Category Archives: Policy Update

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

NETWORK Government Relations Team
November 5, 2018

The Midterm Elections are upon us — and NETWORK is busy looking ahead to the work that must be done for the rest of the year.

Members of Congress will arrive back to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, November 13 to finish out the final legislative efforts for the 115th Congress. There are some time-sensitive issues Congress must address, as well as others that may be considered if there is time and political will. All the items on the agenda will be affected by two factors: the outcome of Tuesday’s election as well as subsequent leadership elections, especially in the House of Representatives.

With these uncertainties in mind, here is NETWORK’s analysis for upcoming issues in the final days of the 115th Congress.

Must Do: Fund the Government for 2019

Appropriations: Congress outperformed all expectations by passing 7 of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2019 before the start of the fiscal year, which began on October 1.  While kudos are in order, NETWORK is urging them to pick-up where they left off as soon as they return and it’s imperative that they finish the job before the end of the year.  Lawmakers have until December 7th to reach agreement on the 5 remaining spending bills which fund programs at more than 10 federal agencies, or risk a government shutdown.  Several of our Mend the Gap issues are among the log-jam.  These include: programs that fund the 2020 census, affordable housing and keep immigrant families together.

Border Wall

The most contentious issue will be funding for the Department of Homeland Security; which President Trump has already threatened a government shutdown if Congress fails to appropriate roughly $5 billion for his border wall.  A government shut-down would be detrimental just weeks before Christmas and would coincide with the anticipated arrival of thousands of migrants trekking toward the Southern border.  NETWORK has joined hundreds of advocacy organizations in calling for Congress freeze spending at FY 2018 levels for immigration enforcement officers, agents and detention beds.   And we urge Congress to pass a separate short-term extension for the Department of Homeland Security.  NETWORK is ready to kick our advocacy efforts into high-gear if we perceive threats around funding for our immigration and census priorities.

2020 Census

Funding for the Census Bureau, which requires a significant ramp-up for Census 2020 preparations and planning.   If Congress returns to the dysfunction we saw last year with repeated funding delays via Continuing Resolutions, it could seriously threaten the ramp-up and preparations for our government’s largest peacetime undertaking, the decennial.  Fiscal Year 2019 is the pivotal year leading up to the 2020 Census so postponing full funding would have dire consequences on the preparations and outcome of the count.  While the proposed funding levels from the Senate and the House seem acceptable, it is unclear what the budget impact would be on the impending court ruling on the controversial citizenship question.

Click here to read more about NETWORK’s FY 2019 appropriations priorities.

That being said, there are some outstanding “Maybe” issues that Congress could address: the Farm Bill, Criminal Justice, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

Farm Bill: Protect SNAP

There has not been much apparent progress since the Farm Bill moved into conference in August.  One of the primary sticking points in negotiations is the nutrition title and reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The partisan House Bill—which passed by 2 votes on the second try—includes harmful provisions that would undermine the program’s effectiveness and cut nutrition assistance for millions of Americans.  The Senate bill, which saw the strongest bipartisan support of any prior Farm Bill (86-11), makes key improvements to strengthen SNAP without threatening food security of participants.  The 2014 Farm Bill expired this month but, fortunately major programs like SNAP have a funding cushion that minimizes the impact of Congress missing that deadline.  It’s highly likely, though, that the Farm Bill conference committee will kick into high gear when Congress returns on November 13th.  During Lame Duck NETWORK will need your help to ensure that the nutrition title from the Senate bill is what’s ultimately adopted and voted into law.

Criminal Justice

There is wide speculation that the Senate could join the House and take up a modest criminal justice reform package during the Lame Duck session, if 60 Senators agree to proceed.  In May, the House passed the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill purporting to be a significant step forward in prison reform.  Over the summer the President tentatively agreed to include several sentencing reform elements into a prison reform package. The Senate was split on the issue of separating prison reform from sentencing reform but has changed course given the President’s willingness to negotiate a compromise.  While NETWORK supports sentencing and prison reform as a joint legislative package we did not take an official position on the First Step Act.

