CHN’s Human Needs Watch: Tracking Hardship, February 23, 2024


February 23, 2024

February 23, 2024 

The Poison Pills Edition. Congress has set deadlines for completing 12 bills that provide funding for all the federal programs requiring annual appropriations – including nutrition for babies, toddlers, and the aging, rental subsidies, environmental protection, child care, education from pre-k to college, transportation, and a whole lot more. Some of these programs will see their funding run out on March 1; the rest on March 8, if Congress does not finally approve funding or pass another extension. If funding runs out, the programs covered will shut down until Congress finally acts. Despite the fast approach of these deadlines, Congress is now in a recess. The Senate will return on Monday, February 26; the House not until February 28, just two days before the March 1 deadline.   

While appropriators and their hardworking staff have been negotiating through the recess, and there are reports that agreements on funding levels are near conclusion, extremists in the House are pressing for hundreds of highly contentious policy riders to be attached to the funding bills. Called “poison pill riders” because they are so unacceptable that they would never pass as stand-alone legislation and large numbers in Congress could not vote for funding bills that included them, insistence on including many of them by right wing members such as the House Freedom Caucus is slowing down negotiations. The House Freedom Caucus doesn’t seem to care: if the negotiations fail, it could lead to a funding bill that would trigger large cuts to domestic programs, cuts which the extremists support. They don’t seem to mind that a government shutdown might result, since they don’t support many of the services that would be affected, and think a shutdown would ultimately lead to the cuts they seek. 

So – Congress needs to say NO to all new poison pill riders that don’t belong in funding bills, and get on with the work of approving appropriations to meet needs. CHN was one of nearly 200 groups signing a letter to Congress urging just that, and individuals can send that message to Congress too – click here. 


The House went on recess for 2 weeks, scheduled to return on February 28, despite the fact that 4 spending bills will expire on March 1, and the rest on March 8. There are many reports that more temporary spending bills will be needed to avoid a govt. shutdown. Retweet this.



That’s how many members of Congress are in the House Freedom Caucus, a right-wing subgroup within the House Republican conference, as estimated in January 2024 by Wikipedia. The HFC does not list its members, so this is an estimate.  It’s less than 20% of House Republicans, and less than 10% of all House members (431 total with 4 vacancies in Feb. 2024).  But this small minority is stalling actual governance by pressing for poison pill riders. Retweet this.



More than 560 poison pill policy riders have been attached to House appropriations bills. They are extreme measures that could not pass Congress if introduced as stand-alone legislation, covering such topics as restrictions on asylum, LGBTQ rights, environmental protections, etc. – see below. Retweet this.



How many non-citizens should be excluded from Census Bureau population counts used to set voting districts and distribute funds – because it’s unconstitutional to exclude any person in census counts.  But there’s a poison pill rider requiring the Census Bureau to exclude non-citizens; Senator Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Meng (D-NY) led a letter to leadership opposing such a rider, signed by 8 senators and 41 reps. Retweet this.



73% support requiring gun owners to take a test, get a license, and register their firearms as they do for their automobiles, according to a May 2023 poll. But a proposed poison pill rider would prevent the Administration from implementing gun registries and red flag laws. Retweet this.


33,007; 770,000 

There were 33,007 fair housing complaints in 2022, the highest number ever in a single year, and it’s estimated that if discrimination were addressed to improve access to housing credit, there would be a gain of 770,000 more Black homeowners. BUT, there’s a poison pill rider to bar the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from using funds for the proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, published in January to fulfill the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.


150,000; 3.9m 

The Biden Administration has just announced forgiving the student loan debt for 150,000 people, saving them $1.2 billion.  This is added to 3.9m people whose student loan debt has been cancelled so far, for a savings of $138b. Despite these very popular actions, there is a poison pill rider to prohibit the Administration from implementing student loan forgiveness.


30 minutes 

The IRS has successfully begun implementation of a free pilot IRS Direct File program for simple tax returns in 12 states, reporting that First filers have indicated that Direct File is straightforward and easy to use, and many have successfully filed their taxes in less than 30 minutes.” BUT, there is a poison pill rider to stop the Direct File program, despite its having been authorized by Congress in the first place.


$18b; 900m 

The Biden Administration has estimated that its vehicle emissions standards will save drivers $18b more at the pump than the cost of improving the standards and that 900m tons of CO2 emissions will be eliminated, equal to taking 233m cars off the road from 2022 – 2050.  BUT, there is a poison pill rider to defund the implementation of these emission standards.



A House Freedom Caucus-proposed poison pill rider would set the salary of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to zero. The House has also voted to impeach him, despite no evidence of “high crimes or misdemeanors.”






Human Needs Watch