September 12, 2005
The House and Senate will continue to focus on legislation dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The House will consider a resolution to form a committee to investigate the federal government's response to the Hurricane on Wednesday, September 15. The House could also consider an extension of unemployment benefits for the victims of the disaster. The Senate will likely take up measures that were passed by the House last week that would include, H.R. 3669, which would temporarily increase the amount of funds that FEMA can borrow from the Treasury from $1.5 billion to $3.5 billion to play flood insurance claims under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). HR. 3668, which authorizes the U.S. Secretary of Education to waive grant aid repayment requirements for students who are adversely affected by a major disaster, and H.R. 3672, which contains several key provisions that change the current welfare law to facilitate a state's ability to assist families affected by the Hurricane. Other Katrina-related relief efforts have been offered as amendments to the FY 2006 appropriations bill for CJS, which the Senate is scheduled to resume consideration. In addition, nine congressional hearings are scheduled this week on the disaster, and bipartisan discussions continue on the formation of a bicameral panel to investigate the hurricane response efforts.
The Senate is expected to complete action on the FY 2006 CJS appropriations bill. Last Friday, September 9, the Senate adopted an amendment to the measure that incorporates a bill sponsored by Senator Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would make it more difficult for illicit methamphetamine labs to obtain pseudo ephedrine by requiring retailers to put medicines containing the ingredient behind counters and to limit to 7.5 grams the amount of such medicines that consumers could purchase per month. The bill states that stronger state rules and penalties are permissible.
The House later this week is scheduled to consider a bill (H.R. 3132) to strengthen sex offender registration requirements. H.R. 3132 would mandate that states have a uniform, public access sex offender registration Web site, and that states notify each other when sex offenders move from one state to another.
Relating to the congressional schedule, the House will now follow the Senate's lead and recess for the week of October 10. The Majority Leader also stated that the new adjournment target for the House will be Friday, November 18 at the earliest. Previously, Senate leaders stated that the Senate adjournment target will be mid-December.
SECOND DISASTER SUPPLEMENTAL BILL PASSED
Congress passed a second emergency supplemental spending bill (H.R. 3673) totaling $51.8 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts by votes of 410-11 and 97-0 on Thursday, September 8. The Senate also approved an identical bill to a House-passed measure (H.R. 3650) that allows federal courts within the jurisdiction of Hurricane Katrina's path to continue to conduct business outside of the region.
The President also issued an executive order waiving Section 6 of the Davis-Bacon Act to allow federal contractors to pay workers below the prevailing wage in areas affected by the hurricane.
CHANGES TO MEDICAID AND OTHER PROGRAMS TO HELP HURRICANE EVACUEES BEING DEVELOPED
In an effort to speed up enrollment in Medicaid and SCHIP, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced new procedures for states serving Hurricane Katrina evacuees. CMS plans to grant to states "emergency section 1115 demonstration waivers" to provide temporary eligibility for all Medicaid-eligible groups. Also, CMS is working on more specific instructions for state Medicaid programs serving those affected by the hurricane and finalizing a template for 1115 waiver applications. Medicaid coverage applications for evacuees will be accepted retroactively from Aug. 24. Additionally, President Bush has announced special "evacuee" status for all those who fled their home states because of Katrina. This designation will allow these individuals to apply for a full range of federal benefits administered by the states, including Medicaid and SCHIP. Hurricane Katrina information from HHS is available online at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/katrina/.
CMS has announced that it will work to make sure states hosting hurricane evacuees are not "financially disadvantaged." CMS is asking states to report the full benefits and administrative costs involved in providing Medicaid coverage to evacuees. Host states also will submit their estimated expenditures to CMS as a component of their usual cost reporting for determining federal Medicaid payments, CMS said. At minimum, host states will provide their Medicaid and SCHIP benefit packages to evacuees.
The Chief Health Counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee also discussed concerns about Katrina-related relief for states. He stressed that it was the committee's intention to provide as much funding as possible to the states in order to hold them harmless from additional expenses incurred by Medicaid in the aftermath of Katrina. He said that the White House as well as the House and Senate leadership were meeting to resolve the issue and that he expected legislative action within one-to-two weeks.
Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley, indicated last week that while Hurricane Katrina has made it necessary to provide additional resources to states through the Medicaid program, these investments would be done through a Katrina relief package and not through reconciliation. He also indicated that the committee is still planning to move forward with Medicaid reforms in reconciliation.
HOUSE APPROVES TANF EMERGENCY RESPONSE AND RECOVERY ACT
Last week, the House approved a bill (H.R. 3672), by voice vote, containing several key provisions that change the current welfare law to facilitate a state's ability to assist families affected by Hurricane Katrina. These legislative changes include extending the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program through December 31, 2005; providing for the immediate payment to states of their TANF funds for October, November, and December of 2005; making available up to $2 billion for states to reimburse themselves for actual costs of providing emergency cash assistance to evacuees; providing all states with flexibility in spending unused TANF funds for families impacted by the hurricane; and waiving program rules for hurricane victims receiving short-term TANF assistance.
SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE APPROVES VAWA REAUTHORIZATION BILL
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote a bill (S. 1197) to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. The committee adopted several amendments to the measure, including one that would allow men to qualify for the program's benefits and another that would authorize federal authorities to obtain DNA samples from suspects detained or arrested for inclusion in a national database. In addition, the bill would expand the duration of visas for battered immigrant women and establish a new tribal deputy director in the Office on Violence Against Women to address domestic violence with American Indian tribes on reservations. Two companion bills have been introduced in the House, including a bill (H.R. 3171) sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) with 120 cosponsors that would add new protections for battered immigrant women and promote access to emergency birth control for rape victims, and another measure (H.R. 2871) introduced by Rep. Mark Green (R-Wis.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.). The House has taken no action on either bill.
Last week, the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity approved a bill (H.R. 3665) by voice vote to increase grants from $50,000 to $51,000 per veteran to help them pay for wheelchair ramps or other modifications on their homes. The measure would also allow disabled veterans living temporarily with their families to receive grants up to $10,000 to retrofit their homes, and would allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make direct housing loans to Native American veterans.
For a list of this week's federal grants, please visit our website: www.nevadadc.org