House Democrats introduce next phase of coronavirus response legislation
On May 12, House Democrats unveiled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) Act (HR 6800), a massive response package directing more than $3 trillion to state and local governments, health systems, and a wide range progressive initiatives. While the nearly 2,000-page bill has little chance of becoming law due to opposition from the Republican-led Senate, it marks a clear representation of Democratic priorities amidst the ongoing global pandemic. As detailed below, this legislation also includes many of NCJW’s priorities to protect women, children, and families during these challenging times but, of course, is far from perfect. See below for some highlights, and here for a section by section breakdown of all that is in the bill. The House vote on the package is expected to stretch into the evening on May 15 as lawmakers returning to the Capitol must vote in waves to maintain social distance.
GOOD: In order to address an unprecedented public health crisis, much of the HEROES Act focuses on access to and coverage for critical services. For instance, the bill appropriates $75 billion for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, $2.1 billion for the Indian Health Service, $7.6 billion to support expanded services for underserved populations, $3 billion to increase mental health support, and $4.745 billion to expand disease research. Funds contributed by the federal government to state Medicaid programs would be increased by 14 percentage points and cost-sharing requirements for coronavirus-related treatment would be eliminated for those enrolled in private and public health insurance programs. Importantly, the bill provides for a two-month open enrollment period to allow uninsured individuals to purchase coverage and expands the use and oversight of the Defense Production Act to increase the production and supply of critical medical equipment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would also be tasked with regularly reporting demographic data on the incidence of coronavirus and with the establishment and implementation of a national, evidence-based system for testing, contract tracing, surveillance, containment, and mitigation of the disease.
BAD: While the bill does not include harmful and discriminatory provisions like the Hyde Amendment, it also does not address attacks on access to reproductive health care or dedicate specific funds to independent clinics and abortion providers. Unnecessary Food and Drug Administration restrictions on medication abortion still remain in place under the bill.
GOOD: The bill appropriates $3.6 billion in funds for states to have safe and accessible elections in 2020 with the requirement that they offer online and same-day voter registration as well as at least 15 consecutive days of early in-person voting. Additionally, no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail would be made available and accessible to all voters with postage paid by the government.
BAD: Unfortunately, the bill does not specifically call for states to increase voter education, which will be necessary if other changes are implemented.
GOOD: The bill extends CARES Act cash payments to immigrant families and provides Medicaid coverage for testing, treatment, vaccines, and other services regardless of immigration status; notably, the bill stipulates that use of Medicaid for such treatment will not be considered for public charge purposes. Procedures for remotely administering naturalization oath ceremonies during the pandemic would be established and work permits for DACA and TPS holders, in addition to eligibility for emergency relief grant to students, would be extended. Significantly, the bill requires the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to review individuals in custody, prioritizing for release all those not subject to mandatory detention, and to provide free and unlimited access to telephones, soap, sanitizer, and other necessary hygiene products.
BAD: The bill does not eliminate the public charge rule or expand unemployment insurance provisions authorized by the CARES Act to all immigrants regardless of status. It also did not stop civil immigration actions.
BAD: The bill does not include $642 million in Refugee and Entrant Assistance funds which would go toward cash and medical assistance, housing/rent, utilities, transportation, food, and health needs unavailable through normal operating channels.
GOOD: The bill significantly expands both who can use leave and when it can be used. It removes all employer exemptions and expands the emergency paid leave to cover the same purposes as the emergency paid sick days, as well as the caregiving and medical reasons for taking leave (such as a public self-isolation order). The bill extends the family care definitions to cover any adult, disabled family member, in addition to children, and expands the overall family definition. It expands the ability to use paid sick days and paid leave by extending the sunset date from December 31, 2020, to December 31, 2021; ensuring that emergency FMLA doesn’t count against regular FMLA; adding job protection to paid sick days, and clarifying that employers can’t make employees substitute any existing paid time off. It increases wage replacement by clarifying that the emergency paid leave benefit cannot be less than the minimum wage, changing the paid leave aggregate limit from $10,000 to $12,000, eliminating the $200 per day limit on employer tax credits, and allowing self-employed people to use prior-year earnings to calculate their self-employment income for the credit. Finally, the bill expands access to public and nonprofit employees and state and local governments by allowing federal, state, and local governments to claim tax credits for paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, includes TSA and VA employees in the paid sick days provisions, and clarifies that nonprofits are covered.
BAD: The bill only appropriates $7 billion to stabilize our child care system, far below the $50 billion requested and needed to preserve the system long-term.
