Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending July 11, 2014

Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Reauthorization Ready for President Obama’s Signature

On Wednesday, the House voted 415-6 to approve the Senate-passed Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This congressional action caps over a decade of failed efforts to renew the Workforce Investment Act, which technically expired in 2003, because of an inability to bridge ideological differences between congressional Democrats and Republicans.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill soon.

Among the most controversial issues was a GOP proposal to combine a number of workforce programs into a single block grant, which would have ended the state Employment Service (ES).  WIOA maintains the Employment Service (ES), a long term AFSCME priority.  It also continues the individual identities of the WIA adult, dislocated worker. and youth programs although local areas would have some authority to transfer funds between the adult and dislocated worker programs. Rejecting a block grant strategy, the legislation attempts to coordinate and link these and other workforce programs more tightly in the one-stop system the Workforce Investment Act originally created. Planning requirements, technology, implementation of common data systems, and the financing of the local one-stop offices are among the ways in which the new legislation would accomplish this.

WIOA includes a number of amendments to the Wagner-Peyser Act.  Several reinforce it as a system of public employment offices and strengthen its ties to the Unemployment Insurance program.  Another requires that local Wagner-Peyser ES offices be co-located with local one-stop offices, a practice that already is common in most places.

The legislation also includes several new provisions related to training for AFSCME-represented employees.  It adds a new requirement for the U.S. Department of Labor and state agencies to coordinate in establishing activities to enhance the professional development and career advancement opportunities of state ES staff. It also creates a multi-state study to develop and implement career advancement models for low-wage health care providers and providers of early education and child care.

State and local workforce boards will continue with a business majority but with much smaller membership. However, working with the AFL-CIO, we succeeded in keeping the administrator of the ES and other state workforce programs on the state board, and an ES representative on the local boards.  In addition, the number of union members on the boards was increased slightly.  (Fran Bernstein - fbernstein@afscme.org)

House and Senate Take Action on Highway Trust Fund

This week, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee wrote bills seeking to address the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which funds 100,000 construction projects and supports 700,000 jobs. The bills would provide an $11 billion funding patch to keep surface transportation programs solvent until May 2015.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has announced that the House will vote on its version next week.  No word yet on when the Senate will vote.  (Marta David -  mdavid@afscme.org)

President Obama to Take Executive Action on Immigration Reform After House Fails to Act

On June 30, President Obama announced he will take executive action to address our broken immigration system after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told him definitely that the House will not take up immigration reform this year.  This comes after a year of obstruction by the House GOP leadership after the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill with a vote of 68-32 on June 27, 2013. 

We expect the President to release his executive order(s) by the end of the summer.  He has wide legal authority to take bold action.  He can reset enforcement priorities and he has the power to grant “affirmative relief” by extending legalization to new groups of people.  Two years ago, President Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave many undocumented immigrants, who came to the U.S. as children, legalized status that removes the threat of deportation and allows them to work and travel freely.  Over half a million young people have received DACA relief as of March 2014.  We encourage the President to extend this type of relief, at a minimum, to the parents of DACA recipients and to the parents of U.S. citizen children.  We also encourage the President to redouble his efforts to target immigration enforcement actions against dangerous immigrant criminals and not those who are contributing to our communities, working, paying taxes, and living with their families in the U.S.  (Fran Bernstein - fbernstein@afscme.org)

President Obama Requests Emergency Funding to Address Border Crisis

On Tuesday, President Obama asked Congress to pass a $3.7 billion emergency funding bill to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border in unprecedented numbers.  Approximately half of these funds would go to the Department of Health and Human Services to address the housing, nutrition, health care and other needs of the children.  The other half would be allotted to the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to increase various border enforcement measures.  The State Department would receive $300 million to support efforts to repatriate migrants back to their countries of origin.

There is broad recognition that conditions in these minors’ home countries are driving them to take the arduous overland trip, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that more than half of these children are fleeing severe, unchecked violence primarily due to drug gangs.  Smugglers have taken advantage of the situation, and there are numerous reports of girls being sexually assaulted while traveling to the U.S.

The President’s emergency spending request has sparked controversy over exactly where the money would be spent. Arizona Senators Jeff Flake (R) and John McCain (R) said they would introduce legislation to change the law pertaining to how children from Central America must be treated, which would result in fewer protections when and if they are returned to their home countries. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has declared he will “fight tooth and nail” against this change in the law.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has floated the idea of attaching an extension of federal unemployment benefits to this funding bill. It is not clear whether Congress will vote on the President’s request before it begins its five week recess starting in early August.  (Fran Bernstein - fbernstein@afscme.org)

More Research Shows Drop in Uninsured Rate Due to Affordable Care Act (ACA)

A new survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund finds that the percent of adults up to age 64 who are uninsured fell from 20% to 15% during the ACA’s open enrollment period.  There was an even larger drop in the number of uninsured young adults age 19 to 34, from 28% to 18%.  The uninsured rate for people in poverty fell sharply from 28% to 17% among states that expanded their Medicaid programs. The uninsured rate among the poor was essentially unchanged among states that did not expand Medicaid. Along with other studies, the Commonwealth survey demonstrates that the ACA is working to expand coverage to the uninsured.  (Barbara Coufal – bcoufal@afscme.org)

Failure to Expand Medicaid Hurts States’ Economies and Residents’ Health

A new report from the Council of Economic Advisers examines the consequences of a state’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Currently, 24 states have not yet expanded Medicaid, thus denying health insurance coverage to millions of people.  For example, Florida and Wisconsin will respectively forgo $15 billion and $2.6 billion in federal dollars in 2014-2016.  This money could have been boosting their economies and increasing the number of jobs by 63,800 (FL) and 11,200 (WI).  Failing to expand Medicaid also has dire consequences for the health and well-being of those living in these states.  For example, in Pennsylvania, some 13,700 people will face financial ruin due to high out‐of‐pocket medical costs from a catastrophic illness and another 43,400 will be forced to borrow money or skip bill payments because of high medical expenses that would have been covered had their state expanded Medicaid.  AFSCME supports the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.  (Linda Bennett - lbennett@afscme.org)

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