Read NETWORK’s thoughts on the First Step Act, from when it passed the House, here.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit

As Congress concludes work for the year, there is a tradition that of a small group of tax bills that are bipartisan, non-controversial and relatively inexpensive get passed.  This group of tax bills is called “extenders.”  Members of the tax writing committees are now reviewing what their priorities are for any extender bill.  One of the tax initiatives under consideration is passage of “The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017” (S. 548) which expands the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) to meet the housing needs of extremely low income renter households. This credit is the primary tool to encourage private investment in affordable housing development and is responsible for 90 percent of all affordable housing developments built each year.  Since it was passed in the bipartisan Tax Reform Act of 1986, the credit has incentivized the creation of 3 million affordable rental homes around the country.  NETWORK will work with

Given the national shortage of affordable housing, NETWORK believes it is critical that new build more low income housing units. Passage of this bill will go a long way to meeting the needs of the homeless and other vulnerable low income individuals and families.

Respecting Creation: How to Navigate the NAFTA Renegotiation

Respecting Creation: How to Navigate the NAFTA Renegotiation

José Arnulfo Cabrera
November 7, 2018

For the past year, the Trump administration has been renegotiating a new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. Trade is a priority issue for President Trump and his Administration has emphasized the need to increase trade benefits to Americans as part of his “America First” agenda. While NETWORK affirms the need to improve the working condition in the United States, we also believe that any deal must benefit workers and those in poverty in all three countries. To that end, we and our faith partners sent a letter to the Administration outlining priorities for the renegotiation.

We have a 24-year track record with the current NAFTA agreement and we know that the agreement created great benefits for large corporations, but time and time again it has failed to benefit the common good.  For example, NAFTA flooded the Mexican market with subsidized corn, wheat, and soy from the U.S., forcing literally millions of family farmers off their land. The pacts also allowed huge U.S. corporations to move in, driving tens of thousands of additional small- and mid-sized Mexican employers out of business. In fact, real wages in Mexico are lower today than before NAFTA was enacted. During this same period working families in the U.S. have suffered as well from flat wages and loss of jobs in the manufacturing sectors.  The new NAFTA, if done right, has the opportunity to make incremental changes to the status quo.

On September 30, the Administration laid out newly designed NAFTA 2.0. NETWORK, along with our faith and secular partners, began reviewing the new deal with the hope that progress would be made. Thankfully, there were some important areas of progress made on key faith priorities. There are, however, areas where the new NAFTA fails.  We expect the Trump Administration will sign the NAFTA 2.0 on November 30 and then send it to Congress for consideration under fast-track authority which allows for an up or down vote on implementing legislation without possibilities to filibuster.  We don’t expect it to be taken up by Congress until early next year.

What does this mean for NETWORK advocates?  Plain and simple, we must work over the next few months to seek changes to the agreement that will substantially improve NAFTA 1.0.  As a faith-based organization, we believe the global economy must care about and respect people and creation. The renegotiation of NAFTA can and must make North America a model of the trade policy we want to see across the world.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS): There are four areas where we see significant improvement in the new NAFTA 2.0. The first issue pertains to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process, or ISDS, which gives giant corporations the ability to sue foreign governments over their domestic laws. To date, those courts have been used largely to attack domestic health, safety, and environmental laws.  This gives a lot of power to corporations over affected communities. The new NAFTA completely eliminated the ISDS between the U.S. and Canada, and between the U.S. and Mexico the ISDS was replaced by a new version of ISDS. The new one eliminates extreme investors’ rights, and remedies key procedural concerns. Unfortunately, there is a loophole in U.S.-Mexico’s new ISDS that gives nine U.S. oil and gas companies power going into ISDS courts. NETWORK and our partners will work to close this loophole.

Labor: Faith partners affirm the need for strong worker protections in all countries so that workers receive good wages, have the freedom to organize and work in healthy and safe environments. The NAFTA 2.0 text establishes new rules to end wage suppression “protection contracts” in Mexico – which, if enforced, could make a big difference over time on Mexican wage levels and incentives to outsource U.S. jobs to Mexico.  Recently, Mexican workers arrived at a new plant to find that a “union” they never voted for has signed a contract they never approved locking in low wages. Workers who strike are fired. Labor organizers face violence and intimidation. This is a step forward.

