Week Ending May 23, 2014
Senate Sets Funding Levels for Spending Bills; House Agriculture Bill Threatens Improvements to School Meals and Scientific Integrity of WIC Meal Plans
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved overall funding levels for each of its 12 spending bills on a party-line vote. Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) stated her intention to have all 12 bills with program-specific funding levels pass out of committee by July 10. She warned that the spending allocations are austere, essentially freezing current funding levels. The House and Senate have accepted the same overall spending cap of $1.14 trillion but have allocated different funding levels for each individual bill. One significant difference is proposed spending for labor, health, human services and education programs which received current funding levels in the Senate but $1 billion less than current funding in the House.
The Agriculture spending bill was approved by House and Senate committees, but the House inserted two provisions that would be harmful to the health of women and children. House Agriculture Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) included a provision that would allow any school district which operates its meal program at a loss for at least six months to seek a one-year waiver from complying with new, healthier school food standards. Further, it would allow these schools to retain the six cent increase that was intended to assist schools in complying with the more expensive standards. Currently, 93 percent of schools comply with the new regulations. This change would be a major setback to the hard-fought effort to improve school meals and help children get the nutrition they need. In the U.S., 30 percent of children are in danger of being overweight or obese, and 17 million children are “food insecure” and rely, sometimes solely, on meals served in schools. These waivers could do away with the new standards entirely in many school districts across the country, and even districts already complying with the new standards could apply for a waiver.
Bipartisan Legislation Reforming Workforce Programs Announced
A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Senate and House committees this week announced agreement on legislation to reform the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The announcement by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Johnny Isakson (R-TN) and Reps. John Kline (R-MN), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), George Miller (D-CA) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) is the result of five months of behind the scenes, intensive negotiations.
Significantly, the bill maintains the Wagner-Peyser Employment Service (ES) as a statewide public system, a high priority of AFSCME during efforts over the past 11 years to renew WIA which broke down over disputes over consolidating programs and ending funding directly to the Employment Services.
The agreement also includes several new provisions related to training for AFSCME-represented employees. It adds a new requirement for the U.S. Department of Labor and state agencies to coordinate in establishing activities to enhance professional development and career advancement opportunities of ES staff. It also creates a multistate study to develop and implement career advancement models for low-wage health care providers and providers of early education and child care.
The WIA bill will be offered first in the Senate as a “substitute amendment” to a workforce bill previously passed by the House and sent to the Senate. If the Senate passes the legislation, the House is expected to take it up quickly.
We will have a better idea of the bill’s prospects in the Senate within a few weeks. In the House, there are reports that Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) supports the legislation.
House Committee Approves Transportation and Housing Spending Bill
The House Appropriations Committee approved the annual funding bill for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development programs (T-HUD). The committee voted to approve the bill 28-21, largely on party lines, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing. The bill underfunds several AFSCME priorities and compared to the current fiscal year, flat funds the Public Housing Operating Fund and cuts $100 million from the Public Housing Capital Fund. Both of these funding levels are significantly below President Obama’s budget request.
The bill includes $17.1 billion in yearly-approved spending for the Department of Transportation. Transit grants to state and local governments are funded consistent with current levels and will help local communities build and maintain their mass transit systems. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received a small increase in funding for operations. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over three years and index this wage to inflation. The committee voted 22-27 along party lines to reject the amendment.
Water Bill Sent to President Obama
The $12.3 billion Water Resources Reform and Development Act was sent to the White House after the Senate voted 91-7 to pass it on Thursday and the House voted 412-4 in favor earlier in the week. This comes after months of negotiations between the House and Senate to hash out differences. The bill authorizes funding for construction and repair of waterway and flood control projects, as well as work at specific ports. This will be the first federal water infrastructure authorization since 2007.
House Passes Bill to Prevent Sex Trafficking and Improve Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care
On Tuesday, the House passed by voice vote The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (H.R. 4058). In addition to provisions aimed at protecting children in foster care from sex trafficking, the final bill restored the requirement that states provide certain information including a Social Security card, birth certificate and proof of health insurance coverage to youth when they age-out of foster care. This section had been dropped from the bill in the House Ways and Means Committee because of the $10 million cost over 10 years that was not offset by other spending cuts. Remarkably, the committee took this action on the very same day it approved six corporate tax breaks costing $310 billion over 10 years without requiring any offsets. In the House-passed bill, the $10 million cost is paid for with an offset that requires states to electronically process withholdings orders in their child support programs, which will increase child support payments and reduce the need for government benefits. The $310 billion in tax breaks for corporations is still not paid for.
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