Bruce P. Bower 2013-08-27 03:09:14
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, the enactment is effective Sept. 1, 2013. Whether the bill is a House Bill or a Senate Bill, the bill, bill status, bill analysis, and bill fiscal note can all be viewed at legis.state.tx.us. STATE BUDGET ASPECTS S.B. 1 is the main state budget law for the two fiscal years that begin Sept. 1, 2013, and end Aug. 31, 2015. As in the past, many of the details of the budget are in “riders”— paragraphs by which the Legislature gives instructions to state agencies regarding how a program should operate. Appropriation for Legal Assistance S.B. 1 has 13 articles. In regard to S.B. 1, this summary will focus on Article II (Health and Human Services) and Article IV (the Judiciary). In Article IV of S.B. 1, the Legislature appropriated close to $25 million per fiscal year for basic civil legal services. This appropriation is due to the extraordinary leadership of the Supreme Court of Texas in support of legal aid for Texans of very modest means. The Texas Access to Justice Foundation will administer these funds pursuant to orders of the court. Guidelines for use of the basic civil legal services appropriation in S.B. 1 can be found at teajf.org/grants/faq.aspx#eligible. Health and Welfare Aspects of Article II Article II of S.B. 1 has several provisions that will impact health and human services in Texas through the end of the upcoming biennium—Aug. 31, 2015. The Legislature assumed that there will be approximately 4 million Medicaid recipients excluding those in long-term care— slightly fewer in FY 2014, slightly more in FY 2015. The Legislature assumed that long-term care Medicaid recipients in community or facility settings are more than 100,000 at any one time. A step the Legislature took again this session was to maintain income eligibility for long-term care Medicaid at three times the federal Supplemental Security Income maximum benefit: three times $710 per month, which equates to a long-term care Medicaid income eligibility limit of $2,130 per month. The Legislature could have set the income limit lower, which would have increased the need to use Qualified Income Trusts to achieve and maintain financial eligibility for long-term care Medicaid. The preservation of the “300 percent of SSI” income limit is at Rider 4.a. of Article II of S.B. 1, which pertains to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. Article II of S.B. 1 addressed funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is a federally funded block grant that provides a modest level of cash assistance for children and parents. The 83rd Legislature assumed that the average monthly benefit per recipient of TANF will be $73.49 in FY 2014 and $74.71 in FY 2015. The Legislature assumed that there will be approximately 95,000 TANF recipients in single-parent households in FY 2014 and approximately 96,000 in FY 2015. In Rider 25 of Article II of S.B. 1, which pertains to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Legislature directed that the maximum TANF grant be at least 17 percent of the federal poverty level. Additionally, the $30 per TANF child “back-to-school” supplement, which is granted each Aug. 1, is preserved. In Rider 23 of Article II, the earned income disregard for TANF recipients is preserved: the first $120 of earnings and 90 percent of rest of earnings is disregarded during the first four months of receipt of TANF; after the initial four months the first $120 of earnings is disregarded. The Legislature left intact the time limits which apply to TANF. Article II of S.B. 1 also dealt with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Legislature budgeted for there to be approximately 574,000 CHIP recipients per month in FY 2014 and approximately 374,000 in FY 2015. In Texas, CHIP only serves children; however, a child eligible for Medicaid is not eligible for CHIP. The federal match for CHIP is higher than that for Medicaid (71.5 percent as opposed to 59.3 percent), and thus the federal government seeks to have children who are eligible for Medicaid covered under that program rather than CHIP. Article II of S.B. 1 also provides for administration of the food stamp program in Texas—the program was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture several years ago. The SNAP benefit is 100 percent federally funded with eligibility determination costs split equally between the state and the federal government. Article II of S.B. 1 appropriated approximately $798 million for FY 2014 for eligibility determination costs for Medicaid, CHIP, TANF, and SNAP and approximately $775 million for eligibility determination costs in FY 2015. Several substantive law enactments of the 83rd Texas Legislature in addition to S.B. 1 will affect the basic needs of people of modest means. Some of these substantive enactments are addressed in this summary. Child Care Competition H.B. 376 is meant to encourage competition among certified Texas Rising Star Provider child care programs by stratifying the graduated reimbursement rates that reward high-quality programs. The Texas Workforce Commission, in its fiscal note for the bill, contends that the bill will require funds to be shifted and will result in 2,825 fewer at-risk children receiving child care each day. Transactional Living Services H.B. 2111 relates to transitional living services for certain youth in foster care. It is effective immediately. It requires the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to require a foster care provider to assist youth who are 14 or older in obtaining experiential life-skills training to improve their transition to independent living. Educational Needs of Children in Conservatorship H.B. 2619 relates to the educational needs of children in the conservatorship of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The bill requires the attorney ad litem and guardian ad litem to be knowledgeable about the child’s educational needs and goals, including special education, grade level competency, and school behavioral interventions. Managed Care S.B. 7 will lead, over the next several years, to the expanded use of managed care to deliver Medicaid acute care services and long-term services and supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many people with disabilities and their advocates are enthusiastic about S.B. 7; many providers are less enthusiastic. Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits S.B. 21 affects the Texas Labor Code Chapter 207. It is perhaps the most dramatic change relating to public financial benefits that the 83rd Texas Legislature enacted. Implementation of S.B. 21 will require rule-making by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). The bill relates to drug screening or testing as a condition for the receipt of unemployment compensation benefits by certain individuals. The bill amends Section 207.201 of the Texas Labor Code by adding Subsection (b-1) to provide as follows: (b-1) An individual for whom suitable work is available only in an occupation designated by U.S. Department of Labor regulation as an occupation that regularly conducts pre-employment drug testing is considered available for work only if the individual complies with the applicable requirements of the drug screening and testing program administered by the TWC under Section 207.026. Each individual to whom Section 207.021(b-1) applies who files an initial claim must submit to and pass a drug screening assessment as a prerequisite to receiving unemployment benefits. The assessment will be a written questionnaire to be completed by the individual applying for benefits and must be designed to accurately determine the reasonable likelihood that an individual is using a substance that is subject to regulation under Chapter 481 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. An individual whose drug screening assessment indicates a reasonable likelihood of use by the individual of a substance subject to regulation under Chapter 481 must submit to and pass a drug test to establish the individual’s eligibility for unemployment benefits. An individual who fails a required drug test is not eligible to receive unemployment benefits until the individual has passed a subsequent drug test administered not earlier than four weeks after the date the individual submitted to the failed drug test. An individual is not ineligible to receive benefits based on the individual’s failure to pass a drug test if, on the basis of evidence presented by the individual, TWC determines that, subject to Section 207.021(a)(4): (1) the individual is participating in a treatment program for drug abuse; (2) the individual enrolls in and attends a treatment program for drug abuse not later than the seventh day after the date initial notice of the failed drug test is sent to the individual; or (3) the failure to pass the test is caused by the use of a substance that was prescribed by a health care practitioner as medically necessary for the individual. TWC shall prescribe procedures for providing initial notice to an individual who fails a drug test, for an appeal under Chapter 212 of the Texas Labor Code, and for the retaking of a failed drug test by an individual under this section. The drug screening and testing apply only to a claim for unemployment compensation benefits that is filed with the TWC on or after Feb. 1, 2014. The bill provides that if before implementing any of its provisions TWC determines that a waiver or authorization from a federal agency is necessary, TWC shall request the waiver or authorization and may delay implementing that provision until the waiver or authorization is granted. Chief Justice Jack Pope Act And now back to the beginning—funding for civil legal services for Texans of modest means. H.B. 1445 offers the prospect of additional funding for Texas’s legal aid programs, through civil penalties and restitution collected by the Office of the Attorney General. The bill is effective immediately, but funds resulting from it may not be available for a while. H.B. 1445 increases the cap on the amount of collections from civil penalties and restitution collected by the Office of the Attorney General that can be credited to the judicial fund for basic civil legal services to $50 million, an increase from $10 million. H.B. 1445 adds collections for restitution for violations of consumer protection, public health, or general welfare laws to the recoveries that can result in such deposits to the judicial fund. The bill sets forth criteria that must be met before civil restitution penalties can be deposited to the judicial fund—impracticality of identifying injured parties, impracticality of determining the degree of injury to each claimant, cost of administering a claim procedure, and all claims that were capable of distribution to identifiable persons have been distributed and there are still undistributed amounts that have been collected. H.B. 1445 preserves the ability of the Office of the Attorney General to seek and obtain cy pres distribution from a court. The bill is typical of the Legislature’s support for civil legal services for the indigent in that it is a bipartisan enactment. It was authored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson in the House and sponsored by state Sen. Robert Duncan in the Senate. H.B. 1445, the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act, is named after former Chief Justice Jack Pope, who was a leader in establishing Texas’s Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program. Justice Pope, who had recently celebrated his 100th birthday, attended the ceremony on May 28, 2013, when Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill. BRUCE P. BOWER is deputy director of the Texas Legal Services Center.
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