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Friday, December 30, 2011

Veterans’ Benefits: Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for Survivors


Christine Scott
Specialist in Social Policy

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers directly, or in conjunction with other federal agencies, programs that provide benefits and other services to veterans and their spouses, dependents, and beneficiaries.

One of the benefits administered by the VA is Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for survivors of certain servicemembers and veterans. DIC is a monthly tax-free cash payment to survivors and dependents of servicemembers killed while on active military duty, and for survivors and dependents of certain veterans. Survivors of veterans who die from service-related conditions are eligible for DIC. Survivors of veterans who die from non-service-connected conditions may be eligible for DIC if the veteran was eligible for, or was receiving, disability compensation as totally disabled (a 100% rating) for a period of time (specified in statute) before the veteran’s death.

Several policy issues are associated with DIC, including the DIC offset of Survivor Benefit Plan (military retirement survivor) payments, often referred to as the “widow’s tax”; adequacy of the payments for survivors compared with other retirement systems’ payments to surviving spouses; the remarriage age of 57; length of time for a totally disabled rating for non-service-connected deaths to qualify for DIC; and maximum DIC payment for parents based on income levels that have not been adjusted for inflation.

This report outlines the eligibility requirements and benefit levels for DIC and related policy issues. This report will be updated as needed for legislative changes and additional information.



Date of Report: December 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R40757
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Federal Prison Industries


Nathan James
Analyst in Crime Policy

UNICOR, the trade name for Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (FPI), is a government-owned corporation that employs offenders incarcerated in correctional facilities under the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). UNICOR manufactures products and provides services that are sold to executive agencies in the federal government. FPI was created to serve as a means for managing, training, and rehabilitating inmates in the federal prison system through employment in one of its industries.

By statute, UNICOR must be economically self-sustaining, thus it does not receive funding through congressional appropriations. In FY2009, FPI generated $885.3 million in sales. UNICOR uses the revenue it generates to purchase raw material and equipment; pay wages to inmates and staff; and invest in expansion of its facilities. Of the revenues generated by FPI’s products and services, approximately 80% go toward the purchase of raw material and equipment; 17% go toward staff salaries; and 4% go toward inmate salaries.

Although there have been many studies on the recidivism rate and societal factors that may contribute to it, there are only a handful of rigorous evaluations of the effect that participation in correctional industries (i.e., FPI) has on recidivism. What research exists suggests that inmates who participate in correctional industries are less likely to recidivate than inmates who do not participate, but the results are not conclusive.

The previous Administration made several efforts to mitigate the competitive advantage UNICOR has over the private sector. Going beyond the previous Administration’s efforts, Congress took legislative action to lessen the adverse impact FPI has caused on small businesses. For example, in 2002, 2003, and 2004, Congress passed legislation that modified FPI’s mandatory source clause with respect to procurements made by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 2004, Congress passed legislation limiting funds appropriated for FY2004 to be used by federal agencies for the purchase of products or services manufactured by FPI under certain circumstances. This provision was extended permanently in FY2005. In the 110th Congress, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (P.L. 110-181) modified the way in which DOD procures products from FPI. In 2011, Congress granted FPI the authority to carry out pilot projects in partnership with private companies to produce items that are currently manufactured outside of the United States.

There are several issues Congress might consider as it continues its oversight of FPI, including whether FPI should be involved in emerging technology markets as a way to provide inmates with more job-ready skills for post-release employment and how FPI implements the new authority Congress gave it to enter into partnerships with private manufacturers.



Date of Report: December 8, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL32380
Price: $29.95

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Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program


Nathan James
Analyst in Crime Policy

The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program provides three different types of benefits to public safety officers and their survivors: a death, a disability, and an education benefit. The PSOB program is administered by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA’s), PSOB Office.

The PSOB program provides a one-time death benefit to eligible survivors of public safety officers whose deaths are the direct and proximate result of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty. For deaths occurring after October 1, 2011, the one-time lump sum benefit is $323,036. The Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-182) amended current law to facilitate death benefits to the survivors of officers who die from certain line-of-duty heart attacks and strokes.

The PSOB program provides a one-time disability benefit to public safety officers who have been permanently and totally disabled by a catastrophic injury sustained in the line of duty, if the injury permanently prevents the officer from performing any gainful work. For injuries that result in permanent disability that occur on or after November 29, 2011, the benefit is $323,036.

The PSOB program also provides assistance to spouses and children of public safety officers who have been killed or disabled in the line of duty who attend a program of education at an eligible educational institution. Educational assistance is available to the spouse and children of a public safety officer after the PSOB death or disability claim has been approved and awarded. As of October 1, 2011, the maximum award for a full-time student was $957 per month.

Claimants have the opportunity to appeal denied claims. If the PSOB Office denies a claim, the claimant can request that a hearing officer review the claim. If the hearing officer denies the claim, the claimant can request that the Director of BJA review the claim. Claimants may file supporting evidence or legal arguments along with their request for a review by a hearing officer or the Director. If the claim is denied by the Director, claimants can appeal the denial in the United States Court of Federal Claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1491(a).

