Public Policy News – December 2020
A Biden Administration’s Impact on Social Work Education
CSWE Joins Call for Health Force Act in Coronavirus Relief Package
Advocacy for Student Loan Relief and Debt Cancellation
President-Elect Biden Names Xavier Becerra to Lead Health and Human Services
Senate Committee Releases Draft Funding Bill; Negotiations on Final Package Continue
117th Congressional Committee Leadership Outlook
NASEM Workshop on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in the Era of COVID-19
Future Funding Opportunity: NIMHD Forecasts NOSI for Research to Address Vaccine Hesitancy
The CSWE government relations team presented a program and question-and-answer session at the CSWE 2020 Annual Program Meeting (APM) on the November election results. The presentation, titled “What the 2020 Election Means to Social Work Education," highlighted that the new Congress, which starts in January, will have the most women ever; New Mexico became the first state to elect all women of color as its House delegation; and the number of African Americans in Congress is expected to build on the record reached in 2019 of 55 members. The presentation also discussed what a Department of Education under President Biden would seek to prioritize, including increasing funding for education, emphasizing public education, expanding support for Minority Serving Institutions, and addressing student loan debt and college affordability.
CSWE signed on to a letter addressed to House and Senate leadership calling for inclusion of the Health Force and Resilience Force Act of 2020 (S 3606/HR 6808) in a future coronavirus relief package. The legislation would provide funding to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to establish a public health workforce representative to support each community’s needs. In late spring CSWE President and CEO Darla Spence Coffey issued a statement of support for the legislation, stating that “this bill recognizes the need to expand our public health workforce, which includes social workers. The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health crisis that requires the expertise of health professions across the spectrum. As the national association representing social work education, CSWE is encouraged by these efforts to ensure that social workers and other health professionals are able to support disaster preparedness and response efforts for this and future crises.”
CSWE joined several higher education associations in calling for continued suspension of federal student loan payments and the collection of defaulted loans and for continuing 0% interest on loans. In March the Department of Education (ED) provided these reliefs, which were subsequently included in the CARES Act. The ED extended the measures through December 31, 2020. In a letter to the ED, CSWE and others called for extension of these relief measures until "December 31, 2021, or until the federal government formally declares an end to the pandemic, whichever occurs first." On December 4 the ED announced the extension of the federal student loan administrative forbearance period, the pause in interest accrual, and the suspension of collections activity through January 31, 2021, a win for students and higher education.
CSWE also joined more than 200 organizations in a letter to President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris, calling on them to use executive authority to cancel federal student debt on Day One of their administration. Debt cancellation is likely to be a significant priority for the incoming administration. CSWE will continue its advocacy to ensure that increases to student aid, particularly grant aid, is included in proposals to forgive student debt.
Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra has been formally named as President-Elect Biden’s pick as secretary of Health and Human Services. Attorney General Becerra led the defense of the Affordable Care Act in recent judicial challenges. He previously served as a congressman for the state of California and helped pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010. If confirmed, Becerra will be the first person of Latino descent to lead the agency. President-Elect Biden also named Dr. Rochelle Walensky as his nominee for director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Walensky currently serves as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and has served on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic for the state of Massachusetts.
Additional health appointees include Vivek Murthy, who has been named as the new surgeon general, a role familiar to the top medical expert who previously served as surgeon general under the Obama Administration. Dr. Murthy will be tasked with a broader portfolio, which includes serving as the Biden Administration’s public face of the COVID-19 response effort. President-Elect Biden also announced new members of his COVID-19 response team, bringing on Jeff Zients, a transition co-chair and former Obama Administration official who will serve as the White House’s COVID-19 coordinator. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a co-chair of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board and associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine, will serve as the COVID-19 Equity Task Force chair.
