Week Ending September 25, 2020

No Senate Action Yet on Heroes Act

  • Senate Still Needs to Pass Heroes Act
  • The Supreme Court Vacancy
  • Keeping the Federal Government Open Past Election Day
  • House Passes Bills to Prevent Suicide
  • House Panel Examines Federal Support for Medicaid and COVID-19
  • Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act
  • National Apprenticeship Act

Senate Still Needs to Pass Heroes Act

More than four months after House passage of the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800) on May 15, the Senate has still not come anywhere close to providing 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.

Additional 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:
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.

The Supreme Court Vacancy

The passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us of the huge legacy she leaves and the importance of the Supreme Court. AFSCME President Lee Saunders said of Justice Ginsburg, “America has lost one of its peerless giants in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – someone who shattered glass ceilings and flung open doors of opportunity, a fierce warrior for justice who believed the law should be on the side of the people, not just the powerful. Her heroic leadership in the struggle for gender equality inspired millions of Americans and changed millions of lives.”

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasted little time in seizing on the opportunity to name a successor and voice their intention to ram through a nominee.

  • Ambitious Timeline for Consideration: Rather than pass legislation to provide state and local aid and other needed relief to fight the pandemic, which has been languishing in the Senate for over four months, McConnell is forcing the Senate to expedite the Supreme Court confirmation process, which normally takes about two months. He has spelled out an ambitious timetable which would allow for Senate passage of a new nominee just before the election. A new nominee is expected to be named by the president over the weekend. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the nominee in the coming weeks with a Senate vote expected shortly after. Recognizing the critical issues that will come before the Supreme Court, this move is hugely consequential.

What You Need to Know: We are still in the middle of a pandemic that is devastating millions of lives. We’ve just hit 200,000 COVID-19-related deaths in this country. McConnell is unwilling to schedule a vote to provide relief to millions of struggling families, but he wants to rush to push through a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court without careful consideration and over the objections of most Americans. Most Americans believe we need to hold our leaders accountable and with an election so close, the Supreme Court vacancy should be left to whomever is elected in November.

Keeping the Federal Government Open Past Election Day

After last minute negotiations, Congress was able to reach a deal breaking the logjam on the federal budget. In exchange for additional agriculture funding to assist farmers, nutrition assistance programs were extended, allowing a new budget to move forward before the Sept. 30 expiration of the current fiscal year. The House passed H.R. 8337, a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the federal government through Dec. 11, 2020 at current fiscal year (FY) 2020 spending levels. The bill passed the House with clear bipartisan support by a 359-57 vote and it is now headed to the Senate for a vote. Some highlights of the CR that are important to AFSCME are:

  • Much-Needed Nutrition Funding: The final bill includes an additional $8 billion in nutrition aid. It extends several nutrition programs including the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefit through Sept. 30, 2021. This program helps families with children that would receive free or reduced-priced school meals but are not receiving school meals because of virtual learning to purchase food. The benefit has been expanded to include families that have children in child care, but whose child care center has closed. USDA waivers that were enacted in the Families First COVID-19 legislation for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) were extended to continue to help more families who face hunger due to the virus. The Summer EBT program that provides nutrition benefits to low-income families with children during the summer was funded so that the program is fully operational by May 2021. The Commodity Supplemental Food program that assists low-income senior citizens who are at least 60 years of age is funded to help maintain the current caseload. 

  • Assistance to Health Care Programs: In advance of the issuance of the 2021 Medicare Part B premiums, the CR holds the 2021 Part B premium to slightly above the 2020 rate. This will protect all beneficiaries, whether they pay their Medicare Part B premiums through their monthly Social Security check or not. The CR includes a package of health extenders that was originally set to expire on Nov. 30, with needed funding for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics and other health programs extended through Dec. 11. It also continues to block Medicaid cuts to safety net hospitals through Dec. 11. 

  • Additional Provisions: The CR maintains funding for the Census Bureau’s Periodic Censuses and Programs account and the 2020 Decennial Census Program. However, it does not include statutory extensions of deadlines needed to ensure everyone is counted in the 2020 census because of delays in census operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Extending the deadline to continue field operations through Oct. 31, 2020, would ensure everyone is counted and prevent a severe undercount of the population, specifically in Native, minority and rural communities across the country. The CR also extends the surface transportation programs for one year that was set to expire at the end of this month, as well as the National Flood Insurance program.

