Week Ending July 2, 2020

House Passes Massive Transportation Bill; and Senate Action Urgently Needed to Help Fund the Front Lines.

  • House Passes $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Bill; Senate Path Unclear
  • Senate Needs to Act Now to Fund the Front Lines
  • House Votes to Expand the Affordable Care Act
  • Murray Urges $430 Billion for Pandemic Relief to Schools and Child Care

House Passes $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Bill; Senate Path Unclear

The House of Representatives passed a robust infrastructure bill, the “Moving Forward Act” (H.R. 2), by a vote of 233-188. The chamber spent two days working through hundreds of amendments before sending the package to the Senate for consideration. The largest component of the package is nearly $500 billion for surface transportation projects such as roads, bridges and transit, nearly double the amount approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last July.

  • Would Create Many New Jobs by Investing in Broad Infrastructure Needs – H.R. 2 will create millions of good-paying jobs and rebuild highways, bridges, transit, rail, airports, ports and harbors to improve safety, reduce gridlock and put America on a path to zero pollution. The legislation also addresses many other infrastructure needs, including investing in the environment, affordable housing, expanding affordable high-speed Internet to underserved rural and urban communities, and ensuring access to clean water. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “H.R. 2 takes bold, broad and transformational action to rebuild our infrastructure, while addressing key injustices in America, which have been laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis.”
  • Addresses Major Increases in Funding for Infrastructure Needs – In addition to surface transportation, the Moving Forward Act provides:
    • $25 billion for drinking water;
    • $100 billion for broadband;
    • $70 billion for clean energy projects;
    • $70 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund so that America’s local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) can make physical repairs needed to modernize, repair, and retrofit public housing units;
    • $25 billion for the postal service; and
    • $130 billion for school-related projects that are used primarily for instruction in public schools.

What You Need to Know: House passage marks a starting point for negotiations between the House, Senate and the White House on how to shore up the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The current authorization expires Sept. 30. The Senate has passed a surface transportation bill out of committee and plans to work on the water projects legislation throughout July.

Senate Needs to Act Now to Fund the Front Lines

It has been more than a month and a half since the House passed the “Heroes Act” (H.R. 6800) on May 15. This comprehensive response to the COVID-19 pandemic included more than $1 trillion in critically needed federal fiscal relief to state and local governments through flexible direct grants, significantly enhanced Medicaid funding, and a needed investment for education. The bill also included more funds for testing and public safety. But, since it passed the House, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has ignored it, delaying urgently needed aid to states, cities, towns, counties, schools and families. When Senate Democrats attempted to raise the need for assistance, Republican leaders objected and would only agree to a limited bill extending the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to Aug. 8. The House also approved the PPP extension sending it to the president for his signature, but the Senate has not yet responded to the growing state and local fiscal crisis.

  • Serious Economic Consequences – Currently the economy is still in a recession and the COVID-19 pandemic is causing serious problems for families, states, cities, towns and school districts. The economic fallout due to the pandemic has resulted in drastic increases in unemployment and plummeting state and local revenues. According to the Economic Policy Institute, there are now 24.5 million workers who are either officially unemployed or otherwise out of work as a result of the virus. If all these workers were taken into account, the unemployment rate would be a whopping 15.0%, still much higher than any we have seen since the Great Recession. Further, unemployment rates are still much higher for minority communities. Significant job loss has occurred in government jobs with 1.5 million government jobs lost over the past several months.
  • Deep State and Local Revenue Losses – States and local governments have sustained deep revenue losses due to the pandemic. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projects the combined state budget shortfall will be $615 billion over the next three years. And, the National League of Cities projects cities will face a $360 billion revenue loss over the next three years, as more than 70% of cities report they have received no help from the federal government. These revenue shortfalls are threatening our ability to fight COVID-19, provide essential public services and safely reopen the economy. At the same time, communities need services, like unemployment aid, Medicaid and public health investments, more than ever. Without federal assistance, these services will fall short of the growing needs and schools will not be able to keep students and staff safe or promote learning.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME urges that Congress act immediately to provide:

  • At least $1 trillion in unrestricted state and local grants to replace lost revenues and continue public services.
  • At least a 15-percentage point increase to the federal Medicaid match (FMAP). This provides relief to ensure states can cover millions of newly unemployed Americans needing Medicaid health services.
  • At least $200 billion to public K-12 and higher education, including $25 billion to Title I and IDEA.

Additional State and Local Aid Is Still Needed

We urgently need you to call your senator. Time is running out for Congress to provide aid before state and local governments lay off more workers. 1.5 million public employees have already been pink-slipped. Front-line public service workers like you are critical to fighting this pandemic and reopening our economy. America can’t do either without you.

Call 1-888-981-9704.

Tell your senator that it’s urgent to fund the front lines NOW with at least $1 trillion for states, counties, and cities – including more Medicaid and education funding – for essential public services to fight COVID and reopen our economy. For more ways to take action, visit the AFSCME COVID-19 webpage.

House Votes to Expand the Affordable Care Act 

 With a 234 to 179 vote almost entirely along party lines, the House Democratic leadership is drawing a stark contrast in health care policy between President Trump and his congressional allies and Democratic members.

  • Medicaid Expansion and ACA Protections – The House adopted the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act” (H.R. 1425), which expands subsidies for Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans for middle-class families, reduces the cost of prescription drugs, puts pressure on states to expand Medicaid and rolls back Trump administrative actions to undermine ACA protections for preexisting conditions.
  • Trump Administration Still Wants to Gut the ACA – A week before the vote, the Trump administration presented arguments to the Supreme Court requesting to gut each and every provision of the ACA. As President Saunders stated: “To take away health coverage from 23 million Americans and gut protections for people with preexisting conditions is reckless at any time. To do so during a global pandemic – in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century – is a new, cruel, unconscionable and immoral low for this administration.” Under a Republican majority the House voted more than 70 times to repeal the ACA, and all but two Republicans voted against the bill to expand the ACA and protect individuals with preexisting conditions.

What You Need to Know: It is unlikely that Senate Majority Leader McConnell will bring up the House-passed bill, which is a road map of how Democratic House leadership would make health insurance more affordable and lower prescription drug costs at a time when the COVID-19 and strained the health care system and cost millions of Americans their jobs and health care coverage.

Sen. Murray Urges $430 Billion for Pandemic Relief to Schools, Child Care

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced “The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act” (S. 4112) to provide almost $430 billion more for pandemic relief for child care and education programs.

  • Funding for Emergency Relief – The bill would provide funding for existing emergency relief programs, several specific education-related programs, and the e-rate program. It also overturns some Department of Education regulations relating to implementing the CARES Act. Funding highlights include:
    • $345 billion for the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund, with $175 billion for elementary and secondary education, $132 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund and $33 billion for the Governors’ Emergency Relief Fund;
    • $12.9 billion specifically for Title I and other K-12 education programs, including $11 billion for Title I state grants;
    • $11.9 billion for special education, with $11 billion for Part B state grants, $500 million for the infants and toddler program and $400 million for preschool programs;
    • $50 billion for child care through the Child Care and Development Block Grant; and
    • $4 billion for the e-rate program to increase connectivity at schools and for students and educators.

What You Need to Know: With schools in many states scheduled to begin fall terms in less than six weeks, school districts urgently need federal funding to make up for state revenue shortfalls and address dramatic increases in costs required to keep students and school employees safe; ensure that learning can continue remotely or otherwise; clean and sanitize physical spaces; arrange classrooms and buses to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for social distancing; ensure students can access remote learning; and to help child care programs continue.

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