Legislative Update: 5/3/2021: Mental Health Awareness Month, American Family Plan, Nebraska Budget

US capitol

This is the legislative update for May 3, 2021. View all updates here.



The May 3, 2021 legislative update includes highlights from both federal and state legislatures, and the Omaha City Council.

Federal Updates

Congress

Access to Mental Healthcare

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As part of our commitment to focusing on the unique mental and behavioral health needs of children and adolescents, Children’s will be working closely with state and federal lawmakers on opportunities to advance access to mental healthcare.

On April 28, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing, “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: Using Lessons Learned to Address Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders.” The expert witness panel featured testimony from Dr. Tami D. Benton, Psychiatrist-in-Chief and Executive Director and Chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Committee members and witnesses discussed the impact the pandemic has had on children and adolescents, highlighting the increase in the number of children experiencing a mental health crisis. They also pointed to growing emergency department boarding and inpatient boarding (when patients stay in the emergency department or in inpatient medical units while waiting for an inpatient bed to become available), due to a lack of alternative care options. Dr. Benton emphasized loan forgiveness programs and increasing other workforce supports as critical opportunities to increase access to care.

The hearing covered an array of additional issues, including:

  • The importance of expanding telehealth to improve access — particularly through audio-only services
  • Integrating mental health services into primary care
  • Partnerships to support access to school-based mental health services
  • The need for trauma-informed training (such as teaching how trauma impacts learning and development) to support children and adolescents

Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) submitted a statement for the record highlighting the traumatic impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health, including the increase in emergency department boarding of children in crisis in pediatric hospitals. The statement also outlines recommendations for policies and solutions that Congress can explore now that will support care along the continuum of need — from early intervention and prevention to helping children in crisis.

These recommendations align with the specific legislative recommendations included in the “Strengthening Kids’ Mental Health Now” proposal. The objective of this proposal is to help all children access mental health services at the time they need them by strengthening our nation’s mental health infrastructure for children and youth. “Strengthening Kids’ Mental Health Now” will improve kids’ access to services from early childhood through adolescence.

Next week, the Children’s Health Care Caucus will have a hearing on Capitol Hill. Rep. Kathy Castor and former Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) founded this bipartisan caucus dedicated to building support for ideas that improve the quality of care for children and their access to quality care. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 12 at 11 a.m. (CST). The focus of the hearing will be mental and behavioral health during a pandemic.

American Family Plan

Last week, President Joe Biden addressed the nation and unveiled his American Family Plan, which is aimed at supporting families by expanding access to education and childcare. The proposal is estimated to cost nearly $1.8 trillion. Biden proposed financing the Plan partly through higher taxes on the wealthiest 1% of Americans.

The American Family Plan includes funding for:

  • Education ($506 billion)
    • $200 billion for free preschool for all three-and-four-year-old children
    • $109 billion for two years of free community college
    • $80 billion in Pell Grants (grants awarded to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need, and have not yet earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree)
    • $62 billion focused on degree completion for students and community colleges that serve students from disadvantaged communities
    • $46 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Minority Serving Institutions
    • $9 billion for teacher training
  • Childcare ($225 billion)
    • Provide free childcare to the lowest income families
    • Funding so that families earning 1.5 times the state median income pay no more than 7% of their income on childcare
  • Paid leave (estimated $225 billion)
    • Establish a paid family and medical leave that guarantees 12 weeks of paid leave
    • Pass the Healthy Families Act, which requires employers to offer seven days of paid sick leave per year to employees
  • Nutrition ($46 billion)
    • $45 billion to expand summer and school food programs for children who are eligible for free or reduced meals
    • $1 billion to launch a healthy foods incentive demonstration (Translation: support for schools that further expand healthy food offerings)
    • Allow convicted felons of drug-related offenses access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Tax Credits
    • $200 billion to make permanent the Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium tax credits, as outlined in the American Rescue Plan.
    • Extend the Child Tax Credit increases ($3,000-$3,600 per child) in the American Rescue Plan through 2025
    • Make permanent the temporary Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit ($4,000 for on child or $8,000 for two or more), as outlined in the American Rescue Plan

The proposal to pay for the American Family Plan includes:

