Week Ending February 14, 2020

AFSCME calls on Congress to reject cruel budget cuts and assault on working people

  • President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Proposal
  • House Panels Tackle Surprise Medical Bills
  • Brasher Confirmed for Historic Eleventh Circuit
  • AFSCME School Employees Champion Public Education and Labor Rights

President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Proposal

President Donald Trump has released his $4.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2021. Instead of investing in vital public service programs that help improve the lives of millions of Americans and their communities, this proposal calls for a 5.1% cut to domestic nondefense discretionary programs, for a total of $590 billion for nondefense programs while maintaining military funding at $740.5 billion. Last year, the president and Congress agreed to the FY 2021 topline discretionary funding level at $632 billion for nondefense as part of the 2019 Bipartisan Budget Agreement. The president’s proposed cuts to nondefense discretionary programs goes against what was signed into law and will be deeply harmful to working families, seniors, those on disability and many more. AFSCME President Lee Saunders called on Congress to reject Trump’s cruel budget cuts.

  • Budget Priorities: The proposal shows that Trump’s priority is not to strengthen the financial and health security of all Americans. Trump’s budget permanently extends tax breaks both for individuals and for estate and gift taxes beyond their currently scheduled expiration in 2025. This would add an additional $1.4 trillion (over 10 years) to the deficit, while mostly benefiting the wealthiest 1%, and exclusively benefiting estates exceeding $5.5 million ($11 million for couples). For example, while taxpayers in the bottom 60% of the income distribution would receive an average annual tax break of $460, the richest 1% of taxpayers would receive an annual tax giveaway roughly 50 times bigger – or about $24,000. To pay for this proposed tax giveaway and the Trump-Republican tax package enacted in 2017, which cost $1.9 trillion, Trump’s budget proposes cutting $4.4 trillion from vital public services. This includes significant cuts and reforms to mandatory programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment security and SNAP. The president’s budget calls for deep cuts in Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, which would cause 20 million people to lose coverage and eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions from insurance plan abuses. Cuts to Social Security SSDI and SSI total $76 billion over the next 10 years and SNAP would sustain a $182 billion cut over the next 10 years. By extending the 2017 tax cuts, it is clear that the president continues to help the wealthy few. As part of his national security plan, he wants an extra $2 billion for border wall construction, which is less than the $8.6 billion previously requested, but still contentious.
  • Proposed Spending Levels: All federal government agencies received cuts except for three: Department of Veterans Affairs, with a 13% increase next year; the Department of Homeland Security, with 3%; and the National Nuclear Security Administration would get a 19% boost.
  • Health and Human Services: Would be cut by $96.4 billion (9.5%) from current funding. This would hurt AFSCME-represented health care workers, including nurses, behavioral health care workers, emergency service workers, aides, dieticians and food service workers, custodians, technicians, physician assistants, therapists, doctors, pharmacists and administrative staff who provide care for millions of Americans in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities and other settings. It would also affect AFSCME public health and social workers who ensure that children, individuals with disabilities and people with mental health and substance use disorders have access to the care and support they need.
  • Housing and Urban Development: Would be cut by $47.9 billion (15%) from current funding. AFSCME members work to implement many HUD and local government affordable housing programs to ensure public housing and other units are safe and livable by repairing, inspecting, and maintaining them for residents. AFSCME members also do administrative work to ensure applicants, residents, and employees in HUD-assisted housing meet program requirements and guidelines. These cuts would hurt AFSCME members who make sure people in their communities have access to safe and affordable housing.
    • Public Housing Operating Fund would be cut by nearly $1 billion or 21.5%. This fund covers the gap between residents’ rent payments and the Public Housing Agency’s costs of operating public housing and is the only significant federal funding that helps Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) pay the wages and benefits of their employees, including AFSCME members. For AFSCME members, this is HUD’s most important funding.
