On the Hill Update: July 10, 2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Discriminatory Hyde Amendment remains in appropriations bills

This week, appropriators in the House of Representatives released draft funding bills for the fiscal year 2021. Unfortunately, despite tireless efforts to convince Democratic lawmakers writing these bills to eliminate the Hyde Amendment, this discriminatory policy remains in FY21 legislation. The Hyde Amendment is language in annual Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) appropriations legislation that bars programs administered by these agencies — including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — from covering abortion care. Over time, Hyde-like riders have also been added to additional appropriations bills including:

  • Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS), banning the use of Department of Justice funds for abortion care for those in federal prisons;
  • State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS), banning the use of Peace Corps funds for abortion care for volunteers and trainees;
  • Defense, banning coverage of abortion care for TRICARE enrollees; and
  • Financial Services and General Government (FSGG), banning coverage of abortion care for federal employees and their dependents.

Fortunately, the ban on the District of Columbia using its own funds to provide abortion coverage to low-income residents that have traditionally been included in the FSGG bill was removed from the FY21 legislation. NCJW joined 43 other reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations in the All* Above All coalition to condemn inclusion of Hyde in the Labor-H bill, reiterating that abortion coverage bans have long disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. We will continue to champion the  EACH Woman Act (HR 1692/S 758), which would permanently end Hyde and prohibit interference in insurance coverage of abortion at all levels of government.

Federal Courts

SCOTUS deals yet another blow to contraceptive access

On July 8, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, also known as Trump v. Pennsylvania, a case challenging the Trump administration’s rules allowing virtually any employer or university to deny birth control coverage by asserting a religious or “moral” objection. A majority of the Court, led by Justice Thomas, held that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) authorized the administration to issue these rules and that the rulemaking process was free from procedural defects under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). This decision will allow the rules to take effect once the Court issues a mandate instructing the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to dissolve the nationwide injunction blocking their implementation. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented, noting that “between 70,500 and 126,400 women would immediately lose access to no-cost contraceptive services,” and that, “for the first time, the Court cast[] totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.”

Notably, in a separate concurring opinion, Justices Kagan and Breyer outlined the potential for this case to survive. Because the lower courts found that the ACA did not authorize the administration to issue these rules, they did not address Pennsylvania’s claim that the rules would also fail under the APA’s arbitrary and capricious standard; this essentially means that courts can invalidate regulations if they find that a government agency cannot demonstrate that it engaged in reasoned decisionmaking by providing an adequate explanation for its decision to issue a particular rule. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has already vowed to further pursue this argument in court.

Moreover, in another separate concurring opinion, Justices Alito and Gorsuch wrote that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) required the government to issue these rules. However, because this reasoning was not part of the majority opinion, it does not amount to settled precedent and will not impact future cases interpreting RFRA and the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. NCJW fought for this essential benefit, which has allowed an estimated 62 million people to access no-cost contraception. We know that our reproductive freedoms are integrally bound to our religious liberty and are committed to advancing the goals of reproductive justice so every person can make moral and faith-informed decisions about their body, health, and family free from restrictions and stigma.

SCOTUS authorizes discrimination against lay teachers at religious schools

On July 8, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadelupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel which challenged the application of the “ministerial exception” to federal employment discrimination laws to school teachers with limited religious duties. A majority of the Court, led by Justice Alito, held that allowing lay teachers at religious schools to make claims under federal employment discrimination laws would amount to “state interference” in religious education in violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. This decision carves out a major exception to US fair employment laws and invites religious schools to discriminate against teachers. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch filed a separate concurring opinion while Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented, writing that the majority’s “simplistic approach has no basis in law and strips thousands of schoolteachers of their legal protections.” NCJW strongly opposes all laws and policies that permit discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.

SCOTUS lets pay equity victory stand

On July 2, the United States Supreme Court declined to take up a pay equity case on appeal from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The circuit court ruling, which is now the last word on the subject, held that the Equal Pay Act does not allow past salary history to be used as justification for pay disparity. NCJW applauds this victory and joined an amicus brief in support of pay equity when the case was before the Ninth Circuit.

  • Take Action! Join NCJW for a special webinar on July 20 at 4:30 pm ET, After the Dust has Settled: The Supreme Court Term in Review – with Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus. Register here!

Civil Rights

Administration attacks transgender people, again

On July 1, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a proposal to allow federally-funded housing services, including homeless shelters, to deny transgender people access to single-sex shelters of their gender identity. Specifically, the rule would roll back expanded protections added during the Obama administration. Transgender and gender non-binary people are at acute risk of homelessness; according to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, nearly one-third of this population experience homelessness at some point in their lives, a percentage that is greater for those who identify as Black, undocumented, Middle Eastern, or multiracial. This rule is the administration’s latest attack on transgender people, on the heels of rolling back nondiscrimination provisions in health care. NCJW condemns this cruel proposal.