What You Need to Know: The Senate is expected to approve the CR shortly and the president has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill to avoid a government shutdown. It is uncertain what Congress will do regarding the FY 2021 spending bills when they return in December. They might pass another CR that will go to early 2021 or pass a large FY 2021 appropriations package during the lame-duck session. In the meantime, AFSCME continues to urge Congress to pass the Heroes Act that includes about $1 trillion in unrestricted federal aid to state and local governments.

House Passes Bills to Prevent Suicide

The House passed several bills to help prevent suicide, by voice vote. 

  • The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 (S. 2661): This bill designates 9–8–8 as the universal telephone number for the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. Two other bills strengthen this national hotline. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act of 2020 (H.R. 4564) sets quality standard and data collection requirements. The Campaign to Prevent Suicide Act (H.R. 4585) authorizes a national suicide prevention media campaign, which includes the 9-8-8 telephone number.

  • The Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Act (HERO Act) (H.R. 1646): This bill creates a Public Safety Officer Suicide Reporting System, to collect data on suicide among public safety officers. The bill’s definition of public safety officer includes all emergency medical service workers. As explained by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), this reporting system “will help us understand the prevalence of these tragedies within the public safety officer community regardless of their employer.” 

What You Need to Know: The bill to designate 9-8-8 as the universal telephone number for the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline will go to the president for enactment. The Senate must act on the other bills to help prevent suicide.  

House Panel Examines Federal Support for Medicaid and COVID-19

A House health subcommittee held a hearing to examine the importance of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion and COVID-19. As House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said, “There’s never a good time to be without health insurance, and it’s especially dangerous during a pandemic.” As unemployment rises, enrollment in Medicaid has increased, helping people keep health care coverage when they need it most.

  • AFSCME Councils Speak Out: AFSCME District Council 36 President Andreas Jung and AFSCME Council 57 Executive Director Charles Allen wrote to their members of Congress on the committee expressing support for the House-passed Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), which provides nearly $1 trillion in much-needed flexible funds for states, counties and cities. Council 57 also wrote to Chairwoman Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) explaining that because of budget shortfalls, the important work of members like Francesca Salazar, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who works at a Parole Outpatient Clinic, and the very existence of Parole Outpatient Clinics across the state were on the chopping block. For now, the vital mental health services she and others provide the state’s parolee population will continue. But the future is not certain given the increasing drop in state and local revenues.

What You Need to Know: The Heroes Act would also provide new federal funds to states and counties by increasing the federal share for Medicaid by a total of 14 percentage points starting July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. Both letters noted the infusion of new federal Medicaid funds frees up state and local funding and can help keep AFSCME members on the job providing the services our communities need. DC 36 also called attention to the harsh impact of budget cuts and the need for Congress to fund the front lines, writing “instead of respect, some 400 District Council 36 members in the 44th Congressional District have been laid off.” If your local would like to share stories with your member of Congress, email us at blevin@afscme.org.

Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act

The House passed the Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act (S. 1321) by bipartisan voice vote. The legislation makes it a federal crime to hack into any voting system used in a federal election and allows the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute hackers who meddle with our elections.

What You Need to Know: Led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), S. 1321 was first approved last year by all members of the Senate through unanimous consent on July 17, 2019. It now goes to the president for his signature to become law. It also marks the fifth piece of legislation passed by the House in the 116th Congress specifically aimed at enhancing election security, but most have not been considered by the Senate.

National Apprenticeship Act

The House Committee on Education and Labor approved the National Apprenticeship Act (H.R. 8294). Introduced by Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.), this bill helps make adequate investments in our workforce by reauthorizing the National Apprenticeship Act and will expand opportunities for front-line and other workers and employers in the aftermath of COVID-19.

  • Creates One Million New Apprenticeships: H.R. 8294 creates nearly one million new prospective apprenticeships on top of current registered programs; provides almost $3.5 billion over five years to scale up apprenticeship opportunities; and yields $10.6 billion in net benefits to the economy through increased worker productivity and decreased spending for states on unemployment insurance.

What You Need to Know: As our nation is experiencing the economic fallout from the coronavirus public health crisis, this bill is critical to expand workforce development systems. Resources that are authorized will help state and local governments recover from some of the fiscal effects in fighting this pandemic by providing technical assistance to State Apprenticeship Agencies for program development and grants. It will also ensure diversity in opportunity for women, communities of color and individuals with barriers to employment who are disproportionately harmed by COVID-19.

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