Week Ending January 17, 2014
Omnibus Spending Bill Passes
This week, Congress easily passed a massive funding bill known as an “omnibus” that put all twelve fiscal year (FY) 2014 spending bills together in a $1.012 trillion package. The overall funding level had been set by the budget agreement Congress passed in December and negotiated by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and removes some of the across-the-board “sequester” cuts for FY14 and FY15. The $1.012 trillion level is an improvement from the $967 billion sequester level and the Ryan budget, but is still lower than the Budget Control Act’s (BCA) cap of $1.058 pre-sequester spending and FY09 spending levels. In reaching agreement appropriators were able to avoid another costly government shutdown, and make key investments in infrastructure, early childhood education, scientific research and job training.
While the overall funding levels remain low, some programs had pre-sequester funding levels restored. Head Start received a $1,025 increase, allowing for a 1.3% cost-of-living increase for staff salaries and sufficient funding to add to back 50,000 children to the program. The bill dedicates $500 million to Early Head Start (EHS)-Child Care Partnerships to serve an additional 40,000 children, more than a 30% increase. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) received a $154 million increase. K-12 education received a $625 million increase. Grants to states for special education (IDEA) received $498 million more.
Funding for Department of Labor programs is restored from sequester levels but is still lower than FY12 pre-sequester funding. $2.861 billion is allocated for unemployment insurance state administration funding. Workforce Investment Act funding levels for Dislocated Worker Assistance, Adult Training, and Youth Training are the same or slightly higher than under the sequester. Employment Service administration is flat-funded at $664 million.
The bill authorizes a 1 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers. For local law enforcement, funding for the COPS neighborhood policing program was increased by $214 million, nearly restoring the sequester cut. Byrne/JAG grants increased by $344 million but remains $8 million below pre-sequester levels. The bill cuts $1 billion from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, but it does not affect ACA implementation.
Senate GOP Leaders Again Block Consideration of Unemployment Benefits Extension
Senate GOP leaders again blocked legislation to restart unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. It has now been three weeks since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired, and despite efforts by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) since then to accommodate some Republican ideas, they have remained unwilling to let the legislation move forward. Congress will be in recess next week, leaving 1.4 million workers without any income to meet their daily needs.
AFSCME and Allies Urge Congress to Renew Federal Unemployment Benefits
Alongside coalition allies, AFSCME is urging Congress to pass legislation to renew federal unemployment benefits as soon as it returns from recess on January 27. It is outrageous that Congress left town without providing 1.4 million out-of-work Americans with unemployment insurance income. If Congress continues to fail to act, up to 3.2 million jobless workers will lose federal benefits after their state benefits run out.
AFSCME urges you to call your Senators and Representative now! Call toll-free at 1-877-267-2485 and urge them to fully reinstate federal unemployment benefits.
Voting Rights Restoration Legislation Introduced
The House and Senate introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R. 3899; S. 1945) that updates the Voting Rights Act (VRA) following the Shelby County v. Holder U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, which struck down key voting protections for minority communities. This effort is being led by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), John Conyers (D-MI), Bobby Scott (D-VA), John Lewis (D-GA), Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Steve Chabot (R-OH), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The bill will protect all voters against discrimination at the ballot box and ensure all Americans, particularly those in states with a history of racial discrimination, are guaranteed their right to vote. Further, the bill will require that voters are informed in advance of any changes to local election laws and poll locations. AFSCME President Lee Saunders noted: “It’s fitting that this legislation is introduced close to Martin Luther King Day. We must continue Dr. King’s work by ensuring that every American has easy access to the voting booth.”
Senate Approves Judge Wilkins; All Vacancies on D.C. Circuit Court Now Filled
The Senate approved Judge Robert Wilkins to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court in a party-line vote of 55 to 43. This completes action on the three nominees President Obama submitted to fill the D.C. Circuit. The Senate confirmed judges Nina Pillard and Patricia Millett in December. Judge Wilkins currently serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. As an attorney, Judge Wilkins worked for over a decade for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.
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