Week Ending March 28, 2014
Senate Clears First Hurdle on Unemployment Insurance Extension Bill
On Thursday, the Senate voted 65 to 34 to limit debate on extending federal emergency unemployment insurance benefits. The measure will be amended to an unrelated tax code bill (H.R. 3979). The Senate is expected to consider the actual legislation on Monday, March 31, with another procedural vote possible before final passage. The bill extends emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed for five months, retroactive to December 28, 2013 when these federal benefits were allowed to expire.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) indicated at the end of the week that he is unlikely to bring the Senate bill to a vote in the House, citing implementation burdens. However, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez stated that state agencies have reinstated benefits retroactively before, so administrative concerns should not be a deterrent to passing an extension of unemployment insurance benefits. AFSCME will continue to urge rapid passage in both the Senate and House of an extension of jobless aid for those who are unemployed through no fault of their own and have been unable to find employment in this difficult economy.
Urge your House member to support the Senate bill that restores unemployment insurance!
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AFSCME Members Testify for Increases in Federal Funding
AFSCME members from the New York’s Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and Connecticut’s Council 4 testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services and Education (LHHS), urging them to increase investments in child care and higher education.
Pam Wells, President of Local 100A CSEA/VOICE urged the subcommittee to increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) by $807 million to maintain the number of children cared for with federal assistance, improve the quality of care, prepare for possible new standards, and increase provider payment rates. She noted that access to affordable child care is essential to enable parents to work and children to learn and grow.
Jody Barr, President of AFSCME Local 2838, Council 4, urged the subcommittee to support the maximum Pell Grant award of $5,830 and to prioritize higher education investments, including Supplemental Opportunity Grants, Federal Work-Study, and GEAR UP. He noted that public investment in higher education makes our country more productive, grows our economy and fosters good citizenship.
In addition to these critical investments, AFSCME is urging Congress to increase funding for other key public investments in the subcommittee’s jurisdiction. While appropriators are beginning to consider program funding requests, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is preparing a budget expected to be introduced next week. Previous Ryan budgets have proposed making deep cuts in public services, dismantling Medicaid, and turning Medicare into a voucher system while providing enormous tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. AFSCME has strongly opposed previous Ryan budgets. Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) announced earlier this year that the Senate will uphold budget levels included in the two-year budget plan Congress passed earlier this year and not create a separate budget.
House Passes One-Year Medicare Deal for Doctors
By a voice vote, the House approved legislation to block cuts to Medicare payments to physicians until April 1, 2015. It is not paid for through other cuts or tax increases and will cost the federal government $17.7 billion over 10 years. The Senate is expected to vote on this bill before April 1.
The House bill also includes a number of additional provisions. Cuts in Medicaid payments to public safety net hospitals will be delayed for one year. States can continue to rely on findings from an “Express Lane” agency to enroll individuals in Medicaid and CHIP for another year. The bill continues the Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA) program for one year, which allows families to maintain Medicaid coverage as they move into employment and increase their incomes. The bill also creates a new grant to support community mental health providers to offer a broad range of mental health services. And, it continues federal support for Maternal, Infant, & Early Child Home Visiting Programs through March 31, 2015.
Nearly every year, Congress overrides scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. The last minute, so-called “patches” create anxiety for Medicare patients who worry their doctors will no longer treat Medicare patients. There is bipartisan agreement to repeal and replace the flawed Medicare payment system for physicians, but there is no agreement on how to pay for the needed policy changes.
House Democrats Demand a Vote on Immigration Reform
Democratic members of the House of Representatives announced Wednesday they were introducing a “discharge petition” to force a vote on H.R. 15. This bill is modeled on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) legislation (S. 744) that passed overwhelmingly with a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32 last June. Even though H.R. 15 has 200 co-sponsors and 25 to 30 additional House members have expressed support for CIR, Speaker Boehner continues to refuse to hold a vote. As of Friday morning, 169 House members had signed the petition. Unfortunately, there are no GOP House members among them, even though three co-sponsored H.R. 15 – Jeff Denham (CA), David Valadao (CA), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL). For the petition to force a vote, a majority of House members must sign. While it is a long-shot at best that a sufficient number of GOP members would agree to force Speaker Boehner’s hand, this tactic will expose which House members are willing to do what it takes to get a vote.
Nine months have passed since the Senate passed its bipartisan reform bill. Poll after poll show that an overwhelming majority of Americans want Congress to finish its work and pass legislation that will finally fix our broken immigration system. Labor unions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, immigrant rights groups, and religious leaders all support Congress moving forward on immigration reform. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office recently reported that H.R. 15 would reduce the federal budget deficit by $900 billion over the next two decades, including $200 billion over the first 10 years alone. AFSCME – in Washington, D.C. and across the country – will continue to push the House GOP leadership to allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform legislation that provides a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans living and working in the shadows, protects workplace rights, and stops the deportations that are tearing families apart every day.
Enrollment in Affordable Care Act (ACA) Coverage Reaches Six Million
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that more than six million Americans have signed up for private health coverage through the federal or state health care exchanges. This is in addition to the millions who have gotten coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the more than three million young adults who previously gained coverage because the ACA allows them to remain on their parents’ health plan until age 26. Due to the surge of people going online to research their health care options, the Obama Administration announced this week that anyone who had begun the enrollment process before the deadline would be able to complete enrollment after the March 31 deadline passes. Those who are seeking coverage should go online before March 31 or call 1-800-318-2596/TTY 1-855-889-4325.
Affordable Care Act Saves Medicare Beneficiaries Nearly $10 Billion on Prescription Drugs
New information shows that the Affordable Care Act saved 7.9 million seniors and people with disabilities nearly $10 billion on medications. The health care law also made recommended preventive services cost-free for beneficiaries. In 2013, 37.2 million people with Medicare coverage took advantage of at least one free preventive service. Before this important health care law, Medicare beneficiaries had to pay part of the cost for many preventive health services, which created a hurdle to getting needed screenings and staying healthy. These savings would be lost if Congress adopted proposals to increase costs for beneficiaries.
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