Week Ending December 9, 2016
FY 2017 Funding Approved Through April; Most Programs Slightly Cut
Last week Congress approved, and President Obama signed, a stop-gap spending measure known as a continuing resolution (CR), H.R. 2028, to keep government funding on auto-pilot through April 28, 2017. The measure passed the House 326 to 96 and Senate 63 to 36. While federal funds will continue to flow, this temporary measure hamstrings states and local governments, which are unlikely to know what future funding they can expect from Washington until the fiscal year is half-way over. In addition to this unpredictability, states and local governments receive a cut in funding since federal funds are frozen with no adjustments for inflation and a further small cut in order to meet budget caps. Congress may attempt to pass an “omnibus funding bill” early next year that more carefully considers individual program needs, but there are no guarantees given Congress’ past track record.
The CR extends funding under the current budget cap of $1.07 trillion by including an across the board cut of .19% to all programs. The bill finally provides relief to Flint and other areas impacted by lead pipe contamination with $170 million. A limited number of programs received increases instead of flat funding. The CR includes $4.1 billion in relief for recent natural disasters, and $872 million for a new investments in medical research, drug approval, and drug abuse efforts. These new investments provide $500 million in state grants to respond to the opioid abuse crisis, an additional $352 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and $20 million to modernize regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The CR also includes $7 million in grants to reimburse “extraordinary law enforcement overtime costs” to protect President-elect Donald Trump until he is inaugurated. The CR also includes a one-year extension of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and extends health benefits for miners through April but does not resolve the long term problem.
Senate Passes Bipartisan Water Bill With Flint Aid
The Senate voted 78 to 21 to advance to President Obama’s desk a reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The bill authorizes nearly $11.7 billion in new spending for water infrastructure projects and $170 million to Flint for its years-long water crisis. The House passed the bill earlier in the week by a vote of 360 to 61.
WRDA also includes a controversial provision that addresses California’s drought relief, which Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) fought to keep out of the bill due to environmental concerns.
Democrats unsuccessfully objected to GOP efforts to strip a provision that would have required American-made iron and steel products be used in infrastructure projects.
ACA Repeal Vote Slated for January; Would Hit State Budgets Hard
GOP leaders plan to begin the process to repeal the core elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in early January, with the hope of having a final vote just as Donald Trump assumes the presidency on January 20. Congressional leaders will use a special budget procedure known as reconciliation, which will prevent Senate Democrats from using a filibuster to block the vote. Only a simple majority in both the House and Senate will be necessary to repeal the law’s core elements including tax credits for purchasing coverage on the health exchange, the Medicaid expansion, the individual and employer responsibility requirements and various taxes including the excise tax on high cost health plans scheduled to take effect in 2020. A study by the Urban Institute projects that 30 million will lose their health coverage if the ACA is repealed. Twenty-two million will lose their coverage due to the elimination of the ACA tax credits and the Medicaid expansion. But another eight million who purchase coverage on their own will lose their health care as a consequence of the collapse of the individual market that will occur as a result of the repeal.
While it is difficult to quantify precisely what repeal would mean to state budgets because the details of repeal are not known, a recent report from a nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation provides insight into the huge hit to state budgets. From January 2014 through June 2015, the ACA provided $79 billion in new federal funding to states that expanded Medicaid. Research has shown that these federal funds fuel increased employment; savings in other states programs, such as corrections; increased revenues to hospitals and other health care providers; and reductions decreases in uncompensated care at public hospitals. AFSCME strongly opposes the repeal of the ACA.
Obama to Sign Sweeping Bill to Speed Drug Approvals, Boost Research, Fund $1 Billion to Combat Substance Abuse
The Senate passed legislation known as the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34) by a strong bipartisan vote of 94 to 5. The House passed the bill last week by an overwhelming vote of 392 to 26. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. AFSCME supports the bill’s mental health reforms affecting health care and criminal justice. And, the bill provides $1 billion in new federal funding to states to fight heroin and prescription narcotic abuse, and to increase treatment and recovery support.
AFSCME remains critical of the provisions that give drug companies substantial benefits without requiring something in return to help lower drug prices. AFSCME also advocated against provisions in the bill that could adversely impact the delivery of personal care or home care services under Medicaid.
Labor Department Nominee Prizes Bottom Line Over Working Families
President-elect Trump has selected Andrew “Andy” Puzder as his nominee to be the Secretary of the Department of Labor. Puzder is the CEO of CKE restaurants – a group that owns the fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardees – and has consistently demonstrated outright hostility towards workers. President Lee Saunders issued a press statement noting: “Fast food CEO Andy Puzder believes in, and has practiced, a profits-over-people business model. He believes in paying workers poverty wages – replacing them with machines if possible – while executives get rich.”
Puzder has been highly vocal in opposing economic boosts for families. As President Saunders said: “This selection is an insult to the grassroots fight for $15 movement that has done so much, against great obstacles, to help fast food workers and others earn a living wage. Puzder is an outspoken opponent of raising the minimum wage. He has argued that denying workers overtime pay gives them greater pride and prestige. And his company is a regular violator of wage and hour laws.”
In a campaign speech in June, President-elect Trump said under his leadership, the American worker will have a president who will protect them and fight for them. However, with the choice of Andy Puzder, he has made it clear that he is abandoning the promises he made to workers during his campaign, and welcomes the dismantling employee protections at every income level across professions. “At every turn, Andy Puzder has shown contempt for people who get up early every morning and work hard to support their families. This isn’t an encouraging sign that the President-elect will govern as a friend and ally of working people,” noted Saunders.
Bipartisan Senate Bill Introduced to Protect “DREAMers”
Faced with the possibility that President-elect Trump will revoke President Obama’s Executive Action that established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program soon after he takes office, Sens. Dick Durban (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced The BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy) Act on Friday. This bill would provide temporary relief from deportation and employment authorization to individuals who are eligible for DACA.
Since President Obama established DACA, the program has provided temporary protection from removal and work authorization to young students and veterans who grew up in the United States if they register with the government, pay a fee, and pass a criminal background check. More than 740,000 young people have received DACA. The BRIDGE Act would provide “provisional protected presence” and employment authorization to both current DACA recipients and to individuals who are not now DACA recipients but who are eligible for the program. This status would continue for three years after the bill is enacted, with the hope that Congress will debate and pass broader legislation to fix our broken immigration system within that time.
AFSCME supports continuation of the DACA program as a bridge to comprehensive immigration reform that protects all workers’ rights and provides a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S.
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