Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending March 2, 2012

House Panel to Challenge DOL Rule Giving Home Care Workers Respect and Dignity

For decades, federal law has treated homecare workers as casual baby sitters.  They have been denied basic federal minimum wage and overtime protections because, historically, they’ve been regarded as just “companions.”  AFSCME has fought to correct this injustice. President Obama and Labor Secretary Solis have proposed new Fair Labor Standards Act rules that would ensure that these workers are treated fairly. The Department of Labor’s (DOL) public comment period on the proposed rule has been extended to March 12. 

The proposed rule is already under fire.  Opponents have persuaded the House Worker Protections Subcommittee of the Education and Labor Committee to hold a hearing on March 7 before the comment period has closed to challenge the requirement that the highly profitable home care industry be fair to its workforce. 

The most important action you can take is to submit your comment to the DOL today! Please go to:  http://www.regulations.gov/#%21submitComment;D=WHD-2011-0003-0001. The message can be as simple as: “Please adopt the new FLSA rule.” Home care members may want to add: “I work in the (name of home care program) and I should have rights like other workers.” 

After submitting your comment, please ask your Representative to oppose the bill that attacks the proposed rule (H.R. 3066) using our action page.

AFSCME stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who provide back-breaking personal care assistance to individuals with disabilities due to age or illness. These workers are the lifeline of independence for their consumers and deserve to be treated with respect. It is time to value the workers.  They should receive the same minimum wage and overtime protections afforded to other workers. 

Blunt Amendment Would Have Allowed Employers to Offer Substandard Coverage

The Affordable Care Act established an essential set of benefits in order to ensure that all plans meet a basic standard of health coverage. An amendment to the highway bill offered by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) would have expanded a conscience exemption in the Obama administration’s standard on contraception coverage. It would have allowed employers and health plans to refuse to provide any health care benefit to which they had a moral or religious objection.  The measure was so broadly written that an employer could refuse to provide virtually any service, including maternity care for unmarried women, blood transfusions, treatment for smoking-related cancer, screenings for type II diabetes and treatment for HIV/AIDS.  The vote to reject the Blunt proposal was largely along party lines, with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) joining with most Democrats to vote against the measure.  Three Democrats – Ben Nelson (NE), Joe Manchin (WV) and Bob Casey (PA) – voted with most Republicans in favor of the measure.

The Blunt proposal was an extreme response to a regulation issued by the Obama administration requiring health plans to provide birth control coverage without a copay, as part of standard preventive benefits.  The administration’s contraception proposal originally included an exception for plans that cover employees of churches and other houses of worship.  After concerns were raised by some religious organizations, the administration revised its rule to allow religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities to refuse to pay for and provide contraceptive care for their employees.  However, the rule requires that insurance plans that cover the employees of religiously-affiliated organizations must offer contraception coverage to these employees directly without charge.  The rule accommodates the concerns of religious organizations while also ensuring that women have access to birth control without copay, no matter where they work.  Several Catholic-affiliated organizations commended the Obama administration for addressing their concerns and revising the rule, including the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the President of the University of Notre Dame.   

K-12 Education Legislation Unlikely This Year

This week, the House Education and Labor Committee passed two bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The bills, (H.R. 3989 and H.R. 3990), passed strictly along party lines and share little in common with the Senate bills introduced last year. Because of the enormous differences between the bills in the two chambers, it seems highly unlikely that ESEA reauthorization will occur in this session of Congress. The House bills nearly strip the federal government of its role to set educational standards, instead expanding state and local discretion. Further, the proposed changes would dismantle federal education’s core principles of equal opportunity that have been enforced by federal policy since 1965. The House Democrats’ alternative would have eliminated the inflexible and outdated No Child Left Behind provisions and required states to adopt strong but flexible and achievable standards, assessments and accountability reforms. 

50,000 Individuals with Pre-Existing Conditions Get Coverage Through the ACA

Individuals with pre-existing conditions have long found it difficult to obtain health coverage when purchasing it on their own.  Insurance companies have refused to cover those with pre-existing conditions or have charged exorbitant premiums, making coverage unaffordable.  Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health plans will be prohibited from refusing to cover adults with pre-existing conditions or charging them higher premiums starting in 2014.  (The ACA already prohibits plans from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.)

To fill the void for adults until 2014, the ACA established a Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) to provide subsidized coverage to adults living with health problems like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other pre-existing conditions.  By the end of 2011, nearly 50,000 individuals with health conditions, who had been uninsured, obtained coverage under the PCIP.  The largest segment of people served by the PCIP are those age 55 or older – often people who are no longer working, do not have employer-sponsored coverage and are not yet eligible for Medicare.   

Federal Agencies Report Significant Job Growth and Economic Benefits from the Recovery Act

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Recovery Act) has and will pump about $831 billion into our economy between fiscal years 2009 and 2019.  Close to half of that amount occurred in FY 2010 and more than 90% of the Recovery Act’s impact was felt by the end of December 2011.  About $210 billion was spent assisting state and local governments by increasing the federal match for Medicaid, aiding education, and investing in transportation, infrastructure, child support enforcement and other vital programs and services.  This week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released data showing that the Recovery Act increased employment by approximately 2.5 million jobs between 2009 and 2010, and that the combination of the Act’s enhanced benefits and tax cuts increased the average household’s income by $1,731 in 2010.

Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its report on the impact of the Recovery Act’s policies in the last three months of 2011.  During those months, compared with what would have occurred otherwise, they raised the inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) by between 0.2% and 1.5%; lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.2 percentage points and 1.1 percentage points; increased the number of people employed by between 300,000 and 2 million; and increased the number of full-time jobs by 400,000 to 2.6 million.  The CBO estimates that in 2012 the Recovery Act will raise the GDP by between 0.1% and 0.8% and will increase employment by between 200,000 and 1.1 million people.

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