Harvard Releases State of the Nation’s Housing Report

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies recently released its 3oth annual housing report, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2018. Managing Director Chris Hebert said, “By many metrics, the U.S. housing market in 2018 is on sound footing. But a number of challenges highlighted in the first State of the Nation’s Housing report 30 years ago persist today, and in many respects, the situation has worsened for both the lowest-income Americans and those higher up the income latter.” Long-term challenges that the report has identified include: an increase in cost-burdened households, constraints in the supply of new housing, more expensive land prices and housing construction costs, and decreased rates of homeownership among young adults and black households. See this recorded webcast for a discussion about the implications of the report’s findings.

House Approves Farm Bill Legislation

In a narrow vote of 213-211, the House passed its version of the Farm Bill (H.R. 2), which is estimated to spend $860 billion over the next 10 years. While Democrats unanimously opposed the bill due to stricter eligibility criteria and work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), eight conservative Freedom Caucus members flipped their positions from last month’s vote to ensure its passage on Thursday. The Senate is expected to vote on its version, which has wide bipartisan support, as early as this week. There are many expected points of contention between the bills, including the extent of SNAP reforms; changes to commodity subsidies; and the differences of approach to conservation programs, especially the elimination of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Stewardship Program proposed by the House.

House Appropriations Committee to Adopt Labor, Health, Education Funding Bill

Tomorrow, June 26, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to approve the FY 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education funding bill. The bill is likely to be adopted along party lines with essentially the same funding that Congress appropriated last year, which is greater than the amount requested by the administration.

The bill, if adopted into law, would appropriate more than $177 billion in discretionary funds, funding most programs at current levels. Small increases in funding were provided for substance abuse and mental health programs, including those that would address opioid and heroin abuse, health research at the National Institutes of Health, early childhood and Head Start programs, special education, and programs for seniors and veterans.

The committee is likely to recommend that programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) be level funded, and workforce programs – a constant target of funding cuts – be reduced by a small amount, mostly due to the $200 million decrease in funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act dislocated worker program.

House Passes Walden-Led Package to Combat Opioid Crisis

In a bipartisan vote of 396-14, the House passed the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) – a piece of legislation that combines dozens of opioid-related bills passed over the last two weeks with base text and provisions that passed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill tackles many aspects of the opioid crisis, helping advance treatment and recovery initiatives, improving prevention, and authorizing state and local grants for the establishment or operation of public health labs to detect fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. See this bill summary for further detail.

State and Local Governments Win Landmark Online Sales Tax Case

On Thursday in the South Dakota v. Wayfair case, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that state and local governments can collect sales tax from vendors that do not have a physical presence in their state. In the 5-4 decision, SCOTUS offered three reasons why it ruled on the side of the localities and states: “First, the physical presence rule is not a necessary interpretation of the requirement that a state tax must be ‘applied to an activity with a substantial nexus with the taxing State.’ Second, Quill [v. North Dakota] creates rather than resolves market distortions. And third, Quill [v. North Dakota] imposes the sort of arbitrary, formalistic distinction that the court’s modern Commerce Clause precedents disavow.” The largest state and local government associations have applauded the decision, stating that “for 26 years Congress has failed to act and through the efforts of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the federal government has finally recognized the changing nature of commerce and state efforts to simplify the collection process.” Read more about it from the National League of Cities.

Sens. Alexander, Murray Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Address “Urgent Opioid Crisis”

Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray recently introduced a bipartisan bill to address the urgent opioid crisis in America. The Opioid Response Act of 2018 (S. 2680) is composed of forty proposals, mostly from members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions, that came from seven bipartisan hearings and feedback received from the public. The bill’s proposals include: improving data sharing among states so doctors and pharmacies know if a patient has a history of opioid abuse, making grants available that support state and local workforce boards and communities affected by the opioid crisis, and providing grants for states and localities to collect data and implement key prevention strategies. To learn more, read this summary of the legislation.  The committee expects to mark up the bill tomorrow morning.