    • Public Housing Capital Fund would be zeroed out – a cut of $2.87 billion or 100%. This fund pay for repairing and modernizing public housing units for roughly 3,000 PHAs and thus helps preserve the current quantity of units. Due to prior underfunding, public housing’s modernization backlog is roughly $70 billion and annually increases by $3 billion.
    • Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) is increased from zero to $100 million and the existing statutory cap of 455,000 units for converting public housing units is eliminated. AFSCME opposes appropriations for RAD, which results in the privatization or loss of public housing units over time or diminished labor market standards such as reduced employment, pay or union recognition.
    • Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) is zeroed out – a cut of $3.42 billion or 100%. These formula grants provide states and localities with useful flexible funding to address their top priorities for affordable housing, social services, public infrastructure, and economic development.
  • Labor: Would be cut by $11 billion (11%) from current funding. This would hurt AFSCME members who administer unemployment insurance programs. Several workforce development programs would be eliminated, which would also affect AFSCME members who run job training and employment services programs.
    • The proposal includes a botched paid family and medical leave plan tied to Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. It would prevent 75% of workers from having access to care for their own health or care for an ill family member – the very people who need real paid family and medical leave benefits.
  • Education: Would be cut by $66.6 billion (8%) from current funding. This includes a $5 billion tax credit for private school vouchers. This funding cut would compromise students’ access to education and needed services by cutting funds for school employees, including AFSCME members who are classroom assistants, school librarians, reading specialists, school bus drivers, food service workers, clerical and custodial and maintenance staff. This would force states and local school districts to pick up the shortfall. It also cuts funding for student aid, work-study programs, adult education and other education priorities.
    • The budget proposes eliminating 29 education programs, including Title I, and combines them into a new block grant for states to pick and choose what they fund. That block grant cuts total funding for the existing programs by $4.8 billion or 20%. It also would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, cut student loans $190.8 billion over 10 years and provide no increases to the Pell maximum award.
    • IDEA, special education state grants, would be increased by .8%, but that meager $100 million increase is $26 billion short of the federal government’s promise to cover 40% of the cost to educate students with disabilities. This year the federal share for IDEA fell to 13% despite a $400 million increase in funding due to increasing needs and costs.
    • The Child Care and Development Block Grant program and Head Start received no additional funding.
  • Transportation: Would be cut by $21.6 billion (13%) from current funding. 
    AFSCME members who design, build, maintain and operate our nation’s streets, highways, airports, public transportation systems, parking facilities and ports would be affected by this cut. It would also hurt AFSCME members who maintain our buses and rapid transit trains, plow our roads, inspect bridges, highways and tunnels and direct traffic.
    • The transportation spending cuts include deep reductions in spending on Amtrak and airport grants. It also cuts more than $2 billion in highway infrastructure funds and more than $500 million in transit grants.
  • EPA—State Revolving Funds for Water Infrastructure: Would be cut by $6.7 billion (27%) from current funding. The EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund program is a federal-state partnership providing communities low-cost financing for various water quality infrastructure projects. A separate water funding effort, the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, helps states provide safe drinking water.
  • Census Bureau: Would be funded at $1.67 billion, but evidence shows the administration has been underspending previous year allocations, which have had adverse impact on current and ongoing Census operations. The budget also does not include prior year carry-over amounts which helps boost resources for advertising campaigns, hiring, and get-out-the-count (GOTC) efforts.

What You Need to Know: This week, the House Committee on the Budget held a hearing on Trump’s budget proposal where Acting Director of Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought testified. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) have both stated that they will comply with the spending caps that were agreed on last year despite Trump’s proposal, which ignores the spending caps and calls for devastating cuts. Although Congress will likely disregard the president’s proposal, the ideas outlined need to be taken seriously because the administration is going to try to implement them through administrative actions.

