CSWE recently provided members a voluntary opportunity to participate in Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) advocacy. CSWE is a member of the PSLF Coalition, which consists of several dozen organizations with members who work in public service sectors. CSWE is also a sponsor of the What You Can Do for Your Country Act of 2019 recently introduced in the Senate. The legislation would expand the types of federal student loans and repayment plans that are eligible for PSLF, direct the Department of Education to provide clearer information about the program, and allow borrowers to receive a partial forgiveness benefit after 5 years of public service, among other provisions.
Congress has begun its process to draft legislation that will allocate funding to federal agencies in fiscal year (FY) 2020, and CSWE has a multifaceted approach to advocate for social work and social work education. Of note, CSWE participated through its Public Policy Initiative in several advocacy activities this month to outline FY 2020 federal funding priorities that support social work programs and students. CSWE submitted outside witness testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and also met with staff members in the office of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a long-time social work champion, to discuss CSWE’s FY 2020 priorities.
In CSWE’s written testimony, President Darla Spence Coffey advocated for continuous support of health-care workforce programs at the Health Resources and Services Administration to build and maintain a robust workforce and for investments in the Minority Fellowship Program at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. CSWE also asked Congress to support investment in the Department of Education to assist students and access to affordable higher education. Additionally, CSWE requested increased investments at the National Institutes of Health in FY 2020 to support biomedical and health-related research that incorporates the social and behavioral science research necessary to address the needs of high-risk populations, including children, racial and ethnic minorities, and older adults.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently testified before the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS-Ed) as part of the annual process to determine federal agency funding. Secretary DeVos received bipartisan criticism of proposals to consolidate and eliminate funding for TRIO and Minority Serving Institutions programs. House Labor-HHS-Ed Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) observed in her opening statement, “This budget underfunds education at every turn—from early childhood education, K-12 education, postsecondary education through workforce training.”
At the Senate Labor-HHS-Ed hearing, Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed a need for better communication from the Department of Education (ED) regarding responses to member information requests. Murray and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who lead the Senate committee responsible for the Higher Education Act (HEA), spoke about the bipartisan interest in an HEA reauthorization. Murray stated that ED’s current higher education rulemaking, however, threatens the possibility of bipartisan negotiations. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) indicated he is working to introduce a bill to replace interest on student loans with a one-time fee that would support loan servicing. Members of the House and Senate Labor-HHS-Ed committees expressed support for making Pell Grant funds eligible for short-term programs but noted the need for guardrails.
Democrats questioned the Trump administration on its proposed spending cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and other health-care initiatives in a House Budget Committee hearing on March 26. Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-KY) criticized the proposed funding cuts, stating that cuts to health-care spending are especially egregious because the correlation between funding cuts and increased negative outcomes is so direct, saying it is “clear that this budget jeopardizes the health security of millions of Americans and their families.” He also said the is an “irresponsible way” to offset the Republican tax law from 2017. Eric Hargan, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), defended the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request, stating that the funding cuts were necessary to stay within the budget caps for FY 2020. Hargan also claimed that many of the programs eliminated from Medicaid and Medicare, such as the Medicaid expansion program, would be replaced by block grant programs that offer more flexibility to the states, and that spending adjustments would ultimately extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund and avoid insolvency. Democrats criticized the Trump administration’s decision to no longer defend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in court and its failure to allow Medicare Part D to negotiate pharmaceutical drug prices. Republicans on the committee largely praised the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce health-care costs, lower drug prices, and provide additional flexibility to states.
Francis Collins, director of the NIH, discussed the president’s FY 2020 budget request for NIH before the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. During the hearings, senators and representatives expressed bipartisan support for NIH funding and against spending cuts. Compared to the House hearing, however, Senate committee members asked more pointed questions about NIH’s current controversies. Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) was most concerned about how NIH can mitigate further incidents of foreign influence on research. Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) emphasized the importance of taking a strong position against sexual harassment in science, saying she wants NIH to do more than rely on grantees to report improper behavior.
Congress will probably ignore the funding cuts to agencies proposed in the president’s FY 2020 budget request, such as NIH, and will continue to negotiate a deal to raise the budget caps and avoid sequestration. However, the president’s budget request reveals the Trump administration’s priorities for HHS, which include eliminating the ACA and lowering federal spending on health-care programs.
