Week Ending October 16, 2020

  • Senate Still Needs to Pass Heroes Act
  • The Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to End 2020 Census Data Collection
  • Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)

Senate Still Needs to Pass Heroes Act

It’s been more than four months since the House passed the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800) on May 15, but the Senate Republican leadership continues to block action to provide the aid that is needed to respond to the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis. The Heroes Act provides more than $1.2 trillion to states, local governments and school districts, increases Medicaid payments to states and protects workers on the front lines. It also gives front-line workers premium pay, unemployment and food assistance and subsidizes 100% of the cost of COBRA health coverage for those who lost their jobs. The House also last week approved a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus proposal, which provides significant state and local aid. The Senate refuses to take up that bill up as well.

  • Negotiations with Trump Administration Haven’t Reached Agreement: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continues to negotiate, but the talks with the Trump administration and GOP leaders haven’t yielded any agreement. President Donald Trump has said he wants a new relief package, but what he wants falls far short of what’s needed. In a statement in response to the latest COVID-19 relief proposal from the Trump administration, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said: “Public service workers – nurses, EMTs, corrections officers, sanitation workers and many others – have fought on the front lines of this pandemic since it began. They have run toward the danger, not away from it. For President Trump and Mitch McConnell to turn their backs on these American heroes as 1.2 million public service workers have been laid off because of state and local budget shortfalls in the Trump-COVID economy is unconscionable.”

What You Need to Know: Time is running out for Congress to pass a COVID-19 stimulus bill that delivers badly needed relief to families and communities nationwide. For several months, AFSCME has been lobbying aggressively for a bill that includes, among many other things, robust aid to states, cities, towns and schools. This aid is essential to maintaining vital public service and health care jobs.

State and Local Aid Is Urgently Needed

The Senate should be focused on one thing - getting us out of this pandemic and helping our economy recover, including addressing unemployment. But right now, they refuse to do any of that. The Senate should not drop everything to rush a Supreme Court nomination while they refuse to act on our health, safety and economy.

It’s urgent that you call your senators as soon as possible. Congress needs to provide federal funding support before state and local governments are forced to lay off more workers and cut more vital public services.

Please call your senators right now at:

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

The Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a multi-day hearing on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett’s responses during the hearing failed to allay fears that she will adhere to her conservative philosophy and represents a setback for the future of the rule of law on the high court. AFSCME President Lee Saunders issued a statement on behalf of AFSCME urging the Senate to heed the will of the people and reject Coney Barrett.

  • Judge Coney Barrett on the Record: True to the expectations of many, in the round of questioning with senators on the panel, Coney Barrett failed to quell concerns about her ability to ensure fairness and equality for all Americans who rely on the Supreme Court for critical decisions impacting every aspect of their lives. During the first three days of the hearing, Democratic senators repeatedly gave her opportunities to say how she will help to protect millions of Americans’ access to affordable health care, collective bargaining rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, and other important issues. In the end, she reaffirmed her record and judicial philosophy based on the opinions she has expressed in lower court rulings and statements, including her position in opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said during his opening remarks: “This Supreme Court nominee has signaled – in the judicial equivalent of all-caps – that she believes the ACA [the law on which over 20 million Americans rely for health insurance; through which 17 million Americans access Medicaid coverage; under which 129 million Americans get pre-existing conditions covered; and under which millions of seniors enjoy lower drug prices] must go.”

What You Need to Know: The timing of Coney Barrett’s nomination is unprecedented. More than 12 million people have already voted in the presidential election to make their voices heard about who they think should have the authority to fill this vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat. AFSCME unequivocally opposes this rushed nomination process, which comes at a time when the Senate should be providing a further response to a pandemic that is still raging. Next week, we expect a further partisan process to play out as Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have already indicated they intend to vote to advance her nomination to the full Senate and take a quick final vote before Election Day.

U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to End 2020 Census Data Collection

The U.S. Census Bureau is ending 2020 Census data collection on Oct. 15 in accordance with a decision that was announced immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday approved an emergency request by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) to stop a lower court’s decision to extend the counting deadline.

  • Previous Rulings: On Sept. 24, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California ordered the Trump administration to continue allowing self-response and field data collection operations for the 2020 Census through Oct. 31. Judge Koh explained that her decision is consistent with the administration’s initial plans to adjust statutory deadlines by 120 days to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census as the COVID-19 pandemic led to historic delays in operations. The DOJ then asked the 9th Circuit of Appeals to stay Judge Koh’s decision, but the three-judge panel rejected the administration’s request to stop the count.

What You Need to Know: At the onset of the pandemic, the Trump administration suggested extending the national count to the last day October but abruptly changed course in August. In response, a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders introduced the 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act (S. 4571, H.R. 8250) a bill to secure more time to achieve a fair count. Without further action, many historically hard-to-count communities may lose representation because of an expected undercount.

Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)

On Tuesday, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced the 2021 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the nearly 70 million Americans who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Starting in January, the automatic COLA adjustment will increase to 1.3%.

  • The Reality: A 1.3% adjustment is a disappointment for seniors who have critical health and economic burdens due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The adjustment does not reflect the real economic challenges of retired persons who, well before the COVID-19 pandemic, had higher out-of-pocket health care costs for prescription medicines and rising housing expenses.

What You Need to Know: Social Security’s COLA needs to be strengthened. Retired workers and their families deserve a COLA that lifts them up, especially for those who depend on SSA benefits now more than ever because of COVID-19. That is why on Wednesday, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and John B. Larson (D-Conn.), proposed emergency legislation to increase the 2021 COLA to 3% so that older Americans can afford basic necessities crucial to their daily living. Even if this bill passes the House, it is not expected to pass the Senate before the end of the year.

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