Category Archives: Policy Update

HUD Housing Rule Hurts Families

HUD Housing Rule Hurts Families

Elisa McCartin
August 27, 2019

This blog continues explaining the various rules changes proposed by the Trump administration which would hurt our country and make it harder to mend the gaps. Read blogs about additional proposed rules here:

Redefine the Poverty Line
Joint Employer Rule

President Trump’s Mixed-Status Family Housing Rule

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a proposed rule change that would prohibit families with one or more member who is ineligible from receiving HUD public housing or housing subsidies from accessing both these services—essentially barring mixed-status immigrant families from public housing. The NETWORK community submitted over 600 comments to HUD during the submission period which closed on July 8, 2019, strongly opposing the measure on behalf of our members and the immigrant community.

If implemented, the rule change would impact the 25,000 families with one or more ineligible member residing in HUD public housing. These families would be forced from their homes, displacing 108,000 people even though 70 percent are eligible to receive HUD services. Among the 108,000 to be evicted, 55,000 are children. Since these families already rely on subsidized housing, it is extremely unlikely they will be able to find replacement homes that they can afford. As a result, homelessness across the country will increase, dramatically harming the physical, economic, and psychological wellbeing of immigrant families. Such a policy reflects absolute neglect of the immigrant community. As one of the richest nations around the world, America ought to extend compassion and kindness to our neighbors. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has demonstrated a complete lack of grace and humanity with this proposed change.

Since thousands of families will face acute homelessness, this rule would force families to have to choose between their housing and staying together as a family—a truly inconceivable decision. To force families into this situation is immeasurably evil and cruel.

To defend their position, HUD’s leadership has presented this rule change with the argument that removing mixed-status immigrant families from public housing will open up more housing for U.S. citizens. This position is extremely misguided. Implementing this rule change would cost HUD millions of unnecessary funds, eliminating even existing affordable housing options. Under the current system, HUD pro-rates the housing subsidy per family based on the number of eligible members in each family. Families with more eligible members receive higher subsidies than those with fewer eligible members. With the proposed rule change, HUD would no longer be able to pro-rate any of its subsidies since every resident would be fully eligible to receive HUD benefits. A HUD report itself concluded that this would cost HUD $227 million. The same report noted that in order to cover these added costs, HUD would either have to reduce the quantity and quality of the public housing it offers or turn to taxpayers to foot the bill. The likelier scenario of reducing public housing availability would directly harm all residents of HUD housing and eliminate any chance of expanding public housing. The alternative of forcing taxpayers to pay off HUD’s debt is no better—hardworking individuals and families should not carry the burden of a sloppy, unnecessary, and underhanded HUD rule change.

NETWORK is committed to seeking solutions to the public housing crisis in the United States. There is an undeniable need to expand public housing options and reduce prices in order to substantially mend the gaps in our society. Instead of proposing measures that will limit public housing options and evict immigrant families, NETWORK urges HUD to find solutions that meaningfully address root causes and affirm their commitment to expanding affordable housing to every person in our country who needs it. We will continue to oppose HUD’s brutal proposal and defend immigrant families. Housing is a human right.

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Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University. 

Joint Employer Rule Moves DOL Backwards

Joint Employer Rule Moves DOL Backwards

Elisa McCartin
August 23, 2019

The Trump administration has announced many harmful rules changes in the last several months, including Joint Employer rule change explained below. This blog follows our previous blog about the Trump administration’s proposal to re-define the poverty line. Read that blog here.

Proposed Joint Employer Rule Change

On June 25, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) closed its commenting period on a proposed rule that would alter Section 791 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which governs joint employer liability. The proposed rule would create a four question standard to determine if one is legally considered a joint employer and is liable for their employees, making it dramatically more difficult to hold putative employers accountable.

In its current form, the FSLA stipulates that employers must be “not completely disassociated” in order to be considered joint employers who share liability of an employee. The DOL’s plan is to update this criteria based on a Court of Appeals case Bonnette vs. California Health and Welfare Agency (1982), to include a higher standard that requires employers to share direct control over an employee in order to be considered liable. Under this standard, to be considered a joint employer, one must have the power to 1) hire or fire the employee 2) supervise and control the works schedule of conditions of employment 3) determine the employee’s rate and method of payment and 4) maintain the worker’s employment record. In 2015, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled in the case Browning-Ferris Industries of California vs. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that indirect control of an employee is sufficient to qualify someone as a joint employer. Despite this more recent precedent, the Trump Administration is trying to revert back to this outdated legal framework from the 1982 Bonnette case.

By adopting this higher standard, the DOL would make it nearly impossible to prove that a putative employer should be considered a joint employer and thus held accountable for their employee’s treatment. American workers in contract labor positions often work under the jurisdiction of someone who does not directly control the terms of their employment, but oversees their daily activities and work environment. Holding people in these positions accountable for workplace conditions, treatment and environment of the people working under them would become extremely difficult to litigate against if the DOL goes through with the proposed change. Unjust conditions such as organizing restrictions, discrimination, and harassment would all essentially become state-sanctioned. Moreover, collective bargaining would become obsolete, as only employers are legally required to allow workers to bargain. As a result, this rule change has the potential to radically shift work-place power dynamics more heavily in favor of employers at the expense of employees’ rights and protections.