The key problem is that there is no language that ensures these rules will be enforced. Unless strong labor standards are made subject to swift and certain enforcement there is no way to ensure the new rules are implemented. NETWORK and our partners will continue to work to improve the agreement so it contains real enforcement mechanisms that allow workers to thrive. Without enforcement of these new rules, they are meaningless.

Environment:  To have a global economy that cares and respect all creations we must uphold environmental protections. NETWORK recognizes that climate change is real and disproportionately affects the poorest residents, especially the poor in developing countries and small islands. We can’t accept or have a trade deal that continues to contribute to climate change. NETWORK, along with our faith partners, hoped to see the new NAFTA prioritize long-term ecological sustainability. NAFTA 2.0 eliminated the forces that made countries export natural resources that they seek to conserve. This is a good start, but NAFTA 2.0 still has a long way to go. Unfortunately, NAFTA 2.0 failed to adopt, maintain, implement, and enforce domestic laws that ensure the seven core multilateral environmental agreements. The deal also failed to mention the word “climate change” along with stating the economic and national security challenges that climate change creates.

Access to Medicine: This is one of the biggest failures in the current NAFTA 2.0.  NETWORK is a strong believer in affordable medicine and healthcare for all. Therefore, we want NAFTA 2.0 to increase access to affordable medicine, not to limit it. Further, we believe the U.S. government should prioritize pharmaceutical corporations and allow them to continue monopolizing their product through trade agreements. The new NAFTA keeps expanding the monopoly of big pharmaceutical companies, and allows many big pharma companies to keep medicine prices high, and moves further away from affordable medicine. We are working with our faith partners to change the current pharmaceutical language so we can begin to move towards more affordable medicine and eliminate the current monopoly pharmaceutical companies have now. NETWORK will work to eliminate the bad policies included in NAFTA 2.0 which line the pockets of pharma will harm patients.

Agriculture:  NAFTA 2.0 does not address the needs of small farmers and locks in many of the agriculture rules that have devastated family farmers.  In fact, NAFTA 2.0 seeks to provide new intellectual property rights that stop farmers from being able to save and share protected seeds. The new NAFTA allows agricultural biotechnology products that will bypass national efforts to ensure safety, effectiveness, and impact on workers, rural communities and ecosystem should be rejected. All of the current agriculture problems NAFTA has created allows big corporate farmers to overpower small farmers in all three countries; because of that, it is slowly monopolizing farming. NETWORK will continue to work to protect small farmers.

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Staff
October 29, 2018

After a would-be assassin mailed pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democratic figures, including the families of 2 former Presidents; after a gunman tried to enter a Black Church in Kentucky intent on doing harm but was unable to gain access so walked to the nearest Kroger grocery store and killed two people instead; after all of that, there was the terrible mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at a Pennsylvania synagogue.  It was a devastating week and we are still reeling from it.

Nevertheless, we join the country in offering our most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family and friends of those 11 people who were killed in Pennsylvania and the 2 people in Kentucky.  No words can express how profoundly we grieve with you in your time of need.  We stand together as the nation mourns your, and our, loss.

At the same time, we condemn, in the strongest possible language, these senseless murders of 13 ordinary people, worshipping at Tree of Life Synagogue and buying groceries at the local Kroger store.  They were simply going about their day until two white men, fueled by anti-Semitism and racial animus, attacked them.  These innocent people lost their lives to hate and fear in a country founded on freedom, opportunity and religious values.

But our Catholic faith tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  No exceptions.  And as a result, every human being is imbued with an essential dignity that must be honored, respected and protected.  The hate-filled actions of the gunmen belie that fundamental truth.   Whether or not you are religious or have some faith-based beliefs, there is something profoundly wrong in society when people turn to violence against others simply because they belong to a different religious tradition or have a different skin color.  We condemn every action based on hatred, bigotry and violence.

Sadly, this is not the first time we have witnessed, endured and decried the presence and menace of such evil in our midst.  But this can be the last.  This is a time when the whole country can stand up and speak out against it.  This is a time when we must demand of our leaders and each other the guarantee of civility, respect and safety for everyone.  For our sake.  For our children’s sake.  For the sake of our country’s future.  We must not let this hatred, violence and division defeat us.  The only question is:  will we do it?  Or will we once again pay a terrible price for our silence?  People are fond of saying “we are better than this.”  Now is the time to prove it.

