Public Policy News – September 2020
Clock Ticking on Funding and Additional COVID Relief
ED Issues Regulations on Distance Learning and More
NACIQI Holds Summer Meeting
COVID-19 Impacts Are Key Theme of SAMHSA Meeting
CSWE recently participated in a briefing with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as part of the Health Professions and Nursing Education Coalition (HPNEC). During the meeting HPNEC outlined its funding priorities for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Title VII and Title VIII programs for fiscal year (FY) 2021. HPNEC advocated for $790 million in funding for HRSA and $367 million for COVID-relief supplemental funding for Title VII and Title VIII programs. Of the supplemental funding, a portion serves to expand telehealth services and prepare the current workforce to address COVID-19 and its aftermath, including addressing mental health needs. On the topic of FY 2022 funding, OMB noted that the focus has been on the pandemic.
Government funding runs out on September 30, the end of fiscal year (FY) 2020. Congress probably will extend current funding levels until this December or February of next year. CSWE continues to advocate with its congressional champions to ensure funding and appropriations important to CSWE members are included in FY 2021 funding bills. Although passage of additional COVID relief seemed certain earlier this year, the likelihood of such a bill has diminished greatly. Four legislative packages with various levels of support for unemployment relief, small business aid, education support, and other relief measures have been considered in the House and Senate, but none have advanced. Congress may take up additional relief after the election in November.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its “Distance Education and Innovation” regulations last month. Regulations were released earlier this year on issues such as accreditation, state authorization, religious institutions, and licensure notifications. Important updates in the new distance education regulations include definitions of “distance education” and “regular and substantive interaction.” In a fact sheet, ED notes that the new regulations will support “the permissibility of engaging instructional teams in the delivery of education through distance learning.” Additionally, the regulations provide updated definitions of “clock hour” and “credit hour.”
Other changes recently undertaken by ED include amending the current regulations regarding the eligibility of faith-based entities to participate in Title IV.
In late July the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) held its summer meeting. NACIQI provides recommendations regarding accrediting agencies that monitor the academic quality of postsecondary institutions and educational programs for federal purposes. The meeting largely focused on the review of the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) recommendation to limit the Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC) ability to accredit institutions that did not have accreditation or preaccreditation status. Representatives from ED stated that HLC did not follow their own rules in notifying schools about loss of accreditation during the schools’ change of ownership. As a result, ED continued to provide federal funding for the schools, and students claimed they were misled about the institutes’ accreditation status. ED’s recommendation to limit the accreditation ability of HLC has also raised concern in parts of the education community. Some see the recommendation as an assault on regional accreditors’ ability to make independent decisions regarding accreditation.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Advisory Council met virtually to discuss the agency’s current and upcoming priorities. SAMHSA’s Assistant Secretary of Mental Health and Substance Use, Elinore McCance-Katz, discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health and substance use issues in the United States. She highlighted concerns with isolationism, lack of social support resources due to social distancing, heightened risks of substance use disorder development and relapse, and higher rates of emergency department visits due to more suicide attempts. SAMHSA is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish crisis counseling programs in states to help address issues individuals and communities are grappling with as a result of the pandemic. The Advisory Council also touched on a current rise in the opioid epidemic and the need to expand telehealth flexibilities.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released its Rural Action Plan, an HHS-wide assessment of current and future rural health efforts. The report was produced by the HHS Rural Task Force, led by HHS Secretary Alex Azar, in response to President Trump’s August 3 executive order, “Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access.” The action plan identifies barriers to care in rural communities, including issues linked to health disparities, chronic disease burden, maternal mortality, and access to mental health services. The report also outlines a four-point strategy to tackle challenges to “build a sustainable health and human services model for rural communities by empowering rural providers to transform service delivery on a broad scale; leverage technology and innovation to deliver quality care and services to rural communities more efficiently and cost-effectively; focus on preventing disease and mortality by developing rural-specific efforts to improve health outcomes; and increase rural access to care by eliminating regulatory burdens that limit the availability of needed clinical professionals.” Although the action plan is the first department-wide assessment of rural health activities in nearly two decades, several critics have noted shortcomings in the report, such as recognizing the need for adequate funding to support such efforts. More details can be viewed in the full report.