Week Ending December 20, 2013
Senate Passes Budget Agreement Without Unemployment Benefits Extension
The Senate passed the Bipartisan Budget Agreement by a 64 to 36 vote, with nine Republicans joining all the Democratic and Independent senators voting in favor. The agreement provides much needed, although modest, relief from destructive across-the-board “sequestration” cuts planned for current and FY 2015. The President has said he will sign the bill into law.
Now, Congress is working to assign funding levels for all federal programs. This is an enormous task to complete by January 15, when the current funding bill expires. It is possible Congress will pass a short-term, interim bill to provide a little more time to complete their work. AFSCME continues to urge Congress to move beyond the politics of austerity to invest in vital services, education, infrastructure and research in order to strengthen the economy, create new jobs, and support services and programs provided by state and local governments.
Despite the efforts of congressional Democrats and some moderate Republicans, the budget agreement does not include an extension of the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which expires on December 28. However, Senate proposals have emerged that would revive the current program of federal extended unemployment benefits early next year.
AFSCME and Allies Launch Major Push Urging Congress to Renew Federal Unemployment Benefits
Alongside coalition allies, AFSCME is launching a major drive urging Congress to put a renewal of federal unemployment benefits at the top of its agenda when it returns in January. This coalition effort will include television and digital advertisements, press events to highlight the importance of unemployment insurance benefits for jobless Americans and their families and for local economies, as well as drives for calls and emails to Congress.
Unless Congress acts to reauthorize federal unemployment benefits, 1.3 million unemployed Americans and their families will lose benefits by the end of the year, and continued lack of congressional action would impact up to 3.2 million jobless workers after their state benefits run out.
AFSCME urges you to call your Senator and House member now! Call toll-free at 1-877-267-2485 and urge them to fully reinstate federal unemployment benefits.
Federal Background Check Legislation Pending for School Employees and Child Care Providers
Both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) authorizations have been long overdue and involve a number of contentious issues. Some pending versions of ESEA and CCDBG legislation would mandate background checks as a condition of employment. AFSCME was successful in getting a CCDBG provision included that requires that prospective employees receive a detailed report listing disqualifying offense(s) while ensuring that employers only receive notification of clearance or denial rather than the detailed criminal history, which is often inaccurate. Prospective employees would also have access to an appeal process to correct errors and could not be charged fees higher than the actual state administrative costs.
AFSCME will continue to monitor the progress of these bills. If your council or local has experience with the interaction between collective bargaining agreements and state background check laws, please contact the Department of Federal Government Affairs.
Affordable Care Act Saves Medicare Beneficiaries $8.9 Billion on Prescription Drugs
According to a new report, some 7.3 million seniors and people with disabilities saved $8.9 billion on prescription drugs due to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The groundbreaking health care law also made preventive services available without cost-sharing; from January to November 2013, approximately 26 million people with traditional Medicare took advantage of at least one free preventive service. Before the ACA, Medicare beneficiaries had to pay part of the cost for many preventive health services, which for many created a significant barrier to staying healthy. These improvements to Medicare strengthen the financial and health security of a program that has helped generations of Americans. These improved benefits would be lost if proposals to increase beneficiaries’ costs were adopted.
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