On the Hill Updates: March 27, 2020
Third COVID-19 supplemental passes Congress
This week, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (S 3548) after days of negotiations. The $2 trillion bill touched nearly every issue NCJW cares about in both positive and negative ways, listed below. Congress is expected to work on at least two to three additional supplemental bills in response to the pandemic.
- GOOD: The Senate bill includes $180 billion to ensure that people on the front lines of the pandemic have the resources to prepare for, prevent, and respond to the crisis, including additional investments in community health centers, telemedicine, vaccine development, support for state and local governments’ prevention and response efforts, and the purchase of critical medical supplies.
- BAD: The Hyde Amendment is attached to $150 billion in state, local, and tribal coronavirus relief funds, meaning that governments can use this money for any response efforts related to the pandemic except funding abortion care. This is just another example of anti-abortion lawmakers and officials playing politics amidst a public health crisis and further restricting care — especially for low-income people, immigrants, and communities of color — when they should focus on expanding affordability and access
- MIXED BAG: The bill does not improve upon the second supplemental, despite sustained advocacy. The bill retains the exclusion of employers with over 500 employees from the emergency paid sick and paid family and medical leave programs and the potential exemptions from these programs for employers with fewer than 50 employees. It also slightly expands those exclusions by granting the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) authority to exempt executive branch employees. The bill also does not close coverage gaps created by the second supplemental. For example, paid family and medical leave continues to be usable only for caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to a public health emergency, not caring for yourself or a loved one diagnosed and in quarantine or otherwise experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. However, the bill does clarify that employees laid off by their employer since March 1 and since rehired are eligible for the paid leave provisions, as long as they previously worked for their employer for 30 days.
- GOOD: The bill expands unemployment insurance provisions and makes serious investments in housing and homelessness, including additional appropriations through Emergency Solutions grants and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. Funding for Community Services Block Grants, Childcare Development Block Grants, and the Legal Services Corporation (which provides financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans) also increased. Direct payments — $1,200 for adults and $600 for children for those who filed taxes last year and meet the income requirements — will be sent to Americans across the nation.
- MIXED BAG: The bill includes $360 billion for payroll loans administered by the Small Business Administration for most small businesses and non-profits with fewer than 500 employees to access immediately, including Jewish communal organizations like synagogues, day schools, camps, etc. An initial provision specifically excluding non-profits receiving Medicaid funds from this program was removed from the final bill. However, the bill still gives the Small Business Administration broad discretion to exclude Planned Parenthood affiliates and other non-profits serving people with low incomes and to deny them benefits.
- MIXED BAG: The bill appropriates $400 million in election assistance for states to help prepare for the 2020 election cycle. This is higher than the initial bill’s total of $140 million, but falls short of the approximately $2 billion the Brennan Center for Justice has calculated is needed to adjust the country’s voting processes to allow the November elections to proceed.
- GOOD: The bill includes $45 million for the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, with a match waiver, and $2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- BAD: Unfortunately, significant gaps remain to meet needs of programs, advocates, and survivors and no specific sexual assault funding was included.
- BAD: The bill excludes immigrants from testing and treatment coverage under Medicaid, and leaves work authorizations in jeopardy for immigrants with legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs.
- GOOD: The bill includes $15.5 billion more for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to cover the projected increase in applications and the costs of relief authorized in R. 6201,
- BAD: Lawmakers missed this opportunity to include a 15 percent boost to the SNAP maximum benefit and increase the minimum monthly SNAP benefit to $30.
SCOTUS decides 5 cases after postponing in-person arguments
On March 23, the US Supreme Court issued decisions in five cases, including Comcast v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, a case that NCJW has been watching. While the Justices typically read opinions aloud from the bench, this week’s decisions were released on the Court’s website in five-minute intervals in ascending order of the authoring justice’s seniority, which mirrors how decisions would be presented in person. In Comcast, the justices were asked to decide whether, in a certain type of racial discrimination claim, race must be the actual cause of the given injury or merely one motivating factor. In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that racism must be a “but-for” cause of the injury, thereby weakening the protections of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. However, the Court declined to adopt the even more extreme positions advanced by Comcast in the case, and returned the case to the lower court to reevaluate the claims based on its new decision. NCJW is disappointed by the Court’s decision in this case, as it ignores the complicated nature of discrimination lawsuits. NCJW is concerned about the effect that this case will have on the future of discrimination claims.