House Panels Tackle Surprise Medical Bills

Two House committees advanced different, yet bipartisan versions of legislation to stop out-of-network health care providers from billing insured patients directly for more than the same in-network rate. The House Education and Labor Committee adopted the “Ban Surprise Billing Act” (H.R. 5800) by a vote of 32 to 13. The House Ways and Means Committee adopted the “Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act” (H.R. 5826) by voice vote. Last year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee adopted its bipartisan bill and revised it to secure bicameral support from a key Senate committee.

  • Surprise Medical Bills Remain a Problem: They amount to excessive and unexpected charges from an out-of-network provider above what the patient’s health plan already paid that provider. The bills are unfair because they typically occur when the patient in need of care is not in control of who provides their treatment. For example, a visit to an out-of-network hospital because of a car accident or care from an out-of-network provider like an anesthesiologist at an in-network hospital.
  • House Committees to Hammer Out Differences: While all three bills would protect insured patients from surprise medical bills, they differ in how they resolve the payment dispute between the out-of-network provider and health plan, which will impact premiums. This major difference will have to be resolved. 

What You Need to Know: AFSCME supports the use of a market-based benchmark payment rate, which will keep overall health care costs in check and not lead to hikes in premiums or out-of-pocket costs for working families. Two bills would have out-of-network providers accept a benchmark rate for bills under $750 and the option to use arbitration in disputes over bills higher than $750. This approach is not as inflationary as the Ways and Means Committee bill, which resolves all payment disputes through arbitration. 

Brasher Confirmed for Historic Eleventh Circuit

This week, the Senate voted 53 to 43 along party lines to confirm Andrew Brasher to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Brasher’s confirmation boosts conservative presence on the court.

  • Brasher’s Past Work: He spent much of his career fighting against LGBTQ equality, reproductive care, class action lawsuits and the Dodd-Frank Act. He also notoriously devoted himself to opposing voting rights – actively supporting efforts to undermine the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as defending unconstitutional racial gerrymandering of legislative districts.
  • Fact Check: The nature of this historic seat is concerning for most. Brasher will now hold a position that was once held by the late Judge Frank Johnson, a civil rights icon, whose legendary rulings helped to desegregate the South and strike down laws that denied equal rights to African Americans across the nation. Johnson is known for issuing the order that allowed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the first Sunday in March of 1965 to lead the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama, march for voting rights, which is recognized as Bloody Sunday.

 What You Need to Know: Democrats and civil rights groups opposed his nomination. AFSCME sent a letter to all members of the Senate urging them to vote no on his confirmation. The 11th Circuit includes jurisdiction over the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, each of which have introduced and enforced measures that disenfranchised eligible voters in the past.

AFSCME School Employees Champion Public Education and Labor Rights

This week, AFSCME classified school employees from Washington, D.C., Florida, Maryland, Ohio and New York went to Capitol Hill to advocate for public education funding and urge Congress to advance legislation to guarantee the freedom of public employees to unionize. 

  • Classified School Employees Do Essential Work: Classified school employees include paraprofessionals, teaching assistants, aides to students with disabilities, custodians, cafeteria workers, school bus drivers, crossing guards, administrative staff, and building engineers who never quit to make schools operate well and support students. They urged Congress to increase investments for Title I for Disadvantaged Students by no less than $450 million and IDEA by no less than $400 million in fiscal year 2021. Title I funds haven’t been adequate to reduce the disparities in many public schools, especially those serving our nation’s poorest students. The president’s budget proposes to eliminate this essential program, instead creating an inadequate block grant for states to allocate at their discretion. The federal government committed to covering 40% of the costs of students with disabilities when it required states to provide these services in 1975, but has fallen short every year. This year, the federal share dropped to 13% despite a $400 million increase due to increases in needs. 

What You Need to Know: In addition to increased funding, AFSCME members lobbied for collective bargaining because it is essential for school employees to negotiate for fair pay and benefits but also for student needs. Recent contract negotiations have included and won benefits for students, including access to medical and mental health services and increased funding for after-school programs.

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