Public Policy News – February 2021
Higher Education Aid Included in COVID-Relief Bill
House Committees Mark Up Health Provisions for COVID Relief Bill
Burr Named HELP Committee Ranking Member; New Appointments to House Education Committee
Biden Releases a Flurry of Executive Actions
CSWE Presents During HEALS Virtual Meeting
NIH Focuses on Behavioral and Social Science Research Priorities
CSWE and 112 other organizations issued a letter supporting the passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. The letter, which was sent to all House and Senate legislative directors plus leadership staff, urges Congress to prioritize the well-being of communities of color to “reduce shameful inequities laid bare by the pandemic” and to target to those most in need to reduce disparities. The legislation is expected to go before the House of Representatives for a full vote the week of February 22. The Senate will vote on the package and may offer amendments. The goal of the Biden Administration is to pass the American Rescue Plan by March 14, the date when supplemental unemployment benefits expire.
Additionally, CSWE joined 360 organizations to support The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research’s Fiscal Year 2022 Recommendation to fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for at least $46.1 billion, a $3.2 billion increase over the current fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding level. The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research is a coalition that supports increased funding for NIH and represents scientific societies, academic institutions, patient groups, and more. This FY 2022 recommendation would ensure that NIH maintains the robust growth needed to support biomedical, behavioral, social, and population-based research to address global health challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement also calls for increased investment in all public health agencies and additional COVID-19 relief funds to support losses in research productivity due to research institution and clinical trial shutdowns. This recommendation statement will be shared with congressional and federal agency leaders.
In response to calls from President Biden, Congress is advancing legislation that would support additional COVID-relief funding. Given the resistance from many Republicans, Democrats in the House and the Senate are using a legislative process known as reconciliation that would let a bill pass without Republican support. The process entails various Congressional committees developing proposals that will eventually be rolled into a single bill. Current proposals being considered include $128.5 billion for K-12 education, $40 billion for higher education, a proposed raise to the federal minimum wage, funding for aging and disability programs, resources for childcare, money to address and support survivors of family violence, and funding for child abuse prevention and treatment programs.
In a statement made during a House Education and Labor Committee markup of the proposed legislation, Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) noted, “Our country is at a pivotal moment in the fight against COVID-19. We have the responsibility to do everything in our power to defeat this pandemic. This legislation takes a critical step to fulfill that basic responsibility by providing our communities with the relief to get through this pandemic and build back a better America.”
The House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee have begun to finalize health-related provisions that will be included in the House’s forthcoming COVID-19 budget reconciliation legislation.
These are two of the many committees with jurisdiction over sections of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, and each is working on its relevant portions separately before a full House vote on the complete package. Health-focused provisions contained in the Energy and Commerce Committee portion of the package include additional funds for testing, tracing, surveillance, and mitigation of COVID-19 and supply procurement; additional funds for states to increase the public health workforce; support for the behavioral health workforce; and additional funding for community health centers. The Ways and Means Committee portion of the package includes enhanced Affordable Care Act premium tax credits for 2021 and 2022; additional support for home visiting programs; enhanced COBRA subsidies for unemployed workers; increased funding for skilled nursing facilities to combat COVID-19 outbreaks; and funding for emergency supplies.
The legislation will advance to the House floor for a full vote, where it is expected to pass. It will be taken up by the Senate, where additional amendments may be considered before the package is voted on. Due to the special rules surrounding budget reconciliation, the package is expected to pass the Senate with a simple majority of votes.
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) was named the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and will join new Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) in leading the committee.
Ranking Member Burr has not been particularly active on higher education policy in recent years but has expressed interest in workforce training and name, image, likeness issues. Following Burr’s appointment, HELP Committee leaders announced confirmation hearings for secretary of education nominee Miguel Cardona on February 3; for secretary of labor nominee Marty Walsh on February 4; and for secretary of health and human services nominee Xavier Beccera, which takes place on February 23.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) each announced new appointments to the committee. Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Bob Good (R-VA), Mary Miller (R-IL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Michelle Steel (R-CA), and Mark Pocan (D-WI) were among the members joining the committee.
