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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Demonstration Projects

Scott Szymendera
Analyst in Disability Policy

Since 1980, Congress has authorized the Social Security Administration (SSA) to conduct demonstration projects to test changes to the agency’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. The demonstration authority granted by Congress allows the SSA, on its own, to temporarily waive program rules, including rules regarding program eligibility and benefit administration, in order to test the impact these changes would have on the return to work rate of program beneficiaries and the size of the SSDI and SSI benefit rolls.

The most recent authorization for the SSA to conduct demonstration projects expired in 2005. At that time, the SSA was in the process of planning and administering eight SSDI demonstration projects. Four of these demonstration projects have been completed, two were cancelled, and two are ongoing.

In 2004 and 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the SSA for its administration of its disability demonstration projects. The GAO found that the SSA did not use the authority granted to it by Congress to test a wide enough variety of program options and did not have in place a system to identify program changes and policy options that should be tested in demonstrations. In addition, the GAO criticized the SSA for the methodological limitations of some of its demonstration projects and found that the results of these projects were not properly shared within the agency, with Congress, or with the public. Because of this, the GAO concluded that SSA demonstration projects had little impact on the overall policy debate or on the ways that Congress and the agency could work to improve the historically low return to work rate of SSDI and SSI beneficiaries and reduce the rolls of these large disability benefit programs.

This report presents a summary of the four completed and two ongoing SSDI demonstration projects.The objective of this information is to aid Congress in its ongoing discussions of the future of the SSA disability benefit programs and the decision to temporarily or permanently extend the demonstration authority of the agency.

Date of Report: July 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL33585
Price: $29.95

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Unemployment Insurance: Programs and Benefits

Katelin P. Isaacs
Analyst in Income Security

Julie M. Whittaker
Specialist in Income Security

Various benefits may be available to unemployed workers to provide income support. When eligible workers lose their jobs, the Unemployment Compensation (UC) program may provide up to 26 weeks of income support through the payment of regular UC benefits. Unemployment benefits may be extended for up to 53 weeks by the temporarily authorized Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08) program. Unemployment benefits may be extended for up to a further 13 or 20 weeks by the permanent Extended Benefit (EB) program under certain state economic conditions. Certain groups of workers who lose their jobs because of international competition may qualify for income support through Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) programs. Unemployed workers may be eligible to receive Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) benefits if they are not eligible for regular UC and if their unemployment may be directly attributed to a declared major disaster. Former U.S. military servicemembers may be eligible for unemployment benefits through the unemployment compensation for ex-servicemembers (UCX) program. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-164) provides that ex-servicemembers be treated the same as other unemployed workers with respect to benefit levels, the waiting period for benefits, and benefit duration.

The authorization for the EUC08 program expires the week ending on or before January 3, 2012. Those beneficiaries receiving tier I, II, III, or IV EUC08 benefits before December 31, 2011, are “grandfathered” for their remaining weeks of eligibility for that particular tier only. There will be no new entrants into any tier of the EUC08 program after December 31, 2011.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) temporarily increased benefits from all unemployment compensation programs—UC, EUC08, EB, DUA, and TAA—by $25 per week (Federal Additional Compensation, or FAC). Authorization for the FAC was extended by P.L. 111-118, P.L. 111-144, and P.L. 111-157. The $25 FAC benefit expired on May 29, 2010 (May 30, 2010, in New York State). Individuals receiving unemployment benefits prior to the FAC expiration continued to received the additional $25 until they exhausted unemployment benefits from all programs or until December 11, 2010 (December 12, 2010, for New York State), whichever day came first. All FAC payments have ended.

On December 17, 2010, the President signed P.L. 111-312, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. P.L. 111-312 extends the authorization for the EUC08 program until January 3, 2012, and the 100% federal financing of EB through January 4, 2012. P.L. 111-312 also contains a provision that would allow states to use three-year lookback calculations in their mandatory insured unemployment rate (IUR) and optional total unemployment rate (TUR) triggers (rather than the two-year lookback calculations under current law) to trigger on or keep on a period of EB benefits if they would otherwise trigger off or not be on a period of EB benefits.

This report previously contained a section on unemployment insurance legislation. This information is now included as part of CRS Report R41662, Unemployment Insurance: Legislative Issues in the 112
th Congress, by Katelin P. Isaacs and Julie M. Whittaker.

