Week Ending December 11, 2020

End of Year Wrap-up Going Slowly

  • Congress Still Working to Complete Pandemic Relief Deal
  • Fiscal Year 2021 Spending Bills Delayed One More Week
  • Federal Employees’ Benefits Would Increase in House-Passed Defense Package

Congress Still Working to Complete Pandemic Relief Deal

While willingness to consider a $908 billion bipartisan package announced last week has grown, sides are still far apart on reaching any final deal before Congress breaks for the holidays. First, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated his resistance to any state aid and suggested dropping state and local aid entirely in exchange for dropping a favored business provision offering blanket immunity from any COVID-19 liability cases. House and Senate Democrats rejected that as unrealistic. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also offered a new $916 billion proposal with $160 billion for state and local aid, but without unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is leading the so-called “908” coalition, said, “We’ll stay here until we get commonsense agreement.”

  • Some More Details for Bipartisan Plan Released – Leaders of the effort released a six page Framework Summary of the Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020. Some details were provided on Unemployment Insurance (UI) Assistance ($300 benefit for 16 weeks), new transportation funding ($45 billion in funding for airlines, airports, buses, transit, and Amtrak), education funding ($82 billion in funding similar to the CARES Act for K-12, higher education and Bureau of Indian Affairs education), health care provisions ($35 billion in funding to the Provider Relief Fund), $4 billion for vaccine development and distribution, including for direct grants for states, local governments, territories and tribes, and funding for testing, tracing and more. But no details were provided on how state and local aid would be distributed. The summary simply included a statement saying, “Agreement in principle to provide $160 billion as the basis for good faith negotiations.”
  • Trump Administration Adds to Confusion – Mnuchin also dropped yet another plan, one that included $160 billion in state and local aid, but leaving out critical UI benefits that expire on Dec. 26 when 12 million people lose emergency benefits. For his part, President Trump also endorsed new stimulus checks, which wasn’t part of the bipartisan plan.

What You Need to Know: Little time remains to get a final deal before the end of the year, but Congress could still come together to deliver badly needed relief to families and communities nationwide. For several months, AFSCME has lobbied 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 services and health care jobs. Now is the time to weigh in to make sure any deal includes state and local aid!

Additional State and Local Aid Is Still Needed

We urgently need you to call your senator. Time is running out for Congress to provide aid before state and local governments lay off more workers. So far, 1.3 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 can’t do either without you.

Call the Senate: 1-888-981-9704

Tell your senator that it’s urgent to fund the front lines NOW with substantial aid for states, counties and cities – including more Medicaid and education funding – for essential public services to fight COVID-19 and reopen our economy. Learn how members like Ramon Williams, a respiratory therapist from Florida, are making their voices heard to lawmakers. And see other AFSCME members’ stories about the impact of the pandemic here

Please contact us if you have similar stories to share. 

Fiscal Year 2021 Spending Bills Delayed One More Week

The House passed an additional one-week stopgap measure to buy more time to finalize FY 2021 funding for all 12 annual spending bills (the Senate is expected to approve the measure Friday). This also enables negotiators to continue efforts to hammer out a deal on COVID-19 aid. The new spending deadline is Friday, Dec. 18, but it is likely Congress could need a few additional days and work up until Christmas Eve to finalize its last actions for 2020.

  • Is the End in Sight?– Not really. Everything could fall apart, and the year-end spending package could be another stopgap that extends into early next year with hopes that perhaps a new president could bridge differences and reach final funding decisions. . That’s a big hole to fill. And there’s also his controversial border wall that creates another hurdle to a final package. It remains unclear if the president would veto a final package and threaten a shutdown just before the holidays.

What You Need to Know: It may seem like these funding bills are unimportant because the deadlines keep coming and going, but they are crucial. Without final federal spending decisions on needed investments, public services suffer at a time when state and local governments need every dollar possible to cover revenue losses. These crucial budget decisions shouldn’t come down to the wire. The best holiday gift for state and local governments would be a robust COVID-19 package and a full omnibus.

Federal Employees’ Benefits Would Increase in House-Passed Defense Package

Federal employees would benefit from several provisions approved by the House of Representatives in the conference report on the annual armed services legislative package, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

  • Paid Parental Leave – First, this package provides up to 12 weeks of paid parental FMLA leave to roughly 100,000 federal civilians who were mistakenly omitted from these benefits in last year’s package, including workers at the Federal Aviation Administration (including AFSCME members), White House, and Washington, D.C. courts and public defender’s office.
  • Other Key Provisions – The agreement allows most federal employees to carry over an added 25% of (excess) annual leave into 2021, which acknowledges their dedicated public services during the ongoing pandemic. It also authorizes the “Elijah Cummings Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act,” which requires federal agencies to create a model Equal Employment Opportunity Program – independent of their agency’s Human Capital or General Counsel offices – and sets requirements governing workplace complaints of discrimination and retaliation. AFSCME strongly supports all these preceding provisions. Unfortunately, the package did exclude several other provisions that AFSCME supports, which would have minimized problems resulting from Trump’s prior executive actions on issues like Social Security payroll tax deferral, job classification and workplace protections. AFSCME will be working to enact these protections in 2021.

What You Need to Know: Although the House voted 335-78-1 to demonstrate overwhelming bipartisan support for the defense package, Trump has threatened to veto it if Congress does not drop its legal protections for social media companies. The Senate is expected to approve this bill soon, which will set up a lame duck veto showdown with the outgoing president, which seems to have the votes to override a potential presidential veto.

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