Future of Gas Stoves
Studies indicate that gas stoves emit significant levels of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter, which can hurt asthmatic children and actually may be a cause of asthma and worsen cardiovascular illnesses. Lower-income families tend to have less ability to properly ventilate homes and apartments to mitigate health risks.
In December, a group of Federal lawmakers asked for regulatory measures, but did not specifically seek an outright ban of stoves. Among their proposed measures:
Require gas stoves to be sold with range hoods that meet mandatory performance standards.
Where feasible, issue mandatory performance standards for gas stoves that address steady-state-off leakage, including requiring automatic shut-off valves.
Where feasible, issue mandatory performance standards for gas stoves that address the health impacts of hazardous emissions.
While reporting suggests the CPSC has received significant input to the RFI, both supporting and opposing regulatory measures on gas stoves, the CPSC is unlikely to take any regulatory actions for the near future based on prior statements of the agency’s leadership.
Outside of Federal action, New York became the first state in the US (April 2023) to ban natural gas hookups for most newly-constructed buildings. Electric heating and cooking will be required in all new buildings shorter than seven stories by 2026, and by 2029 for taller buildings. There are exceptions for restaurants, hospitals, and some other types of buildings.
In September (2022) the California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed a package of measures to help the state meet Federal health standards for smog-causing ozone to include the phase out of gas heating appliances (furnaces and water heaters). The agency did not, however, take action on gas stoves.
Proposed School Meal Nutrition Standards
USDA summarizes the core proposed changes as:
Limiting added sugars in certain high-sugar products and, later, across entire menus;
Permitting flavored milk in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars;
Incrementally reducing weekly sodium limits; and,
Emphasizing products that are primarily whole grain, with the option for occasional non-whole grain products.
The proposed changes are subject to a public comment period. Any proposal in this area can take many months before being finalized.
Indeed, USDA’s current timeline doesn’t envision initial actions tied to updated standards until the fall of 2024 when USDA will expect schools to offer products “that are primarily whole grain with the option for occasional non-whole, enriched grain products.” Sugar and sodium reductions would not begin until 2025.
FDA Baby Food Lead Standards
The FDA issued draft guidance (January 24) to industry on lead levels for processed foods–such as food packaged in jars, pouches, tubs and boxes–that are intended for babies and children under two years old.
The draft guidance recommends lead levels of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for fruits and non-root vegetables, as well as mixtures, yogurts, custards/puddings and single-ingredient meats. Higher lead levels would be appropriate for root vegetables and dry cereals (20 ppb).
The FDA believes these levels, if followed by industry, could result in lead exposure reduction in these types of foods by as much as 24-27%. This measure follows FDA draft guidance in April 2022 targeting lead levels in juice.
It is important to note, however, that mere guidance by the FDA does not mean standards enforceable through regulation and law. It is not clear if, or when, lead standards will move beyond mere guidance to industry. It is likely that any regulatory action will need to first be preceded by legislative action in the Congress.
Benefits Changes to Military Personnel & Family
The Department of Defense announced (September 23) measures to improve the economic conditions of military personnel and families.
Among the key actions:
Institute automatic increases starting in October in the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for active duty Service members in the 28 Military Housing Areas (MHAs) experiencing an average of more than 20 percent spike in rental housing costs this year above this year’s BAH rates. The 28 MHAs are: Vandenberg AFB, CA; Twenty-Nine Palms MCB, CA; San Diego, CA; Dover AFB/ Rehoboth, DE; Patrick AFB, FL; Miami/Fort Lauderdale, FL; Orlando, FL; West Palm Beach, FL; Volusia County, FL; Fort Myers Beach, FL; Kings Bay/Brunswick, GA; Maui County, HI; Chicago, IL; Boston, MA; Cape Cod – Plymouth, MA; Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Brunswick, ME; Coastal Maine, ME; Fort Leonard Wood, MO; Helena, MT; Wilmington, NC; Northern New Jersey, NJ; Newport, RI; Providence, RI; Beaufort/Parris Island, SC; Knoxville, TN; Houston, TX; Quantico/Woodbridge, VA.
Pay a Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) starting January 2023 for active Service members with dependents who apply and qualify based on gross household income.
“Fully fund” commissaries to ensure that users can achieve “at least” 25% savings below local market levels.
