Week Ending June 6, 2014
Senate Committee Approves Housing and Transportation Funding Legislation
On June 5, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 29 to 1 to approve the annual federal funding legislation for transportation, housing and urban development (T-HUD) programs, with annually-approved spending totaling $54.4 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2015. This is $3.6 billion more than current funding levels and $3.4 billion more than President Obama requested in his budget.
The Senate committee’s $4.475 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund and $1.9 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund both exceed current year funding and the levels recently approved by the House Appropriations Committee. Nonetheless, they are significantly below what Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) need to fully operate and develop and rehabilitate public housing. AFSCME supports increases for the Capital Fund and the Operating Fund to ensure PHAs receive 100% of their expected operating costs.
The Senate’s T-HUD bill includes $11.1 billion for transit programs and is a solid step forward in meeting immediate transportation needs. Public transit systems and Amtrak would receive the funding required to provide adequate services. The bill also ensures continuity for vital highway and bridge programs and gives cities and states the flexibility to develop investment plans across modes of transportation. And the bill provides robust funding for aviation which will permit a level of certainty for modernization efforts and operations which are important for AFSCME’s Federal Aviation Administration employees.
The Senate Appropriations Committee leadership plans to move the T-HUD spending bill along with other spending bills to the Senate floor for votes later this summer. The House is expected to debate its T-HUD bill on the House floor as soon as next week. The House bill has significantly lower funding levels for many of AFSCME’s priorities.
Senate Committee Approves Justice Department Funding
Following House passage of FY 2105 funding for the Departments of Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS), a key panel in the Senate unanimously approved its own CJS budget this week. The Senate by unanimous vote approved $51.2 billion in CJS spending, equal to the House-passed version. More importantly, the Senate maintained important program spending from FY 2014, protecting key programs from cuts by providing $376 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), including $22.5 million for bulletproof vests, and $181 million for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grants. AFSCME worked with a coalition of 53 national organizations representing the juvenile and criminal justice systems to fight cuts to these critical programs. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, is planning a Senate floor vote on June 12.
Senate Prepares for Vote to Improve College Affordability, Lower Student Loan Rates
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a bill (S. 2432) that would help young people struggling with more than $1.2 trillion in student loan debt by allowing them to lower interest rates on their current loans and to match the rates the government offers to new borrowers. The new rates would be 3.8% for undergraduate loans, 5.41% for graduate loans, and 6.41% for “PLUS” loans for parents who are financing their children’s education. The bill is fully paid for by implementing the “Buffett rule,” which requires millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair shares of taxes.
A vote on the bill will likely occur next week, but it is not expected to reach the 60 vote threshold needed to overcome opposition.
More Rights for Municipal Employees in Bankruptcies Bill Introduced
Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill (S. 2418) that grants more rights to municipal employees and retirees in Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings by providing them with similar protections provided to those workers in corporate bankruptcies under Chapter 11, thus giving municipal employees and retirees a priority claim for unpaid wages and benefits. It would also prohibit cuts in municipal employee and retiree compensation and benefits below the minimum levels necessary for the municipality to emerge from bankruptcy. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Obama Administration Renews Policy Giving Young Immigrants Temporary Legal Status
This week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that his department will immediately begin renewing “deferred action” deportation waivers lasting two years for many otherwise undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The policy to grant deportation waivers to this population began in June 2012. Since then, more than 560,000 immigrants have been granted deferred action status, allowing them to remain in the country legally and obtain work authorization. Without renewal, this policy would have begun to expire in September 2014.
Senate Confirms Burwell as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services
On Thursday, the Senate confirmed President Obama’s appointment of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a vote of 78 to 17. Departing Secretary Sebelius resigned after months of unrelenting attacks by GOP members in both the House and Senate. More than eight million people have signed up for health insurance on either the federal or a state-run exchange between October 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014.
Burwell comes to this position from having been the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
President Obama has nominated Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan to replace Burwell at OMB, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to replace Donovan at HUD.
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