Date of Report: July 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: RL33362
Price: $29.95

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The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases

D. Andrew Austin
Analyst in Economic Policy

Mindy R. Levit
Analyst in Public Finance

Total debt of the federal government can increase in two ways. First, debt increases when the government sells debt to the public to finance budget deficits and acquire the financial resources needed to meet its obligations. This increases debt held by the public. Second, debt increases when the federal government issues debt to certain government accounts, such as the Social Security, Medicare, and Transportation trust funds, in exchange for their reported surpluses. This increases debt held by government accounts. The sum of debt held by the public and debt held by government accounts is the total federal debt. Surpluses reduce debt held by the public, while deficits raise it. Total federal debt outstanding was $14,343 billion on July 19, 2011. The U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced that the federal debt reached its statutory limit on May 16, 2011, and that he had declared a debt issuance suspension period, allowing certain extraordinary measures to extend Treasury’s borrowing capacity until early August 2011. Since May 16, debt subject to limit has been held just below $14,294 billion. Funding federal operations could soon become complicated without a debt limit increase. A bill (H.R. 1954) to raise the debt limit to $16.7 trillion was introduced on May 24 and was defeated in a May 31, 2011, House vote.

Congress has always placed restrictions on federal debt. The form of debt restrictions, structured as amendments to the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917, evolved into a general debt limit in 1939. Congress has voted to raise the debt limit 10 times since 2001, as federal debt has nearly reached the debt limit several times due to persistent deficits and additions to federal trust funds. Congress raised the limit in June 2002, and by December 2002 the U.S. Treasury asked Congress for another increase, which passed in May 2003. In June 2004, the U.S. Treasury asked for another debt limit increase. After Congress recessed in mid-October 2004 without acting, the Treasury Secretary told Congress he could keep debt below its limit only through mid-November. A debt limit increase was enacted on November 19, 2004. In 2005, reconciliation instructions in the FY2006 budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 95) included a debt limit increase. The U.S. Treasury warned Congress that it would exhaust options to avoid default by mid-March 2006. Congress passed an increase that the President signed on March 20. The House indirectly approved legislation (H.J.Res. 43) to raise the debt limit by $850 billion to $9,815 billion. The Senate approved the resolution on September 27, 2007, and the President signed it two days later.

The recent economic slowdown led to sharply higher deficits in recent years, which led to a series of debt limit increases. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (H.R. 3221), signed into law (P.L. 110-289) on July 30, 2008, included a debt limit increase. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424), signed into law on October 3 (P.L. 110-343), raised the debt limit again. The debt limit rose a third time in less than a year to $12,104 billion with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on February 13, 2009 (ARRA; H.R. 1), which was signed into law on February 17, 2009 (P.L. 111-5).

The House’s adoption of the conference report on the FY2010 budget resolution (S.Con.Res. 13) on April 29, 2009, triggered the automatic passage of H.J.Res. 45 to raise the debt limit to $13,029 billion. In August 2009, Treasury reportedly said that the debt limit would be reached in mid-October, although it later stated that the limit would not be reached until December 2009. H.R. 4314, passed by the House on December 16, 2009, and by the Senate on December 24, raised the debt limit to $12,394 billion when the President signed the measure (P.L. 111-123) on December 28. On January 28, the Senate passed an amended version of H.J.Res. 45, which the House passed on February 4 and the President signed on February 12 (P.L. 111-139), raising the limit to $14,294 billion.

Date of Report: July 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: RL31967
Price: $29.95

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Homelessness: Targeted Federal Programs and Recent Legislation

Libby Perl, Coordinator
Specialist in Housing Policy

Erin Bagalman
Analyst in Health Policy

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Gail McCallion
Specialist in Social Policy

Francis X. McCarthy
Analyst in Emergency Management Policy

Barbara English
Information Research Specialist

The causes of homelessness and determining how best to assist those who find themselves homeless became particularly prominent, visible issues in the 1980s. The concept of homelessness may seem like a straightforward one, with individuals and families who have no place to live falling within the definition. However, the extent of homelessness in this country and how best to address it depend upon how one defines the condition of being homeless.