Human Needs

Narrow coronavirus bill expected in Senate

Following the July recess, the Senate is expected to unveil a narrow coronavirus bill addressing a few small areas where Republican lawmakers can find agreement. The measure could include an extension of unemployment insurance, which expires July 31; funding and flexibility for state and local governments (many started their new budgets on July 1 and, just between Feb-June, 1.5 million state and local workers were laid off, with more layoffs on the horizon); and liability reform to protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.The White House wants Congress to pass another stimulus package by the first week of August, before lawmakers head home for their annual summer recess, and to keep the cost at $1 trillion or less. NCJW supports the House-passed HEROES Act (HR 6800), a more robust and comprehensive measure that directs funding to state and local governments, health systems, and a wide range of progressive initiatives to ensure health care needs are met and to lay the groundwork for an economic recovery.

Appropriations underway in House

As noted above, House appropriators this week released draft bills funding the federal government in fiscal year 2021. Each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees will mark up the funding bills described below before reporting them to the full Appropriations Committee and eventually to the House floor for consideration by the full chamber.

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies: The bill would increase funding for the Department of Justice (DOJ), provide grants for police oversight, and make some state and local money contingent on changes in policing practices. It would provide $33.2 billion for the DOJ, $972.5 million more than in fiscal 2020.

Defense: The Pentagon would have $694.6 billion in the fiscal year 2021, including $1 million for the Army to rename bases, buildings, and roads bearing the names of Confederate leaders and officers.

Department of Homeland Security: Despite its imperfections, the bill takes important steps to reduce funding for immigration enforcement and detention as well as to increase transparency and accountability. Specific provisions include funding 22,000 detention beds (about half of what is currently funded), limits to detention length, eliminating the department’s ability to transfer funds between its accounts (which it has done to fund increased detention and the border wall), and a requirement to phase out family detention by 2020.

State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: The bill contains several important wins, including:

  • The Global HER Act (HR 1055/S 368), which would permanently repeal the global gag rule. It also blocks current or previous funding from being used to implement this harmful policy forbidding any international family planning provider receiving US funding from providing abortion care, referring patients to abortion providers, or even discussing the option of safe abortion;
  • A significant increase in funding for international family planning programs, which is a sound rejection of the Trump administration’s proposed extreme funding cuts; and
  • Restored and increased funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides reproductive and maternal health services in more than 150 countries, including in conflict and humanitarian settings.

Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies: The bill did not increase funding for Title X, the nation’s family planning program, to the necessary $400 million. However, it does block enforcement of the Trump administration’s illegal domestic gag rule prohibiting clinics funded by the program from referring patients for abortion care and mandating “clear physical and financial separation” between services funded by the government and any organization that provides or refers patients for abortions.

  • Take Action! Speak out against the gag rule and protect our reproductive health care.

Immigration and Refugees

Administration moves again against asylum seekers; also targeting college students

On July 9, the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice released a new proposed anti-asylum rule that would allow the administration to consider communicable disease and emergency public health concerns when considering asylum cases. The irony about using the current COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to block asylum seekers is that the United States has the most cases in North America by far and has exported the virus through deportations. The public has only 30 days to comment on this broad proposed rule. NCJW and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition oppose this latest attack on asylum.

Earlier in the week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international college students could not come to the US, or must leave if they are already in the country if their schools are entirely online. This move is seen as an effort by the administration to pressure colleges and universities to re-open in-person in the fall. In 2019, the total number of international students in the US was just over one million. In response, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Georgetown University filed suit. This policy shift is xenophobic and absurd.

Sign-On Letters

  • On June 25, NCJW joined a diverse coalition of more than 50 civil rights, faith, education, and labor groups on a letter opposing the nomination of Anthony Tata for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy due to his long record of bigotry.
  • On July 2, 33 organizations including NCJW sent a letter to Congress to bring attention to the mass increase of Cameroonians in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.
  • On July 2, NCJW joined 110 organizations on a letter to the Senate urging them to support the election provisions in the House-passed HEROES Act.

 

Graphics for Advocates

Looking for the latest version of the NCJW logo? Searching for a rally sign? Look no further! This Google folder contains all of the graphic items you need to create buttons, print rally signs, or apply the NCJW logo to your marketing collateral.

Want something specific for your event? Reach out to action@ncjw.org for questions.

On the Hill Updates: September 20, 2019

Federal Courts

Credible allegations against Kavanaugh underscore need for investigation

On September 14, a report from the New York Times revealed that the FBI ignored dozens of credible witnesses willing to corroborate the sexual assault allegations against now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation process last fall. The report also revealed a similar yet separate allegation against Kavanaugh; a credible witness notified senators and the FBI about the alleged act, but it was never investigated nor made known to the public. In September of 2018, NCJW called for an investigation into these serious allegations. Now, for the sake of our courts, institutions, and democracy, it is vital that the allegations against Justice Kavanaugh are thoroughly and properly investigated.