Improve the supply and access to child care with a variety of actions such as expanding programs such as the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood program; expanding Military Child Care Development Center hours; and standardize a minimum 50 percent discount for the first child of CDP direct-care workers, helping to attract more talented staff and to increase capacity.
Increase spouse employment opportunities with actions such as accelerating the development of seven additional occupational licensure interstate compacts with organizations representing multiple professions; increase use of non-competitive, direct hiring authorities for military spouses in the Department of Defense and further expand remote work and telework options; and launch a new career-accelerator pilot initiative that will match military spouses with paid private-sector fellowships in a variety of career paths.
Poverty in the United States - 2021
The Census Bureau reported (September 13) that the official U.S. poverty rate for 2021 was 11.6%, with 37.9 million people in poverty, generally the same as the 2020 levels. The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) rate, however, decreased from the 2020 level by 1.4% to 7.8%. This is the lowest SPM poverty rate since estimates were first published in 2009 and the third consecutive annual decline.
The official poverty rate accounts only for cash resources, while the SPM takes other non-cash assistance into account less expenses.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) finalized a rule (September 7) a new safety standard for high-powered magnets. The standard requires loose or separable magnets in certain magnet products to be either too large to swallow, or weak enough to reduce the risk of internal injuries when swallowed.
The new rule applies to consumer products designed, marketed, or intended to be used for entertainment, jewelry (including children’s jewelry), mental stimulation, stress relief, or a combination of these purposes, and that contains one or more loose or separable magnets. The rule does not apply to products sold and/or distributed solely to school educators, researchers, professionals, and/or commercial or industrial users exclusively for educational, research, professional, commercial, and/or industrial purposes.
In addition, the standard does not apply to toys for children under 14 years old, as a toy standards for magnets are included within a separate rule.
Child Protection & Small Batteries
The House (July 28) and Senate (August 2) passed Reese’s Law (H.R.5313), legislation requiring safety standards by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for batteries that pose an ingestion hazard, such as button cell batteries. The President signed the bill into law on August 16.
Standards must include a warning label instructing consumers to keep the batteries out of the reach of children, and packaging must include a battery compartment preventing access by children six years of age or younger. Such requirements will also apply to batteries sold as part of a product.
FTC Policy Statement on Online Child Surveillance
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a policy statement (May 19, 2022) stating that it intended to “crack down” on education technology companies if they illegally surveil children when they go online to learn. The FTC says that while digital companies overall are expanding surveillance and collecting information, education technology companies cannot do the same and must comply with the provisions of current FTC rules.
Key provisions of current rules provide that such companies
cannot require children to provide more information than is reasonably needed for participation in an activity; companies that collect personal information from a child with the school’s authorization are prohibited from using the information for any other commercial purpose including marketing or advertising; providers are prohibited from retaining children’s personal information for longer than is necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected and therefore cannot keep such data just because they might want to use it in the future; and, providers must have procedures to maintain the confidentiality, security, and integrity of children’s personal information.
Formaldehyde and Cancer
Specifically, the draft study found a link based on “limited evidence” in humans but “sufficient evidence” in animals. The human data includes nine studies showing statistically significant associations between site-specific respiratory neoplasms (cancerous or noncancerous abnormal growths of tissue that form in the lungs) and exposure to formaldehyde or formaldehyde-containing products. Also, an increased incidence of nasal squamous cell carcinomas was observed in long-term inhalation studies in rats and in mice.
According to the American Chemistry Council the chemistry of formaldehyde helps to “create products that last longer, and are higher in quality, performance, and safety with little to no formaldehyde remaining in the final product,” and that “formaldehyde is one of the most studied chemicals in use today and more than 40 years of advanced science and practical experience clearly indicate there is a safe exposure level.”
Formaldehyde is used in a broad variety of products, but is particularly relevant in homes as it is used to manufacture furniture and composite wood products, insulation, and fabrics, and paints.
Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization
FY 2022 omnibus appropriations included reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Authorization for VAWA programs expired in 2018 and were not reauthorized in part because of a dispute over the insistence of some lawmakers to enact gun control provisions to close a so-called “boyfriend loophole” in Federal gun laws. This matter was dropped.
Funding for VAWA programs in the omnibus totals $575 million, a 12% from the FY 2021 level. VAWA programs support such activities as rape prevention programs, domestic violence hotlines, counseling and other health services, women’s shelters and transitional housing.
