their members of Congress to pass a clean, long-term extension. Although many improvements should be made to the existing legislation, advocates should ask Congress first to do no harm . The reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant is tied up with TANF reauthorization and will also be carried over to the next legislative session.

Unlike TANF, the Family Opportunity Act garnered bipartisan support in the House and Senate. But the bill, which allows families with disabilities to buy into the Medicaid program, stalled in the House. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) has insisted that the bill ( HR 1811 ) be paid for by cutting elsewhere in Medicaid. The offsets proposed by Chairman Barton – reducing federal reimbursement for Targeted Case Management – were objectionable to low-income advocates and the bill never went to the floor for a vote. The Senate passed the Family Opportunity Act on May 6.

Both the House and Senate have passed bills to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) ; the House passed H.R. 1261 in May 2003 and the Senate passed S. 1627 in November 2003. But Senate Democrats have refused to appoint conferees without more assurances from Republican colleagues that the views of the minority will be considered in conference. The House appointed conferees on June 3. Similar to IDEA, as long as appropriators continue to provide funding, the lack of an authorization does not halt current funding to the job training program. As noted above, the two chairmen of the authorizing committees are stepping down next year and advocates will continue to work on an improved WIA reauthorization.

For More Information

Workforce Alliance summary of the differences between the House and Senate WIA bills

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