Every person has the right to work in a safe and nurturing work environment. By making harder to prove that putative employers should be considered joint employers, it will be increasingly difficult to ensure employees work in fair conditions. Pope Francis reminds us that we must create moral and ethical economies which protect workers and our environment. The DOL’s proposal only further elevates the managerial class at the expense of workers, who deserve equal protections and enforcement by the government. We cannot operate businesses in good faith without ensuring there are strong mechanisms in place to protect employees.

This proposed rule change represents the Trump administration’s continued efforts to chip away at worker protections and undermine the working class. At NETWORK, we recognize the dignity of all workers. We acknowledge the gross injustices at hand in the American workforce. We will continue to stand in solidarity with workers and organized labor to put an end to the rampant injustice that further weakens the most vulnerable and powerless in our society.

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Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University. 

Health Care Update: The Lower Health Care Costs Act

Health Care Update: The Lower Health Care Costs Act

Siena Ruggeri
August 7, 2019

With 2020 looming, both chambers of Congress are on a mission to show voters they’re serious about reforming health care and lowering costs. The Lowering Health Care Costs Act represents the largest effort on health care in the Senate this session. The Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Committee has collected a wide variety of health care proposals and assembled them into one sweeping piece of legislation. The legislation is a package of bills containing 54 bipartisan proposals from 36 Democrats and 29 Republicans. The package has a huge scope—it includes provisions regarding surprise billing, drug pricing, extensions of existing health care programs, health equity research, raising the tobacco age, and cybersecurity with medical records. All of these issues relate to our Mend the Gaps health care agenda. The bipartisan nature of these bills means that there is potential for this legislation to make it through the Senate and onto the House. The bill is divided into five sections.

Section I: Ending Surprise Billing

  • Requires that emergency health care charges to a patient are counted toward the patient’s in-network deductible
  • Patients are held harmless from surprise medical bills. Patients are only required to pay the in-network cost-sharing amount for out-of-network care, including emergency services
  • Patients must be given notice of out-of-network care

NETWORK Analysis: The legislation moves in the right direction on surprise billing by ensuring patients are not victimized in a billing debate between providers and insurers. It’s important to note that an individual has to have insurance to access these protections. For the millions of uninsured and underinsured in our country, there’s still not a safety net for these exploitative billing practices.

Section II: Proposals to Lower Drug Costs

  • Helping companies speed drug development through drug database
  • Increases transparency for patent data on biologic products
  • Prevents the abuse of citizen’s petitions to delay the production of low-cost biosimilars
  • Clarifies that drugs like insulin will not be granted market exclusivity past 2020
  • Eliminates the first come first served drug pricing loophole that slows the production of lower-cost drugs
  • Creates an FDA website to educate consumers on biologic products
  • Eliminates the market exclusivity loophole created by patent evergreening
  • Modernizes labeling of generic drugs
  • Eliminate first come first served drug pricing loophole
  • Requires drug manufacturers to submit public justifications of price increases of over 10% in one year

NETWORK Analysis: These proposals are the necessary first step to lowering drug prices. While the legislation implements transparency measures and reforms the pharmaceutical industry’s abuse of the patent system, there still needs to be action taken on unwarranted price spikes. Drug companies are still able to gouge prices as they wish, with no accountability. This also does not address the fact that the government is not allowed to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D patients. Without these checks on the drug industry’s power, drug prices will stay high. We encourage the Senate to take up the PRICED Act, the Doggett bill, and the SPIKE Act to address these root causes.

Section III: Transparency Measures

  • Healthcare providers have to provide summary of services to patients
  • Doctors/insurers must provide price quotes to patients
  • Ban anti-competitive terms in hospital contracts
  • Designation of a nongovernmental, nonprofit transparency organization to lower Americans’ health care costs
  • Requires health plans to have up-to-date directories of their in-network providers
  • Bans pharmacy benefit managers for charging more for drugs than they paid for drugs (spread pricing)
  • Requires a GAO study on profit-sharing relationships between hospitals, contract management groups, and physician and ancillary services, and the Federal oversight of such relationships

NETWORK Analysis: These transparency measures are a good first step to shedding light on the exploitative practices of many actors the health care industry. While these reforms are beneficial for those with strong health insurance plans, more attention needs to be devoted to expanding Medicaid and affordable health coverage to those who need it most. Even if providers are transparent about costs, those costs are often unattainable for low-income people.

Section IV: Public Health

  • Reauthorizes community health centers for five years with flat funding
  • Reauthorizes the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education Programs and the National Health Service Corps for five years
  • Reauthorizes the Special Diabetes Program for Type 1 Diabetes and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians for five years
  • Provides competitive grants for maternal mortality prevention
  • Provides competitive grants for perinatal quality collaboratives
  • Commissions a study on trainings to reduce and prevent discrimination in health care
  • Establishes a grant program for the training of health care professionals working in prenatal care, labor care, birthing, and postpartum care to reduce and prevent discrimination, including training related to implicit biases
  • Raises minimum age for tobacco products to 21
  • Provides grants to improve technology for medically underserved areas

NETWORK Analysis: We applaud the extension of these crucial human needs programs for a more sustainable timeline of five years. This prevents these programs from facing lapses in funding due to slow congressional action. While the first step is to reauthorize programs like CHCs, these facilities have grown significantly in the past 10 years and are in need of more funding. We encourage the Senate to pass the CHIME Act, which would increase mandatory funding for CHCs over the next five years. These public health programs are crucial to the social safety net and serve communities that would otherwise go without preventative health care services.

