Congress officially swore-in its new and re-elected members for the 116th Congress on Thursday, January 3 amid a partial federal shutdown over partisan disagreement over the President’s request for funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The start of a new Congress means that any legislation not passed by the previous Congress must be “rebooted”, in that it must be re-introduced, go through the committee process, and then be voted on by the full House and Senate all over again. This fact, combined with the shutdown starting at the end of the 115th Congress, has left legislation suspended and contingent on the outcome of negotiations to fund the government in the 116th Congress. ANCOR is dedicating this article to walking members through the various facets of the shutdown and what it means for the I/DD community.
Where the shutdown is at: With the discussion over border funding at a standstill, Congress is focused on short-term funding that will keep closed agencies open during longer negotiations. This type of short-term funding bill is known as a continuing resolution (CR). With the Democratic Party now in control, the House has passed a CR with no funding for construction of a wall which it has sent to the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he will not move a bill the President does not support, though he may begin to face pressure from other GOP U.S. Senators who are interested in a deal. Other Senators are seeing opportunities to re-open broader talks on immigration reform as a way out of the impasse, though we have not seen this widely discussed so far.
I/DD supports are mostly insulated from the shutdown. As shared in a previous ANCOR Capitol Correspondence article, key areas of the federal government for I/DD supports such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are already funded through a bipartisan deal signed before the election. While nine federal departments / agencies remain to be funded and their staff are currently furloughed, they do not have an immediate impact on the maintenance of I/DD supports.
However, people with disabilities are being affected by uncertainty over other federal assistance programs. As shared in Politico Pro, “As the partial government shutdown extends into its third week, the Department of Agriculture won’t say how long it can keep paying out food stamp benefits for the nearly 39 million people who depend on them each month. The White House and House Democrats, locked in a bitter political struggle over border wall funding, have started raising alarm that the food stamp program, one of the most significant forms of aid for low-income Americans, could run out of funds in coming weeks if Congress doesn’t act — an apparent attempt by both sides to increase pressure on Congress to end the shutdown. […] But the Trump administration may in fact have more leeway to use reserve funds to keep food stamps afloat if Congress and President Donald Trump can’t reach an agreement to break the impasse, which has shuttered nine of 15 federal departments, including the Department of Agriculture, for 17 days. […] The USDA, which administers the food stamp program, has declined to answer questions about its reserves and would not provide an estimate of when the program would run out of cash.” People with disabilities are among those eligible for SNAP, othewise known as the food stamp program. ANCOR members seeking a longer read might be interested in this Washington Post article.
Furthermore, ANCOR’s priority bill temporarily renewing Money Follows the Person is in limbo, affecting individuals who wish to be in the community. ANCOR and its members advocated very heavily for Congress to renew the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program, which transitions people with disabilities and chronic conditions out of nursing homes and into the community. This advocacy led to the House passing a bill to renew MFP for three months, and Congress and the Senate both attached this MFP bill to the CR introduced in December. However, since the CR did not pass due to the shutdown standoff, it means we must start over again – either with a new CR which includes MFP renewal or as standalone legislation. Because funding negotiations are in such flux, it is unclear what path MFP will need to take, but ANCOR will keep its members informed of opportunities for action as they arise.
Additionally, tax legislation that could interest providers as employers has also been stalled. ANCOR has previously flagged tax legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) that would repeal a portion of the 2017 tax reform bill which specifically affects the UBIT status. This legislation also did not pass before the end of the 115th Congress but remains a GOP priority in 2019.
ANCOR will keep members informed of new developments and opportunities as the federal government grapples with these issues.