Week Ending March 24, 2016
House Panel Examines Harm of Current Social Security Rules for Public Sector Retirees
The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security held a hearing highlighting the current inequities from the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and proposals to modify WEP, such as the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2015 (H.R. 711). The current WEP law can reduce up to $423 a month from Social Security benefits that a public sector employee duly earned by offsetting the alleged windfall they receive from an earned state or local pension accrued from work not covered by Social Security. AFSCME’s statement for the record also raised concerns about the current Government Pension Offset (GPO), which can cut or wipe out Social Security spousal benefits because the retiree received a non-Social Security covered public pension benefit. AFSCME called upon Congress to eliminate the harmful consequences and serious inequities of both these provisions by repealing both GPO and WEP. Click here to view AFSCME’s statement for the record.
DOL Issues Rule Requiring Employers to Report Consultations With “Persuader” Union Busters
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a new rule that requires employers to report consultant or “persuader” agreements pertaining to union organizing campaigns. Unions are already required to report on their organizing expenditures. “Workers should know who is behind an anti-union message. It’s a matter of basic fairness,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. “Full disclosure of persuader agreements gives workers the information they need to make informed choices about how they pursue their rights to organize and bargain collectively.” The change will be applicable to arrangements, agreements and payments made on or after July 1, 2016.
Before the new rule, employers and their consultants only had to file reports when the consultants communicated directly with workers. The new rule closes this loophole, requiring employers to file reports even if the consultants are giving anti-union guidance to the employer without contacting employees directly. This could include conducting union-avoidance meetings or providing written materials employers use to persuade workers to oppose unionizing. AFL-CIO General Counsel Lynn Rhinehart noted: “I think employees would be interested to know the dollars being spent” on anti-union campaigns when their employers claim they cannot afford to give them raises.
GOP congressional leadership immediately issued a press release opposing this transparency rule. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) blasted the DOL, claiming its rule somehow “will stifle debate and undermine the ability of workers to make a fully informed decision.” And, Chairmen Kline and Roe made clear their intention to “push back” against this rule.
Congressional Briefing on Ending Immigration Raids Targeting Unaccompanied Children
A wide range of advocates for immigrant children spoke at a briefing on Capitol Hill this week to urge members of Congress to act immediately to address the serious issues impacting unaccompanied children seeking refuge in the U.S. Among the issues addressed was a call to end “rocket dockets” that abridge the due process rights of these children, and ceasing deportations targeting unaccompanied children and other vulnerable individuals. Speakers representing educators and legal aid providers urged the federal government to put the safety and well-being of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children first. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, discussed the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act (H.R. 4646; S. 2540), legislation introduced last month that would ensure access to counsel, legal orientation programs and post-release services to children and other groups in immigration proceedings. Rep. Lofgren declared: “Targeting women and children for deportation who are fleeing violence and persecution is wrong. Until we can be sure that no mother or child will face abuse, torture or death in their home country, the United States should end raids and deportations.”
This Week, We Celebrate the Sixth Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act
Wednesday was the sixth anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a law that has survived two U.S. Supreme Court challenges and dozens of efforts by Congress to repeal it. And while 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded their Medicaid programs under the ACA, 19 states have failed to do so. As a consequence, 4.4 million, mostly poor, working adults in these 19 states have been denied Medicaid coverage.
But during this anniversary week, we celebrate what the ACA has achieved. Some 20 million Americans have gained health coverage due to the ACA. More than 90% of Americans now have health coverage. For millions more, their coverage is better. The ACA improved Medicare prescription drug benefits for seniors and extended the solvency of the Medicare trust fund. Out-of-pocket costs were eliminated for 39 million seniors and millions of others seeking preventive care such as certain cancer screenings, contraception and immunizations. Annual and lifetime limits on insurance coverage have been eliminated, protecting those who experience a catastrophic illness or accident. The law requires health insurers to provide rebates if the amount spent on health benefits is too low.
Like any major law, the ACA needs to be improved and strengthened. While we have made some progress, such as delaying the implementation of the 40% tax on high cost, employer-provided insurance, we look forward to the day when we no longer expend so much energy defending the law and can turn our full energies to making it better.
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