Week Ending September 18, 2020

Additional State and Local Aid Is Urgently Needed!

  • Senate Still Needs to Pass Heroes Act
  • Pregnant Women Should Be Protected in All Sectors of Work
  • Election Technology Research Act of 2019
  • 2020 Census Deadline Extension Act
  • House Passes Bill to Keep Child Care Providers and Children Safe

Senate Still Needs to Pass Heroes Act

Four months after the House passage of the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800) on May 15, the Senate has still not come anywhere close to proving the aid that is needed to fully 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, needed unemployment and food assistance and subsidizes 100% of the cost of COBRA health care for those who have lost their jobs.

  • White House Says It’s Open to Further Relief: While White House officials and the president have said they still want a new pandemic relief package, they have not indicated support for the Heroes Act, nor have they indicated a willingness to meet the House in meaningful negotiations, after earlier talks were broken off more than a month ago.

  • Senate Still Won’t Act: Despite a high level of interest and dire need, the Senate won’t act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has failed to pass a comprehensive plan that provides at least $1 trillion in direct, flexible aid to state and local governments, increases funding for Medicaid and provides additional support for schools to ensure safety and to meet the needs of students learning remotely.

What You Need to Know: We need the Senate to pass a package of robust aid to states, cities, towns and schools, which are facing massive revenue losses and budget shortfalls. This assistance is needed to maintain the public services that keep our communities safe and strong, public services that are more important now during the pandemic than ever before. This assistance is vital to defeat the coronavirus and start the economy on the road to recovery. But without this aid, the economic fallout will be catastrophic.

Additional State and Local Aid Is Urgently Needed

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. No job is untouchable. Over one million public employees have already been given pink slips. Front-line public service workers like you are critical to fighting this pandemic and reopening our economy. America cannot do it without you!

Please call your senators right now at:
1-888-981-9704

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.

Pregnant Women Should Be Protected in All Sectors of Work

On Thursday, the House voted to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694) by a 329 to 73 bipartisan vote with 103 Republicans voting yes with Democrats. This bill requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and job applicants when they need them, unless it poses an undue hardship on an employer.

  • Many First Time Mothers are in the Workforce Late into their Pregnancy: Research shows that 88% of first-time mothers worked during their last trimester. H.R. 2694 allows expectant mothers to stay healthy over the course of their terms by requesting bathroom breaks, water bottles, stools to sit on when appropriate and larger work uniforms. Additionally, this bill reduces their exposure to toxic substances, heavy lifting, overnight work and extended hours without facing retaliation.

  • Existing Legal Protections are Still Limited: In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Young v. UPS to allow pregnant workers to bring discrimination claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. The PDA provides some protections for pregnant workers by outlawing discrimination against employees based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. However, discrimination still exists at an alarming rate. The Young decision also set an unreasonably high standard for proving discrimination.

What You Need to Know: At no time should anyone ever be forced to choose between financial security and a healthy pregnancy, especially during the coronavirus pandemic with countless women working on the front lines. While many states have adopted laws requiring reasonable accommodations, current federal law does not plainly state that workers have a right to ask for them to reduce pregnancy complications without jeopardizing their employment. H.R. 2694 is essential for children, family members and the entire health care system. AFSCME wrote a support letter to all members of the House for this bill and encourages swift action in the Senate.

Election Technology Research Act of 2019

This week the House passed the Election Technology Research Act of 2019 (H.R. 4990) by voice vote. This bill supports research activities for the security and modernization of voting systems.

  • Legislative Provisions: H.R. 4990 would authorize funds annually from 2021 through 2025 for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct election research on privacy standards, voter registration and authentication methods and provisions to assess voting system technologies. The studies conducted can further develop and expand voting systems to identify and limit vote-tally inaccuracies; provide technical assistance to states and localities in securing and maintaining election infrastructure; and boost cybersecurity training for election officials and other activities that improve the security of our elections.

What You Need to Know: Congressional leaders acknowledge the need to make our election process safe, secure, reliable, equitable and accessible, but have failed to provide the funds needed. The House voted several times this year to advance different legislative measures to secure America’s elections from foreign interference and to protect the right to vote for all eligible citizens. H.R. 4990 is yet another bill that can feasibly strengthen the vote and restore insecure state and local voting systems and machines overseen by the Election Administration Commission. But the Senate has still yet to act on the Heroes Act, which would allocate $3.6 billion for the equipment, supplies and staffing needed to administer elections in 2020 that protect voters’ and poll workers’ health.

2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act (S. 4571) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the concern that it is having a chilling effect on the ability to provide an accurate census count. The concern is even greater with the Trump administration’s decision to end the 2020 census count four weeks early. Challenges threatening the upcoming 2020 census could put more than 4 million people at risk of being undercounted in this year’s national head count, according to new projections by the Urban Institute. Schatz and Murkowski wrote a letter urging Senate colleagues to include 2020 census deadline extensions in the next coronavirus relief package.

  • Undercount Hurts Minority Populations: The nonpartisan think tank, Urban Institute, found that the danger of an inaccurate census could hit some of the country’s most difficult to count populations the hardest. Based on the institute’s analysis, the 2020 census could lead to the worst undercount of Black and Latino people in the U.S. since 1990. Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder said, “This latest scheme is nothing more than a partisan attempt at manipulating the census to benefit the president’s allies, but it plainly violates the U.S. Constitution and federal laws, and cannot stand.” Holder’s nonprofit group is supporting a lawsuit seeking to halt the administration’s move.

  • What the Bill Would Do: The bill would require the U.S. Census Bureau to keep the original deadline for 2020 census field data collection and self-response to October 31, 2020. The current deadline is September 30, 2020. In addition, it would allow for statutory apportionment counts to be delivered to the president by April 20, 2021, rather than December 31, 2020. It would also extend the statutory delivery of redistricting data by four months – from March 30, 2020, to July 31, 2020.

What You Need to Know: The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic rippled through the 2020 census and led to historic delays in field operations. AFSCME is working with our coalition partners in the labor and civil rights communities to not only get increased resources for the Census Bureau to ensure a complete and accurate count, but is also talking with congressional leaders about operational enhancements needed to address disruptions caused by the pandemic. AFSCME endorsed the 2020 Census Deadline Extension Act (S. 4571) along with many national organizations, including the AFL-CIO, NEA and SEIU.

House Passes Bill to Keep Child Care Providers and Children Safe

The House of Representatives passed The Ensuring Children and Child Care Workers Are Safe Act (H.R. 7909) by a strong bipartisan vote of 387 to 33. Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) sponsored the bill and noted, “We all want child care providers to have the best information and resources available to keep kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” which this bill would accomplish by requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide educational materials and technical assistance to states.

  • The Bill Would: Specifically require HHS to provide the following information and guidance:
    • COVID-19 prevention in child care facilities;
    • Professional development for child care providers on health and safety;
    • How to acquire and use personal protective equipment;
    • How to modify operations to prevent COVID-19 transmission, including optimal staff-to-child ratios.

What You Need to Know: In addition to technical assistance, the legislation would also allow HHS to make grants to states so they can then provide outreach, guidance and technical support to child care providers. The bill would also require HHS to recommend how to ensure the safe provision and adequate supply of child care during COVID-19. There is no companion to this bill in the Senate.

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