We applaud the inclusion of funding for grants and trainings on issues of health equity. In order to address how our health system reinforces racism and other oppressions, we have to support further research and provide resources to fight unconscious bias in the medical profession. Congress needs to continue taking action for health equity at the federal level.

Section V: Improving Health Information

  • Requires health insurers to make claims data, in-network practitioners, and expected out-of-pocket costs available to patients
  • Incentivizes health care entities to adopt strong cybersecurity practices
  • Gives patients better access to their medical records

NETWORK Analysis: Our health information is highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Steps must be taken to ensure medical records remain private.

Conclusion

This legislation shows that there is momentum in the Senate to address the causes of high health care costs. While we wish there was a more robust effort to address ACA sabotage, access to affordable coverage, and the root causes of high prescription drug prices, this package of legislation offers some hope that Congress will make some progress on addressing health care issues this session. We hope to see this legislation paired with the strong drug pricing reforms detailed in the Senate Finance Committee’s Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act and quickly brought to the Senate floor. After the Senate returns after August recess, we expect to see this legislative package to be voted on in the fall

Strengthen Working Family Tax Credits to Reduce Poverty and Expand Opportunity

Strengthen Working Family Tax Credits to Reduce Poverty and Expand Opportunity

Chuck Marr
July 24, 2019

Many people across the country have stories about how a little-known part of the tax code—the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit—helped support their families and get ahead.

“As a single mother and new graduate, I count on the Child Tax Credit tremendously,” Travis from Tennessee told the national advocacy organization MomsRising.  “I am typically in the category of the ‘working poor,’ meaning I don’t make enough money to live above the poverty line, but I don’t qualify for state aid.  This makes it extremely hard to afford anything other than our base line bills and groceries for the month.  If something goes wrong with my car or an appliance in my house, it causes me panic attacks because I don’t [know] where I’ll get the money from. . . .  [T]he Earned Income Tax Credit also provides my daughter and I with funds that allow me to pay for opportunities for her that would otherwise be unavailable.”

Many low-income working families like Travis’s struggle to get by, as their costs have risen faster than their wages over the last several decades. Policymakers can help by strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). These two highly successful federal tax credits lift millions of people out of poverty and give working people and children a better shot to get ahead, both now and over the long term.

Improving the EITC and Child Tax Credit — through changes like those in the Working Families Tax Relief Act, recently introduced in the Senate — should be a key part of an agenda to reduce income inequality and boost working people’s wages.

The EITC, enacted under the Ford administration in 1975, has long enjoyed bipartisan support.  President Reagan called the 1986 tax reform bill, which substantially expanded the credit, “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.” President Clinton signed another major EITC expansion in 1993, while Presidents Bush and Obama enacted improvements as well.

Working people receive the EITC starting with their first dollar of earned income; the credit grows with their earnings until reaching a maximum level and then phases out at higher income levels. The EITC offsets federal payroll and income taxes and boosts the incomes of people who work hard but earn little. Families across the United States use EITC refunds to pay for necessities, repair homes, maintain vehicles they need to get to work, or get additional education or training to boost their employability and earning power.

Stephanie in Missouri, for example, explains: “I am a single working mom of four. My income is low, but I’m proud to support my family, running my own business from home which allows me to be here for my kids. Without the EITC my income would not be enough to cover our basic necessities, like food, housing and utilities.”

The extra money that people get from the EITC also helps them achieve more financial stability. The EITC lifted about 5.8 million people out of poverty in 2016, including about 3 million children.

The Child Tax Credit, enacted in 1997 and expanded with bipartisan support since 2001, helps working families offset the cost of raising children. It’s worth up to $2,000 per child under age 17 and is partially available to low wage working parents.

The CTC lifted roughly 2.8 million people out of poverty in 2017, including about 1.6 million children, and lessened poverty for another 13.1 million people, including 6.7 million children.

Congress Can Improve the EITC and Child Tax Credit

Despite their success, both the EITC and the Child Tax Credit have shortcomings that policymakers should address in order to target more assistance to those who need it most. The EITC for working people not raising children in the home is extremely small — too small even to fully offset federal taxes for workers at the poverty line. A childless adult earning poverty-level wages of $13,340 as a cashier, for example, owes $1,135 in federal income and payroll taxes and receives an EITC of just $172. As a result, this person is one of the over 5 million low-wage childless working people whom the federal tax code taxes into, or deeper into, poverty.

Beyond a threshold of $2,500 of earnings, the Child Tax Credit amounts to 15 cents on each additional dollar earned. This means the poorest children qualify for a very small credit or none at all, even though they are the children who need it most and for whom it would have the largest impact.

