Public Policy News – January 2020
CSWE Signs on to Letter Urging Congressional Movement on Social Determinants
Along with several organizations, CSWE signed on to a letter urging U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders to pass the Social Determinants Accelerator Act (H.R. 4004). The letter also encourages the committee to hold a hearing on current opportunities for and challenges to addressing social determinants of health. More specifically, H.R. 4004 “will help states and communities devise strategies to better leverage existing programs and authorities to improve the health and wellbeing of those participating in Medicaid.”
Doctoral Student Policy Forum Application Launches in February
CSWE, the Society for Social Work and Research, and the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work are joining to support a Social Work Doctoral Student Policy Forum in 2020. The objectives of the Forum are to create an opportunity for doctoral students to make a stronger link between their research and policy, expose social work researchers to how their research experience and backgrounds are used by practitioners in government to influence and inform policy, and promote the value and significance of investments in social work and social work research on Capitol Hill. Additionally, the Forum will help cultivate a cadre of social work researchers who can advocate for investments in social work education and research as well as disseminate this information among their communities of practice. Applications will be available in early February from the respective organizations.
The Year Ahead in Higher Education
Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Trump Administration face a host of higher education issues heading into 2020. Despite the passage of a bill reauthorizing some minority-serving institutions’ grant programs and making changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and verification process, leaders of the U.S. House and Senate education committees still hope to reach an agreement on a broader Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill in this Congress. Although the House of Representatives is likely to pass its HEA reauthorization bill this year, it is unclear whether any deal reached in the Senate will be acceptable to House Democrats seeking large increases in student aid funding and major policy overhauls. Discussions regarding Title IX are likely to be highly partisan, with many Democrats seeking more stringent regulations on universities’ reporting and responses to sexual harassment on campus.
Immigration maintains its importance in 2020, with the Supreme Court expected to issue its ruling on the legal challenge to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program this year. Congress has largely held off from considering changes to or expansion of the DACA program while the case works its way through the courts. A decision from the Supreme Court might spur Congress to act. The Trump Administration is likely to continue exercising administrative authority affecting international students and faculty members. Free college proposals and major student loan forgiveness plans have dominated the Democratic presidential primary, and legislation will be introduced in Congress by the candidates or their allies that reflect these ideas. As the general election nears, the Trump Administration may also roll out more limited college affordability plans to counter Democratic proposals.
Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations Finalized
Before a December 20, 2019, deadline, Congress passed and the president signed into law two appropriations packages that fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2020, avoiding a government shutdown. The final spending packages included increases to student aid funding and other programs of importance to the higher education community. The law increases the maximum individual Pell Grant award to $6,345, an increase of $150 over the FY 2019 level. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program was provided a $25 million increase for a total of $865 million in FY 2020, and the Federal Work-Study program received a $50 million increase for a total of $1.2 billion in FY 2020. Notably, the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program was flat funded at $23 million.
The spending package provided funding for several new behavioral health education and training programs at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that had been authorized over the last several years but not funded. They are under the Title VII Health Professions programs at HRSA, which was funded at $425 million, an increase of $33 million over the FY 2019 level. The Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) program received a $27 million increase above the FY 2019 enacted level. Within the increase for BHWET, $26.7 million is for a new Mental and Substance Use Disorder Workforce Training Demonstration, which was originally authorized in 21st Century Cures legislation in 2016 but had not yet been funded. In addition, $10 million through the BHWET program will support a new Loan Repayment Program for the Substance Use Disorder Treatment Workforce, which was recently passed in the Substance Use Disorder Prevention That Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act.
ED Proposes Rule on Aid for Faith-Based Institutions
In December 2019 the U.S. Department of Education (ED) proposed revising regulations regarding the eligibility of faith-based institutions to participate in Title IV federal aid programs. The rule would allow members of religious orders who also are pursuing courses of study to participate in Title IV programs and would increase access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for individuals who work for employers that engage in religious instruction, among other changes. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stated, “These new rules will ensure a level playing field and will guarantee that individuals and institutions can continue to practice their faith and adhere to their values without losing the federal funding opportunities otherwise available to others." ED intends to publish final regulations by no later than November 1, 2020, to be effective July 1, 2021.
SAMHSA Releases Funding Announcement for Suicide Center Creation
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Mental Health Services has released a funding announcement for the creation of a national Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The center would provide training and best practices for states and local governments on the best suicide prevention methods. Only one award will be granted, totaling approximately $7.5 million per year. Applications are due March 9, 2020.
HRSA Issues Funding Opportunity for SDS Program
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Bureau of Health Workforce released a funding opportunity for the fiscal year 2020 Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) program. This year’s cycle will have special funding allocated to graduate programs in behavioral and mental health. The SDS program increases the diversity of the health workforce by funding eligible academic institutions that are training health profession students. The academic institutions then make scholarships available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have financial need. Applications are due March 3, 2020.