Week Ending February 28, 2020

Congressional concern centers around the need for a swift, bipartisan response to Coronavirus

  • Congress Considers Emergency Funds for Coronavirus Public Health Emergency
  • House and Senate Committees Begin Infrastructure Push

Congress Considers Emergency Funds for Coronavirus Public Health Emergency

Top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Americans that the coronavirus named COVID-19 will spread to communities in the United States and disrupt daily life significantly even though the risk is currently considered low at the moment.

Emergency Funding:

  • The Trump administration has requested $1.25 billion in new emergency funding to support COVID-19 response and preparedness activities, to shift $535 million of current funds for Ebola and other health care priorities and transfer $37 million from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This would bring total resources to $2.5 billion for COVID-19 response efforts. The bipartisan congressional view is that this is a lowball request and more funding is needed.
  • Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed $8.5 billion in emergency funding, including a set-aside of $2 billion to reimburse states and localities for the labor-intensive and 24/7 activities needed to isolate and treat infected individuals.
  • Congress is aiming to vote on a bipartisan and bicameral emergency funding package the week of March 9. 

Spread of the COVID-19 to United States expected:

  • The secretary of Health and Human Services has already declared a public health emergency around COVID-19, but there are no forecasts on how many people in this country are expected to come down with this severe illness.
  • The expectation that this emergency will become a pandemic is informed by the daily increase in numbers of infected people in six continents.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME is pressing Congress to quickly pass new emergency funds, rather than taking funds from other sources. New funding is needed to:

  • Purchase protective personal equipment (N95 respiratory masks, goggles, gloves. etc.) for health care and other workers.
  • Reimburse localities and states for preparation and response activities to COVID-19.
  • Strengthen the public health infrastructure by increasing staffing levels.
  • Fund and direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a temporary emergency infectious disease standard.

House and Senate Committees Begin Infrastructure Push

Four congressional committees with jurisdiction over sweeping infrastructure legislation began work this week to examine long-term investments in infrastructure, including renewals of surface transportation and water programs that are due to expire later this year.

  • Surface Transportation: The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday on surface transportation reauthorization and to hear perspectives from public transportation stakeholders.
  • Transportation Department Budget: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao testified before the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD Subcommittee on Thursday on the department’s fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget.
  • Infrastructure: The House Small Business Committee met Thursday for a hearing on infrastructure needs and impact on businesses.
  • Water Resources: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee also held a hearing to hear from members of Congress on their proposals for a 2020 Water Resources Development Act.

What You Need to Know: Federal programs funding highway, transit, water and other infrastructure projects expire in September 2020, putting pressure on Congress to enact legislation this year. Lawmakers continue to negotiate among themselves and with the White House on methods to pay for renewed and increased infrastructure investments. AFSCME continues to advocate for new infrastructure funding to meet the broadest possible needs in communities with harmful privatization, outsourcing or profit-motivated financing schemes.

DeVos and Trump Education Budget Slashes $6.2 billion for Students

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos presented the Trump administration’s budget request for (FY) 2021 to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services and Education. There were heated exchanges between DeVos and Democrats on the subcommittee who are concerned about funding cuts, school vouchers, and discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and religion by the Department of Education.

  • Calls for DeVos’ Resignation: Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), frustrated with DeVos’ evasive remarks, noted that DeVos’ “inability to … stand up for kids is appalling and you really should resign." Similar sentiments were expressed by others.
  • Trump Budgets Routinely Call for Cuts to Education: Congress has rejected the three previous Trump budgets, all of which called for cuts in education funding. Thus far, Congress has also rejected the Trump administration’s proposed tax break to fund private school vouchers and other programmatic cuts in spending, including in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. This budget seems to be headed in a similar direction. But, this year’s budget, even without the new cuts that Trump seeks, will be leaner than last year due to tight budget caps.

What You Need to Know:  This is the fourth budget request submitted by Trump to Congress. Like the others, this one is filled with cuts and eliminations in education programs. This year’s budget calls  for eliminating 41 programs, including Title I for students in high-poverty schools and aftercare, and cuts overall education funding by $6.2 billion while diverting $5 billion into a tax scheme to fund private schools. It falls far short of fostering student achievement, ensuring equal access, and being accountable to students and taxpayers. We are asking members of Congress to reject harmful cuts and raise their voices to champion federal investments in public education, including Title I and funding for students with disabilities known as IDEA.

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