Last month the Senate Appropriations Committee released its draft fiscal year (FY) 2021 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (L-HHS-ED) appropriations bill. The Senate is bypassing the formal process of voting on each appropriations bill through the committee and fielding votes on the Senate floor; therefore, this draft bill primarily reflects Senate Republican priorities. However, this bill serves as a basis for the Senate’s negotiations with the House, which approved its FY 2021 L-HHS-ED bill in July. A major sticking point between the two parties is the inclusion of additional COVID-19 relief in the FY 2021 appropriations process—the House-passed bill included $24.4 billion in emergency funding for COVID-19, whereas the Senate draft bill does not provide any such funding.
The bill would provide $184.5 billion in overall discretionary funding for programs at the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would receive $96.3 billion in appropriations in FY 2021, an increase of $1.9 billion over the FY 2020 level. The draft bill highlights several major themes across HHS programs, including greater investments in promoting diversity workforce programs, strengthening mental health services, curbing opioid and substance use, and ending the HIV epidemic. Additionally, the bill would provide a sixth consecutive increase for the National Institutes of Health, funding that agency at $43.7 billion in FY 2021.
Following are some highlights of interest to CSWE.
Department of Education
- A $6,495 maximum individual Pell Grant award for the 2021–2022 school year, a $150 increase over the current maximum award level
- Flat-funding of the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program at $23 million, a rejection of the president’s proposal to eliminate the program
- Slight increases for the Title V Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions program and the Promoting Post-Baccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans program
Health Resources and Services Administration
- A $14 million increase to the Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program
- A $4 million increase for the geriatrics programs, which include the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program and the Geriatrics Academic Career Award program
- $138 million for the Behavioral Health Workforce and Education Training program, when combined with the Mental and Behavioral Health Education and Training Program, which is level funding
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- A $3 million increase to the Minority Fellowship Program
- An $83 million increase to the Center for Mental Health Services
National Institutes of Health
- A $354 million increase for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Research
- A $469 million increase for National Institute on Aging
- A $96.5 million increase for National Institute of Mental Health
Congress must act before December 11 to avoid a government shutdown. Several experts anticipate that a short-term continuing resolution will be necessary before a final package is agreed on.
With the 2020 election results mostly finalized, Congress has turned its attention to preparing and selecting leadership for the 117th Congress. Democrats in the House of Representatives, who retained a narrow majority, have elected Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) as the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Congresswoman DeLauro is likely to continue leading the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS-ED) Subcommittee responsible for allocating funding for the Department of Health and Human Services in addition to her new role leading the full committee.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA), and House Education Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) will continue their committee roles. With Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) retiring at the end of the year, House Republicans selected Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA) to take over that role. Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX), Labor-HHS-ED Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK), Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX), and Education Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) will maintain their leadership roles.
On December 14 the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) will hold a free public virtual workshop titled “Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in the Era of COVID-19: With a Special Focus on the Impact of the Pandemic on Communities of Color.” More information on the webinar and registration details can be found here.
This is the third event in the Forum on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders series. More information on the series and the two publications accompanying the series titled Caring for People with Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in Primary Care Settings: Proceedings of a Workshop and Key Policy Challenges and Opportunities to Improve Care for People with Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders: Proceedings of a Workshop can be found here.
The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) intends to publish a funding opportunity announcement for “Research to Address Vaccine Hesitancy, Uptake, and Implementation among Populations that Experience Health Disparities.” The solicitation, which will be a notice of special interest (NOSI) for R01 research project grants, will call for community-engaged research to “help understand and address misinformation, distrust, and hesitancy regarding vaccines (e.g., SARS-CoV-2, human papilloma virus, pneumococcal, influenza, hepatitis B, and herpes zoster)” that target adults in the United States, especially among populations who experience health disparities. It will seek research to “evaluate innovative interventions (e.g., expand reach, access) to facilitate vaccination uptake in clinical and community contexts and address the barriers to increasing reach, access, and uptake of vaccinations among health disparity populations.”
Researchers can apply for funding using either of NIH’s standard parent R01 program announcements (PA-20-183, for research requiring clinical trials, or PA-20-185, for research not proposing a clinical trial). The estimated announcement date is December 18, 2020; first application due date February 05, 2021; and the earliest estimated award and start date September 30, 2021. Follow this link for more information.