Week Ending May 14, 2021

Help Us Show What’s Needed to Build Back Better – Share AFSCME Members’ Stories

  • Biden Administration
    • Treasury to Start Paying Out Aid to State and Local Governments
    • Biden Administration Steps Up Health Care Protections for LGBTQ Community
  • This Week in Congress
    • Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Passes House
    • House Passes Bills to Increase Access to Mental Health Services
    • Senate Advances Voting Rights and Democracy Protection Legislation 
    • Infrastructure Negotiations Chug Along
    • Appropriations Action Expected in June and July
  • Call to Action: Help us Show What’s Needed to Build Back Better

Treasury to Start Paying Out Aid to State and Local Governments

The U.S. Treasury Department launched its $350 billion program to distribute aid to state and local governments funding front-line workers, public services and maintaining a strong U.S. economy. The Treasury guidance covers the distribution, uses and other requirements for the American Rescue Plan’s $350 billion in flexible, direct aid to states, territories, cities, counties and certain other governmental entities. The state aid is provided through the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund, and the local assistance is provided through the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. This AFSCME fact sheet provides an overview of this new guidance.

Biden Administration Steps Up Health Care Protections for LGBTQ Community

The lead federal health agency will now interpret and enforce its laws forbidding sex discrimination in health care to also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This action is consistent with a 2020 Supreme Court decision. Importantly, it reverses the Trump administration’s refusal to accept, investigate and resolve complaints alleging health care discrimination against transgender individuals.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Passes the House

The House passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act  (H.R. 1065) by a 315 to 101 vote. This bill would ensure that pregnant workers get the accommodations they need without facing retaliation in the workplace. AFSCME strongly supports this bill in support of gender equity, healthy pregnancies, children and family wellness, and the economic security of pregnant and parenting women. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) entered AFSCME’s letter of support into the Congressional Record.

House Passes Bills to Increase Access to Mental Health Services

Many AFSCME members provide care and services to support mental and behavioral health. The House passed several bipartisan bills that AFSCME supports to improve these services. The Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act (H.R. 1475), sponsored by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), passed 349 to 74. It would increase federal funding to address mental health disparities among underserved populations with targeted grants for high-poverty communities to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services. The Mental Health Services for Students Act of 2021 (H.R. 721), sponsored by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) would provide $130 million in grant funding for schools to partner with local mental health professionals to provide comprehensive mental health services for students. The House also passed bills to improve mental health services in emergency rooms and to increase funding to prevent suicides.

Senate Committee Advances Voting Rights and Democracy Protection 

On Tuesday, the Senate Rules Committee voted 9 to 9 to advance the House-passed For the People Act (S. 1) after a long committee meeting marked by partisan disputes over voting rights and election procedures and tied votes on amendments and approval. Senate rules allow the bill to advance despite the tie in committee.

The sweeping legislation would strengthen ethics laws, increase transparency and put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act. It would also simplify voter registration and expand voting options, ensuring that everyone who is eligible to cast a ballot can do so free of obstacles, intimidation or suppression. The timeline for a floor vote is unclear.

Infrastructure Negotiations Chug Along Behind Intensified Lobbying From White House

President Joe Biden amped up efforts to advance his American Jobs and Families Plans by meeting with House and Senate leadership and separately with key Senate Republicans on their counter-proposal. Disagreements remain over the size of the package, revenues to pay for it, clean-energy policies and the inclusion of broader policies beyond traditional infrastructure. AFSCME continues to urge Congress to seize this historic opportunity to address physical and human infrastructure needs. As a starter, a more limited, traditional infrastructure package is expected to move in the Senate by the end of the month. The House soon thereafter plans to extend surface transportation programs for five years prior to the expiration of funding on Sept. 30.

Appropriations Action Expected in June and July

Congressional appropriations committees have been steadily preparing for the annual funding process. Biden proposed allocating $1.52 trillion in his initial budget in April and is expected to provide full details on May 27. Congress is planning to move quickly with House committee votes in June followed by floor votes in July and committee votes in the Senate in July. AFSCME is urging increases for key public services outlined here. AFSCME worker stories help make the case for these essential investments which, historically, have accounted for 30% of state budgets and 20% of local budgets. Email blevin@afscme.org to share your members’ stories.

Help us Show What’s Needed to Build Back Better

An infrastructure plan should grow our economy, create good jobs, invest in communities, promote public health, and enable workers to have a strong voice on the job.

Help us tell Congress what’s needed by emailing member stories that support investments in transportation, physical infrastructure, public health, public education, child care, public housing, public libraries, home care, libraries, unemployment assistance and workforce development programs to Becky Levin at blevin@afscme.org.

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