  • Requirement that financial institutions report information no account flows, so that earnings from investments and business activity are reported like wages
  • $700 billion in increased resources for the IRS for enforcement
  • Increased top individual income tax rate to 39.6%
  • Increased capital gains tax rate (Translation: tax on the growth in the value of individuals’ and corporations’ investments when they sell off those investments) for households making more than $1 million to 39.6%
  • Elimination of carried interest (Translation: The right that entitles general partners of an investment fund to share profits)
  • Permanent restriction of the use of excess business loans
  • Consistent application of the 3.8% Medicare tax on earnings over $400,000

State Updates

Nebraska Legislature

The rumor mill continues to suggest the Legislature is preparing to recess early (late-May) and reconvene in the fall to finish the session focusing on redistricting. Redistricting is a requirement every ten years (once Census data becomes available) to reconfigure district boundaries in preparation for the 2022 elections.

This could limit the number of days to advance key bills, such as LB529 — a bill which would create a registry of social workers in schools.

We are working closer with senators’ offices to ensure our priority bills are scheduled early this month.

Nebraska Budget

There was great news on April 26 when Governor Ricketts signed the $9.7 billion biennial budget (budget for the next two years) without any vetoes.
Highlights from the Governor’s press release upon signing include:

  1. Medicaid provider rate increases: 2% in each of the next two years
  2. State spending control: Limits the State’s annual budget growth to 1.7%
  3. Property tax relief: About $1.45 billion in property tax relief over the next two years, including:
    • $613 million in direct property tax relief through the State’s Property Tax Credit Relief Fund
    • Over $627 million from the newly enacted LB1107 refundable property tax credit
  4. K-12 school funding: Over $1 billion annually in aid to K-12 public schools
  5. Public safety: Begins the process of replacing the decaying Nebraska State Penitentiary with a new, modern prison, as well as increases the operational capacity of Nebraska’s corrections systems to meet projected needs

Also last week, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting and Advisory Board met. Their new projections on state revenue give the legislature another $38 million to spend on bills being passed with a fiscal impact over the next two years.

State COVID-19 Relief Funds

Sometime in May, the state will receive additional guidance on distribution of federal COVID-19 relief funds. Until then, we are currently researching the relief and have talked with the Chair of the Appropriations Committee about how the legislature will participate in distributing funds. We are encouraged that the legislature will play a key role in distributing funds through public hearings during the interim and legislation in 2022.

Even though these are one-time dollars we are receiving, their impact on key areas — including healthcare, economic development, housing, capital construction, children’s needs, education, and local community recovery — will be significant.

Other Nebraska Legislative Activity

  • LB108 (SNAP benefits) advanced this week to Final Reading (Translation: When the bill is passed, rejected, or further amended).
    • Senator McCollister reduced the original increase of 180% of poverty to 165% of poverty to garner support. On Select File (Translation: second round), a negotiated amendment introduced by Senator Arch passed that requires these new SNAP participants (households with income between 131% and 165% of poverty guidelines, shall be referred to the SNAP Next Step Program if they are eligible for that program and the program is available in that household’s geographic area. The program was developed by the Ricketts administration for SNAP beneficiaries to assist in finding employment and is said to be successful since its
      implementation. With this amendment, there is an understanding the Governor will sign the legislation.
  • LB583 (e-prescribe bill) was given final approval.
    • The bill proposes that beginning in 2022, prescribers are to issue prescriptions to a pharmacy for controlled substances using electronic prescription technology.

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.

Local Updates

Omaha City Council

Mask Mandate Update

As reported in the Omaha World Herald, the Omaha City Council does not plan to renew the city-wide mask mandate, which expires on May 25. If the Council had planned to extend the mandate, council members would have been required to introduce the measure at the April 20 meeting to allow a continuous mandate.

Council members are monitoring COVID 19 cases, vaccination numbers and feedback from the Douglas County Health Department.

General Election Day

Tuesday, May 11 is Omaha’s General Election Day. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Use the “Find Your Voting Information” tool on the Douglas County Election Commission website to learn where you can cast a ballot in person.

(Sources: CHA, WhiteHouse.gov, NHA, Nebraskalegislature.gov, NCHEA, Peetz & Co.)

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