Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: March 13, 2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Title X turns 50!

Title X, the nation’s only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services, was created with the 1970 passage of the Public Health Service Act. In honor of this critical program’s 50th anniversary, NCJW joined the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and other coalition partners in urging Congress to save Title X during an advocacy day on March 11. In 2019, the Trump administration dismantled this historically bipartisan program by finalizing the domestic gag rule, threatening the health of the 4 million low-income people, people of color, young people, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals who largely rely on Title X. Under the new regulation, family planning clinics funded through Title X can no longer refer a patient for abortion and will be forced to maintain “clear physical and financial separation” between services funded by the government and any organization that provides or refers patients for abortions. What’s more, providers are prohibited from discussing the full range of pregnancy options and are required to refer all pregnant patients for prenatal care. NCJW supports language in FY 2021 appropriations bills to block further implementation to the domestic gag rule and to increase funding for the Title X program that Congress created 50 years ago.

Federal Courts

SCOTUS allows Remain in Mexico to continue, for now

On March 11, the US Supreme Court granted the Trump administration’s request to continue the Migrant Protection Protocols (more commonly known as Remain in Mexico) while the case against the program makes its way through the courts. Two weeks ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had stayed its own injunction on the program until the Supreme Court weighed in. Remain in Mexico forces asylum seekers from Central America to wait in Mexico during their asylum proceedings. More than 60,000 people have been forced to wait in Mexico since the program was implemented in January 2019, despite overwhelming evidence that this policy has resulted in barriers to legal representation at best, and kidnappings, torture, trafficking, sexual assaults, and murders at worse. NCJW opposes Remain in Mexico, which effectively makes it impossible for tens of thousands of migrants to successfully seek asylum.

Victory for some asylum seekers

Asylum seekers have long been subject to “metering,” a practice used by border agents to restrict the number of people allowed into the US each day simply to present their case for asylum. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to wait in Mexico for months until they were able to cross the border and claim asylum. (Note: this is different from the administration’s Remain in Mexico policy, which sends asylum seekers to wait in Mexico after they make an asylum claim. But, it’s possible for an asylum seeker to first be metered, and then put into Remain in Mexico.) In July 2019, the Trump administration issued a ban on asylum for everyone who passed through a third country on their way to the United States’ southern border. Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this ban does not apply to anyone who was metered before it was issued on July 16, 2019. This means that thousands of people who arrived at the border before that date can still claim asylum in the US. This web of overlapping policies is confusing and cruel by design and is just one element of the administration’s attempt to dismantle the nation’s asylum system.

 Senate Judiciary Committee considers controversial nominee; cites NCJW opposition

On March 12, the Senate Judiciary Committee debated the nomination of Stephen Schwartz to the Court of Federal Claims but once again postponed the vote to advance his nomination to the Senate floor. NCJW strongly opposes Schwartz, who has a career-long record of attempting to curb LGBTQ, women’s, immigration, and voting rights. Like many of President Trump’s judicial nominees, Schwartz has a history of extremely controversial writings on topics related to health care (including abortion), governmental authority, affirmative action, and beyond. During the markup, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke out against Schwartz’s nomination and read a portion of NCJW’s opposition letter into the record.

  • Take Action! Click here to tell your senators to oppose Schwartz’s nomination.

Economic Justice

House committee considers Healthy Families Act

On March 11, the House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing on the Healthy Families Act (HFA, HR 1784). This marks a key procedural step to advancing the bill and securing a vote for passage on the House floor. The HFA would set a national paid leave minimum standard by requiring companies with 15 or more employees to provide their employees up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year, enabling workers to take the time they need to address their own and their families’ medical needs. NCJW supports this bill and sent this letter to the Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

Senate rejects legislation providing paid sick days for public health emergencies

On March 11, Senate Republicans blocked an emergency paid sick leave bill, the Paid Sick Days for Public Health Emergencies and Personal and Family Care Act (S 3415), introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The bill would immediately guarantee workers 14 days of paid sick leave in the event of a public health emergency like the current coronavirus pandemic. Sen. Murray tried to bring the measure up for a vote on the Senate floor through a procedural maneuver but was blocked by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill. NCJW supports this bill, which would help ensure that people who work can take the time they need to address their own and their families’ medical needs.

 Human Needs

House Democrats introduce Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On March 11, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other top Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (HR 6201). The package focuses on ensuring that workers — especially hourly workers who would be especially hard-hit if forced to self-quarantine — are not penalized for taking sick days and includes the following critical provisions:

  • Three weeks of paid sick leave for all employees (includes contractors and gig economy workers) forced to take at least two weeks off due to coronavirus;
  • Over $1 billion in food assistance, with $500 million for a family nutrition program for low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children, $400 million in emergency food assistance, and $250 million for aging and disability programs;
  • $1 billion for state unemployment trust funds;
  • Requirements for private insurance to cover and public insurance to waive the costs of coronavirus testing; and
  • A temporary increase to states’ federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP), which determines the amount of money the federal government provides to state Medicaid and Children Health Insurance Programs (CHIP), for the duration of the public health emergency.

It is unclear if these provisions remain completely intact following back-and-forth discussions over Republican proposals to amend the package — including the insertion of Hyde language, which was apparently rejected and resolved in another bill. The House is expected to vote on the measure on March 13 while the Senate delayed its planned recess to work on an economic relief package. NCJW supports this comprehensive effort to protect those most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.

 Immigration and Refugees

Vote to repeal Muslim Ban delayed

This week, the House of Representatives delayed its planned vote on the NO BAN Act (HR 2214) in order to focus on legislation responding to the ongoing coronavirus-related public health crisis. The NO BAN Act would repeal the Muslim, African, and asylum bans, and prevent similar blanket bans in the future. Tens of thousands of families have been separated by these cruel bans. The House had originally planned to hold a floor vote for the bill on March 12. NCJW sent a letter to every Member of Congress urging them to vote YES on the bill, and while disappointed by the delay, we will hold Congress accountable for holding the vote in the future.

Eighth immigrant dies in ICE custody

On March 8, Maria Celeste Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez died in a hospital while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. She was only 22 years old, from Guatemala, and had passed her initial asylum screening but was still held in custody. ICE has detained thousands of asylum seekers who have passed their initial screenings, unlike past administrations, which generally released people at that stage. She is the eighth person to die in ICE custody this fiscal year, which began October 1 — equaling the number of deaths in ICE custody for the entire fiscal year 2019. NCJW supports increased oversight of ICE and alternatives to immigrant detention.

Sign-on Letters

  • On March 6, more than 150 organizations including NCJW sent a letter to Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Wolf urging the agency to end the Migrant Protection Protocols.
  • On March 6, NCJW joined more than 100 organizations on a letter endorsing the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act, which would provide critical protections to millions of part-time workers.
  • On March 11, NCJW joined more than 250 civil rights organizations on letters to the House and Senate urging Members of Congress to denounce racism and discrimination against the Asian American community in the wake of concerns over coronavirus.
  • On March 11, NCJW joined 120 organizations on a letter endorsing the Paid Sick Days for Public Health Emergencies and Personal and Family Care Act, which would provide workers with additional paid sick leave during a public health emergency.
  • On March 13, NCJW joined over 50 organizations on a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urging Congress to pass and implement federal paid sick days legislation in response to COVID-19.

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