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Advocacy & Policy Update - December 21, 2020



This is the last mailing of 2020!

The next mailing will be on Monday, January 4, 2021.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Appropriations/Coronavirus Stimulus Package

The House is set to vote on a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill package today after congressional leaders reached an agreement last night, adding it to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that would fund the federal government through September 30. Once the measures have cleared both chambers of Congress, President Trump has said he intends to sign them into law.

On Sunday, December 20, Congressional leaders unveiled key points of the deal after Congress had approved a 24-hour stopgap spending bill just hours before federal cash expired at midnight. The massive omnibus package provides another round of direct payments, enhanced unemployment benefits, billions of dollars for struggling industries and extends the federal eviction ban through the end of January. Also included in the package:

Individuals making up to $75,000 a year will receive a payment of $600, while couples making up to $150,000 will receive $1,200, in addition to $600 per child. The bill also makes stimulus checks more accessible to immigrant families.

Unemployment benefits will expire in mid-March – setting up another deadline for additional congressional action early next year. Unemployed individuals will get an extra $300 per week in federal funding through March14 and it extends employment benefits to self-employed individuals, gig workers and those who have exhausted their state benefits.

Small businesses will receive $325 billion, including $284 billion in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, $20 billion for businesses in low-income communities and $15 billion for struggling live venues, movie theaters and museums.

The legislation allows businesses to deduct expenses associated with their forgiven PPP loans, in addition to expanding the employee retention credit intended to prevent layoffs. The package also extends a payroll tax subsidy for employers offering workers paid sick leave and boosts the Earned Income Tax Credit. The year-end package includes $13 billion to bolster food stamp benefits by 15 percent, although it doesn’t expand SNAP eligibility. Farmers and ranchers will also see another $13 billion round of direct payments to help cover pandemic-induced losses.

Included in the $82 billion total for colleges and universities is more than $4 billion for a governors’ relief fund, more than $54 billion for public K-12 schools and nearly $23 billion for a higher education fund. Separately, the child care sector will receive about $10 billion in emergency cash.

The legislation includes a bipartisan agreement to forgive nearly $1.3 billion in federal loans to historically Black colleges and universities, deliver Pell grants to incarcerated students after a 26-year ban and simplify financial aid forms. It would also restore Pell Grant eligibility to students the Education Department determined were defrauded by their colleges through a successful “borrower defense repayment” claim.

The package continues a CARES Act program that allows contractors to keep employees on the payroll even if federal facilities close. The agreement invests $7 billion to expand broadband access for students, families and unemployed workers, including $300 million for rural broadband and $250 million for telehealth.

Click here to read the full text of the omnibus package.

Click here to read a division-by-division summary of the appropriations provisions here.

Click here to read a division-by-division summary of the coronavirus relief provisions.

Click here to read a division-by-division summary of the authorizing matters.

Education Cabinet Secretary President-elect Joe Biden has not yet named his pick Education Secretary but, similar to the Labor Secretary field, it seems the list of potential nominees continues to grow. Two outsiders that have emerged as top contenders are Leslie T. Fenwick, dean emeritus of the Howard University School of Education, and Miguel Cardona, the Connecticut Education Commissioner. Fenwick has criticized education reform efforts and education programs like Teach For America and has spoken against for-profit charter schools and taxpayer-funded private school vouchers. She advocates for more equitable school funding formulas and better access credentialed teachers. Cardona has continued to push for school reopenings because of concerns that remote learning was exacerbating inequities.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia still appears to be the frontrunner. She has been endorsed by a coalition of Hispanic groups and dozens of Congressional Hispanic Caucus members. Disability rights groups have expressed concern over Eskelsen Garcia because NEA positions while she was president were “detrimental to the success of students with disabilities,” according to a letter they sent to the Biden transition team. Black higher education groups are pushing for Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC) for the spot because she's been a fierce advocate for historically Black colleges and universities.

Initial Jobless Claims

In the week ending December 12, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 885,000, an increase of 23,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 9,000 from 853,000 to 862,000. The 4-week moving average was 812,500, an increase of 34,250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 2,250 from 776,000 to 778,250. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.8 percent for the week ending December 5, a decrease of 0.1 percentage point from the previous week's unrevised rate.

Click here to access the full report.

Click here to read the entire December 21 weekly legislative update.

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