Take action! Sign NCJW’s petition urging the House to investigate Kavanaugh. And join NCJW in person on October 6 at the Rally to #ReclaimTheCourt, 12:30 pm ET, Columbus Circle, Washington, DC.

Voter Engagement

DC statehood hearing


On September 19, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on HR 51, a bill that would make the District of Columbia a state. It was the first DC statehood hearing in 26 years. NCJW supports statehood for DC.

Gun Violence Prevention

Senate Democrats hold Senate floor to talk about gun violence

On September 17, 22 Senate Democrats led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) held the Senate floor for five hours to highlight the devastation of gun violence and urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to consider gun safety measures passed by the House. Despite this, as well as efforts by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) to revive their previous and more limited 2013 Manchin-Toomey background check bill, the Senate has yet to act. Attorney General William Barr has been working behind the scenes with Manchin and Toomey, with no clear indication of Republican leadership or White House support.

Take Action! Continue to urge your senators to cosponsor S 42 to expand background checks. With more and bipartisan support, there will be enough senators to ensure its passage! And join NCJW in person or virtually on September 25 at the National Rally to #EndGunViolence, 1 pm ET, US Capitol Building West Lawn.

Human Needs

Proposed rule aims to cut nutrition assistance for millions


On July 23, the Trump administration posted a notice for proposed rulemaking through the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to “revise” Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the most recent attack on the nation’s largest anti-hunger program. This triggered a 60-day comment period which ends on September 23. By their own estimate, the USDA believes the proposed rule change would result in 3.1 million people losing critically-needed SNAP benefits, including free school meals for half a million children. NCJW submitted a comment opposing the proposed rule limiting access to SNAP, which currently serves more than 40 million Americans.

Take Action! Submit your comment by 11:59 pm on September 23.

Budget negotiations: never a dull moment


Lawmakers reached a deal on September 19 on a stopgap spending bill (HR 4378) known as a Continuing Resolution (CR) to avert a government shutdown at midnight on September 30. The short-term measure would keep the government open through November 21 while the House and Senate work out details for $1.3 trillion in spending for FY ’20 under a budget deal reached in July by Congress and President Trump. As of this writing, the House is expected to vote on September 19, with the Senate to follow suit next week. Extensions of several programs are included such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) as well as funds for the Census Bureau to carry out 2020 census operations, among other critical government programs.

The House passed 10 of its 12 funding bills, while the Senate failed (51-44) on September 18 to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to debate a four-bill spending package (HR 2740). Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) had once again planned to offer an amendment to the HHS-Labor-Education appropriations bill that would block the Trump administration’s Title X rule prohibiting federal funds for health care providers who offer information about abortion. Notably, on September 19, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to advance a FY2020 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) spending bill including a provision blocking the District of Columbia’s government from using locally-raised funds to cover abortion care that was previously removed from the House version of the bill. NCJW believes federal budgets represent our nation’s priorities, and as such, they must reflect our moral commitment to protect low-income people, invest in broadly shared prosperity, increase revenues, and seek responsible savings.

Immigration

Refugee admissions target coming soon

By the end of September, the Trump administration will release the number of refugees it plans to admit to the US in the coming fiscal year. This number, called the “presidential determination” or PD, was the lowest in history at 35,000 last year and is expected to be even lower this year. By law, administration officials are required to “consult” with members of Congress on certain committees about the PD. However, these meetings did not happen last year and that trend looks likely to continue. It’s also worth noting that while the administration said it would settle 35,000 refugees this year, they are on target to accept only 28,670. White House Advisor Stephen Miller is acknowledged to be behind the continued dismantling of the US refugee resettlement program.

Take Action! Call your elected officials and tell them you support refugee resettlement.

Messaging Toolkit

Tips for Writing an Op-Ed

Opinions Count: Write and Submit an Op-Ed

Op-ed is an abbreviation for “opposite the editorial page” and can denote both the page itself and the opinion pieces that a newspaper publishes on it. Newspapers generally have a stable of op-ed columnists and regular contributors, but most also print op-eds written by outside authors.

Editors may choose to publish op-eds that express a different opinion than those expressed in editorials to balance coverage of a timely issue. Other times op-eds are selected for their unique response or fresh perspective on a current event or news story. And often op-eds are published because they are written by a prominent member of the community (e.g. a past political leader, a member of the clergy, an academic, an organizational leader).

Simply put, op-eds express the opinion of the author on a particular issue and can offer an excellent opportunity to advance your messages. Knowing the basics of writing and submitting an op-ed can increase your chances of getting published.