The PSOB death benefit is a mandatory program, and the disability and education benefits are discretionary programs. As such, Congress appropriates “such sums as are necessary” each fiscal year to fund the PSOB death benefit program while appropriating separate amounts for both the disability and education benefits programs.



Date of Report: December
12, 2011
Number of Pages:
13
Order Number: RL34
413
Price: $29.95

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Offender Reentry: Correctional Statistics, Reintegration into the Community, and Recidivism


Nathan James
Analyst in Crime Policy

The prison population in the United States has been growing steadily for more than 30 years. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that since 2000 an average of 680,000 inmates have been released from state and federal prisons and almost 5 million ex-offenders are under some form of community-based supervision. Offender reentry can include all the activities and programming conducted to prepare ex-convicts to return safely to the community and to live as law-abiding citizens. Some ex-offenders, however, eventually end up back in prison. The most recent nationallevel recidivism study is 10 years old; this study showed that two-thirds of ex-offenders released in 1994 came back into contact with the criminal justice system within three years of their release. Compared with the average American, ex-offenders are less educated, less likely to be gainfully employed, and more likely to have a history of mental illness or substance abuse—all of which have been shown to be incarceration risk factors.

Three phases are associated with offender reentry programs: programs that take place during incarceration, which aim to prepare offenders for their eventual release; programs that take place during offenders’ release period, which seek to connect ex-offenders with the various services they may require; and long-term programs that take place as ex-offenders permanently reintegrate into their communities, which attempt to provide offenders with support and supervision. There is a wide array of offender reentry program designs, and these programs can differ significantly in range, scope, and methodology. Researchers in the offender reentry field have suggested that the best programs begin during incarceration and extend throughout the release and reintegration process. Despite the relative lack of research in the field of offender reentry, an emerging “what works” literature suggests that programs focusing on work training and placement, drug and mental health treatment, and housing assistance have proven to be effective.

The federal government’s involvement in offender reentry programs typically occurs through grant funding, which is available through a wide array of federal programs at the Departments of Justice, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services. However, only a handful of grant programs in the federal government are designed explicitly for offender reentry purposes.

The Second Chance Act (P.L. 110-199) was enacted on April 9, 2008. The act expanded the existing offender reentry grant program at the Department of Justice and created a wide array of targeted grant-funded pilot programs.



Date of Report: December
7, 2011
Number of Pages:
36
Order Number: RL342
87
Price: $29.95

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Director of National Intelligence Statutory Authorities: Status and Proposals

Richard A. Best Jr.
Specialist in National Defense

In passing the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458) in 2004, Congress approved the most comprehensive reform of the U.S. intelligence community since it was created over 50 years ago. Principal among enacted changes was the establishment of a new position of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to serve as head of the intelligence community (IC) and principal adviser to the President on intelligence matters related to the national security and to oversee and direct the implementation of the National Intelligence Program.

Some observers have questioned whether the act provides the DNI the authority necessary to effectively carry out these responsibilities. Others assert that the DNI’s authorities are significantly stronger than those of the former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), but suggest that DNIs have failed to aggressively assert the authorities they have been provided.

During his Senate confirmation proceeding in January 2009, DNI Dennis C. Blair said that he would withhold judgment as to whether his authorities were sufficient but over time would advise the President and Congress if he concluded they were not. He also assured Senators that he would exercise his authorities to the fullest. The abrupt announcement of his resignation in May 2010 suggested to some that he had been unable to exercise his authorities to meet his responsibilities and, for some, raised questions about the viability of the DNI position.

In 2007, Admiral Blair’s predecessor, DNI Michael McConnell, acknowledged his authorities were stronger than those of the DCI and conceded that he had not issued certain guidance to the IC clarifying the new authorities (the subsequent 2008 revisions to EO 12333, initiated by DNI McConnell, were intended to provide such guidance). Nevertheless, he argued that effectively managing the IC would require authorities in addition to the ones Congress approved in 2004.

The FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 111-259), signed by President Obama on October 7, 2010, provided a number of enhancements to the DNI’s authorities. He is required to assess personnel levels at all intelligence agencies and forward them to Congress at the same time as the President’s budget submission. He is also required to undertake initial vulnerability assessments of each major system and is provided with authority to assess critical cost growth in major systems and terminate programs unless Congress is provided with an explanation. The DNI is further granted authority to conduct accountability reviews of elements of the Intelligence Community. These new authorities enhance those included in the Intelligence Reform Act and provide the DNI with additional tools to coordinate all intelligence agencies.

While the DNI’s authorities are stronger than those that were available to the DCI, whether they are sufficient to implement the 2004 intelligence reforms mandated by Congress, it has been argued, will continue to depend on several factors, including the degree to which the authorities themselves are adequate, the DNI’s willingness to assert those authorities, and the extent to which the DNI receives presidential and congressional support. The provisions in the FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act permit more extensive congressional oversight in the 112th Congress.



Date of Report: December 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RL34231
Price: $29.95

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