These domestic issues may still be taken up by Congress either as stand alone legislation or as attachments to other bills in the brief time remaining in this session. Since members of Congress are still on recess until early September, this is a good time to contact them, voice your concerns and ask for their support for these important pieces of legislation that have an impact on low income and poor families and children.
Child Tax Credit
As Congress was wrapping things up for the summer, House and Senate Leaders decided to take up the long dormant conference report for the $1,000 per-child tax credit expansion bill (HR 1308). However, they also attempted to extend two other popular tax breaks as well: one for married couples, and the other setting the income limit for the 10-percent tax bracket. This highly unusual parliamentary maneuver (adding items to a conference report not in either bill) allows Congress to bring the tax cut extensions to the floor without committee consideration or amendments. The attempt failed when some Members attempted to add other provisions to the tax cut bill. While your Members are home, urge them to include low-income working families in the child tax credit if they take up a new tax bill upon return from summer recess. See backgrounder at www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/trlif.shtml For more information: Thom Shellabarger at 202-541-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On June 23, H.R. 4676, the Second Chance Act of 2004 was introduced by Congressmen Rob Portman (R-OH), Danny Davis (D-IL), Mark Souder (IN), Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Chris Cannon (R-UT). The Act begins to address some of the many issues facing more than 600,000 men and women who re-enter society each year from federal and state prisons and from local jails. The Second Chance Act has been referred to the House Judiciary and the Education and Workforce Committees. On July 12, Cardinal McCarrick, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee, wrote to members of the House to ask for their support for the bill. Please contact your Representatives and ask them to act promptly to pass this important legislation.
On October 27, 2003, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. 1194, the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2003. The Act was introduced by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) and would be a good start towards ensuring that mentally ill offenders receive the proper treatment they need with grants designed to create community based treatment programs and other services. The programs receiving the grants would be required to operate collaboratively with criminal justice and mental health agencies. The bill has been received in the House and is awaiting action by the Judiciary Committee. In March, Cardinal McCarrick, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee, and Mr. Tom De Stefano, President of Catholic Charities USA, wrote to the members of the House Judiciary Committee asking them to support Senator DeWine’s bill. You can help ex-offenders make a successful re-entry into society and help reduce recidivism by contacting your Representatives and asking them to support S. 1194, the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2003.
For more information on criminal justice, contact Andy Rivas 202-541-3190 or email@example.com.
Legislation: On July 6, Cardinal McCarrick, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee wrote to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) asking for his support for S. 1700, Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003, which includes the Innocence Protection Act insuring that federal inmates have access to post-conviction DNA testing. S. 1700 also authorizes $755 million to reduce the backlog of DNA samples in crime laboratories; authorizes up to $500 million, over the next five years, for grants to the states to improve the prosecution of capital cases and to build systems in which defendants have access to competent legal representation. The House version of the bill was passed overwhelmingly (357 to 67) last October. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up S. 1700 in early September when Congress returns from its summer recess and if passed the bill would then head to the Senate floor for general debate. Please contact all your Senators and ask them to support S. 1700. For more information: Andy Rivas 202-541-3190; (fax) 202-541-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Faith-Based Initiative/ CARE Act
The Senate-passed Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act of 2003 (CARE Act, S. 476) provides crucial new resources to faith-based and secular charities including $1.3 billion in new funding for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program. The House of Representatives’ companion to the CARE Act, “The Charitable Giving Act of 2003 (H.R. 7), was passed without the increase in SSBG funding. Unfortunately, progress on the legislation continues to be held up in the Senate as part of a large and bitter dispute between the parties over conference committee proceedings. Let your Senators know that you expect them to finish work on the CARE Act and to insist that SSBG funding be part of the final bill that goes to the President. See backgrounder at www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/faithbased2.shtml. For more information: Kathy Curran at 202-541-3188 or email@example.com.
Housing Trust Fund
The National Housing Trust Fund Campaign (NHTF) took a step forward when three Members of the House of Representatives filed a motion for a “discharge petition” in an attempt to move the bill, H.R. 1102, to the floor of the House for debate and an up-or-down vote. The bill has been stalled in the Financial Services Committee. If a majority of Members (218) sign the petition, the bill is “discharged” from the Committee directly to the House floor. It also raises the profile of the bill. (While this procedure is difficult to accomplish, the most recent example of legislation successfully advanced by the discharge petition was the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform.) Urge your Members to sign the NHTF discharge petition when Congress comes back from its summer recess. See backgrounder at www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/nhtf.shtml For more information: Thom Shellabarger at 202-541-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Housing - Section 8 Vouchers
Appropriators heard your call for full funding of the Section 8 voucher program and provided $1.49 billion more than HUD requested for renewal of existing vouchers. (The shortfall was roughly $1.6 billion.) However, there are still insufficient funds to cover all the vouchers currently in use because the Committee continues to use HUD’s controversial new funding formula. Unfortunately, the funds for the voucher program come at the expense of every other HUD program that would be cut by at least 4 percent. While it may be unlikely that FY 2005 appropriations bill for HUD will be enacted before Congress recesses for the November election, it is important to voice your support with your Congressional delegation for additional funds for the Section 8 vouchers while maintaining at least at their current levels other housing programs that serve the poor. See backgrounder at www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/hcu04.shtml For more information: Thom Shellabarger at 202-541-3189 or email@example.com
Efforts to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.00 were scuttled by the Senate leadership in July. With only a few weeks of legislative time until adjournment, it becomes increasing unlikely that Congress will raise the minimum wage. Urge your Senators to seek a vote increasing the minimum wage. See backgrounder at www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/bkgrd04.shtml For more information: Thom Shellabarger at 202-541-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org
At the end of June, the President signed the latest in a serious of three-month extensions of the current TANF law. The program will continue to operate under the existing rules until September 30. The House has passed a 5-year reauthorization bill, but the companion bill, the Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone Act (PRIDE Act), remains stalled in the Senate. The Senate began work on the PRIDE Act, and passed an important amendment by a 78-20 bipartisan vote to add to the bill $6 billion in new child care funding for low income working families. However, disagreements on how to proceed to other amendments after that derailed the bill. Given the extended August recess, the looming Presidential election, and the number of other priority items that must be completed, many believe we are more likely to see another extension in September than a completed reauthorization bill signed into law.
We continue to support completion of TANF reauthorization this year, if the necessary improvements to the Senate and House bills can be made. Visit or call your Senators and urge them to put the needs of low-income and struggling families first, by strengthening, not undermining, TANF.
Continue to urge them to support amendments to improve the PRIDE Act by:
- Restoring benefits eligibility for legal immigrants
- Giving states more flexibility to provide education and training, by allowing vocational education to count as work for two years
- Maintaining the current hourly work requirements, especially for single parents with children under 6
- Expanding the length of time states can allow welfare recipients to participate in substance abuse treatment and activities to address other employment barriers