May God grant eternal rest to those who were slain.  May God shower peace and consolation on all those who mourn.  And may God have mercy on all of us if we fail to stand up to this moment in history.

Legislative Update: Trump Administration Proposes New Regulation to Create a Wealth Test for Immigrants

Legislative Update: Trump Administration Proposes New Regulation to Create a Wealth Test for Immigrants

Laura Peralta-Schulte
October 24, 2018

On October 10, 2018 the Trump Administration proposed drastically expanding the definition of who constitutes a “public charge” through a proposed rule in the Federal Register. Such a change would have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of individuals and families. If approved, it would set a wealth test for those seeking to become lawful permanent residents (LPR or green card holders), to extend or change the category of a nonimmigrant visa, or to bring family members to the U.S.  During this term in Congress, the Trump Administration has urged Members to pass legislation cut the family based immigration system and to shift to a merit based system.  Having failed to persuade Congress to much such a change, the Administration is now proposing to change the rules which will in practice limit legal immigration to US to those who are wealthy, well connected and well-educated.

The Administration is punishing people who wait years for a visa to come to America, work hard, and build a better life for themselves and their families. Previously, the government only restricted immigration applications on public charge grounds if it determined an immigrant would likely depend on public cash assistance or need long-term medical care in an institution at the government’s expense. Now, the bar will be much higher and impossible for many average, hardworking people to overcome. Under the proposed rule, receipt of an expanded list of public benefits will also be counted against a person including basic food, health and housing assistance. The full list includes:

  • Long-term institutionalization at the government’s expense
  • Medicare Part D
  • Non-emergency Medicaid
  • Public Housing
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • General Assistance

D.H.S. is also considering adding the Children’s Health Insurance Program to the list.

Further, under this rule, having income below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or $25,975 for a family of three, would also be counted against an applicant.  A full third of all previous applicants had an income below this level. D.H.S. would also consider age, health, family status, assets, education and skills when determining whether an immigrant would become a public charge and certain characteristics would be deemed “negative factors,” or as indicators that the immigrant could become a public charge. Children, for example, start out with a negative mark because they don’t work.  If an immigrant has a medical condition, that will make it harder to become a lawful permanent resident. Preferencing the wealthy and failing to consider the tremendous gifts all immigrants bring to our communities is wrong.

The consequences of this proposed rule would be felt directly by those applying as well as U.S. citizen children: parents of U.S. citizen children could perceive they must choose between depriving their children of critical public health and safety programs or jeopardize their own immigration status. This is a painful and impossible decision. Both outcomes have devastating consequences for the wellbeing of children and families in America as one quarter of children in this country have at least one immigrant parent, and 90 percent of those children were born in the U.S. This is not a theoretical assertion.  The last time the United States made changes to the public charge rule, as part of the welfare reform effort in 1996, it instilled so much fear in communities that it led to significant drops in the use of programs critical to families. Even populations who were exempt from the public charge, like refugees and victims of trafficking, stopped using critical benefits that provided the support necessary for their families to become stable and healthy.  The use of a temporary assistance program known as TANF, for example, fell 78% among the refugee population despite the fact that refugees were not subject to the public charge test. The current proposed rule would similarly instill great fear in our communities across the country.

Finally, it is clear that the faith community and others who provide human needs services to those struggling in poverty will not be able to meet the needs of those impacted by this rule.  For example, Catholic Charities serves 1 in 9 individuals in need of food assistance in the United States. If the federal government implements the proposed changes, Catholic Charities would absorb an estimated $24 million in services that would no longer be covered.

We can all work to defeat this rule. Stay tuned for more resources and an upcoming action alert from NETWORK for how you can make a difference!

Thousands of Medicaid Recipients in Arkansas Lose Access to Care

Thousands of Medicaid Recipients in Arkansas Lose Access to Care

Siena Ruggeri
October 2, 2018

In September 2018, the state of Arkansas revoked coverage for more than 4,300 Medicaid users. The state recently implemented a stringent work requirement on Medicaid recipients under the Arkansas Works program, stipulating that they must perform 80 hours of work, service, job training, or education a month. The state unceremoniously dropped recipients who did not properly log their hours into an online portal for three months. These dropped Medicaid users have no possibility of reapplying for the entirety of 2018.

