Week Ending May 24, 2019
- Raise the Wage Support Needed
- Infrastructure Talks Implode, What’s Next
- Administration Targets Low-Income Programs with Deep, Structural Cuts
- House Appropriations Committee Continues Funding
- Debate Continues on Disaster Aid Bill
- House Judiciary Committee Green Lights DREAMer Legislation
Raise the Wage Support Needed
The federal minimum wage is only $7.25 and has been for 10 years. Food, housing, transportation—everything has increased over 10 years, except the minimum wage. It’s well past time for an increase. The “Raise the Wage Act” (H.R. 582) would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour for all working people over five years. The House Education and Labor Committee passed the bill, and it is moving toward a vote by the full House of Representatives.
- Co-sponsors Needed — More co-sponsors are needed to show support to pass the bill. The current minimum wage amounts to only $15,080 a year for a full-time worker. That barely covers the essentials for one person and is only slightly above the federal poverty line of $13,920. If you are trying to raise a child, it’s far below the federal poverty line. This isn’t just a big city or coastal issue. There is a $15 minimum wage in Missoula, Montana, in San Marcos, Texas, in St. Paul, Minnesota and for the state of Illinois.
What You Can Do: Call your member of Congress and encourage them to co-sponsor the “Raise the Wage Act” (H.R. 582).
Tell your member of the U.S. House of Representatives:
It’s time to increase the federal minimum wage. Please co-sponsor H.R. 582.
Infrastructure Talks Implode, What’s Next?
The second round of bipartisan discussions about fixing infrastructure ended before it got started.
President Demands End to Oversight Investigations – House, Senate, and White House officials gathered Wednesday, but President Donald Trump abruptly ended the meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–California). He left for a pre-planned Rose Garden press conference to demand an end to all investigations of him and his administration. President Trump began to send signals of a desire to change the terms of his original agreement with Democrats well in advance of the meeting. On Tuesday, he forwarded a demand that Congress pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal before it takes up infrastructure.
- Speaker Pelosi says President Trump Missing Historic Opportunity to Address Infrastructure Needs – House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D–Oregon) in turn says he will pivot to focus on a reauthorization of surface transportation programs, which are set to expire in 2020. This approach is smaller in scope than the $2 trillion infrastructure package initially discussed, and it’s the path Senate Republicans have favored all along. But it is insufficient to meet the needs of our country’s infrastructure.
What You Need to Know: Whether it is the physical rebuilding of crumbling roads, bridges, schools and waterways, improvements in childcare and early learning, or increased access and quality of health care, AFSCME urges immediate, large-scale action to bring our country to its full potential.
Send an email to tell Congress to fight for a real infrastructure plan that grows our economy, invests $2 trillion in new funds for public services, rejects costly privatization schemes, pays fair wages, provides good benefits and enables workers the freedom to negotiate and have a strong voice on the job.
Administration Targets Low-Income Programs with Deep, Structural Cuts
The Trump administration has implemented harsh restrictions on programs that provide low-income Americans with basic needs, including health care, housing and nutrition, resulting in deep cuts. This week, the administration took a broad swipe at these essential programs en bloc, moving from a program by program strategy to one that would arbitrarily reduce benefits by proposing to replace the formula that calculates how the federal government measures poverty to one that would be less accurate and grow more slowly. The results could be devastating.
- Program Cuts – Billions of dollars needlessly cut from federal programs that vulnerable Americans rely on including Medicaid, Medicare and some tax credits.
- Lost Benefits – More than 250,000 seniors and people with disabilities would lose their eligibility for or receive less help from Medicare’s prescription drug benefit.
- Rising Medicare Premiums – More than 150,000 seniors and people with disabilities would lose help paying for Medicare premiums and would have to foot the entire premium of over $1,500 each year or lose coverage.
- CHIP Reductions – More than 300,000 children and some pregnant women would lose health care through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
- ACA Reductions – More than 150,000 consumers who rely on the ACA marketplaces would lose some or all assistance for purchasing health care.
