On Tuesday, Research and Outreach Manager Dan Barrett detailed the troubling law that allows the IRS to garnish citizens’ tax returns if the government overpaid their parents or relatives years ago. The IRS and Social Security Administration are doing so despite routinely lacking evidence that proves anyone was overpaid.
In the 2008 Farm Bill, legislators repealed a rule prohibiting tax collectors from going after debts more than ten years old. Now, the feds are trying to recover $1.1 billion from indirect recipients of benefits like Social Security survivor payments. Many of the IRS's targets were children when their parents were awarded these payouts.
Are there alternatives? Dan contends that instead of going after the debts of the deceased, IRS investigators should focus on recouping the $3.3 billion in back taxes that government employees already owe. Check out Dan's post on Government Bytes and let us know what you think!
The Bill: H.R. 4420, the Authorized Rural Water Projects Completion Act
Cost Per Year: $73 million ($366 million over five years)
Rural communities often face unique challenges when it comes to financing infrastructure projects. Lower populations mean a higher cost per taxpayer compared to larger communities, and as a result the federal government has in place several programs designed to facilitate easier access to utilities such as electricity and clean water supplies. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), as of this year there were 88 programs across 16 different federal agencies devoted to providing economic assistance to rural communities.
In 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on the difficulties that rural communities had in coordinating funding requests for water infrastructure projects, specifically. GAO examined 54 projects in five states and found that their funding streams were “fragmented” across the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture, which put those projects at risk for duplicative or overlapping funding requests.
Some of that fragmentation is perhaps evident in the delayed completion of infrastructure projects that Congress authorized, in some cases, over a decade ago. Congressman Steve Daines (R-MT)* recently introduced the Authorized Rural Water Projects Completion Act in order to address that situation, specifically identifying at least three such projects. “In recent years, delays in the construction of authorized Montana rural water projects have resulted in millions of dollars in added costs and increased barriers to quality water accessibility for rural communities in Montana,” he said.
Rep. Daines’s bill would create a new “Reclamation Rural Water Construction Fund” within the Treasury, which would be administered by the Secretary of the Interior. Up to $80 million per year (plus any interest that may have accrued from investments of money within the Fund) would be dedicated to rural water infrastructure projects. The legislation authorizes those expenditures until the Fund’s termination in 2035.
The bill follows the legislative lead of former Senator Max Baucus (D-MT). In 2013, Senator Baucus introduced S. 715, which passed the Senate and would have also created a new fund dedicated to financing rural infrastructure construction at $80 million per year. However, that bill would have created additional accounts within the Fund dedicated to Indian irrigation projects, and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to spend up to $150 million per year from the Fund’s resources in order to accomplish those additional objectives.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that of the $400 million authorized for rural water projects in Senator Buacus’s bill, about $366 million would actually be spent, an average of just over $73 million per year. Rep. Daines’s bill authorizes the same amount for those projects.
* NTUF does not have a BillTally report for Congressman Daines because he is a freshman Representative.
The Bill: H.R. 4631, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2014
Cost Per Year: $29 million ($145 million over five years)
Number of Cosponsors: 71 House Members
Autism is a neurological disorder that inhibits brain development to varying degrees, especially in the areas of verbal communication and social interaction. It’s estimated that autism affects one in 50 children between the ages of 6-17 years old, and statistics show that diagnoses have become more frequent in recent years. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Combating Autism Act, which provided nearly $1 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local agencies to conduct research on treatment options and to raise awareness about early detection. In 2011, President Obama signed legislation that reauthorized the bill’s provisions through 2014. The bill has provided almost $1.7 billion in total funding since it was originally enacted.
As those authorizations are set to expire, Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) has introduced a bill that would extend those programs for another five years. H.R. 4631 would continue the original legislation’s provisions through 2019 at current funding levels except for the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), which would see an increase of $29 million per year. The Committee is tasked with providing information to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on any federal activity that relates to autism research or outreach. Additionally, the bill would create within HHS a new National Autism Spectrum Disorder Initiative, a five-member board appointed by Congress that would oversee a strategic plan for future research programs and objectives.
Congressman Smith said that the bill would preserve functions critical to improving public health, stating in a press release that “[t]his is a critical investment that is working to determine the cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder, identify autistic children as early as possible to begin treatment, and producing better awareness, new therapies and effective services. The quality of life of many children is at stake, as it is with young adults who age out of the support services in educational systems.”
Recently the IACC released a report to Congress on the progress it made over FY 2010-2012 in accomplishing the Combating Autism Act’s (CAA) goals. It includes detailed breakdowns of how each of the 9 agencies within HHS spent CAA funds. The report claimed that NIH funding “... has improved the ability to screen and diagnose [autism] earlier in life; advanced our understanding of the potential causes of autism; and informed innovative treatments, interventions, and services for individuals with [autism].”
Cosponsors include 30 Democratic and 41 Republican Representatives.
Cost Per Year: $2 million ($5 million over three years)
Sponsored by Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would fund a new federal initiative to encourage children, youth, and families to be physically active outdoors. Rep. Kind said that “[y]oung people today spend less time engaged in outdoor activity than any other generation in history.” Sen. Udall added that Americans “must do more to connect our kids with opportunities for outdoor adventure.”
The bill proposes a plan that would have state governments partner with local and municipal entities, nonprofit organizations, and parks and education departments to use public lands for recreation. These partnerships will be guided by comprehensive plans to get more Americans outdoors and will be funded using subgrants, also authorized in H.R. 4706 and S. 2367. Specifically, local governments would be required to create programs to make parks safer, introduce outdoor activities (such as hunting and wildlife watching) to residents, and establish education and conservation projects. The President would also be required to develop a national strategy within the next 15 months. It would require an action plan for coordinated federal departments to help address barriers preventing Americans from getting outside.
The proposal would build on federal efforts to promote physical fitness that date back to 1956 when President Eisenhower issued an Executive Order establishing the first President's Council on Youth Fitness. Its successor, now known as the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, employees 6 full-time employees and was budgeted $1.2 million this year. The President's latest budget proposal would increase its funding to $2.1 million next year. The National Physical Activity Plan Alliance, a non-profit organization, lists several other federal programs "aimed at improving physical activity levels of children and youth," including the Federal Safe Routes to Schools program ($820 million in FY 2014), Let's Move! ($4 million in FY 2014), and the Community Transformation Grant program ($146 million in FY 2013, zero in 2014).
Since 2010, the federal government has been promoting First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative. The program is designed to advocate healthier eating and exercise habits among youth in order to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity. That program, too, cites increased time spent indoors and more frequent use of electronic media as a major contributor to obesity in children.
The new Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would spend $5 million between FY 2015 and 2017 to achieving the program’s goals. States would also be required to match at least 25 percent of the grants. Currently, the Department of the Interior spends $37 million across six of its agencies to introduce, involve, and encourage “the next generation as stewards of cultures, history, lands, waters, and wildlife.” The department has requested $51 million to continue and expand these efforts in 2015.