This news came as a shock to the many low-income Arkansans who previously qualified for Medicaid. Due to the low profile implementation of the program, many were not aware of the new requirements. Some will not even realize they have lost their healthcare coverage until they go to the doctor or try to fill a prescription.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Across the country, the Trump administration and its allies are encouraging burdensome work requirements for programs like Medicaid and SNAP (the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program). Indiana, New Hampshire, and Kentucky already received federal approval to implement their own Medicaid work requirements, while at least nine other states are considering them.

Even if Medicaid recipients in Arkansas are aware of the recent changes, they might not be able to access the Arkansas Works website to log their hours. According to the Federal Elections Commission, about a fourth of Arkansas’s population lives in areas without Internet service. The online portal has also been fraught with problems, preventing many from logging their work hours. Curiously, the website is down for 10 hours every night for maintenance, leaving it out of commission for 70 hours a week. These barriers make compliance difficult for a population already stretched thin.

It’s not as if Medicaid recipients aren’t working. At best, only 15% of enrollees not exempt from existing work requirements are not employed (Urban Institute); the vast majority are already working. The reason they are utilizing Medicaid is not due a lack of work—it is due to the deep poverty they are experiencing. Recipients do not have access to quality jobs that pay a living wage and provide health benefits.

Let’s not be mistaken—programs like Medicaid already have strict work requirements. These additional work requirements are an attempt to burden vulnerable populations with administrative barriers to affordable, quality healthcare. By dropping more than four thousand people from Medicaid coverage, the state of Arkansas stands to save 30 million a year. States like Arkansas that choose to implement these cumbersome some work requirements are choosing savings over care for their people.

Burdensome work requirements don’t address the realities of the low-income populations Medicaid serves. Work requirements don’t create stable jobs that pay a living wage, nor do they do anything to alleviate the racial income gap. Black Arkansans are twice as likely to live below poverty level than their white counterparts. These work requirements are complex in nature—they are designed to quietly dismantle social safety nets while stigmatizing low-income people as the problem. If Arkansas is serious about getting its residents off Medicaid, it needs to address economic inequality and reinvest in the working class.

The data from Arkansas gives us a look at the true human cost of burdensome work requirements. As other states roll out similar programs, thousands of people will unknowingly lose their coverage. There is no human benefit to burdensome work requirements. They only serve to harm people who utilize programs like Medicaid and SNAP to survive. NETWORK opposes implementing work requirements on our most effective human needs programs, and urges lawmakers to craft these programs to uphold human dignity, not diminish it.

Progress from Congress on Appropriations

Progress from Congress on Appropriations

Tralonne Shorter
September 12, 2018

This summer, Congress made extraordinary progress toward completing the requisite 12 spending measures for upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2019. To date, the Senate has passed nine spending bills, while the House has passed six. Lawmakers have until September 30 to finalize spending bills or extend funding at current levels through a continuing resolution (CR).  Efforts are underway to bundle nine* out of 12 spending measures into three packages by September 30 and put the remaining three** bills into a CR, averting a government shutdown.

One reason for the Senate’s remarkable pace on appropriations is President Trump’s vow to not sign another omnibus spending bill.  To achieve this progress, the Senate uncharacteristically spent part of August in session.  Another reason is a bipartisan agreement between Appropriations committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) not to pack spending bills with controversial provisions that would weaken bipartisan support.

NETWORK continues to lead lobby efforts supporting our Mend the Gap priorities.  These include:  humane border enforcement that promotes family unity and funding increases for affordable housing, workforce development, job training, child welfare and health care.  In addition, NETWORK will continue to oppose efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Immigration

Unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy dominated the appropriations debate and faced strong opposition across party lines in both chambers.  NETWORK joined pro-immigration advocates in garnering support for more than 12 amendments to the Homeland Security bill that adds report language that clamps down on family separation with better oversight and accountability standards for ICE detention centers.  Additionally, we successfully lobbied for more funding to support alternatives to detention, family case management services, and mental health screening of unaccompanied minor children crossing the Southern border. However, a major disappointment by House Appropriators includes the reversal of the Flores Settlement, a 1997 agreement drafted by the ACLU which set a 20-day limit for family detention and governs the conditions of detention for children, including that facilities be safe, sanitary, and age appropriate.    If enacted this would allow immigrant families to be indefinitely detained in facilities with harsh conditions not supported by Flores.  Thankfully, the Senate approved LHHSED Appropriations bill leaves the Flores settlement agreement intact and the House language is not likely to be part of the final bill.

