Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: December 21, 2018

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

ACA remains strong as open enrollment closes

The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) 2019 marketplace officially closed on December 15. As expected, numbers released this week indicate that enrollment slowed due to administration efforts to sabotage the health care law. Access to health coverage is a reproductive justice issue — we all deserve to have the resources we need to make our own decisions about our health, families, and futures. NCJW supports the ACA, which has expanded access to health care to millions.

Federal Courts

Texas court creates disaster for health care

On December 14, US District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas ruled in Texas v. United States that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional in its entirety, effectively jeopardizing health care for millions of Americans. The court held that because the individual mandate penalty was reduced to zero, it can no longer be enforced under Congress’ taxation power, and because – according to the court – the mandate is so critical to the ACA as a whole, the whole law is unconstitutional. California Attorney General Becerra and 17 attorneys general filed an expedited motion to prevent disruption to Americans’ health care and to challenge the court’s opinion in Texas v. US. If this ruling stands, not only might those with preexisting conditions lose access to health care, but so too would children, young adults, families, and twelve million seniors on Medicare. Read NCJW’s full statement here.

Victory for asylum seekers

On December 19, a US District Court for the District of Columbia struck down most of the policies former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued that made it nearly impossible for survivors of domestic and gang violence to seek asylum. In the case, Grace v. Whitaker, the judge also ordered the government to return to the US the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported, citing the policies were “arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law” and ordered the government to cease their implementation. NCJW opposed Sessions’ original ruling and applauds the reversal as a victory for all immigrants fleeing violence and seeking safety for themselves and their families.

Court weighs halting religious and moral contraceptive coverage exemption rules

Pennsylvania and New Jersey moved in Pennsylvania federal district court on December 17 for a nationwide preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s final rules that expand the religious and moral exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage benefit. There are currently five lawsuits pending that challenge the Trump administration’s final rules. NCJW Inc. and NCJW leaders across the country submitted comments opposing the rules. People of faith and their families must have equal access to contraception and reproductive coverage. The Final Rules are set to go into effect on January 14, 2019.

Civil Rights

NCJW concerned about AG nominee, William Barr

On December 7, President Trump nominated William Barr, formerly an Attorney General (AG) under President George H.W. Bush, to replace Jeff Sessions as the head of the Department of Justice. Barr’s record on immigration, criminal justice, LGBTQ equality, and reproductive rights is cause for deep concern among civil rights advocates. NCJW joined 73 civil rights organizations on a letter to the Senate expressing our deep concerns about this nominee.

Commission on School Safety makes weak recommendations

December 18, the Federal Commission on School Safety, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, released its final report. The Commission, launched in response to the school shooting in Parkland, largely ignored measures to prevent gun violence and instead suggested that more school personnel should be armed. The Commission also recommended rolling back Obama-era guidelines addressing racial disparities in school discipline, which advocates say are crucial for protecting students’ civil rights. NCJW supports the existing school discipline guidance and believes the Commission’s recommendations do not go far enough to make schools safe.

Gun Violence Prevention

Bump stocks banned

The Trump administration on December 18 issued a new rule banning bump stocks, the attachments that enable semi-automatic rifles to fire in sustained, rapid bursts. A gunman used bump stocks to massacre 58 individuals and wound hundreds of others at a Las Vegas concert in October 2017. The new regulation would ban the sale or possession of the devices under a new interpretation of existing law. Americans who own bump stocks would have 90 days to destroy their devices or to turn them into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The Justice Department said ATF would post destruction instructions on its website. NCJW, along with 119,264 others, submitted a comment in support of banning bump stocks.

Human Needs

Another stopgap measure hurtles towards a shutdown

The Senate passed a short-term stopgap spending measure on December 19 that funds large parts of the government through February 8. The bill does not include the $5 billion for Trump’s border wall. The House, however, passed (217-185) a continuing resolution (CR) on December 20 with $5.7 billion in border wall funding. Senators on both sides of the aisle have indicated that the-House passed CR won’t pass muster, increasing the certainty — as Capitol Hill Updates goes to press — of a partial government shutdown. Without a funding bill, nine federal departments and several agencies — representing about a quarter of the $1.24 trillion in government spending for the fiscal year 2019 — will shut down after midnight. The remaining three-quarters of the government, including the Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments, were already funded and won’t be affected by the shutdown.

Farm bill passes without more work requirements, president adds them back

Last week, the House and Senate passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, or the Farm Bill — a massive measure that also includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our nation’s largest nutrition assistance program. Though lawmakers agreed not to expand onerous work requirements for SNAP participants, President Trump decided otherwise, issuing a sweeping proposed rule on December 20 that would crack down on existing work requirement waivers. SNAP, run by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), already requires most adults without dependents to work if they collect food stamps about 755,000 individuals. NCJW will be submitting comments opposing the proposed rule which would hurt veterans — who experience high unemployment rates — and all who struggle to feed themselves and their families.

Immigration and Refugees

Massive change to asylum policy

On December 20, the Mexican government and Trump Administration announced a major change to border policies, titled Migration Protection Protocols. Under the new policy, asylum seekers will be forced to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed, instead of the United States (as is the current practice). Exceptions will be made to migrants who claim a fear of persecution in Mexico. Immigration advocates argue that this plan is illegal under both US and international law; it is likely to be challenged in the courts. NCJW opposes this latest effort to make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to find safety in the US.

Sign On Letters

  • On December 14, 109 organizations including NCJW sent a letter organized by Americans United for the Separation of Church and States to members of the House of Representatives opposing the inclusion in the tax bill of any language that would weaken the Johnson Amendment.
  • On December 20, NCJW joined 118 organizations on a letter organized by the National Iranian American Council calling on the House Judiciary Committee to hold oversight hearings on the Muslim Ban.
  • On December 20, 74 groups including NCJW sent a letter organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to the Senate expressing concern about William Barr, President Trump’s nominee to be the next Attorney General.

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