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Advocacy & Policy Update - January 25, 2021



COVID-19 Relief Legislation

On Thursday, January 21, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) announced that House Democrats will move swiftly to try and pass a massive coronavirus relief package, which will surely cause clashes in the newly turned Senate. House Democrats have even rearranged their schedule over the next couple of weeks to allow the relevant committees to consider various provisions of the relief package. On Sunday, January 24, Senator Bernie Sanders said that Senate Democrats will pass President Biden’s coronavirus relief package using the budget reconciliation process, which allows for a simple majority vote rather than with the support of 60 senators. A bi-partisan group of senators feel Biden’s plan provides too much money to high-income Americans, which could become a setback in negotiations. The plan extends the additional unemployment benefits through September and increases the federal minimum wage. Pelosi believes a package could come to the House floor for a vote as early as the week of February 1.

Executive Orders

On Monday, January 25, President Biden is expected to sign an executive order (EO) that will safeguard American manufacturing jobs by ensuring more than $600 billion in taxpayer money the government spends on procurement contracts annually goes to U.S. companies. President Biden is wasting no time trying to stimulate the economy, which has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. The EO order would instruct the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council, which oversees government procurement policy, to overhaul its definition of what it means for products to be made in the U.S. and to increase how much of a product’s parts must originate in the U.S. to be eligible for the Buy American program. It also aims to eliminate exemptions that allow federal agencies to circumvent the Buy American program. A new senior official in the Office of Management and Budget will be assigned to oversee all waivers and waiver requests will also be published on a public website to give U.S. companies an opportunity to compete for contracts that agencies would otherwise award to foreign competitors. The EO is part of Biden’s “Made in America” plan, which he said will create at least 5 million new manufacturing jobs.

On Friday, January 22, President Biden issued two executive orders (EO) to address the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic and try and provide relief for businesses and families. The EOs include expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to address food insecurity, accelerating financial assistance to eligible Americans, ensuring worker protections, and beginning the process to require that everyone working for the federal government gets paid a minimum wage of $15 per hour. It asks the U.S. Department of Labor to provide clarification on workers’ right to ‘refuse employment that will jeopardize their health’ amid the coronavirus pandemic and still qualify for unemployment insurance. The EOs also restore collective bargaining power and worker protections by revoking three Trump Era Executive Orders.

Click here to read a fact sheet on the EOs.

H-1B Visas

In October 2020, the Trump Administration proposed an immigration rule that sought to narrow the definition of job types qualifying for high-skill H-1B visas, but the rule never took effect - having been tied up in a federal court and remaining unpublished in the Federal Register. The Trump Administration moved forward with another part of the rule that examines foreign workers on H-1Bs who are contracted out to third-party worksites and put limitations on companies and workers when that happens. Companies seeking to bring skilled workers to the U.S. on an H-1B visa have to establish the person will work in a specialty occupation, which includes certain education requirements. The Biden administration previously said it would freeze Trump administration rules issued since the election that haven’t taken effect, making it unlikely the specialty occupation part of the H-1B rule will go forward. Many H-1B critics say technology companies monopolize a large share of the programs' limited pool of visas and then contract those workers out to clients, something the Trump Administration opposed – saying it unfairly undercut American workers and their wages. President Biden has been vocal of his support for the visa program, saying it’s important to the U.S. economy. Department of Education

On Thursday, January 21, the Biden Administration announced a first round of political appointees to serve in acting roles in a variety of key posts at the Department of Education. Phil Rosenfelt, a longtime career official, will remain as the acting Education secretary, while Biden’s pick to lead the agency, Miguel Cardona, goes through the confirmation process. Among the list of new appointees released on Thursday was Rich Williams as Chief of Staff for the Office of Postsecondary Education. Most recently, Williams led an initiative at Pew Charitable Trusts working to devise policies that better support struggling student loan borrowers. He previously worked at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and as a senior policy adviser for the House Education and Labor Committee.

Initial Jobless Claims

In the week ending January 16, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 900,000, a decrease of 26,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 39,000 from 965,000 to 926,000. The 4-week moving average was 848,000, an increase of 23,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised down by 9,750 from 834,250 to 824,500. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.6 percent for the week ending January 9, unchanged from the previous week's revised rate.

Click here to read the full report.

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