State and Federal Legislative Update

Since our last newsletter, which included the announcement of committee chairs in the state House of Representatives for the 2021-22 session, the state Senate has followed suit and announced the following committee chairs for this session. Of note are those that have jurisdiction over children’s policy issues:

  • Senate Health and Human Services Committee: Majority Chairwoman Michele Brooks (Mercer) / Minority Chairman Arthur Haywood (Montgomery)
  • Senate Education Committee: Majority Chairman Scott Martin (Lancaster) / Minority Chairwoman Lindsey Williams (Allegheny)
  • Senate Aging and Youth Committee: Majority Chairwoman Judy Ward (Blair) / Minority Chairwoman Maria Collett (Montgomery)
  • Senate Banking and Insurance Committee: Majority Chairman John DiSanto (Dauphin) / Minority Chairman Sharif Street (Philadelphia)
  • Senate Judiciary Committee: Majority Chairwoman Lisa Baker (Luzerne) / Minority Chairman Steven Santarsiero (Bucks)

See the full Senate and House committee member lists.

As a follow up from our last newsletter, Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster (Allegheny) was seated after a federal court judge dismissed a legal challenge by Brewster’s Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli to the counting of undated mail-in ballots. Senator Brewster began his third term on Wednesday, January 13th, roughly one week after the formal swearing-in ceremony where other members were seated and after two months of contested legal battles on the outcome of the election. With the matter resolved and Sen. Brewster seated, the Senate, as expected, would have a Republican majority this session of 29 members to 21 Democratic members (Sen. John Yudichak is registered as an Independent but participates in the Republican caucuses).

Sadly, Republican Senator Dave Arnold (Lebanon) passed away on Sunday, January 17th at the age of 49 after a year-long battle with brain cancer. Serving as Lebanon County’s district attorney for 14 years, he was elected to the Senate just last January. He is survived by his wife and daughter. PPC’s thoughts are with Senator Arnold’s family.

Looking to the federal landscape, ahead of the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. this week, his incoming administration set forth a new $1.9 trillion stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan. The issues PPC is tracking in the plan include:

  • An additional $40 billion in child care funding: $15 billion specific to the Child Care Development Block Grant and $25 billion allocated in an emergency stabilization fund to be used for child care providers who are in danger of closing and help with the increased cost burden of being open during the pandemic; as well as an increase and expansion of the child and dependent care tax credit. Families will be able to claim a refundable credit of up to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children. Families making less than $125,000 annually will receive 50% of eligible expenses, and families making between $125,000 and $400,000 will receive a partial credit.
  • A total of $130 billion in funds to help schools reopen: funds can be used for a variety of expenses including reducing class sizes and modifying spaces to allow for social distancing and the purchasing of personal protective equipment. States must also ensure funding for students in low-income communities hit hardest by COVID-19.
  • An increase and an expansion of Affordable Care Act premium subsidies.
  • A 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through September 2021 (was set to expire in June).
  • An additional $3 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help women and their children get the nutrition they need, with funds allocated for increased outreach efforts.

The Biden Administration has also outlined its agenda as it relates to the pandemic, which has now claimed 400,000 lives in the U.S., by announcing a plan to deploy 100 million vaccines in its first 100 days.

Biden’s effort to get his plan through Congress received a boost with the Georgia runoff victories of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate earlier this month. The Senate now has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans with the ability of Vice President Kamala Harris to cast a tie-breaking vote as President of the Senate. However, the timing of when Congress may get to the debate of a stimulus package is unclear, however, given the need to confirm Biden Administration cabinet appointees and uncertainty around the timing of the Senate’s impeachment hearing of Donald Trump.

PPC will continue to provide updates on the progress of the latest stimulus proposal and any potential federal legislative or regulatory changes in our focused public policy areas.


K-12 Education Finance Update

Governor Wolf announced that $2.2 billion dollars in federal stimulus funds will be provided to K-12 public schools and charter schools to aid in supporting the impacts of COVID-19. The funding comes from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund within the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which was included in the bipartisan stimulus package passed in December. Funding will be distributed through the federal Title I, Part A proportional formula, which is more equitable and will serve districts with a greater needs, such as students who are low-income, have a disability, English Language Learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness and foster children. An overview of this package and the funding distribution is available on the Department of Education’s website.

This funding comes just as the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials released its 2021 School District Budget Report, which highlights the significant fiscal challenges districts have faced due to the pandemic and resulting economic downturn.


Significant Federal Provisions for Foster Youth Contained in Latest Budget/Stimulus Bill

The federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which passed Congress in December, contains multiple child welfare provisions, including the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act, providing flexibility and assistance in response to COVID-19. Additionally, the act provides supplemental appropriations through the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program, Education and Training Voucher program, the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program and the Court Improvement Program.

