Things are moving along up on Capitol Hill. When Congress could not come to agreement on a long-term extension of expiring emergency federal unemployment insurance benefits and the payroll tax cut before the holidays, they instead approved a short-term, two-month extension. This meant we were down to the wire again, but only days before this short-term agreement was set to expire, Congress came to the rescue and finally approved (and the President signed) H.R. 3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. This extends these programs, and the current Medicare physician payment rates, through 2012. The law also extended the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program at Fiscal Year 2011 levels through September 30, 2012.
While the proposal reduces the maximum 99 weeks of available long-term unemployment benefits, it was an improvement over the House Republican proposal which had proposed a cap of 59 weeks. The new law also creates national job search requirements for all beneficiaries and allows states to hold drug screenings for applicants who lost their jobs due to drug use or are seeking jobs requiring a drug test. Thankfully, it did not include provisions from the House proposal to require people receiving jobless benefits to have a high school diploma or be pursuing an equivalent degree, nor did it use a proposed cut to the refundable Child Tax Credit for low-income working families was as an offset. Overall, the agreement was a step forward for families struggling to make ends meet.
On February 13, President Obama released the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. The budget proposes to hold the line on Early Care and Education programs, protect low-income families, and increase SNAP funding to former levels under the Stimulus Act as promised. Rumor has it the Republican budget should come out early next month, and may try to cut beyond the caps set by the Budget Control Act. Stay tuned.
On a more pro-active note, On November 1, 2011, Representative Barbara Lee introduced H.R. 3300, the Half in Ten Act of 2011, which would establish a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty. What would they do, you ask? The group would be tasked with developing, and more importantly, implementing, a national plan to reduce poverty by half in ten years. We recently met with Congressman Courtney, who agreed to co-sponsor the bill. Our delegation really is delightful.