GOOD: The text of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act was included in the bill, requiring state and local governments to report hate crimes to the Department of Justice. Moreover, on May 14, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) submitted an amendment adding important nondiscrimination protections to all coronavirus response legislation, thereby preventing denial of care or coverage “based on any factor that is not merit-based, such as age, disability, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions), race, color, national origin, immigration status, or religion.”
GOOD: The bill boosts SNAP maximum benefits by 15 percent (provision expires September 30, 2021), increases the minimum monthly SNAP benefit from $16 to $30, and suspends certain SNAP administrative rules that would terminate or weaken benefits. Additional appropriations would include $1.1 billion to provide access to nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19 emergency, $150 million to help local food banks meet the increased demand for low-income Americans during the emergency, and $3 billion in additional funding to provide emergency financial relief to school meal providers.
GOOD: The bill includes domestic violence and sexual assault advocates as essential workers. It also offers $100 million to address important priorities, including $30 million for grants to combat violence against women, $15 million for transitional housing assistance grants, $15 million for sexual assault victims assistance, $10 million for rural domestic violence and child abuse enforcement assistance, $10 million for legal assistance for victims, $4 million for assistance to tribal governments, and $16 million to support families in the justice system.
GOOD: The bill gives a $1,200 refundable tax credit for each family member paid out in advance payments, similar to the Economic Impact Payments in the CARES Act. The credit is $1,200 for a single taxpayer ($2,400 for joint filers), in addition to $1,200 per dependent up to a maximum of 3 dependents. The credit phases out starting at $75,000 of modified adjusted gross income ($112,500 for head of household filers and $150,000 for joint filers) at a rate of $5 per $100 of income.
Senate Judiciary Committee advances biased, inexperienced nominee
On May 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines (12-10) to advance Stephen Schwartz’s nomination to the full Senate for consideration. Schwartz is nominated to a fifteen-year term on the US Court of Federal Claims and has spent his career thus far 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 a previous debate on Schwartz’s nomination, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) read a portion of NCJW’s opposition letter into the record.
- Take Action! Click here to learn much more and urge your senators to reject Schwartz.
Senate Judiciary Committee continues consideration of anti-health care circuit court nominees amid pandemic
On May 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Cory Wilson of Mississippi to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Among many other disqualifying characteristics, Wilson is vocal about his disdain for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and his wish to invalidate it, which would eliminate protections for 130 million people with preexisting conditions and take away health insurance from 19 million Americans. On May 6, the Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Justin Walker of Kentucky to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Walker was nominated for this powerful appeals court exactly three weeks after being sworn in as a district court judge, and the seat for which he is nominated will not be vacant until September 2020. Walker, a long-time friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has repeatedly praised Justice Brett Kavanaugh, for whom he once served as a law clerk, for his criticism of the ACA and attempts to dismantle it. The Committee is expected to hold a markup and vote on Walker’s nomination in early June. NCJW strongly opposes the nominations of Wilson and Walker, both of whom would doubtlessly roll back access to vital health care if given the chance.
- Take Action! Click here to learn much more and urge your senators to reject Walker.
#VoteSafe on May 20
NCJW and AEPhi’s #VoteSafe Digital Lobby Day is around the corner! Join us on May 20 from 12:00-5:00 pm ET to urge lawmakers to appropriate $4 billion in funding to the states for safe elections. Sign up today!
Mass digital mobilization on June 20
NCJW is proud to once again sponsor the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC) summer mobilization. PPC is a movement that aims to shift the moral narrative, impact policies and elections at every level of government, and build lasting power for poor people. If your religious observance allows, sign up to join the Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March at 10:00 AM ET on Saturday, June 20, to highlight the crisis of poverty in America and the impact of COVID-19.
- Before the HEROES Act was introduced this week, NCJW sent a letter to House Democratic leadership urging them to include our priorities in the bill.
- NCJW joined 18 advocacy organizations representing the interests of LGBT people on a letter urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to oppose the nomination of Cory Wilson to the US Court of Appeals to the Fifth Circuit.
- NCJW joined 223 organizations in a letter to the Department of Labor (DOL) calling on the agency to clarify its guidance on the federal laws that protect workers from losing their unemployment insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits when they are called back to jobs that are unsafe due to COVID-19 and urging DOL to aggressively enforce these workers’ right to refuse to return to workplaces that are hazardous to their health and well-being.
- NCJW joined 44 organization in a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi urging her to increase funding to stabilize our child care system in the HEROES Act.
- NCJW joined 80 other organizations on an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in California v. Texas, a case before the US Supreme Court aiming to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s individual coverage mandate.