Unfortunately, when policymakers made major changes to the tax code most recently in 2017, they largely ignored the opportunity to raise living standards for low- and moderate-income people. The 2017 tax law was heavily tilted toward the wealthiest households and profitable corporations instead of working families. And even its highly touted increase in the CTC provided zero or only a token amount (ranging from $1 to $75) to 11 million children in low-income working families because their incomes were too low.

A landmark bill in Congress offers a promising path forward. The Working Families Tax Relief Act, introduced in the Senate by Senators Sherrod Brown, Michael Bennet, Richard Durbin, and Ron Wyden with more than 40 co-sponsors, would significantly strengthen the EITC and CTC. These expansions would make 46 million households more financially secure and benefit 114 million people — including 49 million children. Families of all races would benefit, including 24 million white families, 9 million Latino families, 8 million Black families, and 2 million Asian American families.

The bill would build on the EITC’s success among families with children, boosting their credit by roughly 25%. And it would substantially improve the credit for low-wage working people without children at home. It would raise their maximum credit (from roughly $530 to $2,100), raise the income limit to qualify for the credit (from about $16,000 for a single individual to about $25,000), and expand the age range of workers eligible for the credit (from 25-64 to 19-67). The above-mentioned cashier would see her EITC rise from $172 to $1,797, lifting her $662 above the poverty line.

The bill would also make big improvements in the Child Tax Credit.  As discussed above, the current credit partly or entirely leaves out many poor families with children because they earn to little. The bill would make the CTC available to all poor families – and not dependent on earnings — and expand the credit for children under age 6. Almost all low- and middle-income families with children would receive a $2,000 Child Tax Credit for each child age 6 or older and $3,000 per child under 6.

The larger tax credit for young children would help respond to the special economic challenges that families with young children can face.  Parents in these families tend to have lower wages because they are often less advanced in their careers, and the high cost of child care for young children can force many parents to choose between paying that expense or getting by on just one income.

To better target the Child Tax Credit to families who need it most, the bill would also begin phasing the credit down for married couples with incomes over $200,000 (compared to $400,000 under current law) and single parents with incomes over $150,000 (compared to $200,000).

Putting its EITC and CTC expansions together, the bill would make a substantial difference for low- and moderate-income working families. A single mother of two earning $20,000 would get a $3,700 increase, for example, while a married couple with two young kids making $45,000 would get a $3,500 increase. The bill would cut child poverty by 28%, lifting 3.1 million children out of poverty and making another 7.7 million children less poor.

The bill would also have lasting benefits for children, helping not only them but our country as a whole.  Studies show that kids in low-income families that receive added income from working-family tax credits like the EITC and Child Tax Credit do better in school and are likelier to attend college. They also are likelier to earn more as adults due to their higher skills and more years of education. And, kids whose families receive working-family tax credits are likelier to avoid the early onset of illnesses associated with child poverty, further boosting their earnings ability.

“Both the EITC and Child Tax Credit have made a huge difference for our family and have been critically important to our financial stability as parents of young children,” Kathleen from Utah explains.

That’s a key message for policymakers as they debate ways to reduce inequality and restructure the 2017 tax law to expand opportunity for low-wage working families. Strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit would advance both of those goals.


Chuck Marr is the Director of Federal Tax Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). CBPP is a nonpartisan research and policy institute founded in 1981 to analyze federal budget priorities, with a particular focus on how budget choices affect low-income Americans. CBPP pursues both federal and state policies designed to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways. Learn more at www.cbpp.org.

Special thanks to MomsRising for sharing the stories from people and families across the country who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

This story was originally published in the July 2019 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue.

NETWORK FY 2020 Appropriations Updates

NETWORK FY 2020 Appropriations Updates

Appropriations Bill
House
Senate
Subcommittee Committee Floor Subcommittee Committee Floor Reconciled?
Labor-HHS-Education (H.R.2740) Passed
(April 30)
Passed
(May 8)
Passed
(June 19)
Transportation-HUD (H.R.3163) Passed
(May 23)
Passed
(June 4)
Passed
(June 25)
Commerce-Justice-Science (H.R.3055) Passed
(May 17)
Passed
(May 22)
Passed
(June 25)
Financial Services Passed
(June 3)
Passed
(June 11)
Passed
(June 26)
Department of Homeland Security Passed
(June 5)
Passed
(June 11)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Yesterday, Congress and the Trump administration reached agreement on a 2-year budget deal to raise our nation’s spending limit. The main points of debate were the Trump administration’s desire for significant spending cuts, and Congressional Democrats’ desire to curb the administration’s ability to transfer federal funds to finance the construction of a border wall.

This deal would raise spending by $320 billion over existing caps and raise the debt limit to allow the government to keep borrowing money. Spending on domestic and military programs would both increase, a key demand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. This increase is offset by $77.4 billion in spending cuts, half the $150 billion in cuts the White House initially demanded. By lifting spending caps for the next two years, this deal will effectively dissolve the “sequester” imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) which was written to take effect through 2021. This is a huge relief, as NETWORK and partners have been fighting sequestration that leads to cuts to human needs programs every year since the BCA was passed.