The measure prioritizes older youth by increasing investments for transition support and higher education, suspending certain requirements for foster care and prohibiting child welfare agencies from discharging youth solely due to age. Kinship navigator programs have also been prioritized by waiving evidence-based criteria for Title IV-E funding. Significant flexibility in funding is provided to assist kinship navigator programs with evidence-based systematic review to provide resources and supports to kin to assist with keeping children with family. See the fact sheet from the Children’s Defense Fund that provides an overview of these provisions.


Last-Minute Approvals of HHS Regulations Would Negatively Impact Medicaid and CHIP

As we noted in prior newsletters, PPC formally submitted comments opposing two proposed rules over the past few months issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). While proposed under the guise of increasing transparency and accountability, these two rules would instead wreak havoc on Medicaid and CHIP, critical programs that matter to the health and well-being of more than 1.4 million Pennsylvania children:

  • The “Good Guidance Practices” regulation would allow HHS to rescind important sub-regulatory guidance that helps clarify policies for states administering programs like Medicaid and CHIP, instead creating a complex and burdensome process to reinstate or implement new guidance.
  • The rule, “Securing Updated and Necessary Statutory Evaluations Timely (SUNSET),” would allow all Medicaid and CHIP regulations to automatically expire unless they are “assessed” and “reviewed” within certain timeframes. This rule is not only a gross overreach of the existing authority of HHS, but also would disrupt day-to-day program operations, creating burdensome costs at the federal and state levels.

If there is good news, it is that the Biden Administration can take steps to reverse the harm they would cause if fully implemented. Here are additional resources with more detailed information about the rules: Manatt Health on the SUNSET rule and Georgetown University Center for Children and Families on the Good Guidance rule.


Pennsylvania Announces Vendor for Statewide Resources and Referral Tool  

The Department of Human Services (DHS) recently announced its selection of Aunt Bertha as the vendor for delivering a new statewide resources and referral tool: Resource Information and Services Enterprise (RISE PA). RISE PA will be an interactive online platform that will serve as the care coordination system for various providers in health care and social services organizations and a provide a closed-loop referral system. Additionally, RISE PA is intended to serve as an access point for Pennsylvanians to find services they need.

There will be an initial regional launch of the tool in the first quarter of this year. The planning region will include the following counties: Adams, Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, and York.

After the tool is implemented statewide, every Pennsylvanian will be able to access it from their personal computers, tablets and mobile devices to get connected with services and resources in their area. They will also be able to self-refer themselves to participating organizations. Additionally, service providers will be able to better assess individual needs and stay connected with their overall well-being. More information will follow when details are provided on the initial launch.


Notable COVID-19 Research and Resources 

new Child Trends resource discusses four research- and practice-informed strategies that early care and education (ECE) providers and teachers can use to engage families virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. For example, modular and interactive self-guided lessons can be overlaid with audio to allow ECE providers to describe concepts, techniques, or behaviors parents can try with their children at home.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on student emotional well-being, schools need to effectively support students’ socioemotional needs. However, new Child Trends analysis finds that less than 15 percent of state reopening plans include policy and practice requirements for school districts related to social and emotional well-being. Researches fear that school reopening plans that only target physical health could unintentionally draw attention and resources away from the social-emotional and mental health needs of students, particularly in districts where resources are limited.


In Case You Missed It...


On January 27th, National Association of Counties Research Foundation (NACoRF) is hosting a social media day to promote its Counties for Kids initiative. Throughout the day, county leaders, national experts and parents are encouraged to share why prenatal-to-three matters and efforts in their county to improve outcomes for infants and toddlers. NACoRF will be using the hashtag #CountiesForKids to elevate these stories and encourage counties across the country to become Counties for Kids champions.

A recent report, Fixing PA’s Child Abuse Courts, focuses on the Bureau of Hearing and Appeals specific to child abuse and neglect. Several recommendations are offered for the Department of Human Services and the General Assembly to improve practices for child abuse appeals. 

The Administration on Children, Youth, and Families released two new information memorandums. Achieving Permanency for the Well-being of Children and Youth identifies patterns of foster care exit outcomes and how to focus on a youth’s unique needs when making permanency decisions. Emerging Transformed, Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic highlights strategies and opportunities for child and family serving agencies.

The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency has been extended until the end of April.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ new report outlines how the Biden Administration can take administrative actions to reduce the uninsured rate, begin to address disparities in health coverage, and improve the affordability and quality of coverage for many people.


Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
200 North Third Street 13th Floor | Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101
(717) 236-5680 |

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