Department of Health and Human Services Budget Continues Forward to Full Chambers
This week, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their respective Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) budget proposals. The items mentioned in last week’s Lansing Update, such as the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program, the children’s clothing allowance, the Healthy Kids Dental Program, and private foster care agency administrative rates, were maintained at the funding levels approved by the subcommittees. Below are additional items to those mentioned last week that are of interest in the proposed DHHS budget:
Human Trafficking: provides funding for intervention services for human trafficking. Both the Senate and House DHHS budget proposals retain $200,000 for these services. The House also allocated $390,000 for a Human Trafficking Commission fund to assist prosecutions and to build public awareness regarding human trafficking in the state.
“Heat and Eat” Program: helps low-income residents, including elderly and persons with disabilities, receive additional food assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). “Heat and Eat” is the informal name for state policies that leverage federal heating assistance funds (LIHEAP) to qualify food assistance recipients for increased benefits from SNAP. The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment offered by Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) this week to restore funding for “Heat and Eat.” The House Department of Health and Human Services budget proposal now provides $3.2 million in state funding to enable the program to receive an additional $138 million in federal funds. This funding helps 160,000 low-income families receive an average of $76 more a month for food benefits. MCC is thankful to the work of Representative Irwin, as well as the collaboration with House Appropriations Chairman Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), for inclusion of this item. The funding is not included in the Senate proposal at this time and will remain an item of discussion going forward.
Education Measures Approved by House and Senate Appropriations Committees
Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved a $500,000 increase to the dual enrollment program for non-public schools, bringing the total up to $1.5 million. Dual enrollment allows non-public school students to take community college or university classes for credit while still in high school. Additionally, the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee each preserved grant funding in their proposals for schools to purchase equipment and/or technology to improve the safety and security of school buildings, students, and staff. When this grant funding was previously included in the 2014–2015 state budget, schools could apply on their own or in conjunction with a sheriff’s department. The House version included $2 million, with 80 percent of the funding dedicated to schools and 20 percent to sheriff’s departments. The Senate Appropriations Committee included $4 million for schools only.
To read about other items mentioned last week that MCC is following in the budget and that await a vote in the full House and Senate, click here. Now, all budget proposals have passed the Appropriations Committees in both the House and Senate and await a vote from all the lawmakers in both chambers. Any differences between the proposals will be resolved after the vote in what is called a conference committee, which is made up of three members of the House and three members of the Senate.
The Word from Lansing Column: Just Governance — A Lesson in Loving Our Neighbors
Each month, Michigan Catholic Conference’s President and CEO Paul Long writes a column for Catholic newspapers about a current issue of interest to Catholics across the state. This month’s The Word from Lansing, however, is a special edition piece, written by another MCC staff member who recently traveled to Panchgani, India. While there, she participated in a forum on just governance and working with the marginalized, as well as visited a local convent and school run by the Catholic Daughters of the Cross. Her article details her experiences in Panchgani and the importance of listening to and loving one’s neighbor. During this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has continued to highlight ways to listen to the needs of those who are vulnerable or ignored in society, and he has called for all people of goodwill be examples of mercy and love to those in the community.
Additional Briefs Submitted in Little Sisters HHS Mandate Case
Last month, the Little Sisters of the Poor and other faith-based non-profit groups argued their case, Zubik v. Burwell, in the U.S. Supreme Court regarding why they should not be forced to comply with the U.S. government’s contraception mandate. After the court heard oral arguments in the case, they asked each side to submit additional briefs, outlining any possible alternatives to the current mandate that would not require religious organizations to be involved. In the brief submitted by the government, the plaintiffs recently admitted that there are ways to provide contraception without the involvement of religious organizations, such as allowing the insurer to provide the coverage without notification from the religious agency or requiring the government to provide the coverage free of charge when it is not included in a religious employer’s health plan. As mentioned in previous updates, Michigan Catholic Conference is closely following the progress of this case and its implications on other religious institutions.