Last week, Tuesday, September 22, 2020, the House of Representatives passed (HR 8337) and sent to the Senate a continuing resolution or CR that will keep the government from shutting down at the start of the fiscal year. The Senate leadership has indicated they hope to approve the CR by Tuesday of this week, a few days before the end of the year. Fiscal year 2021 starts on October 1, and the required 12 appropriations bills have not been enacted. The CR will provide funding through December 11, 2020, which means a lame-duck Congress will have to revisit the issue after the November election. The House has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills while the Senate has not acted on its versions of the legislation.
The CR provides level funding (FY 2020 funding levels) with some slight adjustments to address formulas and some program changes. The CR does extend some expiring programs such as TANF and the transportation trust fund and funding.
The one significant exception that was allowed is a continuation of some pandemic provisions for nutrition programs. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT) was included in earlier COVID-19 relief measures and allows families to receive an EBT card to purchase food to replace the school meals. With schools conducting remote learning, children are missing the benefit of school meals. The CR extends this provision and in fact continues it through the end of FY 2021, next September 30, 2021. State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) agencies will also be allowed to use some of the pandemic waiver provisions. Agencies can use waivers on deadlines for SNAP interviews, participant reporting, and eligibility recertifications.
The CR also made some fixes to the earlier relief. Perhaps most significant, it allows Puerto Rico and other territories to implement P-EBT, a shortfall in the earlier relief. In addition, the CR extends the temporary changes to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program by extending it and allowing greater flexibility for eligibility determination and the food products that can be purchased.
According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), the P-EBT “has lifted the burden of choosing between feeding their families and paying the bills. Already, the program has lifted at least 2.7-3.9 million children out of hunger.”
Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have continued to talk despite public comments back and forth. Last Thursday, Pelosi directed various House Committee chairs to begin to assemble a new House relief package. It is expected to total approximately $2.2 trillion compared to the May 15 version of $3.4 trillion. Despite the intent of the Senate to vote on a Supreme Court nominee in the next month, senators may leave this week after they approve the CR. If a deal can be reached between the White House and the Speaker, the Senate could be back to approve such a deal. Adding to some members’ urgency is the continuing high level of weekly unemployment claims, some industries, such as the airlines, sounding the alarm of substantial layoffs, and the declining stock market.