House Omnibus Budget Package Unveiled
On March 21, the House unveiled its $1.3 trillion omnibus package, and voted to pass the measure (256-167) on March 22. As of this writing, the Senate is expected to pass the package in advance of a government shutdown at midnight on March 23. The president has indicated his support for the Omnibus, and will sign the bill into law preventing a government shutdown should the Senate complete its work in time.
The monster package seemingly includes everything but the kitchen sink, while leaving out quite a bit. Of the many issues of concern to NCJW, here’s a highlight of what’s in and what’s out.
First the good news:
- Gun violence prevention: the Fix NICS Act, which would strengthen the firearm background check system by incentivizing state entry of records and report language noting that the Secretary of Health and Human Services has clarified that the Centers for Disease Control has authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence.
- Gender-based violence: up to $50 million for domestic violence rapid rehousing as well as increased funding for the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, Violence Against Women Act, and Victims of Crime Act.
- Youth: $8.3 million for Runaway and Homeless Youth programs and increases in the Child Care Development Block Grants and Head Start.
- Census: Increased funding for the Census Bureau.
- Housing: Increased funding for affordable housing and community development programs at the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture, along with an increase in Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
- Elections: $380 million for election infrastructure improvements, to be distributed by the Election Assistance Commission.
- Workers: A provision modifying a proposed tip pooling regulation stating that an employer cannot keep tips received by its employees for any purposes.
- Absent are a repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which would allow all tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, to endorse candidates; individual insurance market stabilization language; and provisions that would defund sanctuary cities and Planned Parenthood.
In troubling news, the measure includes:
- The STOP School Violence Act, a school safety measure, without civil rights protections for due process of students.
- $15 million for DC private school vouchers to be used for religious schools.
- Increased funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and $1.6 billion for barriers along the southern border.
NCJW remains concerned at Congress’s inability to protect Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the US as children, and establish a path to citizenship for them.
Farm Bill Halted
Efforts to move a farm bill forward in the House have stalled over expected deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation’s largest and most effective anti-hunger program serving more than 40 million low-income individuals. House Democrats are still waiting to see the text of the proposed farm bill, along with Congressional Budget Office cost estimates and impact assessments. As of this writing, House Republicans will pursue a bill without Democratic support following a breakdown in negotiations over changes to the SNAP program that would require job training for recipients.The current farm bill expires September 30. NCJW opposes efforts to take food away from our nation’s most vulnerable.
Gun Violence Prevention
Details on Federal School Safety Commission Emerge
On March 20, details about the new Federal School Safety Commission emerged during a Congressional hearing. Education Secretary DeVos revealed the commission would only have three members in addition to herself: Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Absent from the commission are Democratic lawmakers, students, parents, teachers, and policy experts.
Reproductive Health & Rights
On March 20, NCJW joined NARAL and dozens of reproductive rights advocates outside of the Supreme Court during the oral arguments of the NIFLA vs. Becerra case. The court is determining whether requiring “fake women’s health centers,” which counsel against abortion and contraceptive access, to tell patients that the state offers contraception services and abortion assistance violates free speech guarantees for California. There are more than 2,700 of these fake women’s health centers all over the country, often run by ideological groups that have a singular goal of preventing abortion. In California, NCJW mobilized Jewish women throughout the state to advocate through social media and direct lobbying in support of passage of the FACT Act in 2015. NCJW is a strong supporter of the FACT Act and will continue to support legislation that requires fake clinics to make patients aware of their reproductive options. Read NCJW’s statement on the case.
Friday, March 23 marks eight years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law. The ACA has expanded health care access to over 20 million more Americans since its inception. Nationally, the uninsured rate dipped from 16% in 2010 to just 9% in 2016. Among many things, this landmark law ended lifetime spending caps, banned gender discrimination and discrimination against those who have pre-existing conditions in the insurance market, and allowed young people to stay on their guardian’s insurance plans until age 26. The ACA has been threatened with sabotage and repeal multiples times since its passage, but NCJW believes health care is a human right and will continue to advocate for accessible, comprehensive care for all.
In January 2018, The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule that would allow health care providers to opt-out of providing a variety of medical services based on their personal ‘religious’ or ‘moral’ opposition to the care being requested and required of them. In order to impose this rule, the HHS Office of Civil Rights opened a new division of “Conscience and Religious Freedom” to enforce religious or moral discrimination. Refusals will impact services related to abortion, contraception, end-of-life care, global health care assistance, vaccination, and much more. The proposed regulations and steps to enforce them have the potential to undermine existing legal and ethical protections for patients’ access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, and other critical care. HHS is currently taking public comment on this rule. Submit a comment HERE to let HHS know Jewish women will not stand for discrimination in the name of faith.
Anti-Trafficking Package Passes Senate
The Senate passed HR 1865, the FOSTA-SESTA package, on March 21. FOSTA is Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-MO) Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and SESTA is the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act offered by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). This package, passed by the House on February 27, ensures websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking are held responsible for their role in the crime. The measure, supported by NCJW, heads to the president’s desk for signature.
Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act Introduced
The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA), supported by NCJW, was re-introduced in the Senate on March 19 by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Reps. John Yarmuth (D-KY), Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Jeff Denham (R-CA) re-introduced the measure in the House on March 20. This bipartisan bill (HR 5339/S 2571) would reauthorize essential Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs, including prevention, emergency shelters, street outreach, transitional living, and assistance in rural areas. Importantly, the measure includes a non-discrimination provision that would prohibit any provider of these services from discriminating against youth based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.
#CourtsMatter to Redistricting
On March 19, the US Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Pennsylvania’s latest Congressional redistricting plan.The plan is the outcome of a challenge to the 2011 map, which the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court determined in January 2018 to have favored one political party over another. After the legislature failed to meet the deadline to draw a new map, the court drew its own.
#CourtsMatter to Immigrant Rights
On March 19, the US Supreme Court declined to review a lower court opinion that blocks Arizona from excluding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients from being able to obtain driver’s licenses.
Protecting Students’ Civil Rights
On March 21, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (S 2585/HR 5374), which would prohibit discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation was introduced the day after Education Secretary DeVos said in a Congressional hearing that the department would not be interpreting Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in schools, to apply to cases of transgender students denied access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
Sign On Letters
- On March 13, more than 600 national, state, and local organizations including NCJW sent a letter organized by the Afterschool Alliance Team to House and Senate Appropriations leadership requesting increased funding for afterschool programs.
- On March 14, NCJW joined 113 organizations on a letter organized by the Japanese Americans Citizens League to the Chairman and Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies urging continued funding of the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) Grant Program.
- On March 19, 70 organizations including NCJW sent a letter organized by Public Citizen to the Senate urging them to pass legislation reforming congressional process for preventing, reporting, and responding to workplace discrimination and harassment.
- On March 22, NCJW joined 63 national and 82 local organizations on a letter led by the Leadership Conference to Education Secretary DeVos supporting 2014 school discipline guidance and opposing any changes or recession.
- On March 22, NCJW joined 86 national and 93 local organizations on a letter organized by Families USA to House and Senate leadership pressing them to swiftly to repeal the Dickey Amendment and fund research into the causes, effects, and evidence-based prevention of gun violence in our communities.
- NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, a class action challenge to pervasive sex discrimination in pay and promotion opportunities under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
- NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in Regents of the University of California v. Department of Homeland Security, a case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals challenging President Trump’s recision of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
- NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a cert petition asking the US Supreme Court to take up Hoever v. Belleis, a case about the free exercise of religion for incarcerated individuals.