Now that the budget deal is agreed upon, the House of Representatives needs to act quickly and pass the budget bill before they leave for August recess next week. The Senate has been waiting for a budget deal before beginning its appropriations work, so we may see the Senate appropriations bills beginning to take shape soon.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The House passed the Fiscal Year 2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill on a 224 to 196 vote. In total, the bill includes $24.55 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $1.4 billion over the 2019 enacted level and $355.5 million over the President’s 2020 budget request. Additionally, the bill includes a provision to increase Federal civilian pay by 3.1% in 2020.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Today, the House passed its second “minibus” or package of spending bills, this time including funding for Transportation-Housing and Urban Development as well as Commerce, Justice, and Science. In the $383 billion five-bill package, the House included language to block a citizenship question on the 2020 Census and bar the Department of Justice from using federal funds to dismantle Obamacare in the courts. The final vote was 227-194.

Before the vote, NETWORK sent the a vote recommendation to the House in support of the funding package. Read the vote recommendation here.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Today, the House began consideration on another package of spending bills, this time including Transportation-Housing and Urban Development as well as Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations. The House is expected to vote on this package tomorrow. These appropriations bills are critical to provide funding to housing programs serving millions of families and the Census Bureau to execute a fair and accurate census.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Tonight, the House of Representatives voted 226 – 203 to pass a package of four appropriations bills, including Labor-HHS-Education appropriations. These appropriations would provide critical funding for the Office of Refugee and Resettlement and support for children at the Southern Border. We encourage the Senate to pass similar appropriations to care for vulnerable children and families at the border.

Before the vote, NETWORK released a statement encouraging members of the House to vote yes on the package. Read NETWORK’s statement of support here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Right now, Congress is working on federal budget appropriations for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020). This process is critical because the result determines how much funding federal programs that mend the gaps receive for the following year.

Appropriations Background

Members of Congress decide our nation’s federal budget every year through a process of writing 12 different appropriations (or spending) bills before the annual fiscal deadline of September 30. The process begins in the House after the President submits a budget proposal to Congress for consideration (which is usually rejected all or in part by Congress). House and Senate Appropriations Committees draft and modify spending bills through a series of committee votes before advancing the bills to the full House or Senate for another round of votes.  Typically, the House and Senate bills are not identical and thus must be reconciled before sending a final bill to the President for enactment.

However, in recent years due to partisan politics over spending allocations, many of the spending measures bypass floor debate after committee action and are instead consolidated into an omnibus or minibus spending bill.  Above, you can see the progress of the bills that include NETWORK priorities.

This year, the appropriations process has added uncertainty because there has not been any agreement between the House and the Senate on overall funding levels. This sets up a future showdown with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump on one side and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the other; likely coming down to the amount of funding President Trump wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border or other controversial issues.

House Appropriations State of Play

So far, the House Appropriations Committee has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills. These 10 bills are now ready for votes on the House floor. The committee expects to complete their work on all 12 appropriations bills this week. Democratic leaders want to pass all the appropriations bills on the House floor by the end of June to allow time for negotiations with the Senate before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

They plan to do this by first passing a package of five bills (totaling nearly $1 trillion in spending), which they began considering this week. Passing this package of bills could take several days. The package includes the two biggest appropriations bills: Defense (HR 2968) and Labor-Health and Human Services- Education (HR 2740) as well as the Energy-Water (HR 2960), State-Foreign Operations (HR 2839) and Legislative Branch (HR 2779) bills. After this five-bill package, House Democrats plan to combine the remaining seven bills into additional packages.

Homeland Security and Financial Services appropriations bills will be taken up by the House full appropriations committee this week. NETWORK is following Homeland Security appropriations closely and calls on appropriators to reduce funding for deportation, immigrant detention, and border militarization and instead to prioritize alternatives to detention, implement robust Congressional oversight over Homeland Security practices, and support refugee resettlement and asylum seekers.

Another NETWORK funding priority is Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations. This bill, as it emerged from the House Appropriations Committee included $7.5 billion in new funding for the 2020 Census, as well as a restriction against using the Census appropriations to fund a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire. The House CJS appropriations bill also restricted funds from being used to be used to hire more immigration judges, and instead would establish a pilot legal advocacy program for nonprofit organizations to provide legal representation to immigrants seeking asylum and other forms of legal protection in the United States.

Of course, federal housing programs, which are included in the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill, are a NETWORK focus. While President Trump’s budget proposed cutting Housing and Urban Development funding by $9.6 billion, the House Appropriations Committee’s bill provides a total of $50.1 billion for HUD, an additional $5.9 billion over the FY19 funding.

Senate Appropriations State of Play

Appropriators in the Senate have held off working on any of their bills so far. They are waiting while talks proceed on a budget deal to set overall spending levels.

On Tuesday, June 11, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and other Republican appropriators met with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought. They discussed making a budget deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown or automatic spending cuts in October, and have agreed to proceed with bringing the President’s $4.5 billion southern border humanitarian aid package to the floor next week.

