On Thursday, July 12 the House Appropriations Committee passed their Labor-Health and Human Services and Education bill after two previous delays. Most of the votes cast were along party line with a great deal of the debate focused on immigration and family separation. In the end the bill was approved along party lines with several “poison pill” amendments. Called poison pills because the other side is likely to oppose and block any deal unless the language is removed. For the most part, Senate bills (which will require 60 votes) have avoided such actions in recent years but 2018 is shaping up as a tough election year.

Among the contentious House amendments (along with the Aderholt amendment in the earlier article) was one offered by Chairman of the Committee, Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) that would supersede the 1997 Flores Agreement that requires the government to release children after 20 days in detention. As noted just last week, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee rejected the Trump Administration’s request to overturn that agreement. The Administration would like to detain children with their families perhaps for months on end. The Judge took a shot at both the Administration and Congress calling it “a cynical attempt” to shift responsibility to the Judiciary for “over 20 years of Congressional inaction and ill-conconsidered Executive action that have led to the current stalemate.” The Cole amendment was adopted on a near party line vote of 31 to 21.

In recent years House members have not had an opportunity to actually hold a Labor- HHS-Education Committee debate due to their inability to satisfy members of the Majority party on budget totals and budget cuts. Instead many of the “poison pill” amendments have been fought out in Senate-House closed door negotiations.

There were a number of other amendments that were actually agreed to regarding immigrant families and separation. Some, such as a sense of the congress resolution regarding family separation will not have too much of an impact and are more of a message.

There are also a number of other provisions in the House bill that are sure to raise objections including items such as cutting off funding for all family planning.

In regard to the overall appropriations it is becoming clearer that the Congress will not be able to act on all 12 appropriations bills by the October 1 start of the new year. The Senate is talking about combining the Labor- HHS-Education bill with the Defense Appropriations. Usually the last two bills to be approved. That may be different this year as funding for the Department of Homeland Security could be up last. It will obviously be a target for family separation issues as well as the target for the President’s demand for the Mexico-wall funding.

The Senate will be in session for at least two weeks in August and that may give them some opportunity to complete more action at appropriations. The Senate Appropriations Committee acted on their Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations just before the July 4th break. The Senate bill includes continued funding for CAPTA Plans of Safe Care and funds the state grants at $85 million (the same as the House bill). The Senate continues the increase in Adoption-Kinship Incentive funds at the elevated level of $75 million (with the House at $80 million) first increased in the March-2018 appropriations. In addition, the Senate continues to provide an extra $20 million for the Regional Partnership Grants (RPGs) for expanded substance abuse treatment (the House bill does not).

The Senate $20 million continues what had been approved for FY 2018 when it was enacted last March. The $20 million is in addition to the fixed $20 million in RPGs that are embedded into the Promoting Safe and Stable Families block grant (PSSF). This $20 million however appears to dovetail with opioids legislation now working its way through the Senate to fund additional family-based treatment that allows children to stay with the parent undergoing treatment. The report language states:

“Family- focused residential treatment programs are…residential programs primarily for substance use disorder treatment for pregnant and postpartum women and parents and guardians that allow children to reside with their mothers, parents, or guardians during treatment to the extent appropriate and applicable. Organizations applying for this funding should be allowed to apply to operate one or both programs.”

The Committee also continues funding for $20 million in Kinship Navigator programs (the House does not). These grants were also included in the March 2018 appropriations. It is a unique fund in that it will continue to go to all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as the Tribal communities that are drawing down their own Title IV-E foster care funds. It too is designed to expand the base of practice and models that will be eligible for the Family First Act funding.

The House wraps up this month and will hold their traditional August break while the senate is likely to be in for two weeks in August.