Week Ending February 7, 2020

House of Representatives Approves Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act

  • House Approves Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act
  • State of the Union Touches on Economy
  • House Disapproves of Administration Guidance on Medicaid Block Grants
  • House Committee on Oversight and Reform Hearing on SNAP
  • Puerto Rico Disaster Relief Package Approved by House

On Thursday, Feb. 6, the House voted on the “Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” (H.R. 2474), introduced by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.). For decades, abusive employers have been able to violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) with relative impunity, making it more difficult for workers to organize and negotiate for fair pay, benefits and working conditions. The “PRO Act” passed by a 224 to 194 vote.

  • Protecting Workers’ Rights: The “PRO Act” will make it easier for private sector workers to join or form a union by prohibiting employers from interfering in union elections and establishing a process for reaching a first agreement; imposing monetary penalties on employers that retaliate against workers who try to organize or participate in union activity; and expanding coverage of labor rights under the NLRA by eliminating loopholes that allow employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME President Lee Saunders issued a statement praising the House. Passage of the “PRO Act” is a landmark moment for the labor movement. The reforms in the PRO Act will give more workers a voice on the job and the ability to improve their working conditions. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. AFSCME continues to push for a committee markup of the “Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act” (H.R. 3463) introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) This bipartisan bill would establish a minimum nationwide standard of collective bargaining rights for private sector workers.

State of the Union Touches on Economy

Trump delivered his third annual State of The Union address to Congress on Tuesday, using the speech to preview the upcoming presidential election. He touched on numerous workers’ issues and touted a strong stock market and low unemployment rates, but failed to mention the growing inequality and economic reality of many working Americans who are left behind. He also offered little to overcome the partisan divide that has gripped the country.

  • Jobs and the Economy: The president highlighted the jobless rate that has held steady at 3.5% as well as a rewrite of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. But he failed to give credit to Democrats and labor unions who pushed for real labor and environmental standards and enforcement mechanisms. He also failed to mention the labor force participation rate, which tracks workers who are employed or actively seeking work, has remained at 63%, indicating a higher real rate of unemployment.
  • Health Care: Trump said that he would sign a prescription drug bill, but didn’t mention that the bill was already passed by the House, and he has yet to embrace the surprise medical billing measure also passed by the House in December. In fact, there are more than 275 House-passed bills pending in the Senate that he has ignored.
  • Paid Family Leave: The president indicated support for expanding benefits to the private sector through a loan, rather than a direct benefit, rather than to endorse the FAMILY Act (H.R. 1185), which would create a federal paid family and medical leave social insurance program.
  • Infrastructure: Trump urged the Senate to pass America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (S. 2302), which would renew transportation programs for five years totaling only $260 billion. This is a marked step back from previous statements where he advocated infrastructure privatization proposals ranging from $200 billion to $1 trillion. He failed to mention that House leaders introduced a package of infrastructure investments totaling $760 billion.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME President Saunders attended the State of Union Address as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). His thoughts about the speech can be found in a column that appeared in The American Prospect magazine. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave the Democratic response. She mentioned what Democratic governors and lawmakers are doing across the country to improve the lives of all Americans. Improving health care and infrastructure are central issues that Democrats are focusing on.

House Disapproves of Administration Guidance on Medicaid Block Grants

By a vote of 223 to 190, the House adopted a resolution (H. Res. 826) expressing disapproval of the Trump administration’s recent guidance on Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Under the guidance, states could get a waiver to block grant its Medicaid expansion program.

  • Problems With the Administration’s Guidance: The new guidance would give states new, broad authority to cut benefits, restrict eligibility, cut provider payments, and limit access to prescription drugs. Block grants to Medicaid would result in deep funding cuts for behavioral health care treatment and undermine the fight against the opioid epidemic.

What You Need to Know: The resolution expresses the views of the House and puts the administration on notice, but it does not have the force of law to stop the implementation of the guidance.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform Hearing on SNAP

As part of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s efforts to examine the negative effects of the Trump administration’s proposed regulations related to children, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy held a hearing on the administration’s proposed changes to broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is the first line defense against hunger and food insecurity for low-income people in America.

  • Elimination of Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility: The BBCE higher income test that 43 states and territories use to determine SNAP eligibility allows them to reduce food insecurity by serving more working households. Narrowing the BBCE would eliminate SNAP benefits for 3.1 million individuals and take free school meals away from as many as 500,000 children. Children in SNAP households are directly certified in federally subsidized free school meals. BBCE ensures that they receive free (not reduced-price) school meals. These are meals that financially stressed families and their children rely on.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME members serve millions of individuals and families in need of food assistance through SNAP. In September, AFSCME submitted comments in response to the administration’s proposed revision of categorical eligibility in SNAP. AFSCME urged the administration to withdraw the proposed rule since it will harm millions of individuals and children. AFSCME will continue to defend this important program, which reduces food insecurity for millions of Americans.

Puerto Rico Disaster Relief Package Approved by House

The House of Representatives voted along party lines to approve the “Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief and Puerto Rico Disaster Tax Relief Act, 2020”, (H.R. 5687), which would help Puerto Rico recover from months of ongoing earthquakes.

  • No Bipartisan Support: Every Democrat voted for this package, while no Republicans voted for it. The bill would appropriate $4.67 billion in emergency disaster relief funds to Puerto Rico for community development and economic revitalization; restoration of housing, road and transportation systems and infrastructure; education, nutrition, and other basic needs. It would provide roughly $13 billion to help Puerto Rico residents and the Commonwealth stabilize their finances in coming years by enhancing Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) benefits.

What You Need to Know: Given new damage from recent earthquakes and years of hardship afflicting Puerto Rico residents since Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017, Congress should immediately approve an adequate relief package for recovery, rebuilding and sustainable growth. Puerto Rico’s immediate and mid-term needs remain grave as it continues efforts to overcome the hurricane’s wreckage, longstanding structural financial problems, and its vicious downward economic cycle. Thousands of Puerto Rico residents are working or retired members of AFSCME. We advocate for additional federal funding and progressive policy changes to preserve and enhance wages, pensions, health care, related workplace benefits for them and the Commonwealth’s other working families; and to strengthen Puerto Rico’s public services and infrastructure to ensure sustainable growth.

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