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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Information / Action Alert: Budget Reconciliation and HCBS

On Tuesday, August 10, the Senate passed their approximately $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act (H.R. 3684) in a 69-30 vote. This bill includes $550 billion in new federal spending, and on top of the traditional funding for roads, bridges, and public transit, the bill includes several new investments, including funding for improving broadband access, addressing racial inequities in infrastructure, and it includes pieces of the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) Act to improve accessibility of rail systems.

The next day, August 11, the Senate passed their $3.5 trillion budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 14) in a 50-49 vote. The budget resolution sets the stage for the budget reconciliation package, including the major investments in home and community based services (HCBS) and the direct support workforce that we have been fighting for. It also sets the stage for other crucial investments, including (but not limited to): filling the Medicaid gap; Affordable Care Act (ACA) expansion; expanding Medicare by lowering the eligibility age and by covering vision, dental & hearing; paid family and medical leave; child nutrition; critical tax credit extensions; providing immigrants a path to citizenship; child care and universal Pre-K; tuition-free community college; Native health, education, and housing programs; housing affordability and equity; and environmental justice.

More information is included in the committee print to accompany the FY 22 budget resolution and the summary on the reconciling instructions.

What is a budget resolution?

A budget resolution is an annual document where Congress sets the budget plan for the next fiscal year and beyond. The budget resolution includes goals for federal spending, revenues, deficits, and debt. While a budget resolution is passed by both the House and the Senate, it is not a law, and therefore it does not require the President’s signature. Budget resolutions do not provide specific details on programs and funding amounts, but the goals and limits within are meant to serve as a non-binding framework for the appropriations process.

Budget resolutions can also provide a vehicle for the budget reconciliation process by including reconciliation instructions. These instructions direct Congressional Committees to draft reconciliation legislation that achieves certain budgetary goals. They do not detail specific policies or legislative changes the committee must make to achieve those goals. These instructions trigger the reconciliation process.

What is budget reconciliation?

Budget reconciliation is a process that makes it easier for some types of legislation to pass. It can only be used for legislation that changes spending, revenues, and the federal debt limit. Reconciliation bills are easier to pass because instead of needing 60 votes (a three-fifths majority) in the Senate, they only need 51 votes (a simple majority) to pass. Moreover, the Congressional Budget Act limits debate on reconciliation bills to 20 hours. Debate is followed by “vote-a-rama,” a process where remaining amendments are considered with little or no debate, and can be passed more easily.

What comes next?

The House returns to DC today, interrupting their recess to consider the budget resolution passed in the Senate. House Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD) has said the House will remain in session until their business is concluded. While Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has repeatedly said she will not pass the infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill, aiming to ensure both bills pass, there will be a procedural vote to move several priorities, including the infrastructure bill, forward.

Senators are still home for the remainder of their recess, but members of key committees in both the House and the Senate are continuing to work to prepare the reconciliation package. We know the reconciliation package is expected to include investments in home and community based services (HCBS) and the direct support workforce, but our Members of Congress need to hear from us to ensure this funding is prioritized during negotiations!

Take action!

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world what we have long known: disabled people belong in our own homes and communities. However, millions of disabled people are stuck in institutional settings, and about 820,000 are currently on waiting lists for HCBS. Many will have to wait years before receiving the supports and services they need. Because congregate settings have been – and continue to be – hit hard by COVID-19, investing in HCBS has become more critical than ever. Our people are still getting infected and dying at disproportionate rates, and with the Delta variant spreading rapidly, investing in HCBS is a critical way to protect disabled people and our direct support workers.

President Biden has proposed a $400 billion investment in HCBS, and Congress has introduced the Better Care Better Jobs Act (BCBJA) to put this proposal into action. The BCBJA represents the best opportunity in decades to substantially increase funding for and availability of HCBS, and we need to ensure it gets included in the budget reconciliation package! Our Members of Congress need to hear from us over the August recess as they work on the package. Contact your Members of Congress and tell them they MUST meet the increasing demand for HCBS by including the BCBJA in the reconciliation package! The time for them to hear from us is NOW!

More information – including how to contact them and a sample script – are below:

  • Call your Senators and Representative: Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 (voice) or (202) 224-3091 (TTY). Ask to be connected to your Senators or Representative.
  • You can find your Senators’ phone numbers and websites at senate.gov and your Representative’s phone number and website at house.gov/representatives.
  • You can Tweet your Senators and Representative at tweetcongress.org.
  • You can use Resistbot to turn texts into faxes, mail, or hand-delivered letters by texting “RESIST” to 50409.

SAMPLE SCRIPT (please feel free to personalize):

Hi, my name is [YOUR FULL NAME], and I’m from [CITY, STATE].

I am [calling / writing] to urge [Senator / Representative NAME] to support the Better Care Better Jobs Act in the upcoming budget reconciliation package. The BCBJA would providing much-needed funding that is needed now more than ever to improve access to home and community based services and strengthen and expand the HCBS workforce.

Many disabled people and older adults rely on HCBS to live in our homes and participate in our communities. Currently, states are not meeting the needs of their disabled residents, forcing many people to remain on years-long waiting lists and others to be institutionalized, where they are at much higher risk of infection and death from COVID-19. As you know, over the course of the pandemic, COVID-19 has been rampant in congregate settings. In light of the disproportionate COVID infection and death rates, improving access to HCBS is more urgent than ever. The BCBJA would provide the critical and long-overdue investment to make this happen.

Thank you for your time. I hope I can count on your support for your disabled constituents by supporting the Better Care Better Jobs Act in the reconciliation package.

(Your name)

[IF LEAVING A VOICEMAIL OR EMAILING: please leave your full street address and zip code. This will ensure your call or email is tallied]

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