Capitol Reflections - Week of March 6, 2017

Legislation | March 08, 2017 | by LeadingAge Advocacy Team

A weekly recap of LeadingAge advocacy activities and updates in the nation's capital.

ACA Repeal and Replace

The American Health Care Act was introduced on Monday, March 6. This legislation repeals portions of the Affordable Care Act and makes drastic changes to federal obligations under the Medicaid program, permanently capping payments regardless of cost and shifting risks to states, providers, and beneficiaries. The House Ways & Means Committee and the House Energy & Commerce Committee are voting on the legislation starting Wednesday, March 8. If the bill is “reported out”, it will go to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which will evaluate the bill’s impact on the federal budget. The final legislation may go to the House floor as soon as the week of March 20. If the bill passes, it will be sent to the Senate.

LeadingAge has issued a statement expressing our strong objections to the changes to the Medicaid program and increased costs to seniors and near-seniors. Our issue brief on Medicaid has been updated, and more information is available from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. We also developed talking points you can use to talk to policymakers and media.

Housing News and Tidbits

There is a lot going on in the affordable housing world: new legislation to expand and improve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program was introduced March 7; HUD Secretary Ben Carson gave his first speech to HUD employees on March 6; and, everyone is wondering how President Trump’s planned $54 billion decrease to nondefense discretionary programs will impact affordable housing.

On March 7, LeadingAge was proud to join more than 2,000 national and local organizations to support introduction of a new bill, S. 548, to expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) by 50% and make improvements to it, such as helping LIHTC communities better serve a broader range of incomes. The bill was introduced by Senate Finance Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Also on March 7, Senator Cantwell released a report, Meeting the Challenges of the Growing Affordable Housing Crisis. LeadingAge is proud to have helped provide background for this report, which makes the case for expanding the LIHTC program.

“Nationwide, more than 2.4 million older adult renter households, aged 62 plus, 30 percent of all seniors, pay more than half of their incomes for housing, forcing them to spend less on their health care, food, and transportation needs. Our existing programs to help seniors meet their housing needs are woefully inadequate, as only one-third of older renters who are eligible for rental assistance actually receive it,” Senator Cantwell’s report says.

New HUD Secretary Ben Carson began his first full week at HUD headquarters on March 6 with a speech to his employees. The speech was livestreamed over HUD’s Facebook page. Secretary Carson did not talk about his plans for HUD or dive deeply into specific programs, but did share some insight into his general philosophy. Asked by an employee about the importance of public/private partnerships, Secretary Carson referenced the inadequate numbers of affordable housing units and said there are “enormous numbers of people out there willing to help.” Secretary Carson also said that we “don’t always have to rely on the government” for help, and that there is “more money outside of the government than inside it.”

Secretary Carson also said he prefers rules that are locally developed rather than nationally provided, and that “this used to be known as the can-do society, not the ‘what can you do for me?’ society.” The speech was not without controversy, with Secretary Carson referring to slaves as “immigrants,” a part of his speech both the HUD Secretary and HUD tried to explain for the rest of the day’s news cycle via Twitter.

While advocating for completion of HUD appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017, LeadingAge is also working on fiscal year 2018 (FY18) funding. President Trump announced he will seek a $54 billion reduction to nondefense discretionary program for FY18. We expect to hear the “top line” amounts the White House will seek for each agency on March 16 and to learn details about specific, program-level requests for FY18 by April or perhaps May. On March 6, LeadingAge presented on a webinar, How President Trump’s First Budget Could Impact Affordable Housing, that attracted more than 1200 housing advocates nationwide.