Sunday, February 14, 2016


Bills began moving through their second houses this week. Early last Tuesday morning, Institute Program Manager Jessica Fraser was among several who testified on SB 132, which would allow individuals who served time for drug felonies to access SNAP benefits. Currently, individuals with prior felony drug convictions are the only group to be prohibited from accessing nutrition assistance, and, as Rep. Summers noted, this creates additional barriers to rehabilitation. Jessica Fraser testified that due to stigma, individuals who have served time for drug felonies often struggle to find stable and sufficiently high-paying employment. SNAP benefits could help mitigate these circumstances. The bill was amended in committee to streamline administration, but Chairman Frizzell did not hold a vote. Contact Chairman Frizzell and encourage him to move SB 132 forward.

SB 217, which would allow townships to provide assistance to qualified customers using prepaid meters, weathered scrutiny from Rep. Borders, who expressed concerns that it would allow some individuals to routinely have their electric bills paid "on the backs of taxpayers." Brian Christenberry of Indiana's Electric Cooperatives noted that individuals were required to certify that they needed assistance every thirty days and that the prepaid meters, which send alerts to consumers as their balances dip, could actually stretch taxpayer dollars by producing more conscious consumers. The bill passed out of committee with a vote of 9-1. Given that many Hoosiers are not paid wages that are sufficient to meet their basic needs, including utilities, Indiana Institute for Working Families will continue to support this bill as it moves forward. It will have its second reading on Monday at 1:30pm in the House.  

Indiana Institute for Working Families has also added two new bills to its watch list. We will be monitoring HB 1001, a road funding bill that includes an increase to gas and cigarette taxes and a decrease in income taxes. Repairing our roads and bridges will provide a number of jobs for Hoosiers. However, the regressive tax package will effectively raise the net amount of taxes most Hoosiers pay while reducing the net tax of the the top quintile of earners. We are also watching SB 251, which will establish an out of school learning fund. Many working families depend on out of school time programs as a source of affordable care and peace of mind while they are on the job. Ensuring that programs are accessible, dependable, and high-quality will benefit everyone - children, families, and employers.

This Week

SB 325:  Individual development accounts
Description: Expands the allowable uses of IDAs to include purchase of vehicles for work or adult education, and for owner-occupied rehab of homes located in Indiana. Increases from 175% to 200% of the federal income poverty level the maximum annual income that an individual may have to qualify for an account. This is part of our 2016 working families agenda.
Last Action Taken: Passed unanimously and referred to the House.
Next Action Time and Location: Expected Wednesday, 2/17/2016 at 8:30am.
Our Position: Support. Allowing savers to use IDAs to purchase vehicles for work or adult education increases access to jobs and skills development, particularly for the great majority of Hoosiers without reliable access to public transportation.

HB 1248: Higher education matters
Description: Among other provisions, this bill amends the definition of "eligible student" for purposes of the EARN Indiana program to include adult, part-time students.
Last Action Taken: Passed unanimously and referred to the Senate
Next Action Time and Location: TBD, expected this week.
Our Position: Support. The amendment to this bill would pave the way for adult learners to access more meaningful, career-aligned work-based learning opportunities, fulfilling another piece of our working families policy agenda

SB 132: Food stamp assistance after drug conviction
Description: Allows certain individuals who were convicted of a drug offense but have not been convicted of another drug offense in the previous five years before applying for food stamps to receive food stamps. Permits individuals who have had a conviction in the past five years but who are receiving specified treatment and drug and alcohol testing to receive food stamps.
Last Action Taken: Passed 43-7 and referred to the House.
Next Action Time and Location: TBD, expected this week.
Our Position: Support. Individuals who have served sentences for felony drug convictions often need access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as they rebuild their lives.

SB 251 Indiana out of school time learning fund
Description: Creates the Indiana out of school time learning fund to fund before and after school programs operated through schools.
Last Action Taken: Passed the Senate and referred to the House.
Next Action Time and Location: Education Committee hearing, 2/16/2016, 8:30am, Room 156-C
Our Position. Support. Afterschool and summer programs keep youth safe during high crime hours, inspire learning, and support working families. According to a 2014 Afterschool Alliance report, 83% of respondents with a child in an afterschool program agreed that the afterschool program helped them keep their job and 85% said that the program gave them peace of mind while at work. 


SB 217 Township assistance payment of electric bills
DescriptionAllows a township trustee to make an advance deposit of township assistance funds in the township's trustee's account with an electric service provider to pay for a township assistance recipient's electric usage charges as those charges are incurred. 
Last Action Taken : Passed 9-1 in committee.

Next Action Time and Location: Third Reading, 2/16/2016, 1:30pm, House
Our Position: Support. This bill enables township trustees to assist low-income customers with prepaid utility accounts.


SB 165 Healthy Indiana Plan
DescriptionCodifies the Healthy Indiana Plan and requires legislative action to change essential components of the plan. 
Next Action Time & Location: Committee hearing, 2/15/2016, 10:00am, House Chamber.
Our Position: Oppose. While we support the Healthy Indiana Plan, we do not support codifying it in statute at this time because we are concerned it could jeopardize waiver renewal negotiations between the state and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and would hamper the ability of consumer advocates to pursue changes to the program outside of the legislative session.


Last Week

SB 132:  Food stamp assistance after drug conviction
Description: Allows certain individuals who were convicted of a drug offense but have not been convicted of another drug offense in the previous five years before applying for food stamps to receive food stamps. Permits individuals who have had a conviction in the past five years but who are receiving specified treatment and drug and alcohol testing to receive food stamps.
Last Action: The Committee on Family, Children, and Human Affairs heard testimony Tuesday on the bill and an amendment that will streamline administration. The Chair held the bill without a vote.
Our Position: Support. Jessica Fraser, Program Manager at IIWF, testified, noting that ex-felons face many barriers to self-sufficiency. Allowing access to SNAP would help buffer the shortfalls in income they often experience as they struggle to overcome stigmas and secure employment.


SB 217 Township assistance payment of electric bills
DescriptionAllows a township trustee to make an advance deposit of township assistance funds in the township's trustee's account with an electric service provider to pay for a township assistance recipient's electric usage charges as those charges are incurred. 
Last Action Taken: First reading: do pass, adopted
Our Position: Support. This bill enables township trustees to assist low-income customers with prepaid utility accounts. 

HB 1001 Road funding
DescriptionProposes a package of reserve transfers, gasoline and cigarette tax increases, and income tax reductions to fund road and bridge repairs. 
Last Action Taken: The Appropriations Committee heard testimony on the bill; while there was nearly universal agreement that Indiana's roads and bridges required repair, the question of how best to prioritize and fund these repairs was at issue. 
Our Position: Oppose. While funding for road repair will open up more high-paying jobs, the tax package in this bill only increases net taxes for the bottom 80% of Hoosier taxpayers. 


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Please note that the schedule below is current as of February 7, 2016. It is always important to verify the scheduling of bills and sessions on the General Assembly's website as these can and frequently do change. 

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