Orange sign that says "It's in the Constitution: Everyone Counts"

Census Update: Victory! No Citizenship Question

Census Update: Victory! No Citizenship Question

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
July 17, 2019

After months of twists and turns regarding the possibility of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, the Trump administration finally announced the conclusion of this saga last week. The final decision: there will be no question about citizenship included in the census.

This is a victory because including a citizenship question would have prevented a full and accurate count from being completed. The census is constitutionally mandated to count all persons in the United States and census data is used for distributing federal funding, congressional apportionment, and more. So, a full and accurate Census count is vitally important for our nation. The Census Bureau’s own data predicted that, if the question were included, between 5% and 12% of noncitizen households would decline to participate. Additionally, six former census directors and a Census Bureau internal analyst all said a citizenship question would harm the count. Without an accurate count, communities that are undercounted would be under-funded and under-resourced for the next decade.

When the Commerce Department first announced it was pursing the addition of a citizenship question over a year ago, advocacy organizations, voting rights advocates, and community-based partners all responded in strong opposition. Multiple suits were brought against the Commerce Department on the basis of both procedural standards as well as “discriminatory animus.” While the final decision from the Supreme Court did not reject the citizenship question itself, it did reject the justification the Trump administration used to argue for its inclusion. Due to the rapid timeline for printing and executing the impending 2020 count, the Trump administration has finally given up on including the citizenship question on the census.

In order to save face after backing down from the citizenship question, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Commerce Department to gather citizenship data from other federal agencies. We will remain alert for more details of this new plan for compiling citizenship data.

In June, we responded to the Supreme Court decision with cautious optimism. Sister Simone said “I’m relieved to see that the Supreme Court, which can be so divided along partisan lines, recognized that this Republican scheme to reduce the count in the 2020 Census was an attempt at crass manipulation of the data by the Trump Administration.” Now, we remain optimistic about the prospects for the 2020 Census. We are re-focusing on accomplishing a fully representative, fair and accurate count of all people living in our nation so that we can accurately distribute federal funding and political representation until our next count takes place in 2030.

Raise the Wage Act Will Positively Impact Workers

Raise the Wage Act Will Positively Impact Workers

Elisa McCartin
July 11, 2019

This week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its report on H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act. This legislation would gradually increase the U.S. federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 and would further eliminate the tipped wage of $2.13 by gradually raising it to meet the federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. NETWORK strongly supports this bill as it would substantially reduce income inequality and poverty across the United States. The CBO report highlights the numerous ways this bill will benefit low-income workers, as outlined by the Economic Policy Institute.

Some groups have responded to the CBO report by pulling out selective data chosen to alarm the public about the costs of raising the minimum wage. We believe, however, that the data supports our stance in favor of raising the wage. According to the report, 27 million low-income workers’ wages would increase with a $15 minimum wage. Low-wage workers would see their annual earrings rise by $44 billion by 2025. Moreover, a $15 minimum wage would lift 1.3 million people out of poverty. This bill will have a profound impact on reducing rampant inequality in the U.S. by raising the wages of the lowest-income workers.

The CBO report further demonstrates that the benefits of this bill greatly outweigh potential costs. Even accounting for their prediction of some job losses, the CBO concluded that the average low-wage worker would earn $1,600 more per year. The CBO’s job loss prediction was also based on faulty methodology that focused primarily on subgroups of workers like restaurant employees. Studies that look holistically at the low-wage workforce find that a $15 minimum wage does not reduce employment.

Research conducted by the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that across 138 state-level minimum wage increases, there were no measurable employment losses. For example, between 1979 and 2016, states with the highest minimum wage increases experienced no negative employment effects. Minimum wage increases at the city-level have had no detrimental impact on restaurant employment levels. In 1968, when the U.S. had its highest minimum wage adjusted for inflation, there was no adverse impact on employment. Thus, while the CBO’s central estimate predicted some job losses, its other “likely” estimates projected that there may be no job losses as a result of a $15 minimum wage in 2025.

Even if the CBO’s job loss predictions were fully accurate, a $15 minimum wage would still tremendously benefit low-wage workers. According the CBO, 7% of the lowest-wage workers could face job losses, while 93% would earn 12% more an hour. An additional 10.3 million people would earn above $15 an hour by 2025 with no employment reductions. Furthermore, because jobs will pay higher wages, even workers experiencing “job-losses” would likely have higher annual incomes due to wage increases. The CBO acknowledged that families may be able to cut back working hours or the number of jobs per family with higher wages, contributing to these “job-loss” statistics. Thus, these job-loss numbers are best interpreted as fewer hours worked throughout the year because there will be a reduced need to work extreme hours to make a living wage.

NETWORK and our partners are incredibly proud to support the Raise the Wage Act. For decades, the U.S. workforce has been exploited under a system that fails to guarantee workers a living wage. The Raise the Wage Act is a first step in truly transforming our economy into a moral economy.


Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University.

