MotionTrain via shutterstock

WASHINGTON — Congress struggled this week to reach agreement on a short-term spending bill needed to avoid a partial shutdown of government services at midnight Friday.

The House voted 230-197 Thursday evening in favor of a “continuing resolution” that would fund the government for another month. The issue is now in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he is prepared to keep members working through the weekend to avoid a shutdown.

House Republican leaders proposed a four-week funding extension that would also provide a six-year reauthorization for CHIP, a program that helps pay for health insurance for children in low-income families. The program’s authorization expired last year and funding for states — including Connecticut’s HUSKY program — is drying up.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he could not understand why Democrats in states like Connecticut would not support the so-called “continuing resolution” given that its HUSKY program is nearly out of money.

Representative Elizabeth Esty said she was voting “no” because it is time “to stop kicking the can down the road.”

“For months, I’ve had to look Connecticut children receiving HUSKY in the eye and tell them we honestly don’t know what will happen to their health care in 2018. I’ve had to look small business owners who help to produce key components for our national defense and aerospace industries in the eye and tell them that we don’t know if their contracts will be delayed or disrupted. I’ve seen families ripped apart and hardworking people thrown out of our country during the continued DACA impasse. And we are now considering our fourth short-term funding bill since September. It’s a disgrace to the people we are supposed to serve,” she said.

Other Democrats have said they cannot support a stop-gap spending bill unless it also addresses so-called Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. About 800,000 Dreamers had been protected from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Barack Obama created — and President Donald Trump later ended.

“I’ll vote against a short term spending bill — the fourth in as many months — because it simply kicks the can down the road,” Blumenthal said Wednesday on CNN. “It holds hostage not only the Dreamers but also defense spending, military and nonmilitary, the health community facilities bill, aid for disaster relief.”

Representative Rosa DeLauro also said that helping DREAMers should be included in the continuing resolution.

Republicans could pass a continuing resolution without the support of Democrats given their majority. But, so far they have been unable to pull together the needed numbers. Many conservatives have balked at backing another short-term spending bill. The bill also faces a difficult vote in the Senate where Republicans hold a slender majority — and again several conservatives have indicated they do not want to support another short-term extension.

FEMA to End Aid to Displaced Puerto Rican Families in Connecticut

The Federal Emergency Management Agency moved this week to abruptly end Transitional Shelter Assistance aid to 45 families who had moved to Connecticut after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. But on Thursday FEMA decided to provide a three-day extension for the program.

The decision to end the TSA program drew immediate criticism from Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, who complained that ending aid to these families would put in peril their ability to keep a roof over their heads.

“This sudden reversal is a shocking betray of public trust — rescinding critical housing aid to families in need in the dead of winter without even a full day’s notice,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

Following the announcement of the three-day extension, Blumenthal was still critical.

“This three day extension is the least FEMA can do — a weak attempt at damage control. These families — and the communities and schools hosting them — deserve stability and certainty. Until their homes in Puerto Rico have sanitary water, functional utilities and sound roofs, it is FEMA’s responsibility to help ensure they have a safe, affordable place to live. That is our basic obligation and the Administration’s response thus far has been a shameful failure,” Blumenthal said.

Murphy called it a “cold-hearted and irrational decision” that would have “disastrous consequences” for the families.

“I saw the devastation in Puerto Rico with my own eyes when I visited the island last month — these families’ homes have been ruined, and they don’t have access to clean drinking water,” he said.

FEMA had announced earlier in the week that it would extend the aid through February 14 but then cut the Transitional Shelter Assistance, according to Murphy and Blumenthal, before announcing the three-day extension.

The entire delegation sent a letter last week to FEMA requesting that the shelter assistance be extended for the families that FEMA had deemed ineligible for further assistance.

Since the hurricane, nearly 850 families left Puerto Rico for Connecticut. Of that total, 193 are living in hotels through the TSA program and 45 families were recently deemed ineligible for further assistance, according to Murphy and Blumenthal.

Former DeLauro Staffer Joins Stem Cell Group

Eric Anthony has left his job as legislative director for Rep. Rosa DeLauro to become policy director at the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

Anthony, who joined DeLauro’s staff in 2011, managed her efforts on the Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services and Education panel. Among other issues, he focused on health reform, Medicare, Medicaid, and appropriations for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The ISSCR promotes stem-cell-related research and education. DeLauro has been a long-time advocate of stem-cell research.

In 2007, she spoke on the House floor about the value of biomedical research, noting her own experience as a survivor of ovarian cancer.

“Having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer by chance on an unrelated doctor’s visit two decades ago, I know first-hand how this research can change lives — it saved mine. It can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Between hope and despair,” she said. “No single action this Congress could take would have a more profound, more life-affirming impact than allocating federal funds for biomedical scientists to conduct research with human embryonic stem cells.”

The ISSCR announced Anthony’s pending hire in December. He joined the group this month.

“Eric brings more than a decade of policy experience to the ISSCR, with a focus on healthcare, budget appropriations and consumer issues,” said ISSCR president Hans Clevers. “We look forward to his assistance in directing, planning, and executing the organization’s policy and advocacy efforts around the world.”

*  *  *