President Trump closes border to asylum seekers
On March 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an interim final rule allowing the US to turn away asylum seekers and anyone without papers from its borders. This rule is a de facto ban on asylum seekers, which runs counter to other US and international law. The restrictions will last 30 days, with the possibility of extension. NCJW condemns the way in which Trump is weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic to achieve his policy objective to shut down the southern border to asylum seekers.
Abortion access threatened in hostile states
In response to the ongoing pandemic, state governors across the US are issuing directives and executive orders canceling all elective or medically unnecessary procedures and closing non-essential businesses. Officials in three states — Texas, Ohio, and Mississippi — have outrageously deemed abortion care non-essential while others — like those in California, Illinois, and New Jersey — are taking proactive steps to protect access to this critical time-sensitive procedure. On March 25, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project sued Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) to immediately block the ban from taking effect. Otherwise, national reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates have largely remained silent on these actions to allow those impacted to lead response efforts, to work with providers to determine if they can continue to serve their communities and to discourage additional states from restricting abortion access. NCJW supports the outstanding work of our advocates and sections in Ohio and Texas and will continue to reinforce that both medical practice and Jewish sources firmly position abortion as essential health care.
Equal Pay Day is March 31
The ongoing pandemic has drawn renewed attention to the need to strengthen the economic security of American families, including by providing fair pay. With people nationwide losing jobs, hours, and health care, unable to take care of sick loved ones, the harms of pay discrimination are now more apparent than ever. This coming Tuesday, March 31, marks Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day each year that demonstrates how far into the year the average woman must work in order to earn what the average man earns in the previous year regardless of experience or job type. Pay discrimination puts some families & communities at an unfair disadvantage, especially in times of crisis. We need fair pay so underpaid workers & their families can get through crises without jeopardizing their safety & well-being. NCJW supports securing equal pay for women.
Looking for other ways to engage?
- Thanks to the more than 600 orgs/clergy (including many of you!) that signed NCJW and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger’s Jewish Community Statement in support of expanded and increased nutrition assistance for food insecure people. It was sent to USDA, HHS, and ACL as well as every member of Congress. What’s next? A letter to governors and policymakers for individuals to join! We’re urging that they use every tool at their disposal to provide nutrition assistance for all those struggling with food insecurity in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. They have the power to suspend work requirements, increase benefit amounts, expedite onerous applications for food assistance, and employ flexibility wherever possible. Add your name to this important effort by 5pm on March 31!
- As evidenced by the Senate bill, the critical needs of immigrant families have largely been ignored in coronavirus relief efforts. In response, the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families coalition has launched a petition supporting health care access for all regardless of immigration status. Add your name here!
And, NCJW joined many sign on letters related to the coronavirus:
- Urging the Department of Health and Human Services to create an emergency, 60-day Special Enrollment period in both the nationwide and state-based insurance exchanges to allow the uninsured to find health coverage.
- Opposing the exclusion of non-profits receiving Medicaid funds from the new small business loan program in the Senate’s coronavirus response bill.
- Asking Congress to move legislation forward that includes least $150 billion in direct aid to states for fiscal relief as they deploy their resources to address critical health needs and absorb the related economic crisis.
- Urging the House and Senate to include three fixes for the immigrant community ahead of the third supplemental COVID-19 package.
- Endorsing a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter spearheaded by Rep. Cox (D-CA) calling on Congressional leadership to eliminate immigrant restrictions on COVID-19 testing.
- Asking the House and Senate to include changes to their supplemental package with regards to immigrants, the elections, and people with disabilities.
- Endorsing the PAID Leave Act to expand paid leave protections beyond what’s covered in the third COVID-19 supplemental package.
- Stating the ongoing and flexible support during this time from organizations and funders that fund nonprofits and efforts in Israel.
- Calling on the Department of Justice to immediately close immigration courts during the pandemic.