Week Ending February 27, 2015
Overhaul of Federal Education Policy
House leaders encountered resistance in an attempt to pass H.R. 5 which updates the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the cornerstone of federal education policy. House GOP leadership were forced to delay action in response to a revolt by the most conservative members of the caucus, but a final vote was still expected to take place.
ESEA is essentially a civil rights law intended to provide all students with a high quality public education. H.R. 5 takes the wrong approach, reducing federal oversight and cutting federal funds that have already been compromised by across-the-board “sequestration” cuts and budget caps. The bill also includes a “portability” provision which would allow Title I funds for high-poverty schools to “follow the child” regardless of the receiving school’s poverty level, diluting the ability of Title I to level the playing field for affluent and high poverty schools. In addition, this could lead to portability beyond public schools in the form of private school vouchers, although no specific voucher amendments were offered. H.R. 5 also fails to require oversight to ensure that charter schools are held to the same standards and accountability measures as are traditional public schools.
H.R. 5 had omitted protections for collective bargaining agreements but these protections were added in a successful amendment offered by Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and David Joyce (R-OH). AFSCME supported another successful amendment offered by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) that restored paraprofessional standards so school districts cannot hire paraprofessionals with little educational experience or training.
Unlike the House’s partisan approach, the Senate is working collaboratively to produce a bipartisan bill. A vote in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expected in early March.
Judge Temporarily Halts President Obama’s Immigration Executive Actions
On February 16, an extremely conservative federal district court judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction temporarily stopping implementation of President Obama’s immigration executive actions he announced last November. The case was brought by 26 state attorneys-general who claim that the President’s actions were unconstitutional.
President Obama’s executive actions clearly fall within his constitutional powers. They include an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program that would allow parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to get temporary work authorization and a status that removes the threat of deportation. Both of these actions will serve to keep law-abiding families together, shrink the underground economy which lowers wages for all workers, increase government revenues, and give a boost to local economies. The judge’s decision does not apply to the original 2012 DACA program, which continues to accept original and renewal applications.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has requested a “stay” of the judge’s decision to allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to continue to implement the President’s executive actions while the lawsuit is pending. The DOJ also has appealed the decision itself to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. A resolution will likely take several months. In the meantime, AFSCME and other immigration reform advocates are encouraging immigrants who may be eligible for the DACA expansion or the DAPA program to continue preparations for applying, including gathering documents required to prove eligibility. We are also cautioning immigrants to be aware of potential notary, or “notario,” fraud.
Funding for the Department of Homeland Security Entangled With Immigration Policy
Uninterrupted funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hangs in the balance as the deadline for a funding cut-off is midnight tonight. Last fall, GOP congressional leadership separated out DHS funding from all other federal agencies, which are fully funded through the end of this fiscal year on September 30. The House passed partisan DHS funding legislation (H.R. 240) which adds language that would reverse President Obama’s immigration executive actions. Democratic congressional leadership has been consistently insisting on a clean DHS funding bill, noting the vital importance of full, reliable funding for the federal department that protects our country’s security.
As a DHS shutdown drew closer, the GOP Senate leadership decided to hold separate votes on a “clean” DHS funding bill without any other policies added on, and a bill (S. 534) sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) that would reverse all of the President’s immigration executive actions. Today, the clean full year extension passed 68 to 32. The Collins bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold to move forward. The vote was 57 to 42. Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) were the only Democratic senators to vote in favor of proceeding on the bill. AFSCME sent a letter to all senators opposing the Collins bill.
The House is expected to pass a bill today (H. J. Res. 35) funding DHS for just three weeks. The Senate would have to pass this bill to prevent a DHS shutdown tonight.
President Obama Supports New, Strong Protections for Workers’ and Retirees’ Investments
President Obama announced he supports issuing new, strong protections governing working families’ and retirees’ investments. Specifically, he intends to advance a strong “fiduciary standard” regulation that includes a requirement that investment advisors provide advice in their client’s best interest, unbiased by their own financial interest. Unfortunately, it is currently legal for investment advisors to provide investment advice that is not in their client’s best interest. AFSCME and other progressive advocates for retirement security want every worker and retiree to be confident their retirement savings will be available without being shortchanged by financial advisers giving inappropriate or conflicted advice in exchange for lucrative commissions. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is now reviewing a Department of Labor proposal and is expected to move it forward soon. This is a long overdue consumer protection.
Differing Proposals Offered to Fund Children’s Health Insurance Program
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides billions in federal funds to states to cover roughly eight million children and pregnant women in families that earn incomes above Medicaid eligibility levels but are unable to afford health insurance. CHIP also provides states with an increased federal match of funds to pay for medical language interpreters for eligible CHIP families. Without congressional action, states will have no new federal funding available for CHIP after September 2015. These lost funds will hurt health care access and state budgets.
This week, the chairmen of the Senate and House panels with congressional jurisdiction over CHIP (Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT and Rep. Fred Upton, R- MI) released a draft proposal to extend federal funding but it shifts additional costs onto states and eliminates the option for states to get an increased federal match for medical language interpreters in Medicaid and CHIP. Earlier this month, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced the Protecting and Retaining Our Children’s Health Insurance Program (PRO-CHIP) Act of 2015 (S. 522). This legislation would extend federal CHIP funds to states for four years and does not shift additional costs onto states. Similar legislation to extend CHIP was introduced in the House (H.R. 919) by Rep. Gene Green (D-TX).
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