Trump Administration Seeks to Re-Define the Poverty Line

Trump Administration Seeks to Re-Define the Poverty Line 

Elisa McCartin
July 10, 2019

The Trump administration is escalating its attacks against working families and using the power of the executive branch to implement their agenda unilaterally. This circumvents the legislative process and is a rejection of the legislative branch’s power 

How Agency Rule Changes Work 

Our many federal agencies create and implement policies that have profound impacts on our nation. Members of President Trump’s cabinet can direct the agencies to alter their policies and procedures by proposing specific rule changes. The agencies are required to give citizens and organizations a specified time period (usually 30-60 days) to comment on proposed changes before the agency is allowed to make a final rule. The agency must consider every comment before they implement their decision. These comments are often the only means the public has to check the power of these rule changes.  

After a rule change goes into effect, people or organizations can then challenge the agencies in court and the agencies must prove they considered every argument in every submitted comment. Because of this requirement, NETWORK and many of our partners have submitted comments on the harmful proposed rule changes the Trump administration has been rolling out in various federal agencies. We encourage our members to keep track of these sly and underhanded harmful policy proposals and submit comments to prevent or at the very least, stall, the Trump administration from enacting more damaging policies without Congressional approval.  

Proposed Poverty Line Rule Change 

One proposed rule change that NETWORK and many other advocacy organizations submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about would alter the inflation measurement used to determine the U.S. poverty line. The Official Poverty Measure (OPM) in the U.S. is calculated based on three times the estimated cost of a subsistence food budget for an average family, and adjusted for inflation each year. The OMB usually uses the Urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) as the inflation adjustment mechanism. The OMB’s proposed rule would mandate a switch from using the CPI-U to the chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI-U) or the Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCEPI). The inflation index the OMB uses to adjust the poverty line is extremely important because it will alter families’ eligibility for social programs.  

Both proposed alternative inflation indices—the chained CPI and the PCEPI—underestimate inflation. The CBO reports that the chained CPI grows 0.25 percentage points slower than the CPI-U. This is because the chained CPI and PCEPI account for when consumers substitute goods for one another in the marketplace based on price increases. However, low-income families do not have the level of economic flexibility where they can exchange goods for one another, thus making this measurement inaccurate. Moreover, low-income families feel inflation more severely than middle and high-income families. Low-income people spend a larger percentage of their income on housing, and home rents have risen at double the inflation rate. Using indices that underestimate the inflation rate to determine the poverty line is an utterly inaccurate measure of the costs low-income families face. These should not be used to calculate the poverty line in the U.S.  Our principles of Catholic Social Justice teach us to prioritize the needs of those at the economic margins. This proposed rule denies the fundamental realities of people struggling to make ends meet. 

Furthermore, this move would have devastating effects of people who currently qualify for federal programs. The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) calculated that switching to the chained CPI would lower the poverty line by 2.0% and using the PCEPI would reduce the poverty line by 3.4%. This dramatic reduction would prevent millions of individuals and families from receiving benefits and social services, as they would no longer be eligible even though their actual economic status remains unchanged. As a result, the CBPP projects that more than 250,000 senior citizens would no longer qualify for Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy, 150,000 seniors would have to pay premiums exceeding $1,500 per year, 300,000 children would lose medical coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), 250,000 adults who gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would lose it, and 150,000 consumers would no longer receive cost-sharing assistance in ACA marketplaces.  

The U.S. poverty line is already too low—20% of people living in the U.S. do not meet one or more of nine basic need standards. This change would strip millions of life-saving supports, compounding the already severe impacts of poverty, homelessness, and hunger in our society. As people of faith, we are called to support those in need—not further entrench vulnerable families in poverty. 

NETWORK believes that it is our obligation to prevent the catastrophic effects of this proposed rule. The Trump administration is circumventing the legislative branch where citizens have more influence, amplifying the need to closely follow and comment on agency rule changes spearheaded by Trump Cabinet members. Although the period for submitting comments on this rule has closed, it is our imperative to continue tracking OMB’s decision making, to hold the executive branch accountable to the people, and to advocate for policies that mend the gaps 

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Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University. 

After Shelby: The Need to Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

After Shelby: The Need to Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
Updated: June 27, 2019

We at NETWORK, with many of our partners, are naming this week “Shelby Week” in recognition of the six years that have passed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. 

In the aftermath of the June 25, 2013 Shelby decision – which gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) – states and localities across the country jumped to enact restrictive voting laws, disenfranchising millions of American voters. For six years, civil rights organizations have been fighting back against these discriminatory laws. We need Congress to restore the VRA to its full strength to ensure that all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot and that every vote counts.


The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our understanding of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws can make it considerably harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on low-income and voters of color who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics are familiar to communities of color, but ever since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 there had been an effective mechanism in place to apply federal oversight of potential voting rights violations. Specifically, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula determined by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements prior to implementing any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots. In 2013, however, the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision stripped the VRA of this preclearance mechanism—deeming the formula outdated—and opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards with impunity.

Since the Shelby ruling, 23 states have freely implemented more restrictive voting laws and conducted elections accordingly. The only recourse left is under Section 2 of the VRA—to challenge these laws after the fact. Meanwhile, the resulting voter disenfranchisement has already taken place and the results of potentially rigged elections stand. Accordingly, unfair elections around the nation have begun to resemble a discriminatory game of wack-a-mole: lawsuits of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. Expensive and slow-moving litigation is an untenable approach to reinstating fair elections; and Section 2 offers no remedy for the impacts of disenfranchisement.

