Update From Washington, D.C.
House Considers Piecemeal Immigration Reform, VOCA Fix Legislation; FEMA Announces $510 Million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program
March 18, 2021
House Considers Piecemeal Immigration Reform, VOCA Fix Legislation
One week removed from the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the House this week shifted its focus to immigration. Amid a dearth of support for more comprehensive reforms, Democratic leaders decided to pursue a more piecemeal approach. Later today, the chamber will vote on two measures that have bipartisan support, including CSAC-endorsed legislation (HR 1603) that would establish a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program for the nation’s agricultural sector.
Pursuant to HR 1603, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be authorized to grant temporary “certified agricultural worker” (CAW) status to undocumented individuals who, in turn, would be eligible to earn permanent legal status for themselves and their dependent family members through continued agricultural employment. The legislation referred to as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, would also make reforms to the H-2A agricultural guest worker visa program, including allowing a limited number of program participants to engage in year-round work. In addition, HR 1603 would require DHS to establish a nationwide system for employers to verify an individual’s identity and employment authorization (known as E-Verify). Employers hiring individuals for agricultural employment would be required to use the new system.
House lawmakers will also consider legislation (HR 6) that would provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who arrived in the country as children. Specifically, the bill would provide conditional green cards and work authorizations to the so-called Dreamers, if they meet criteria similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The conditional status could be converted to full permanent residency through education, military service, or work experience. The measure would also provide green cards and work authorizations to current recipients of temporary protected status (TPS) and deferred enforced departure (DED).
As of this writing, the chamber had not yet voted on either measure, but both are expected to be approved. It remains unclear, however, if the bills have enough support to advance in the Senate. Despite Democrats’ narrow majority in the upper chamber, 60 votes are generally required to approve most legislation of consequence. As it stands, Republicans in both chambers appear to be taking a hard line on immigration, particularly as the Biden administration struggles to deal with a surge of migrants at the border.
Aside from the immigration debate, the House this week voted overwhelmingly to approve legislation (HR 1652) that would boost the amount of funding available for Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants. The measure, which is supported by CSAC, would direct criminal settlements from Federal non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements into the Crime Victims Fund (CVF), rather than the General Treasury. It should be noted that the change could result in the deposit of an additional $4 to $7 billion into the CVF over the course of the next several years.
In addition, and among other things, the bill would increase the percentage that state compensation programs are reimbursed by the Federal government – from 60 to 75 percent – and would allow states to apply for a no-cost extension for VOCA assistance grants. A companion measure (S 611) is sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein.
FEMA Announces $510 Million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program
FEMA recently announced that $510 million in supplemental funding – made available through the American Rescue Plan Act – will be made available to the Emergency Food and Shelter Program to assist organizations that provide food, shelter, and supportive services to individuals and families who are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing, hunger and homelessness. Of this funding, $400 million will be reserved for local non-profit social service organizations, and the remaining $110 million is set aside for organizations that provide humanitarian assistance to migrants at the southern border. It should be noted that funding is available to local nonprofit, faith-based, and governmental entities that provide these types of services in their communities.
Applications must be completed by local entities (including local government agencies) and submitted to the program’s local boards. Additional information, including local board contacts, is available here. Finally, all applications will be evaluated competitively, and reimbursements addressing humanitarian needs (such as life-sustaining food and shelter expenses) will be given priority.