As for immigration enforcement spending contained in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, the House Appropriations Committee approved $7 billion more than the Senate for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Southwest Border Wall.  Other areas of concern include, a 10 percent increase in detention beds, as well as funding to hire almost 800 more border and customs agents/officers.

NETWORK will continue to push back on efforts to separate families or that would undermine humane border enforcement as negotiations gain momentum post the mid-term elections.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, unless Congress passes the next Farm Bill before then or extends the current reauthorization.  Regardless of when Congress finalizes the next Farm Bill, funding for SNAP will not lapse as the government is statutorily required to continue funding the program subject to participation demands.  Since 2015, SNAP enrollment has declined by more than 4.7 million people resulting in a $73 billion automatic appropriation for FY 2019.  This is $794 million less than FY 2018 and a 10 percent reduction since FY 2015.

Census

House appropriators gave a big boost to the Census Bureau in the FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations (CJS) bill, approving nearly $1 billion more for the agency than the Senate. However, it is unclear how much of the $4.8 billion for the agency will be allocated for the 2020 Decennial.  Conversely, the Senate appropriators (under new leadership) appears to have taken a more conservative approach and adopted the President’s FY 2019 budget request to fund the 2020 Decennial at $3.015 billion.  This is drastically different from NETWORK’s request of $3.928 billion minimum baseline.

Besides census activities, the CJS bill also funds immigration related law enforcement and adjudication efforts within the Department of Justice.  Regrettably, the House Committee bill, fails to fully protect immigrant families and includes increased funding for immigrant-related law enforcement efforts.  Congress is not expected to finalize the CJS bill until sometime after the mid-term elections.  NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push for the higher number for the 2020 Census contained in the House bill.

Housing

Funding for housing programs fared better in the Senate.  The Senate approved a $12 billion increase above the President’s FY 2019 budget request−and is $1 billion above the House bill.  Housing programs help nearly 5 million vulnerable families and individuals.  This includes:  $22.8 billion for tenant-based Section 8 vouchers; $7.5 billion for public housing; $11.7 billion for project-based Section 8; $678 million for Housing for the Elderly; and $154 million for Housing for Persons with Disabilities.  Both committee bills reject the Administration’s rent reform proposal, and reinstate funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships programs, which were eliminated in the President’s FY 2019 budget request.  However, the House reduces spending for the HOME program by 12 percent.

NETWORK will continue to advocate for increased funding for affordable housing programs.

Children and Human Needs

The LHHSEd Appropriations bill funds popular safety net programs, like Medicare and Medicaid operations, home energy assistance, Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant.  It is the 2nd largest spending bill, after defense and comprises about 63 percent of total discretionary spending.  The House and Senate bills are slightly different—overall the Senate bill is better because it has a higher spending allocation and contains no poison pill riders unlike the House.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act continues to be attacked by Republican lawmakers.  Both the House and Senate bills reduce access to affordable health care by cutting funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) operating budget by nearly half a billion dollars.  According to the House Committee report, Democrats view defunding CMS as “a misguided attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.” If enacted this cut would significantly impact Medicare as it subject to mandatory 2 percent sequestration cut pursuant to the Balance Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25).

NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push back against efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.


* Agriculture; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Interior; Labor-Health and Human Services-Education; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

**Commerce, Justice, Science; Foreign Operations; and Homeland Security.

Promoting the Dignity of Labor in NAFTA Negotiations

Promoting Dignity of Labor in NAFTA Negotiations

Mary Cunningham
July 30, 2018

When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed in 1994, the United States, Canada, and Mexico hailed it as a groundbreaking deal that would bring job growth, economic vitality and improved living standards to all three countries. Despite these promises, the trade deal failed to live up to the hype and has resulted in stifled wages in Mexico and the U.S., mass migration from Mexico to the U.S., and no improvement in labor and environmental protections.  After the passage of NAFTA, the U.S. flooded the Mexican market with corn, decreasing the value of Mexican corn by 66% which led directly to farmer displacement and migration.  Wages in Mexico have fallen below pre-NAFTA levels as have worker’s wages in the U.S. Likewise, America’s small farmers have been forced to compete with large industrial agricultural corporations against which they don’t stand a chance. NAFTA was negotiated by and for the big corporations and has failed workers on all sides of the table.

