Week Ending June 14, 2019

House Committee Approves 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund   

  • 9/11 Victim Compensation Fix Moves to House Floor
  • House Panel Passes Bill to Prevent Workplace Violence, Protect Older Workers and Protect Pensions
  • House Panel Reviews Bills to Extend Expiring Health Programs and Block Cuts to Safety Net Hospitals

9/11 Victim Compensation Fix Moves to House Floor

After a raucous hearing on Tuesday that featured entertainer Jon Stewart, an advocate for 9/11 survivors and responders, the House Judiciary Committee advanced by voice vote an extension of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which will allow people to file claims through October 2089.

  • Past Claims Restored –The “Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act” (H.R. 1327) would also require that anyone whose claim was reduced because of insufficient funding be paid the full amount. The bipartisan legislation with more than 300 co-sponsors now moves to a full House vote and is expected to pass in July.
  • Many Claims Still Pending – Since being reopened in 2011, the Victim Compensation Fund has received nearly 40,000 claims and made nearly 25,000 determinations for injured or killed responders and survivors or their families.

What You Need to Know: First responders, including AFSCME members, came to Ground Zero and stayed for days, weeks and months to look for survivors and assist with cleanup and recovery. Many were volunteers who came from across the country. They inhaled a toxic cocktail of caustic chemicals, pulverized drywall and powdered cement. While working at the scene, their actions put them at risk of lifelong health consequences. 

House Panel Passes Bills to Prevent Workplace Violence, Protect Older Workers and Protect Pensions

The House Education and Labor Committee voted 26 to 18 to adopt legislation to curb assaults on nurses, other health care workers and social service assistance workers at their jobs. The “Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act” (H.R. 1309) would require the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to issue a specific enforcement rule to prevent workplace violence in health care and social service assistance settings. 

  • Individual Worker Violence Highlighted – During the committee debate on the bill, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) spoke about Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) AFSCME Council 28 member Christa Butters, a nurse who was attacked while doing her job. Jayapal noted that the psychiatric hospital failed to take adequate steps to prevent workplace violence. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) spoke of her support for the bill, sharing the story of Oregon AFSCME Council 75 members who were stabbed while working at Outside In, a medical and youth service organization in Portland, Oregon. She noted that the incident prompted workers to form a union to have a greater say in their working conditions, including their safety on the job, and to provide better patient care. AFSCME believes all workers deserve respect, and fundamental to that respect is being protected from workplace violence. AFSCME will fight to get Congress to respect workers and pass this bill.
  • Older Workers Protected – The committee also adopted the “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act” (POWADA, H.R. 1230), by a vote of 27 to 18, with Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wisconsin) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York) voting with the majority. POWADA reverses a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it more difficult for older workers to prove they were discriminated against because of their age. Instead, the bill clearly states that victims of age discrimination do not have to demonstrate that age was a critical reason for the employer’s action to prove their case. 
  • Multiemployer Pension Bill Approved – The committee also approved bipartisan multiemployer pension reform legislation (H.R. 397) that would create a federal loan program for struggling plans. The bill, approved by a vote of 26 to 18, was introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts), who noted, “(M)ore than a million Americans are in multiemployer pension plans that are quickly running out of money, putting families across the country at risk of unexpected financial hardship. Congress has no choice but to address this crisis.” The bill, also known as the “Butch Lewis Act,” establishes a new Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA) and a new trust fund in the Treasury Department to make loans to affected multiemployer plans. The PRA would be authorized to issue bonds to finance loans to “critical and declining” status multiemployer pension plans, plans that have suspended benefits, and some recently insolvent plans receiving financial assistance from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). The PRA would be headed by a director, who will have a term of five years and be appointed by the president.

What You Need to Know: These three bills reflect a commitment by the current House of Representatives to ensure that workers have safe workplaces where they can work free from discrimination and from which they can retire with dignity. AFSCME will continue to press for co-sponsors to H.R. 1309 in the coming weeks to ensure that the bill to protect workers from workplace violence will be voted on by the full House of Representatives. We will continue to update you on the progress of H.R. 1230 and 397 to protect older workers and pensions. 

House Panel Reviews Bills to Extend Expiring Health Programs and Block Cuts to Safety Net Hospitals

Last week, a House health subcommittee reviewed a dozen bills to extend health programs that will lapse if Congress fails to act. Of keen interest to AFSCME are Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) programs. CCBHCs are an innovative delivery model within Medicaid to provide behavioral health services and medical care for individuals with serious mental health conditions, including addiction to opioids. The program provides reimbursements to these designated clinics to cover all costs of care for this medically complex and vulnerable population.

What You Need to Know: The subcommittee also discussed the impact of the October 1 scheduled cut to the Medicaid DSH funding, which supports hospitals that provide a disproportionate share of care to uninsured or Medicaid patients. AFSCME supports blocking this cut to safety net hospitals.

Get the AFSCME Legislative Report delivered via email by signing up here.

Thank you!

You will begin receiving the AFSCME Legislative Report via email.