Legislative Update 3/15/2021: COVID-19 Relief Package, Nebraska prioritized legislation

Nebraska capitol

This is the legislative update for March 15, 2021. View all updates here.



The March 15, 2021 legislative update includes highlights from both federal and state legislatures.

Federal Updates

Congress

President Joe Biden recently signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). The ARP was advanced to his desk on the anniversary of COVID-19 in the US.

The lengthy bill includes a provision that Americans earning $75,000 or less, and couples earning up to $150,000, will receive a $1,400 stimulus check.

Also, the Child Tax Credit is being expanded as a means of offering additional support to families with young children. Most families will receive $3,600 per year (paid monthly) for each child age 5 or younger, and $3,000 a year per older child. According to the Center of Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia, the ARP will reduce the childhood poverty rate from 14% to 6% in 2021.

  • Mental health care and substance use disorder treatment:
    • $10 million for the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network
    • $30 million for Project AWARE, which supports youth mental health wellness and resiliency
    • $20 million for existing grant programs that support youth suicide prevention efforts.
    • Promotes workforce training with over $200 million allocated to training and education of mental and behavioral health professionals
  • Extended health coverage through the Medicaid program:
    • Mandatory vaccine coverage
    • A $15 million grant to establish a mobile crisis intervention service
    • State option to extend postpartum coverage through Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
    • Continues postpartum coverage for mothers for up to 12 months
    • The Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) continues to be increased at the federal level by 6%, helping state Medicaid budgets support a higher-volume of Medicaid enrollees
  • Private Insurance:
    • Increases and expands the Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies, making insurance even more affordable for families. Families with incomes at 100 to 150% of the federal poverty level will receive free coverage.
    • Subsidizes 100% of COBRA continuation coverage for workers who were laid off or have reduced hours due to the pandemic
  • Telehealth:
    • $500 million to establish grants for telehealth/broadband expansion
  • Promote COVID-19 vaccine distribution, testing and public health infrastructure:
    • $7.5 billion to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to plan, prepare and distribute vaccines
    • $1 billing for vaccine education
    • $5.2 billion for research, development and manufacturing of vaccines and medical products
    • $500 million to the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to evaluate the performance and safety of vaccines and therapeutics
    • $46 billion to Health and Human Services (HHS) for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing
    • $1.75 billion to the CDC for genomic sequencing
    • $750 million to combat COVID-19 nationally
    • $1.8 billion to HHS to purchase and distribute testing, PPE, vaccines etc.
    • $500 million to the CDC for public health data surveillance
    • $7.6 billion to Community Health Centers
  • Schools and Child Care:
  • Nutrition:
    • Boosts the cash value voucher in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to $35/ month
    • Additional $390 million for outreach to WIC
  • Child Welfare:
    • $250 million for child abuse and neglect programs
    • $100 million for the child abuse and neglect treatment and response state grant program

Just hours after President Biden signed the bill into law, he delivered his first primetime address to the nation, signaling his hope to have independence from COVID-19 by July 4. His plan to reach that target date includes allowing all Americans (16 and older) to receive the vaccine in their home state by May 1.

State Updates

Nebraska Legislature

The early signs of Spring are a good indication that we are already half way through the 90-day legislative session.

With a very hectic hearing schedule (thankfully) coming to an end, senators have begun to hold executive sessions in their respective committees to renew the conversation on every bill they held a public hearing for.

A vote from the committee members will determine if the bill should come out of committee to the floor for three rounds of debate before all 49 state senators, or if the bill is dead on arrival.

A very important step in the process of debate occurred this week. State senators designated their priority bills for this session — the one tool that ensures it will receive a chance for full and fair debate before they adjourn Sine Die.

