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Congress Reaches Pre-Election Adjournment: Post-Election "Lame Duck" Session Needed to Resolve FY 2005 Spending Bills, Action on Insurance Parity and Childrens’ Bills Stalled, Senate Clears S 1194

As is being widely reported in the press, Congress has adjourned until after the upcoming November elections. Both the House and Senate will return in late November for a post-election "lame duck" session that will be necessary to resolve a range of unfinished spending bills for the current fiscal year (FY 2005). These include appropriations bills funding a range of mental illness research and services programs including the FY 2005 budgets for NIMH, SAMHSA, VA and HUD.

Criminal Justice Legislation Cleared

In the final days leading up to adjournment, Congress did take action on a range of bills of concern to people with severe mental illnesses and their families. Among these are the Mental Illness Offender and Crime Reduction Act (S 1194). This important legislation cleared the Senate on October 11 and is now on its way to the White House where President Bush is expected to sign it into law soon. Read more about S 1194.

Insurance Parity Legislation Stalled, 1996 Law Extended

Despite strong support in both the House and Senate – and public support from President Bush – Congress was not able to act legislation requiring health plans to cover treatment for mental illnesses on the same and terms and conditions as all other illnesses, i.e. insurance parity. While parity legislation (S 486/HR 953) has 69 Senate cosponsors and 248 House cosponsors, the opponents of parity were able to block a vote on the bill. Despite this setback, the sponsors of insurance parity – including Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) – remain determined to push for passage early in 2005.

Prior to adjournment, Congress did attach an additional one year extension to the 1996 federal Mental Health Parity Act, as part of an unrelated measure extending certain middle-class tax cuts (HR 1308). The 1996 federal parity law is limited to annual and lifetime dollar limits and does not require parity for durational treatment limits or co-payments and deductibles.

Action on NIMH & SAMHSA Budgets Postponed

As noted above, Congress will return for a post-election "lame duck" session in November to resolve the remaining spending bills for FY 2005. This includes increases for mental illness research at NIMH and increases for services programs at SAMHSA. The budgets for both NIMH and SAMHSA are included in the FY 2005 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill (S 2810/HR 5006). Read more on these bills.

When Congress reconvenes, NAMI will be pushing House and Senate conferees to include the following:

  • The full increase for NIMH included in the Senate bill (a $54.3 million increase for FY 2005, up to $1.437 billion, or $13.8 million more than the President’s request for FY 2005),
  • The full $44 million request for the President Mental Health Transformation Initiative at SAMHSA (also known as State Infrastructure Grants), and
  • Full funding in FY 2005 for suicide prevention activities authorized under the recently enacted Garrett Lee Smith Act (S 2634).

Action on Housing and Veterans Funding Postponed

As with the FY 2005 Labor-HHS funding bill, action on a separate bill funding the Veterans’ Administration and HUD has also been pushed off until November. More information on the FY 2005 VA-HUD Appropriations bill (S 2825/HR 5041), is available at: MISSING LINK – SEE ATTACHMENT

When Congress reconvenes, NAMI will be pressing to ensure that the final FY 2005 VA-HUD bill includes the following:

  • Enactment of the $1.9 billion increase recommended for VA medical care included in the Senate bill, boosting funding to $28.35 billion for FY 2005,
  • Rejection of the Bush Administration’s proposed "Flexible Voucher" proposal and corresponding proposed $1.6 billion cut to Section 8,
  • Rejection of any cuts to the HUD Section 811 program and full funding for renewal of all expiring rent subsidies under the 811 program, and
  • Full funding for the President’s request for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, including funding for renewal of all expiring Shelter Plus Care and SHP permanent housing rent subsidies.

Action on Childrens’ Mental Health Legislation Postponed

A range of legislative proposals addressing the needs of families of children with mental illness stalled prior to adjournment. This includes legislation to reauthorize the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – S 1248/HR 1350 – that had previously cleared both the House and Senate. IDEA legislation is not expected to come up until next year. Likewise, legislation to address the needs of families who are forced to relinquish custody to get access to services for a child with a mental illness also stalled. This occurred despite enormous progress. The Keeping Families Together Act (S 1704 & HR 3243) was the subject of a series of Senate hearings. The Family Opportunity Act (S 622 & HR 1811) did pass the Senate, only to be blocked in the House by an unrelated amendment to cut Medicaid funding for targeted case management services.