Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending July 12, 2013

Senate Panel Approves Spending Levels for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education programs; Threatened Anti-Labor and Obamacare Amendments Avoided

The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (LHHS) spending bill for the fiscal year beginning October 1 was approved this week along party lines.  AFSCME strongly supports this $165.6 billion investment in labor, health and education programs. 

AFSCME aggressively opposed a number of harmful amendments.  Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) was prepared to offer an amendment that would have prevented the Department of Labor (DOL) from moving forward with its proposed rule for protecting home care workers’ wages and hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  In the face of strong opposition from AFSCME and our allies, Johanns did not offer the amendment. AFSCME also opposed an amendment that would have weakened the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that was defeated. In addition, four separate amendments to block the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were defeated.  Highlights of the bill include increases of:

  • $534 million for Social Security’s administrative functions;
  • $86 million for the Workforce Investment Act Grants to States (WIA);
  • $125 million  for Title I K-12 education; and
  • $168 million for IDEA/Special Education.

Recognizing the financial strain that state unemployment insurance (UI) agencies have been under, the Committee approved $50 million more than the administration requested for state operations. The Committee also approved the administration’s request to increase UI program integrity funding by $20 million. In total, the spending level in the bill is $2.9 billion.

Employment Service state grants, which equal $664 million after the sequester reduction, would go up by about $66 million as a result of increases in both reemployment services and reemployment assessments of UI claimants conducted under the Wagner-Peyser Act.

Early Childhood Education received special focus, with an additional $1.6 billion provided for Head Start, including $1.43 billion for Early Head Start and a $171 million increase for Head Start including $146 million for cost-of-living salary increases for staff. There is also $110 million for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to fund quality improvements and $66 million for access to affordable child care. Preschool development grants received $750 million.

The bill also provides $5.2 billion to implement the ACA and $5 million to support state efforts to create paid leave funds for workers who need to take time off for reasons covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). 

Overall, the Senate bill provides 26% more funding for LHHS than the House has allocated in an effort to restore some cuts from sequestration. The House bill, if the reduced funding levels were applied across the board, would eliminate 18.6 million meals to needy seniors, slash school funding for six million low-income K-12 students, and serve 275,000 fewer children in Head Start and 125,000 fewer infants and toddlers in Early Head Start.

The future of whether and how this and other funding bills will move forward is very unclear due to disagreement with the overall funding levels between the House and Senate. 

Ball in House’s Court on Achieving Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Now that the Senate passed its bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744) in June, it is up to the House of Representatives to take action to move forward on fixing our broken immigration system.  So far, the House Judiciary Committee has passed four piecemeal, deeply flawed bills along party lines: “The SAFE Act” (H.R. 2278), which would criminalize overstaying a visa and require local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws; “The Agricultural Guest Worker Act” (H.R. 1773), which fails to provide any path to citizenship for farmworkers and would lead to massive exploitation of this workforce; “The Legal Workforce Act” (H.R. 1772), which would require all employers to use an electronic employment immigration status verification system (E-Verify) within two years without necessary safeguards; and “The Skills Visa Act” (H.R. 2131), which would threaten the jobs of higher-skilled U.S. workers and reduce the number of family unity visas.  The House Homeland Security Committee also passed an immigration bill, “The Border Security Results Act” (H.R. 1417), which is an enforcement-only approach to reforming our immigration system. The Gang of 7 House members who have been working on a bipartisan comprehensive bill for many months have not introduced their legislation and it is not clear when they will.

The House is deeply divided on this issue.  Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has pledged that he will not put an immigration reform bill on the floor that does not have the support of the majority of GOP members.  This is a self-imposed roadblock to getting any comprehensive bill passed because the tea-party wing of his party has been clear it will not support a comprehensive bill or any bill that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.  A meeting of the GOP House caucus this week failed to resolve the differences among its members.  The House Democratic caucus’s meeting this week also focused on immigration reform.  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to Speaker Boehner after that meeting urging him and the rest of his caucus to work in a bipartisan way to enact comprehensive reform that includes an earned pathway to citizenship as well as labor protections, family unification, and border security.

The House will be in session three more weeks before its month-long August recess.  It is not clear whether Speaker Boehner will bring any of the five committee-passed immigration bills to the House floor in July.  It is extremely unlikely that any comprehensive bill will be introduced and passed this month.

As the situation in the House remains unclear, AFSCME is working with the AFL-CIO to launch an aggressive field program during the August recess in targeted congressional districts, urging passage of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants currently living in the shadows.  In California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, AFSCME and our coalition partners will organize media events, in-district lobby visits and other actions..  

Please call your Representative this week and urge him/her to support comprehensive immigration reform bills that include a fair path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the shadows, many of whom are working for unscrupulous employers in the underground economy. 

Fixing our broken immigration system will benefit our communities and all workers. Call 1 (888) 930-0113 to be connected toll-free to your U.S. Representative. When you’re connected, tell your Representative that the time is now for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a fair path to citizenship.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Would Boost State Tax Revenues by $2 Billion Annually

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a report this week, “Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions,” which found that undocumented immigrants currently pay $10.6 billion in state taxes, and that immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship would increase state revenues by $2 billion annually.  It also found that states with progressive tax systems, which include an income tax, would see the most significant revenue increases since this is where collections will increase most under reform.  The report noted that undocumented immigrants currently pay approximately the same level of sales and property taxes as other U.S. residents in the same income brackets.  The report and clickable 50-state map are at www.itep.org/immigration. 

House Leadership Pushes Through Legislation Continuing Farm Subsidy Programs Without Nutrition Assistance

This week, the House GOP leadership pushed through legislation (H.R. 2642) to continue federal farm programs but left consideration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) for a later time.  This action broke the traditional urban-rural political coalition that has always produced a bipartisan Farm Bill.

The path to take up the legislation was cleared late Wednesday night, and debate on the bill began immediately the next morning.  House Democrats strongly objected both to the procedure and the unprecedented separation of the two parts of the Farm Bill, but the legislation passed 216 to 208, with all Democrats and 12 Republicans voting against it.

The House action follows an embarrassing loss for the House GOP leadership in June when the Farm Bill was defeated 195 to 234, in part because tea-party members believed the $20.5 billion in SNAP cuts were not enough. The vote leaves the SNAP program, which will expire at the end of September, in a politically vulnerable position and will complicate the process for resolving differences between the House-passed bill and the Senate-passed bill, which did include the SNAP program with a much smaller cut.   

Non-Discrimination Bill Passes Senate Committee in Historic Vote

This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) (S. 815), a bill that would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  The bill was approved by a vote of 15 to 7, with strong bipartisan support from all Democratic senators and three Republicans Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). AFSCME has strongly supported ENDA since it was first introduced 19 years ago.  S. 815 would provide much-needed protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers and their families nationwide. A Senate floor vote may occur this fall.   

Student Loan Rate Compromise Falters

The interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans doubled on July 1, from 3.4% to 6.8%. Congress is working on a fix before college resumes this fall and new loans are taken out. However, negotiations faltered when the GOP negotiators rejected a bipartisan compromise that the Congressional Budget Office projected would cost $22 billion. 

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