Individual senator prioritized legislation that Children’s is monitoring include:

  • LB400: (Sen. Arch)-Change requirements related to coverage of telehealth by insurers and Medicaid
  • LB281: (Sen. Albrecht)-Require child sexual abuse prevention instructional programs for school students and staff
  • LR29: (Sen. M. Cavanaugh)-Provide for appointment by the Executive Board of a special committee to be known as the Eastern Service Area Child Welfare Contract Special Investigative and Oversight Committee of the Legislature
  • LB322: (Sen. Williams)-Adopt the School Safety and Security Reporting System Act
  • LB54(Sen. Lathrop)-Change immunity for intentional torts under the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act and the State Tort Claims Act
  • LB474: (Sen. Wishart)-Adopt the Medicinal Cannabis Act
  • LB108: (Sen. McCollister) -Change provisions relating to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • LB390: (Sen. Murman)-Provide for credentials based on reciprocity and change requirements for credentials under the Uniform Credentialing Act
  • LB388: (Sen. Friesen)-Adopt the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act(Sen. Hilgers priority bill)
  • LB258: (Sen. Vargas)-Adopt the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act(Sen. M. Hansen priority bill)
  • LR11CA: (Sen. Erdman)-Constitutional amendment to require enactment of a consumption tax and prohibit certain other forms of taxation
  • LB639: (Sen. Day)-Adopt the Seizure Safe Schools Act
  • LB14: (Sen. Blood)-Adopt the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact
  • LB630: (Sen. Bostar)-Provide for a study of the efficacy of commercial air filters in classrooms
  • LB139: (Sen. Briese)-Adopt the COVID-19 Liability Protection Act(Sen. Slama priority bill)
  • LB273: (Sen. Lowe)-Change provisions relating to youth rehabilitation and treatment centers
  • LB26: (Sen. Wayne)-Provide a sales tax exemption for residential water service (Sen. Pahls priority bill)

Bills prioritized by committees that Children’s is monitoring include:

  • LB375: (Sen. Kolterman)-Adopt the Pharmacy Benefit Manager Regulation and Transparency Act(Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee priority bill
  • LB487: (Sen. Arch)-Change insurance coverage provisions for mental health conditions and serious mental illness(Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee priority bill)
  • LB529: (Sen. Walz)-Department of Education registry of social workers and other health professionals (Education Committee priority
  • LR25: (HHS Committee)-Provide for appointment by the Executive Board of a special committee of the Legislature to be known as the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center Special Oversight Committee of the Legislature(Executive Board priority bill)
  • LB428: •LB376(Sen. M. Cavanaugh)-Authorize the application for and implementation of services and supports for developmentally disabled children and their families and provide duties for the Advisory Committee on Developmental Disabilities(HHS Committee priority bill)
  • LB376: (Sen. M. Cavanaugh)-Authorize the application for and implementation of services and supports for developmentally disabled children and their families and provide duties for the Advisory Committee on Developmental Disabilities(HHS Committee priority bill

The Speaker of the Legislature will soon announce 20 priority bills he has decided need prioritization for debate.

During the week of March 15, senators will begin full-day debates, and they will likely work fast to move easy priority bills to the next round before the budget package comes to the floor.

Chairman of the Appropriations Committee John Stinner (R-Dist. 48, Gering) hopes to see the budget on the floor of the Legislature by March 24. He is working with the Governor’s office, state agencies, stakeholders, and fellow senators to make sure there are no surprises, and that the process moves as seamlessly as possible.

Medicaid

A significant chunk of the state’s two-year budget is state funding for Medicaid.

Children’s hospitals across the country rely heavily on a robust Medicaid program for the patients we serve. In Nebraska, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center is the largest Medicaid provider. At times, it’s nearly 50% of our billable charges.

To maintain a healthy Medicaid, states must dedicate a significant percentage (greater than 20%) of state funding, which complicates funding for other agencies and initiatives, and relies on the state being able to pay off all financial obligations.

Nebraska Economic Forecasting

There was great news last week: The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board increased their October forecast by $462 million.

All board members and Appropriations Committee members welcomed this optimistic news. However, they do know that over the years, excess funding has proven to ebb and flow. Appropriators are working diligently to use the extra funding for one-time appropriations and additional property tax relief, as well as replenishing the state’s cash reserve (rainy day fund).

Provider Rate Increase

The two-year budget also includes a 2% rate increase for all providers each year for the next two years — a welcome prospect that comes with a sizable $90 million price tag.

Monitoring

Children’s continues to monitor over 300 legislative bills that directly or indirectly impact the overall well-being of the children in Nebraska. For more information on how you can help advocate for the needs of children or to collaborate with Children’s, please contact Liz Lyons at llyons@childrensomaha.org or 402-955-4139.

(Sources:CHA, NHA, AHA, CMS, Nebraskalegislature.gov, DHHS.ne.gov, Nebraska.gov, Peetz & Co.)

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