Week Ending May 3, 2019

Congress returned from two-week recess to a busy agenda

  • House Committee Releases Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Funding Bill
  • White House, Pelosi and Schumer Have “Productive” Discussion on Infrastructure
  • House Judiciary Committee Advances the Equality Act
  • Strengthening Public Service Loan Forgiveness 

House Committee Releases Labor-Health, Human Services-Education Funding Bill

  • Important Domestic Spending Bill on the Move: This week, the House Appropriations Committee began consideration of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (Labor-HHS-Education) Funding Bill for fiscal year (FY) 2020 (which starts on Oct. 1), releasing the text on Monday and holding a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. The Labor-HHS-Education funding bill is the most important of the 12 annual appropriations bills for AFSCME members, providing funding for job training, health care, child welfare, services for the elderly, education and other important public services.
  • Funding Increased: Adjusted for inflation, funding for Labor-HHS-Education programs declined by a remarkable $16 billion from 2010 to 2019. The consequences of this underfunding are parents without access to affordable, early-learning opportunities for their children; unemployed adults without access to job training programs they need to gain skills and re-enter the workforce; public health officials without the resources they need to address the opioid epidemic and other critical public health issues; and countless other problems stemming from inadequately funded public services.
  • AFSCME Priority: AFSCME is fighting for significant increases in funding for Labor-HHS-Education programs. While we believe that even more resources are needed to break the cycle of disinvestment that is harming our communities, the legislation introduced by the House Appropriations Committee is a positive step in the right direction. The bill provides $189.8 billion in funding – $11.7 billion over the amount Congress provided for FY 2019 and $47.8 billion more than the president requested in his 2020 budget. Specifically, the legislation includes:
    • Department of Labor: $13.3 billion for labor programs, $1.2 billion above the amount enacted in 2019. It includes significant increases in funding for critical job training and employment programs that ensure people have the skills and the opportunities they need to succeed in the workplace. It also includes funding increases for the worker protection agencies that address wage theft, dangerous working conditions and other critical issues for working people. AFSCME succeeded in securing $12.6 million for Susan Harwood grants to help train workers in safety on the job, including preventing workplace violence.
    • Department of Health and Human Services: $99 billion for health and human services programs, $8.5 billion above the amount enacted in 2019. The legislation includes increases in funding for critical public health programs, including programs that address mental health, substance abuse, suicide prevention, and other critical concerns. It also includes significant increases in funding for children and family programs, including an additional $1.5 billion for Head Start and an additional $2.4 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. There is $25 million for a new program to provide loan forgiveness for behavioral health professionals. The bill also proposes discretionary funds of $150 million for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.
    • Department of Education: $75.9 billion in discretionary funding for education programs, $4.4 billion above the amount enacted in 2019 enacted level and $11.9 billion above the president’s budget request. There are sizable increases for foundational resources to states, including special education (IDEA), and Title I, which have been mostly flat-funded recently. There are increases of $1 billion each for Title I and IDEA, $500 million for Title II, $150 million for Title IV-A, and $100 million for 21st Century Community Learning (afterschool). The maximum Pell grant was increased by $150 to a total of $6,345.

What You Need to Know: There are still several steps remaining before this legislation is enacted into law. The legislation will need to be approved by the full House Appropriations Committee – the vote is scheduled for May 8 – and then be considered and voted on by the full House of Representatives, which could occur in June. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet released its version of the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which will need to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee and the full Senate. Any differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation will need to be ironed out before the legislation can be sent to the president and enacted into law.

Furthermore, Congress will not be able to provide adequate funding unless it reaches a deal to increase spending limits (often referred to as “budget caps”) established by previously passed legislation. In 2011, Republicans in Congress threatened to allow the United States to default on its debt to force through legislation that resulted in the establishment of spending limits for federal programs through 2021. The spending limits were set at such low levels that Congress has repeatedly agreed to increase the limits. Without a new agreement, FY 2020 spending on Labor-HHS-Education programs will be cut by $55 billion. Many of the programs that would be affected are grant programs provided to state and local governments, putting AFSCME member jobs at risk.

Throughout this process, AFSCME will be working to support an agreement to increase spending limits and to ensure that the critical programs supporting the work of AFSCME members are adequately funded.

White House, Pelosi and Schumer Have “Productive” Discussion on Infrastructure

  • $2 Trillion in Funding May Have Been Agreed To: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) met with President Donald Trump at the White House Tuesday to discuss infrastructure. The meeting, which included a handful of Democratic members of Congress, went well enough that lawmakers emerged from it encouraged by an agreement over a $2 trillion infrastructure package. Trump has long touted his massive infrastructure plan while leaving open the question of how it will be funded.
  • More Follow-up Meetings Planned on Details: Pelosi and Schumer will meet with Trump again in three weeks to talk about the revenue source for such an ambitious plan. Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to bring funding ideas to the next meeting, House Transportation and Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) said. If they come to an agreement at the next meeting, they could announce their plan before the cameras. “No one wants to jump over the cliff first,” DeFazio said. “No one has to jump first if we agree we can step up together.” 

What You Need to Know: Republicans are waiting to see what details emerge from the White House when the president and the group of Democrats meet again. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) hasn’t said whether he’d make floor time for such a package.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) is dubious – “the devil is in the details,” he said – of funding for the $2 trillion infrastructure plan. Barrasso is working with committee members to agree on an authorization level for the new surface transportation bill he hopes his committee could pass by late summer.

House Judiciary Committee Advances the EQUALITY Act

  • EQUALITY Act Approved in Committee: This week, members of House Judiciary Committee approved the EQUALITY Act (H.R. 5). The committee approved this bill along party lines in a 22-to-10 vote. We expect this significant piece of legislation to move forward to the House floor for final passage this month.
  • Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender: H.R. 5 expands meaningful civil rights legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit and financing, and the jury service. LGBTQ+ persons as well as their families deserve the same safeguards as others covered by the progress of effective anti-discrimination regulations as well as the federal remedies and enforcement mechanisms implemented to prevent it. 

What You Need to Know: H.R. 5 affects many AFSCME members across all aspects of their daily lives. We support the EQUALITY Act because it reflects the realities of the workforce and workplaces by strengthening LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination guidelines, promoting fair pay practices, equalizing access to workforce development opportunities, and establishing job protections for our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers.

Strengthening Public Service Loan Forgiveness

  • New House Bill: H.R. 2441, theWhat You Can Do for Your Country Act of 2019,” was introduced by Reps. John Sarbanes (D- Maryland) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-California) to strengthen and improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), which has been marked by administrative mismanagement and confusion. The bill would grant partial loan forgiveness for half of the loan balance after five years. All federal loans would qualify, including Direct Loans and loans in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, and would the bill would also allow borrowers to consolidate their loans without losing credit towards forgiveness. In addition, all federal repayment plans would qualify, including borrowers in “extended” or “graduated” repayment plans who were previously ineligible.
  • Why this is important: AFSCME President Lee Saunders notes that the bill would “make eligibility requirements transparent, streamline the application process and close loopholes to give public service workers and their families a fair chance to get ahead. No one should have to take on crippling student loan debt to gain access to the opportunities that come with higher education.” The bill will be discussed as part of the effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. 

What You Need to Know: AFSCME members and public employees who are forced to assume tens of thousands of dollars in student debt need the assurance that the federal government will keep its promise to forgive their loans. This bill was introduced last month in the Senate.

If you have high student loan debt, tell us your story.

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