There is no single federal definition of homelessness, although a number of programs, including those overseen by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Labor (DOL) use the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition. The HUD definition of a homeless individual was recently broadened as part of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-22), which was signed by the President on May 20, 2009. Previously, a homeless individual was defined as a person who lacks a fixed nighttime residence and whose primary nighttime residence is a supervised public or private shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations, a facility accommodating persons intended to be institutionalized, or a place not intended to be used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. The new law expanded the definition to include those defined as homeless under other federal programs as well as those who will imminently lose housing.

A number of federal programs in seven different agencies, many authorized by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (P.L. 100-77), serve homeless persons. These include the Education for Homeless Children and Youths program administered by the Department of Education (ED) and the Emergency Food and Shelter program, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program run by the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers multiple programs that serve homeless individuals, including Health Care for the Homeless, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, and the Runaway and Homeless Youth program.

HUD administers the Homeless Assistance Grants, made up of grant programs that provide housing and services for homeless individuals ranging from emergency shelter to permanent housing. The VA operates numerous programs that serve homeless veterans. These include Health Care for Homeless Veterans and the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem program, as well as a collaborative program with HUD called HUD-VASH, through which homeless veterans receive Section 8 vouchers from HUD and supportive services through the VA. The Department of Labor also operates a program for homeless veterans, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program.

Attention has turned to homelessness during the last several years, at least in part due to the downturn in the economy. Some homeless service providers report that the numbers of individuals seeking assistance are increasing, school districts in some communities report that they are serving more homeless students than they did the previous year, and HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report for 2010 found increased numbers of homeless families using shelter. In addition, as communities expend the last of their Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing funds (awarded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, P.L. 111-5), there is concern that homelessness may increase.

Date of Report: July 19, 2011
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL30442
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Proposals to Reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the 112th Congress

N. Eric Weiss
Specialist in Financial Economics

As households and taxpayers, Americans have a large stake in the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Homeowners and potential homeowners indirectly depend on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which at the end of 2010 backed and guaranteed home loans accounting for nearly half of the outstanding home mortgages in the nation.

Taxpayers have a large investment in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Through the end of 2010, the Department of the Treasury kept the two insolvent companies in business by providing more than $150 billion in support. Based on past performance, it is not clear how the enterprises will be able to repay Treasury out of future earnings. In addition to the $150 billion in direct support, Treasury and the Federal Reserve (the Fed) purchased nearly $1.4 trillion in GSE-issued and guaranteed mortgage-backed securities (MBS).

These two entities are stockholder-owned, congressionally chartered companies that purchase home mortgages, commonly called government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs). In 2008, increasing mortgage delinquencies and the general financial crisis weakened the two enterprises to the point that they agreed to a voluntary takeover by the federal government known as conservatorship.

This report summarizes and analyzes bills introduced in the 112
th Congress that seek to enhance the public accountability of the two enterprises. The bills covered are H.R. 31, H.R. 408, H.R. 463, H.R. 1182, H.R. 1221, H.R. 1222, H.R. 1223, H.R. 1224, H.R. 1225, H.R. 1226, H.R. 1227, H.R. 1859, H.R. 2413, H.R. 2425, H.R. 2428, H.R. 2436, H.R. 2439, H.R. 2440, H.R. 2441, H.R. 2462, S. 178, and S. 693. Some seek to reduce the cost to the government, while others seek to change the enterprises’ charters if or when they leave conservatorship. None of the above bills introduced proposes government actions to replace the two enterprises.

To date, two bills, H.R. 1859 and H.R. 2413, propose creating a replacement for the two enterprises. H.R. 1859 would authorize the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to charter special purpose associations to support the secondary mortgage market by issuing MBS with an explicit federal catastrophic guarantee. The associations would be charged for this guarantee. H.R. 1859 would require FHFA to develop a plan to transition from enterprise support for the secondary mortgage market to support by these new associations.

The second bill, H.R. 2413, would create a government corporation (the Secondary Market Facility for Residential Mortgages) to purchase and to securitize mortgages. Those selling mortgages to the facility would be required to pay guarantee and reinsurance fees for an explicit federal guarantee on the securities.

Because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are under conservatorship, Congress has unusual leverage to direct FHFA, which is both their regulator and conservator, to implement policy changes. Currently, FHFA has unusual control in that it both regulates and manages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Date of Report: July 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R41822
Price: $29.95

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