Child Tax Credit
Refundable Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments ended on December 15, 2021 as Congress failed to pass an extension. The American Rescue Plan Act, enacted in 2021, increased the Child Tax Credit (CTC) from $2,000 per child annually to $3,000 per child for children over the age of six, from $2,000 to $3,600 annually for children under the age of six, and the Act also raised the age limit from 16 to 17. Working families were eligible for the full credit with income up to $150,000 for a couple or $112,500 for a family with a single parent (i.e., Head of Household). Eligible recipients of the credit received monthly payment of incremental amounts automatically. The CTC reportedly lifted millions of U.S. children out of poverty, at least temporarily.
Extension of the American Rescue Plan Act provisions for the CTC was a core component of the Biden Administration's Build Back Better (BBB) framework. The House passed its version of BBB legislation that included a CTC extension, but the Senate could not agree on BBB legislation that could pass with all necessary Democratic support. Discussions on a proposal between the White House and key Democratic Senators are ongoing, but it is not clear if, or when, an agreement will be reached or if any agreement will include CTC provisions.
Lead Water Pipe Replacement
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $15 billion for nationwide lead water service line replacement. The funding is an integral part of the Biden Administration's Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan (December 16, 2021). Among the 15 actions listed in the plan:
Release of $2.9 billion of the $15 billion Infrastructure Act funding to State/Locality/Tribe lead water service line replacement.
Clarify that an eligible use of the American Rescue Plan $350 billion appropriation intended for States/Localities/Tribes are for purposes related to addressing lead in water.
Begin an EPA rulemaking process to update drinking water regulations pertaining to lead and copper.
High-Speed Internet/Broadband Expansion
The Infrastructure Act includes substantial investments in deploying and subsidizing high-speed internet in underserved areas, including through:
A $42 billion formula grant program to States and localities to increase broadband internet service.
An internet service subsidy program providing a $30 per month voucher for low-income families to use toward any internet service plan of their choosing.
A $2.75 billion combined formula-based and competitive grant program encompassed within the "Digital Equity Act", to advance digital inclusion and equity for communities that lack the skills, technologies and support needed to take advantage of broadband connections.
Infrastructure Act - Safer Cars Technology
The Infrastructure Act includes provisions which require new Federal rulemaking for passenger vehicles pertaining to:
Hot car deaths. Vehicles will have to be equipped with a system to alert the driver to check rear seating positions after the engine of the vehicle is deactivated. DOT would also be required to study the practicality of retrofitting existing passenger motor vehicles with technologies to address the problem of children left in rear seating position.
Collision prevention. Vehicles will have to be equipped with two crash avoidance technologies—forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems, and lane departure and lane keeping assist systems.
Drunk driver technology. Vehicles will have to be equipped with advanced drunk driving prevention technology that can passively monitor and accurately detect that a driver is impaired.
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Kids Online Safety Act
This legislation proposes, among other things, to require social media that platforms: provide minors with options to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations; provide protective tools to parents; require online platforms to prevent and mitigate specific dangers to minors; and perform an annual independent audit that assesses the risks to minors
Status: The proposal was introduced in the Senate on May 2, 2023.
Same Sex Marriage Decision (Obergefell v. Hodges)
This is the landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court finding, in a 5-4 decision, that same-sex marriages are protected by the Constitution.
Status: the decision was issued on June 26, 2015.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
This website of the National Center for Learning Disabilities provides detail on the provisions of law and policy with respect to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Status: IDEA was last authorized in 2004. It is not known when the law might again be reauthorized.
Every Student Succeeds Act
This website of the Department of Education provides detail on the last major reauthorization law (the Every Student Succeeds Act) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the law guiding Federal policy on State, local, and private elementary and secondary education.
Status: this law was enacted in 2015. It is not currently known when Congress will consider updating ESEA again.
Stalkerware Ban - Spytone
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned so-called "stalkerware" phone app Spytone, which allowes purchasers to surreptitiously monitor photos, text messages, web histories, GPS locations, and other personal information of the phone on which the app was installed without the device owner’s knowledge. Ultimately, this app made it easy for stalkers and abusers to monitor potential targets and steal sensitive information about their physical movements, phone use, and online activities.
Status: the FTC finalized its decision on December 21, 2021.
COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools and Promotion of In-Person Learning
This the website detailing the policy position of the American Academy of Pediadrics concerning in-person learning and masking at elementary and secondary schools.
Status: AAP updated its guidance on January 14, 2022.