Good morning! It’s Friday, February 17, 2023. The 2024 elections are 627 days away.
Welcome to the end of another week. In case you missed them... Two newsletters I was proud of this week: My response to a reader question on why the debt ceiling matters and my analysis piece on the GOP’s collective action problem going into 2024.
In today’s email: As with every Friday, I’m taking a look at what got done in Washington in the past week. I think this week’s roundup particularly includes some issues that are really impactful — but didn’t get much coverage.
If you look through today’s newsletter and find that you’re reading about most of these policies for the first time, I hope you’ll consider donating to support my work (or even setting up a monthly donation). Every bit really does help ensure I can continue doing this work and shining a light on under-covered policy developments.
Finally, a housekeeping note: There will be no newsletter on Monday in honor of Presidents’ Day. Are you looking for presidential reading recommendations? Take a look at my list of favorites from last year. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you back in your inboxes on Tuesday!
Week in review: Four new policies you should know about
The House was out all week, and the Senate is still shying away from legislation, so this week’s roundup will focus on Executive Branch actions. Here are the policy developments from this week you should know about:
Biden makes a deal with Musk.
One of the main obstacles to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the U.S. is the lack of a nationwide charging network that would ensure drivers can keep their vehicles powered up during long road trips across the country.
That’s why the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure package included $7.5 billion to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the U.S. (There are currently about 140,000 public charging stations in the country.) This week, President Biden teamed up with an unlikely ally to further address the issue: Elon Musk.
After years of Tesla only allowing its charging stations to be used by Tesla drivers, the White House announced this week that the company had agreed for the first time to make some of its charging stations compatible with other electric vehicles.
According to the agreement, by the end of 2024, Tesla will make at least 7,500 chargers across the U.S. available to all electric vehicles, a significant step towards building out a publicly available charging network in the country.
A delegation of White House aides met with Musk last month to push for the change, which the Tesla CEO agreed to despite his new status as a conservative darling since his Twitter takeover late last year.
A major change to disability benefits.
Social Security has been in the news this week amid the back-and-forth between President Biden and Republicans about protecting the entitlement program.
But there was much less attention paid to a major change the Social Security Administration (SSA) proposed this week to its Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which provides monthly cash payments to adults and children with disabilities and low-income seniors.
About 7.5 million Americans receive SSI benefits. The program is means-tested, which means only those below certain income thresholds are eligible for the benefits and the amount of the benefits can vary depending on income.
Currently, when calculating the incomes of recipients and applicants, the SSA takes into account any assistance they might receive from other individuals in paying for food or shelter, which the agency considers to be “in-kind support and maintenance” (ISM). This in-kind support is seen as another form of income, and counts against the income threshold for benefits. (Support from a spouse or minor child does not count.)
For example, in the agency’s words, “if an applicant or recipient lives alone but her parents bring her groceries each month and pay her utility bills, we consider her parents’ help as ISM.” Recipients are required to report any such assistance to the SSA. According to the agency, such assistance typically leads to a recipient’s SSI benefits being reduced by about one-third.
The SSA, however, proposed a new rule this week that would exclude food from such calculations — meaning it would no longer count as added income, and lead to reduced benefits, if a friend or relative helps a disabled SSI recipient buy their groceries. Assistance with shelter expenses (rent, utilities, etc.) would still be counted.
Like any update to federal regulations, the proposed change will not go into effect immediately: it will first be subject to a public comment period, which will last until April 17.
Allowing Medicaid funds to pay for food.
The Biden administration has begun approving requests from states to use their Medicaid funds to pay for “groceries and nutritional counseling” for recipients, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.
Medicaid, which provides health care benefits to low-income Americans, is jointly operated by state and federal governments. Each state administers their own Medicaid systems, but to qualify for federal matching funds, they must align with certain guidelines.
Historically, those guidelines have called for states to hew to a strict definition of the medical services that can be provided under the Medicaid mantle. However, both Democratic and Republican state legislators across the country have begun to push for a broader approach, asking to implement “food as medicine” programs that would include food and nutritional assistance under Medicaid because of their health benefits.
“While there is no formal definition, the idea of using food as medicine often takes the form of programs that deliver meals customized for specific medical needs to recently hospitalized patients, for example,” the Journal reported, “or vouchers that would enable certain people to obtain healthy items such as fruits and vegetables but not junk food.”
According to the Journal, “a growing body of research suggests that addressing food insecurity can improve health as well as deliver savings by reducing medical visits, the need for medication, or by helping control serious illness.”
The program is also expanding in new ways that don’t just involve food: “Medicaid in a handful of states is now paying for air conditioners to help with extreme heat, up to six months of rent and filtration devices that boost air quality,” per the Journal.
Selling Narcan over the counter.
Narcan, the nasal spray which can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, may soon be available over the counter.
The FDA’s advisory committee voted unanimously this week to recommend allowing Narcan to be used without a prescription. Although the agency generally follows such recommendations, the panel’s advice is not binding; a final decision from the FDA is expected to come in the following weeks.
If the FDA signs off, it will be the first time the agency has approved an opioid reversal drug for use without a prescription. Currently, all 50 states have laws that allow some form of access to Narcan without a prescription, but FDA action would clarify that policy nationwide — and allow the drug to be sold outside of just pharmacies. Other locations, such as supermarkets or convenience stores, are not currently allowed to carry the drug.
Studies have found that increased access to naloxone (the generic name for Narcan) can reduce overdose deaths by as much as 14%. More than 106,000 drug overdose deaths were reported in the U.S. in 2021, a stark increase from past years as the opioid epidemic worsened during Covid.
- The Justice Department distributed $231 million to help states administer “red flag laws,” using funding from the bipartisan gun control law passed last year.
- The Senate confirmed its 100th judge since Biden took office, outpacing both Trump and Obama. 76 of those judges have been women; 68 have been people of color.
- The U.S. bought 1.5 million more doses of Novavax’s Covid vaccine.
- Biden signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to conduct annual reviews of how accessible their programs are to underserved communities.
- The Senate unanimously passed resolutions condemning China for the sky balloon, honoring the anniversary of the Parkland shooting, marking Black History Month, and congratulating the Kansas City Chiefs on their Super Bowl victory.
More news to know.
FETTERMAN: “Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., is receiving treatment for clinical depression at Walter Reed hospital, his office announced Thursday. His chief of staff said Fetterman checked himself in Wednesday night.” NPR
UFOS: “President Joe Biden said Thursday that the U.S. is developing ‘sharper rules’ to track, monitor and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects, following three weeks of high-stakes drama sparked by the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon transiting much of the country.” AP
TRUMP PROBES: “Atlanta grand jury recommends perjury charges in Trump 2020 election probe” Axios
MEDIA: “Fox News stars and executives privately trashed Trump’s election fraud claims, court document reveals” CNN
EAST PALESTINE: “Ohio residents plead for help and answers weeks after East Palestine train derailment” CBS
BIDEN HEALTH: “White House physician says Biden remains ‘fit for duty’ after routine medical exam” NBC
TECH: “A Conversation With Bing’s Chatbot Left Me Deeply Unsettled” NYT
The day ahead.
— President Biden only has his daily intelligence briefing on his public schedule.
— Vice President Harris is in Munich, Germany, for the Munich Security Conference. She will hold meetings with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, before later hosting a reception for the members of Congress attending the conference.
— The Senate is out until Monday.
— The House is out until February 27.
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