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America Forward: August Recess Legislative Update

As Congress enters the August recess, we can enthusiastically report on several recent important bipartisan developments in the U.S. House of Representatives, all on key priorities for members of the America Forward Coalition. We applaud our allies in Congress for this legislative progress, and for working to advance an equity, outcomes and innovation agenda, even when it doesn’t grab national headlines.

Here are some notable developments from the past week:

  • Social Determinants of Health Bill Introduced: On July 25, a bipartisan group of 12 House members, led by Representatives. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Tom Cole (R-OK), Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), introduced the Social Determinants Accelerator Act. This new bill would provide federal grants and interagency support for state and local governments to pursue a framework called “Social Determinants of Health.” Put simply, this means targeted investments in housing, nutrition, workforce development, high-quality education, early childhood supports, and other related services, especially in underserved communities, resulting, over time in healthier families and lower medical costs. As we’ve heard repeatedly through roundtable conversations with our Coalition members this year, this idea cuts across America Forward’s work. By building evidence for this approach as cost-effective and supported by rigorous evaluations, this bill could unlock additional education and workforce development resources, and help social entrepreneurs and policymakers alike harness the power of the Pay for Success toolkit to fund prevention. America Forward has worked with Aligning for Health and other partners to advance this legislation. Thirty-one members of the America Forward Coalition joined a letter in support of the legislation.
  • Trauma-Informed Schools Act Re-Introduced: On July 26, Katherine Clark (D-MA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) reintroduced the Trauma-Informed Schools Act. This bill would establish a first-ever evidence-based definition of “trauma-informed practices” in the Every Student Succeeds Act, require that States and districts establish trauma-informed school environments and require that teachers, principals, school leaders, and other educators have access to professional support to help students who have experienced or are experiencing trauma. America Forward has been involved in advocating for this legislation since a Hill meeting with our Early Learning Working Group last year highlighted the importance of federal support for young children affected by traumatic experiences. Over 50 members of our Coalition joined a letter in support of the legislation.
  • FINISH Act Introduced in House: In addition, on July 26, just before the House adjourned for recess, Representatives Ben McAdams (D-UT) and Ron Wright (R-TX) introduced the Fund for Innovation and Success in Higher Education (FINISH) Act, to leverage the power of evidence and data to improve student outcomes in higher education. The bill creates a new tiered-evidence innovation fund to test, replicate, and scale successful approaches to improving access to and completion in higher education, authorizes five higher education Pay for Success pilots, and includes additional provisions to create more open-source educational resources and fund evaluations to build better evidence across this field. This is a companion bill to legislation previously introduced in the Senate in the spring. America Forward, along with our partners, Results for America, the Knowledge Alliance, and New America, have worked together to build momentum for this approach. A broad group of supporters, including many members of the America Forward Coalition, signed a letter to the House sponsors in support of the legislation.
  • Closing the College Hunger Gap Act of 2019: On July 11, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT-5) and a growing list of cosponsors introduced the Closing the College Hunger Gap Act of 2019. The bill would do two things to address student food insecurity:  (1) provide for student food insecurity data improvements by requiring that the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) include certain measures regarding food insecurity and homelessness; and (2) require the Department of Education (ED) to provide potentially eligible students with information on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The Government Accountability Office’s analysis of ED data shows that almost 2 million at-risk students who were potentially eligible for SNAP did not report receiving benefits in 2016. This provision will raise awareness about SNAP and help connect eligible college students at risk of food insecurity with the SNAP application.  America Forward and other Coalition members signed a letter of support for this bill.
  • Two Year Budget Deal Passes Congress: On August 1, the Senate passed a two-year budget deal that among other things provides for an increase in non-defense discretionary funding (i.e., domestic spending for programs).  This provision was part of a bipartisan, bicameral deal with the Administration that also raised the debt limit until July 2021.  The House of Representatives approved the budget deal last week, so now the bill goes to the President where he is expected to sign the bill into law. Congressional leaders will still need to determine the exact allocations to the different accounts like education, workforce, etc; however, the passage of the budget agreement that includes more funding for both defense and domestic programs increases the likelihood that Congress can move forward on finalizing the appropriations bills when they return in September.
  • Formation of New Bipartisan “What Works” Caucus: Finally, on July 31, Representatives Ben McAdams (D-UT) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) announced the launch of a new bipartisan Congressional What Works Caucus to ensure that federal taxpayer dollars are invested as effectively as possible to improve outcomes for children, families, and communities nationwide. In a release from the sponsors announcing the caucus, America Forward Executive Director and New Profit Managing Partner Deborah Smolover said “the federal government allocates over $1.5 trillion for social services each year, yet we are only able to accurately assess the impact of a small fraction of those dollars. Our coalition of social entrepreneurs works hard in communities across America to provide services that measurably expand opportunity, increase equity and improve lives. We should expect the same rigorous attention to outcomes from Washington. We commend Representatives McAdams and Walorski for their leadership and commitment to testing, funding and scaling what works.”

The America Forward team commends the House of Representatives members and their staffs, on both side of the aisle, who worked hard to advance these constructive approaches, create this caucus and introduce these important bills, all before the start of August recess. This is exactly the approach to government our social entrepreneurs and the families they work within hundreds of communities across America would like to see more of when Congress reconvenes this fall. We look forward to working with you to advance these important efforts.

Finally, over the August recess, while Members of Congress are in their states and congressional districts, we encourage Coalition members to engage with policymakers and highlight this progress on our collective priorities and your individual organizational priorities.

Examples of ways to reach out to your congressional representative include:

  • Attend a Town Hall meeting in your area where you can interact directly with your Senators and/or Representatives;
  • Invite them to come to visit your facility or program;
  • Request a meeting with the Member or their district representative in their local office; or
  • Call or write and express your support for these and other legislative priorities.

Please contact our team at America_Forward@newprofit.org with any questions.

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