Education committees in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate continue to devote attention to hearings on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). In the House, an Education and Labor Committee hearing titled Strengthening Accountability in Higher Education to Better Serve Students and Taxpayers focused on accreditation, accountability, and completion. Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) noted that “accreditors—traditionally the guardians of higher education quality—must be more effective at upfront gatekeeping and ongoing monitoring. That means setting standards that vary by institutional mission, using data to hold schools accountable, and standardizing procedures.” In a later hearing on the HEA, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos fielded questions from members on topics including student debt, loan servicing, and her department’s recent negotiated rulemaking.
At the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing titled Reauthorizing HEA: Addressing Campus Sexual Assault and Ensuring Student Safety and Rights senators discussed the responsibility of academic institutions to address these issues on campuses. Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) noted the need to address the “scourge of campus sexual assault.” Members and witnesses expressed concerns with the proposed regulations that the U.S. Department of Education released earlier this year, to which CSWE provided comments. The HELP Committee also held a hearing, Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Strengthening Accountability to Protect Students and Taxpayers, focused on the efficacy of current higher education accountability measures including the cohort default rate, the 90/10 rule, and the gainful employment rule. Commenting on these measures, Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) observed, “We need more effective measures of accountability.” Witnesses at the hearing discussed the dangers of so-called brightline indicators as they relate to accreditation and the importance of accounting for institutional mission. Alexander has indicated his interest in producing a bill by June.
For only the second time in 10 years, a Department of Education (ED) negotiated rulemaking panel was able to reach consensus on a slew of higher education regulations. If the panel had been unable to reach consensus, ED would have been free to write the regulations as it saw fit. The regulatory topics considered by the rulemaking committee included accreditation, definition of credit hour, TEACH grants, distance education, and religious mission. Particularly relevant regulatory changes being considered include a proposed professional licensure program disclosure, an update to the separate-and-independent nature of an accrediting agency’s decision-making body, and proposed changes regarding “substantive change.” ED will publish the proposed regulations in the next several months, permitting the opportunity for public comment and allowing CSWE to provide input on the proposed regulation. ED will review the feedback with a goal of publishing final regulations by November 1, 2019.
The Trump administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a very brief letter to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that stated the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be struck down in its entirety. The law has been challenged numerous times, although the DOJ letter references the Texas case in which the presiding judge found that the ACA was unconstitutional due to the individual mandate provision.
The move by the Trump administration is largely political messaging, even though support for the law has continued to grow since its enactment. Many Republicans on Capitol Hill appeared stunned by the timing of the DOJ’s letter, because many Democratic candidates won their 2018 elections by making support for the law a central theme of their campaigns. The ACA will continue to be a controversial law, with a focus on issues such as preexisting conditions continuing well into the 2020 elections.
Democrats were quick to pounce on the administration’s move to repeal the ACA, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) unveiling a new health-care bill intended to strengthen the law and using the news to confirm they will protect the law. The bill aims to lower health-care premiums by capping out-of-pocket costs and expanding tax credits for low- and middle-income individuals. It would also strengthen one of the ACA’s most supported provisions, coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions. Democrats also advanced several bills aimed at preserving the ACA through the House Energy and Commerce Committee, with Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) stating the bills would counteract “the Trump Administration’s sabotage of the Affordable Care Act.”
Although the ACA has been a continuous thorn in President Trump’s side, he has repeatedly said he would work to continue protections for people with preexisting conditions. This latest action by the DOJ puts Republicans in a tricky spot because many do not want to abolish coverage for preexisting conditions but do want to present a unified message that is aligned with the administration’s priorities.
On March 25 CSWE President Darla Spence Coffey participated in the Eldercare Workforce Alliance’s (EWA) Social Work Month Twitter Chat. The Twitter Chat focused on the importance of social workers in the care of older adults and covered a range of topics related to the workforce. Other organizations participating included the National Association of Social Workers and American Geriatrics Society. The Twitter Chat reached approximately 120,000 accounts. Resources shared can be found by searching #TogetherWeCare and #SocialWorkMonth on Twitter.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is soliciting applications for research on understanding barriers preventing low-income families from accessing cash assistance programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. RWJF intends to administer 10 awards totaling $1.5 million for primary data collection, secondary data analyses, and implementation and testing projects aimed at informing safety-net policies and practices. RWJF also intends to issue separate calls for proposals (CFPs) regarding early care and education and nutrition support programs. RWJF encourages applicants from a range of disciplines relevant to policy research, including social work, and applicants from groups that are underrepresented in policy research or are affiliated with institutions that serve underrepresented groups. Interested applicants must submit a brief proposal by May 21 at 3:00 pm EDT.