Membership Messages

Fahe Advocacy Update: State elections in Kentucky, Virginia; Fannie and Freddie plan for conservatorship exit; Appropriations moving along in fits and starts; Senate vote lets insurers sell more short-term plans; Adjusting to coal mine closures; Opioid settlements raise more questions than they answer

The Latest

  • State elections could reshape the priorities of state governments in Kentucky and Virginia
  • FHFA announces plan to exit Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government conservatorship
  • US Senate passes first of its appropriation bills
  • A Senate vote last week allows insurers to keep selling cheaper, less comprehensive, plans.

Longer Term

  • Blackjewel miners get welcome news – but Murray Energy bankruptcy brings new challenges
  • Opioid lawsuits produce some settlements – but little clarity on the amount and distribution of settlement funds.

The Latest

Voters are going to the polls in five states today, including a Kentucky gubernatorial election, and state legislative races in Virginia. These elections could shape the priorities of state governments in ways that affect our network and the people we serve. In Kentucky, the gubernatorial race is coming down to the wire; a poll last month showed the candidates essentially tied. In Virginia, both chambers of the state legislature are up for grabs. Whichever party wins tonight in any of these states, the retirement or defeat of some incumbents means a number of new officials will take office next year. As advocates, we can help the government understand our communities’ needs – if we take the time to build relationships with new and returning officials. Reaching out early will allow us to have a seat at the table as state governments set their priorities for the next few years.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced last week their new Strategic Plan for 2019 as they guide Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“Government Sponsored Agencies”, or “GSE’s”) out of government conservatorship. The plan includes a “scorecard” which will guide the actions of each GSE over the next year. The plan outlines three objectives for the GSE’s, the first of which is to foster competitive, liquid, efficient, and resilient national housing finance markets that support sustainable homeownership and affordable rental housing. The materials also specifically identify Duty-to-serve as a continued focus of the GSE’s, but the renewed focus on reducing risk in the GSE portfolios may complicate their work with harder-to-serve communities and people.

The federal appropriation process is continuing to move along at the slow, delayed pace that has become the norm over the last decade. Last week the Senate passed the first of its funding bills in a combined “minibus” package. The bills included funding for the Departments of Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development. The Senate numbers for the investments that are important to Fahe Members were – as predicted – lower than the House numbers. For instance, the HOME Investment Partnership program number from the Senate is $1.25 billion, lower than the $1.75 billion of the House. The Senate number represents the same amount made available for the program as last year, but both numbers are significantly higher than the $0 proposed in the President’s Budget.  Conferees from the two chambers now begin the process of ironing their differences to arrive at a final number. Congress-watchers continue to anticipate another “continuing resolution” at the end of November to delay another possible government shutdown.

Last year, President Trump issued an executive order allowing insurers to renew short-term plans for up to three years. A resolution to overturn this rule failed in the Senate Wednesday, allowing insurers to keep marketing them as alternatives to Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans. The failed vote to overturn the rule, which allowed some health insurance plans to continue to avoid the regulations of the ACA. Short-term plans are exempt from many of the ACA rules. A study last year found that 71% of these short-term plans do not cover prescription drugs; 62% do not cover treatment for substance abuse; 43% do not cover mental health treatment; and 0% offer maternity benefits. They can also include higher deductibles and refuse to cover pre-existing conditions. Helping people make an informed choice with insurance will ensure patients can access the care they expect from an insurance plan.

Longer Term

Former employees of Blackjewel coalmines got some good news recently; after two months, they are set to receive back pay from before Blackjewel declared bankruptcy. This gives these miners and their families a small measure of breathing room as they adjust to the loss of a key source of income. Unfortunately, last week, Murray Energy – the country’s largest privately held coal company – also filed for bankruptcy. The impact on miners could go beyond an immediate loss of income; in addition to employing 7,000 people in 17 active mines, Murray Energy was the last major company paying into the United Mine Workers pension plan. With mine closings disrupting the livelihoods of workers across Appalachia, communities suffer in turn. Sustained investment in the affected communities will promote good jobs and financial stability for families, and allow them to remain part of a viable local economy in the places they already call home.

A patchwork of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors is in progress – but may not lead to a single master settlement. The most recent piece of this patchwork developed recently when two Ohio counties reached settlements with drug distributors and manufacturers last month. A group of state attorneys general is negotiating an extensive deal with distributors and manufacturers, and thousands of lawsuits by local governments are proceeding apace. While these piecemeal verdicts and settlements provide funding for individual counties or states, we lack a region-wide method of channeling this money to where it could be most useful. As advocates and practitioners working in several heavily affected areas, we can help state and local governments understand and address our communities’ needs holistically, rather than through piecemeal investments in only addiction treatment programs.