Policy focus: A long list of legislation this fall

Photo by Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World

By Bread Staff

A series of high-stakes, thorny, and must-pass decisions will greet lawmakers when they return from their August recess. Bread will be calling on our members to contact Congress a lot in the coming months.

Child Nutrition Programs

Congress must act on child nutrition programs before Sept. 30. On Sept. 17, the Senate Agriculture Committee will consider a comprehensive bill. Thousands of messages to Congress, combined with in-district meetings by Bread members, are building strong support for improving summer meals in a final child nutrition bill. If Congress cannot complete a bill by Sept. 30, we expect to see an extension of the current law, providing Congress additional time to work on a bill this year.

Budget and Sequestration

Lawmakers will need to pass a short-term continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown by Sept. 30, the last day of the fiscal year. Before the end of 2015, Congress and the administration will be working to pass a broader budget deal that funds the government, replaces sequestration cuts, and raises the debt ceiling.

The White House has repeatedly threatened to veto any bill that locks in sequestration cuts fiscal year 2016. A number of prominent Republican and Democratic members of Congress have been very vocal in their opposition to sequestration, calling for a budget deal to lift the sequestration caps. However, it remains unclear whether there is enough political will in Congress to reach a budget deal. Whatever Congress negotiates this year will likely continue for two years. Election season will be underway next spring, making it very difficult for Congress to pass major legislation.

Continuing sequestration for the remainder of FY 2016 and FY 2017 would force additional cuts and make it impossible to restore past cuts or make new investments in critical anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs. Thus, pushing for a budget deal that replaces sequestration cuts with a balanced approach that protects funding for anti-hunger programs continues to be an important message to send to Congress.  

Global Food Security Act

Bread is working very hard to get this act passed this year, which would make the U.S.’s successful global food-security program, Feed the Future, permanent. In the House, the number of cosponsors grew from under 50 to 70 just over the summer, in large part because of Bread members’ advocacy efforts.

Food-Aid Reform

Strong efforts are still being made around food aid reform. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee looks set to mark up the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2015 (S. 525). This legislation would modernize U.S. food aid in order to increase its flexibility, prevent inefficiencies, and expand the reach of the program to millions more people. 

Tax Benefits

Before Dec. 31, Congress will need to extend a number of expired tax benefits, primarily for businesses. Many in Congress want to make some of those tax breaks permanent. Bread wants to ensure that any bill that expands or makes permanent any business tax breaks also makes permanent the 2009 improvements to the earned income and child tax credits. These are the only tax credits specifically directed to low-income working families, and they prevent more people from falling into poverty than any other program in the country except Social Security.

Criminal Justice Reform

Senate Judiciary Committee members continue to negotiate a criminal justice reform bill. In the House, the SAFE Justice Act (H.R. 2944), sponsored by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.), has gotten a great deal of attention. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared to come out in support of the bill, which would, among other things, lower mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Bread continues to push to lift the lifetime ban on SNAP and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) for individuals with felony drug convictions, urging members of Congress to include that provision in any criminal justice reform legislation.

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