President Biden released a number of executive orders (EOs) in January with potential impacts on education. The January 21 Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers notes, “Two principles should guide the Federal Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis with respect to schools, … and higher education institutions. First, the health and safety of children, students, educators, families, and communities is paramount. Second, every student in the United States should have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, during and beyond the pandemic.” The EO directs the secretary of education to provide “evidence-based guidance to institutions of higher education on safely reopening for in-person learning.”
Other relevant EOs include the Executive Order on Establishing the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board and Ensuring a Sustainable Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 and Other Biological Threats. The EO states that it is the policy of the administration to support a “ Government-wide, unified approach that includes: establishing a national COVID-19 testing and public health workforce strategy; … working to expand the public health workforce; supporting screening testing for schools and priority populations” and establishes a COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board “to expand testing and reduce disparities in access to testing;” and “identify options for the Federal Government to maximize testing capacity of commercial labs and academic labs.”
Several EOs affecting international students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students were also released. These include the Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States, a reversal of what many refer to as the Muslim travel bans, and Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” which directs the secretary of homeland security and attorney general to “take all actions … appropriate, consistent with applicable law, to preserve and fortify DACA.”
CSWE presented at the virtual 2021 Social Work Healthcare Education and Leadership Scholars (HEALS) advocacy training session to prepare scholars for virtual meetings with Capitol Hill staff next month. The Social Work HEALS program works to prepare the next generation of health-care social work leaders to lead efforts to address system-level changes, heighten awareness of prevention and wellness, and address the issues of structural racism that are embedded in social institutions. The virtual forum provided scholars with a primer on advocacy matters and examples of legislative topics to discuss with congressional offices, including protecting health workforce training programs, addressing social determinants of health, and supporting public loan forgiveness. These meetings present scholars with an opportunity to share real-life stories that emphasize the need to support initiatives that connect social work and health care. The recommended legislative topics discussed during the training webinar are aligned with advocacy agendas outlined by CSWE and the National Association of Social Workers for 2021.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is evaluating its behavioral and social science research portfolio. Two working groups managed by the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) seek to ensure a more robust and focused commitment to behavioral and social science research at NIH.
The Basic Behavior and Social Sciences Working Group, established in May 2020 (see June 2020 newsletter), provided an update at a recent NIH Advisory Council meeting. The group’s main goal is to review the basic behavioral and social sciences research (bBSSR) portfolio across NIH. In the update the working group highlighted an analysis they conducted with the NIH Office of Portfolio Analysis to understand the current bBSSR portfolio. The analysis revealed that the largest amount of funding goes toward neurobiology and cognition/learning research, leading to a higher award rate in those areas, and that the funding rate of proximal/translational research is less than other bBSSR in the portfolio. Examples of research priorities include increasing multilevel research, focusing on epidemiology and population health, and workforce diversity. The working group’s research priorities will be compared to the research priorities of NIH programmatic staff and a final report will be delivered to NIH in May 2021.
At the same council meeting a new working group was formed to address a congressional directive placed in the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill calling for the NIH “to convene a special advisory panel of behavioral scientists and other community experts to … [provide] recommendations on how to better integrate and realize the benefits to overall health from behavioral health at NIH.” This working group differs from the Basic Behavior and Social Sciences Working Group because it will be less focused on which behavioral and social science research is studied and more focused on how this research is integrated at the NIH. The group will consist of eight to 10 members selected from current NIH advisory boards and supported by OBSSR staff. The first meeting is anticipated for April 2021 with a final report due to the NIH by January 2022.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is inviting support from the academic community to join a sign-on letter from more than 300 academics urging President Biden to use his executive authority to cancel student debt.
The letter from 52 initial signers and the sign-on form are available here. The effort was led by Fred Wherry, professor of sociology at Princeton University; Laura Hamilton, professor of sociology at the University of California; and Charlie Eaton, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California. It explains why student debt cancellation would be progressive and details recent research and new data showing that cancellation would disproportionately help Black and low-income former students. The letter also notes that tax reform is a better tool than financial aid policy to recover benefits from debt cancellation that may incidentally flow to some wealthier borrowers.
The letter was drafted in consultation with policy advocates who organized an important recent letter in support of debt cancellation from 329 civic organizations (including NASW and CSWE). Additionally, Sarah Christa Butts, director of public policy at NASW, is quoted in the associated press release.