This brings us to the current state of NAFTA today. During his campaign and continuing into his presidency, President Trump dismissed NAFTA, declaring it “the worst trade deal.” He believes NAFTA is to blame for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and the exportation of jobs to countries with lower production costs, like Mexico. President Trump’s distaste for NAFTA set the stage for NAFTA renegotiations led by U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer. Thus far, there have been 7 rounds of talks, but no conclusive agreement has been reached.  Following the election of the new Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), negotiators from Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. have a window to try to conclude an agreement; however, the negotiations are more likely to continue into 2019.  As the Wall Street Journal reports, several of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s priorities align with President Trump’s, increasing the likelihood of reaching a consensus on negotiations. Although there has been tension between President Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following the G-7 meeting, Canada and the U.S. are important trade partners and it is in both of their country’s interest to continue talks.

The main goals of the negotiations include updating trade practices to reflect new advancements in technology and “fixing” parts of the agreement that haven’t worked.  For the administration, this means eliminating certain investor protections that force federal governments to pay fines to transnational companies. It also means improving Mexican labor laws to combat the low wages and unfair labor standards which the administration argues have led to mass migrations and a precipitous decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs.  Part of the U.S. proposal is to have automobile parts manufactured in work zones with a minimum wage of $15. This would spur manufacturing in the U.S. and simultaneously increase wages in Mexico.  Mexican negotiations have expressed openness to these objectives although the business communities in all three countries vigorously object to provisions that protect workers and end investor courts.

Only by paying attention to the plight of the workers impacted by NAFTA can a comprehensive deal be reached. Although negotiations are complicated, a deal that treats all workers with the respect and dignity they deserve is possible. This means guaranteeing stable wages, the right to unionize, and worker protections. NAFTA has not lived up to its expectations, but these negotiations are a promising step forward.

 

Attempts to Sabotage the ACA Continue

Attempts to Sabotage the ACA Continue

Kaitlin Brown
July 27, 2018

This month has been particularly rough for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In two acts of sabotage, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced policy decisions that will undermine access to health care for millions of people. (You can see our coverage of previous ACA sabotage from the Trump administration this year here).

First, the administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent out a notice that funding for the navigator program would be cut to $10 million for the 2018-2019 enrollment period. Navigators work on the ground to help people navigate the online Insurance Marketplace and choose a plan that is right for them. Most navigators work for non-profit companies, and are present in congregations, public libraries, and other spaces to meet the needs of their community. Navigators also provide internet access to low-income and elderly people who might not have access to a computer find affordable health insurance. In 2016, the program was funded at $62 million, and only $36 million last year.

CMS also announced that it would be ending the risk adjustment program for insurance companies on the marketplace after a narrow ruling in New Mexico. The risk adjustment program is one of the main ways people with pre-existing and complex medical conditions can gain access to healthcare. The program uses premium money from healthy people in the individual market to pay for sicker people. It doesn’t cost anything, and is one of the main ways insurance works. Without this, however, costs could skyrocket for people with pre-existing conditions. This comes as rates and markets are being set for 2019, and without the ability to spread around risk between healthy and sick patients, premium rates could increase dramatically.

However, this decision was based on one case in New Mexico, where the judge ruled that the program in the state could not continue. Previous to this, a judge in Massachusetts had found the rule legal. However, CMS decided that the New Mexico ruling applied to all twenty-three states that have their own individual marketplace programs. Additionally, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could have done a few things, including starting the appeals process or asking if the court meant for the ruling to apply to markets outside of New Mexico, that they chose not to do.

The reduction in funding for the popular navigator program, combined with the ending of the risk adjustment program, are two more acts of sabotage against the Affordable Care Act. We are seeing time and again that what the administration cannot do through the legislative process, they are doing through the administrative one.

