Week Ending September 20, 2019

Senate Holds Hearing on Scalia Nomination to be Secretary of Labor

  • Labor Department Nominee Eugene Scalia
  • Avoiding a Government Shutdown
  • Advancing Appropriation Bills
  • Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Subcommittee
  • Sen. Casey Introduces Bill to Increase Funds for Child Care Meals

Labor Department Nominee Eugene Scalia

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing this week on the nomination of Eugene Scalia to be secretary of the Department of Labor. Many questioned the appointment and demanded a new secretary, one who would represent workers and not just corporations.

  • Hostility to Workers: Democrats on the panel pressed Scalia on his consistent pattern of hostility to workers and their families. Scalia was questioned about his lengthy legal career, which consists of representing corporate clients in their efforts to undermine workers’ rights to advocate for collective bargaining rights. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) stated, “He’ll be the secretary of corporate interests … using his power to look out for those at the top. If you care about workers and families, his record is absolutely disqualifying.”

What You Need to Know: Our nation’s workers and their families deserve a labor secretary who cares about their welfare and is single-mindedly focused on upholding values of equality, opportunity and prosperity. Scalia has fought against policies to protect workers’ safety, benefits and wages. AFSCME President Lee Saunders issued a statement opposing the Scalia nomination. He said, “We need a champion for working people in the Department of Labor who will advance standards that protect overtime pay, strengthen workplace safety and defend workers’ rights over corporate interests. AFSCME urges the Senate to reject this nomination.” A vote on the nomination is expected in the committee next week.

Avoiding a Government Shutdown

With the federal fiscal year about to end on September 30, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) introduced a short-term, stopgap funding bill known as a continuing resolution (CR), which continues funding at existing levels until November 21. 

  • Census Funding: The spending bill includes extra funding for the Census.
  • Medicaid Funding: The spending bill would also extend federal support for the successful Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics Program through November 21. The federal funding for this Medicaid demonstration program ended September 13, but the funding is retroactive to that date. The bill also blocks Medicaid cuts to public safety net hospitals.
  • Puerto Rico: The bill ensures that Puerto Rico will continue to receive needed federal support for its Medicaid program through November 21. 

What You Need to Know: The House passed the CR on Thursday on a vote of 301-123. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Advancing Appropriation Bills 

The Senate finally has started to advance fiscal year (FY) 2020 spending bills. Federal spending is important to AFSCME because the funding supports our members’ jobs in many fields, including education, social services, transportation and other critical public services. The Senate Committee on Appropriations released its FY 2020 Labor-HHS appropriations bill, which allocates $178.3 billion, a 1% increase over the FY 2019 enacted level. This is less than the Senate Democrats’ proposal ($181.6 billion) and the $191.7 billion bill passed by the House Labor-HHS committee. Some of the topline department funding levels are:

  • Department of Labor: $12.1 billion in discretionary funding, which is $28 million above FY 2019. The House bill provides $13.3 billion in discretionary funding.
  • Department of Health and Human Services: $93.4 billion in discretionary funding, which is $2.9 billion more than FY 2019. The House bill allocates $99.4 billion in discretionary funding.
  • Department of Education: $71.4 billion in discretionary funding, which is the same as in FY 2019. The House bill provides $75.9 billion in discretionary funding.

What You Need to Know: The Senate has not yet passed any of the FY 2020 funding bills and it’s unclear if this bill will be approved.

Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Subcommittee

The Senate Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Subcommittee passed its FY 2020 spending bill by unanimous consent. This bill provides $23.1 billion in discretionary funding, $58 million above the FY 2019 enacted level. Some of the spending levels for programs that provide nutrition assistance and affect AFSCME members are:

  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – $6 billion is included in discretionary funding for WIC, which is $75 million below the FY 2019 enacted level. 
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – $69.163 billion is included in required mandatory spending. This is $4.3 billion below last year’s level.
  • Child Nutrition Programs – $23.6 billion is included in required mandatory funding.  This funding will provide meals for an estimated 31 million children. In addition, $58 million in discretionary program funds are also included for equipment grants and a Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer demonstration project.

What You Need to Know: The Senate held a procedural vote on the House-passed spending bill (H.R. 2740), which includes four spending bills – Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Energy and Water, and State and Foreign Operations. This measure would have been used to make amendments to include the Senate’s spending proposals, but Senate Democrats blocked the bill from advancing to force negotiations over much-needed higher spending levels.

Sen. Casey Introduces Bill to Increase Funds for Child Care Meals

Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) introduced a bill, The Access to Healthy Food for Young Children Act of 2019, to strengthen the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which helps more vulnerable children in house day care programs to access healthy, nutritious food.

  • Key Provisions: The bill allows an additional CACFP meal or snack in full-day child care, increasing CACFP reimbursements by 10 cents for each meal and snack, improves area eligibility (tiering) for family child care by reducing the threshold to 40%, allocates $5 million to support the new healthy meal pattern and beverage best practices, allows high-poverty child centers to collect income applications every four years rather than every year, improves the cost-of-living adjustment for child care home reimbursement rates to reflect more accurately the real costs to providers, and directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reduce unnecessary paperwork.

What You Need to Know: The House and Senate are preparing to update child nutrition programs, including CACFP. This bill establishes new, important priorities for child care meals. The Senate Agriculture Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee are expected to consider the legislation. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) plans to introduce the House companion to Casey’s bill, with support from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).

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