FOLLOW THE RULES. 
All newspapers have guidelines for op-ed submissions that generally include a maximum word count (usually 600–750 words), exclusivity rules (requiring that an op-ed only be submitted to one paper in the country or in a specific region), and instructions for how to submit the piece.

It is important to adhere to an outlet’s guidelines, particularly exclusivity. Failing to do so will likely cause your submission to be rejected, no matter how well written it is. Many newspapers post guidelines on their websites. If not, call the editorial assistant or op-ed editor. While you have him or her on the phone, introduce yourself, share your idea, and ask if it would be a good fit for the paper.

SUBMIT THE RIGHT STUFF. 
New York Times op-ed editor David Shipley wrote an article about how the Times selects op-eds. He looks for timeliness, ingenuity, strength of argument, freshness of opinion, clear writing, and newsworthiness. When writing your op-ed, keep the following in mind:

►    Focus. Don’t try to do too much. It’s better to develop and support one argument thoroughly, with plenty of detail, than to try to cover several more generally. By trying to say everything, you may end up saying nothing.

►    Support. Your opinion needs to be supported by hard facts and, if possible, powerful statistics. This will give your op-ed weight and enable it to stand up to criticism. Be careful, though, that you do not overload your op-ed with numbers. Three to four key facts or statistics is ideal.

►    Illustrate. A well-chosen personal story or real-life example will give life to your argument and demonstrate the human consequences of your issue.

►    Speak plainly. You may be tempted to put jargon into your op-ed. Resist the temptation! Write as if you were talking to a friend or neighbor. For a clear argument, use everyday language.

EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. 
Make sure that your submission does not contain slang, acronyms, or grammar or spelling errors. Ask someone else to read it for clarity.

SUBMIT AND FOLLOW UP. 
Submit your op-ed, following the newspaper’s instructions for doing so. If you don’t hear anything after several days, follow up with the op-ed editor to see if your submission is under consideration. Ask if there are any revisions that you could make to increase its chances of being published.

If the piece is accepted, work with the newspaper to edit it as needed. And save a copy once it is printed. The life of an op-ed is not over once it appears in a newspaper. Distribute copies of the op-ed to any interested individuals — potential members, supporters, donors, and coalition partners — and send a copy to your decision-makers, such as local, state, or federal legislators.

If the piece is rejected, ask the op-ed editor how you can improve future submissions. Newspapers sometimes commission op-eds, so developing a relationship with the editor can improve your future chances. Also, if it is still timely, consider submitting the piece to another newspaper.

Talk Back: Write and Submit a Letter to the Editor

Writing a letter to the editor is one of the best ways to respond to articles, editorials, or op-eds published in your local paper. And, you can use these letters to advance your issue. A letter to the editor might amplify an editorial with which you agree, limit the damage caused by an op-ed that is harmful to your cause, or highlight key information left out of an article.

But remember to choose your battles wisely — even though a letter is a more personal message, stick to the facts, keep emotions in check, and never disparage other individuals or organizations.

RESPOND QUICKLY. Timeliness is key. After you identify a story or editorial that needs a response, draft and submit your letter as soon as possible.

READ THE LETTERS SECTION. Read letters to the editor published recently and mirror their format.

FOLLOW THE RULES. Look for guidelines about format, length, and other submission requirements on the paper’s website or in the paper near the letters section. If you can’t find them, call the newspaper and ask.

BE BRIEF. Keep your letter short and to the point. Focus on making one key point in two or three paragraphs and use just a couple of key facts or statistics, or a very brief story, to support your argument. Aim for about 150 words — never more than 200.

KNOW THE AUDIENCE. Read past letters to the editor and become familiar with what the paper typically prints. It is much more difficult to be published in a metropolitan daily newspaper than in a neighborhood weekly. Try to relate the letter/issue to the local community.

IDENTIFY YOURSELF.
 Include your name and your affiliation with NCJW (or another organization, if appropriate) to be published with your letter. If you are writing on behalf of NCJW or another organization, make sure that you have the organization’s support for your point of view and permission to speak in their name. For the editor’s information only (not to be published), include your complete contact information.

EDIT. Proofread carefully to eliminate typos and grammatical errors. And be sure to avoid jargon and acronyms.

SUBMIT THE LETTER TO ONE NEWSPAPER.
 Letters to the editor should be specific. Sending the same letter to multiple outlets dilutes the message and irritates the editors.

GO FURTHER. 
Distribute copies of the letter-to-the-editor, especially if it is printed, to any interested individuals — potential members, supporters, donors, and coalition partners. Send a copy to your decision-makers, such as your US senator, whether it is printed or not. They will be interested to know that you are contacting the media about this issue.