In contrast, under the Section 5 process the Justice Department provided quick, inexpensive reviews and decisions on proposed changes to voting requirements or procedures. The vast majority of proposed changes to elections were cleared and there was space to appeal decisions when they were not.  It was a system that worked; the VRA without this preclearance mechanism is not working.

This Wednesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will be conducting a hearing on “Protecting the Right to Vote: Best and Worst Practices.” Chairman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), who is also a professor of Constitutional Law, the First Amendment, and Legislative Process, will lead the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee in this effort to get to the bottom of voter suppression today.

For six years, Congress has made multiple unsuccessful legislative attempts to update the preclearance formula and restore this crucial provision of the VRA. Part of the process to adopt a preclearance formula that the courts will uphold is gathering and documenting evidence of efforts to disenfranchise voters. Congress is currently building this record to demonstrate ways in which jurisdictions have changed laws to disenfranchise voters, particularly voters of color. Most recently, we can look to states like Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Florida, and Alabama for flagrant examples of manipulated election procedures that effectively suppress the vote of communities of color.

Throughout April and May, the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Elections is holding a series of field hearings on voting rights and election administration. Hearings have taken place in Standing Rock, ND; Halifax, NC; and in Cleveland, OH. Still to come are field hearings in Alabama and Florida to review and hear testimony about the impacts of new voting and registration laws on communities of color. These hearings are the opportunity to examine what voter disenfranchisement in the 21st Century looks like—so we can prevent it from happening.

In late February, Representative Teri Sewell (AL-07) and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) introduced the 116th Congress’ high-priority legislative fix to restore and extend these key provisions of the VRA. It’s not the first time that a “Shelby-fix” bill has been introduced since 2013, but this year it’s coming on the heels of an historic election in which rampant and flagrant voter suppression was apparent. H.R. 1 (the For the People Act) has also already passed in the House and specifically named this as a crucial component for democracy reform.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (VRAA), H.R. 4, represents the most robust and inclusive proposal to revise the criteria for determining which States and political jurisdictions should be subject to preclearance requirements. Specifically, the formula proposed in VRAA subjects any jurisdiction with 15 or more voting-rights violations over the past 25 years to 10 years of federal preclearance. The threshold would be lowered to just 10 violations if any of them were committed by the state itself. VRAA is not solely a defensive measure. It’s intended to be punitive, to deter people who take advantage of the fact that there are few real consequences for officials found in violation of the Constitution. The VRAA would add teeth that the Voting Rights Act didn’t have even at full strength. While alternate bills are already emerging with less-expansive formulas, NETWORK strongly supports H.R.4 as the way to quickly address and end voting rights abuses that have become commonplace across our country.

President Trump Calls for Mass Raids This Weekend: What is Your Faithful Response?

President Trump Calls for Mass Raids This Weekend: What is Your Faithful Response?

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 21, 2019

President Trump began his 2020 campaign this week with the same anti-immigrant platform he ran on in 2016. In his opening speech, he promised to begin a set of raids intended to “remove millions of illegal aliens beginning this weekend.”  Thus begins the likely ramping up increased domestic terror against our immigrant sisters and brothers.  Following the announcement, there have been leaks from ICE, the agency in charge of conducting raids, confirming they may begin actions as early as this weekend. While raids are not new – the Administration has already conducted massive raids in places like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Tennessee – this racketing up is intended to remind President Trump’s supporters that this is still his number one campaign objective.

Our best understanding is that individuals and family units with final orders of removal are anticipated to be targeted. Such targeting would likely result in collateral arrests, meaning: persons who are undocumented but do not have a final order of deportation will likely be detained also.

What does this mean for us, as people of faith?

For some of us, this means our families will sit in fear between now and the election waiting for a knock on the door. We will fill out the appropriate legal documents full of personal information so that if the worse happens, we know our kids will be safe in the custody of a family member or a friend. We will review what we learned at Know Your Rights trainings so that if and when the knock comes, we know what to do. We will live in a continued state of fear.

We learn more and more everyday about the impact of toxic stress on the bodies and health of people under duress. It takes a tremendous toll on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health. We are reminded by our partners at the Center for Law and Social Policy about what happens when children witness the arrest of a parent – particularly in their own home. The children are now ‘at greater risk of suffering mental health and behavioral problems with have long-term implications for their overall development and future success.’

What does it mean for those of us who are not directly impacted?  This is the key faithful question of our time. As people grounded in sacred texts that call for welcome and love, how do we respond? Do we look away because it all seems overwhelming? Do we chose to sit in our comfortable homes, go to our pools, enjoy a barbeque with family and friends completely detached from this terror? Or, do we engage in acts of resistance and love?

NETWORK is continuously engaging in discernment to discover how we as an organization can live a more authentic life, one grounded in the work of racial justice. This year, our Lenten reflections aimed to strengthen our commitment to be and work in solidarity with communities of color, so we can live out our call to justice for all people in the public square.

We must shake off the choice of inaction. To fail to speak out against injustice is to be complicit.  We can and we must live into our call to be a people of love and justice.