Another Republican Attempt to Attack Healthcare

Another Republican Attempt to Attack Healthcare

Kaitlin Brown
July 2, 2018

Over the past few months, we have seen continued attacks and outright sabotage on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from the Trump administration. After last summer’s failed attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act through a bill sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the administration moved to try and end protections through the rule-making process in the department of Health and Human Services. While the implications of the new rules are serious, and will likely cause millions of people to lose or be priced out of healthcare coverage, there is a new legislative threat looming that is eerily similar to the Graham-Cassidy plan that we saw last summer.

This plan was introduced recently by the conservative Heritage Foundation and former Senator Rick Santorum and later presented to Republican leaders. Most of the plan is the same as what we saw last summer in the Graham-Cassidy proposal. It would undo protections for those with pre-existing conditions, include annual and lifetime limits, and exclude certain essential services in health insurance plans, including maternity and mental health services.1  Additionally, it would undo Medicaid expansion and convert Medicaid funding to a block grant to the states, making it less likely that low income people will be able to access affordable coverage.1

The good news is that this is still just an idea from a conservative think tank. However, as we have seen before, Republicans in the House are serious about taking away healthcare coverage and protections from the most vulnerable.

There is concern that if this horrible idea becomes a bill, it could move quickly this summer due to a process called budget reconciliation. In this process, the budget could include instructions that would allow for Congress to pass a bill with only 51 votes, instead of the normal 60 vote majority. This is what happened last summer when the “repeal and replace” bills nearly passed in the Senate.

As people of faith, we believe that healthcare is a human right. When proposals like this threaten to take away access to healthcare from the most vulnerable among us, we will fight to stop it. We will be monitoring this situation closely to ensure that this proposal does not become a bill. If it does become a bill, we will mobilize and act to prevent it taking healthcare away from millions.

  1. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/reports/2018/06/19/452421/graham-cassidy-2-0/

Two Bills Aimed at Ending Family Separation

Two Bills Aimed at Ending Family Separation

Sana Rizvi
June 11, 2018

As Congress struggles to find consensus on a solution to provide protections for Dreamers, the Administration’s new family separation policy has started a political fire storm creating moral outrage across the country and in Congress. There are two bills that would end the practice of family separation and provide relief to impacted families: The Keep Families Together Act (S. 3036) and the Humane Enforcement Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act of 2018 (S. 2937/H.R.5950). NETWORK strongly supports these bills.

The Keep Families Together Act (S. 3036)

The Keep Families Together Act prohibits the separation of families at the border. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced this bill on June 7, 2018 and it currently has 31 Democratic cosponsors and no Republican cosponsors. The bill was created in consultation with groups who provide services to families at the border including Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the Women’s Refugee Commission. It mandates a prohibition on removing a child from a parent or guardian in an attempt to deter migration into the United States. It also provides a mechanism to reunite families who have been separated.

The HELP Separated Children Act of 2018 (S. 2937/H.R.5950)

Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40) introduced this bicameral bill on May 23, 2018. Although this act does not end the practice of family separation, it is a necessary step in protecting children until Congress can find a permanent legislative solution to unite detained families and prohibit the separation of families. The HELP Separated Children Act of 2018 would provide relief to families by:

  • Allowing parents to participate in proceedings affecting their children.
  • Allowing parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children and ensuring that children can call and visit their parents while they are detained.
  • Protecting children from being forced to be translators for law enforcement when speaking to their parents.
  • Ensuring that parents can coordinate their departures with their children.
  • Requiring ICE to consider the best interests of children when making decisions on the detention, release, or transfer of their parents.

The bill currently has 24 Democrats sponsors in the Senate and 16 Democrats sponsors in the House.

With Democrats working to elevate this moral crisis to the public’s attention, all eyes are on Republicans for a legislative response. Protections for children have historically been a nonpartisan issue and thus these two bills should be supported by all Members of Congress.

We must work to secure Republican cosponsors on these bills so that Congress can pass legislation to end family separation. The practice of separation is so morally corrupt, that even immigration hardliner Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) leader of the House’s far right faction called the “Freedom Caucus” has called the policy a “horrible law.”  We call on Republicans to join their Democratic colleagues in ending the policy of family separation.

NETWORK will continue to monitor legislation closely and provide updates on this issue.