What You Need to Know: The federal poverty line is already very restrictive and arguably too low. For 2019, the poverty guideline is set at $25,750 for a family of four, capturing 12.8 million children, 4.7 million seniors and 3.8 million individuals with a disability. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) is organizing a Senate letter strongly urging the administration to reject this approach. AFSCME opposes this change and any efforts to reduce access to basic needs’ programs for vulnerable Americans.
House Appropriations Committee Continues Work
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee advanced the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) spending bill. This bill provides funding supporting the AFSCME members who work in justice programs, including law enforcement, corrections, juvenile justice, drug courts and drug treatment programs, and other important programs. AFSCME supports the legislation, which provides significant increases for critical programs.
- Opioid Response – The bill includes state grant programs that address the opioid epidemic, including funding for drug courts, treatment programs and programs for at-risk youth.
- Domestic Violence – The “Violence Against Women Act” programs that support victims of domestic and sexual violence and help prevent these crimes from occurring are funded.
- Funding for Policing Needs – Byrne Justice Assistance Grants that support the work of state and local governments in addressing the criminal justice challenges most important to their communities are addressed. Funding is also included for the Bulletproof Vests Grants Program and Community Oriented Policing Services programs.
- Census Count and Concern – The CJS bill also includes significant increases in funding for the 2020 census. Without enough funding, the census would be more likely to be inaccurate, leaving disadvantaged groups without fair representation in Congress and in state capitols, without their fair share of federal funds and without important information necessary to make critical public policy decisions.
What You Need to Know: There are still several steps remaining before this legislation is enacted into law. The bill still needs to be considered and voted on by the full House of Representatives, which could occur in June. The same process needs to occur in the Senate, where the Appropriations Committee has not yet considered any of the 2020 spending bills. Any differences between the House and (eventual) Senate versions of the spending bills will need to be ironed out before legislation can be sent to the president and enacted into law. Congress must also reach a deal to increase spending limits (often referred to as “budget caps”) established by previously passed legislation. 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.
Disaster Aid Bill
The House of Representatives voted on May 10 to approve a $17.2 billion disaster aid package, including relief for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories that were harmed by hurricanes, as well as states across the country that have been harmed by floods, wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. The Senate finally acted as well agreeing to a $19.1 billion relief package.
- President’s Objections – Passage of legislation through the Senate had been held up by the president’s objections to providing additional relief to Puerto Rico, as well as the president’s demands that funds be included for immigration related issues on the southern border.
- Senate Agreement Reached – the House and Senate reached an agreement on compromise legislation, when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said on May 23 that he would not allow the Senate to recess for Memorial Day until there is a vote on a disaster relief bill. The Senate plan passed by a vote of 85 to 8, includes $900 million for Puerto Rico, and relief for areas hit by Midwest floods, Hurricane Florence and California wildfires.
What You Need to Know: As a result of the delay in passing the legislation, nutrition benefits for nearly 700,000 Puerto Rico residents have been slashed by an average of 25 percent. The number of Puerto Ricans relying on nutrition assistance has increased significantly since Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017, killing about 3,000 people and devastating the island’s economy.
House Judiciary Committee Green Lights DREAMer Legislation
The Democratic–led House Judiciary Committee passed, along party lines, legislation to protect DREAMers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.
- Historic Move – It's the first time a Dreamer bill with a pathway to citizenship has been debated and passed in committee since the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill passed in the Senate (S. 744) in 2013.
- Opposition – Despite bill language that gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the ability to make individual judgement calls on eligibility, conservative partisans continue efforts to derail the legislation. Democrats defeated amendments which were designed to reinforce negative stereotypes of immigrant families.
What You Need to Know: The “American Dream and Promise Act” of 2019 (H.R. 6), which combines the Dream and TPS bills, currently has 232 co-sponsors and is expected to pass in the House of Representatives sometime in June. Whether the GOP-led Senate decides to debate the legislation will likely depend on President Trump’s instruction, who has previously derailed good-faith bipartisan talks on the matter. AFSCME continues to support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and TPS holders.