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Advocacy & Policy Update - May 11, 2020



Coronavirus Relief Package

Possibly as early as this week, Democrats plan to release a fourth coronavirus stimulus proposal that will include more than $750 billion in aid to state and local governments as well direct support to Americans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked through the past weekend on finalizing the plan, which would cost upward of $2 trillion and include hazard pay for frontline workers and funds for expanded testing and contact tracing.

Congressional Republicans and the Administration have indicated they are in no rush to pass another stimulus package, despite Friday’s dismal jobs report that showed unemployment to be higher than at any time since 1939. Formal negotiations have not begun, but informal talks among lawmakers are taking place and all signs point to a contentious negotiation process. Republicans are demanding liability protections for businesses in any future coronavirus bills - which Democrats have already dismissed.

More than 100 members of Congress signed a letter calling on leadership to earmark ‘significant funding’ for federal TRIO programs in the next economic relief package. TRIO encompasses eight programs that assist low-income residents, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities.

Click here to read the letter.

H-1B Visas

Republican Senators Ted Cruz (TX), Tom Cotton (AR), Chuck Grassley (IA), and Josh Hawley (MO) are asking President Trump to suspend all new guest-worker visas and all non-immigrant guest-worker visas for 60 days and continue to suspend new non-immigrant guest-worker visas for a year or until unemployment bounces back to ‘normal levels.’ Among the visas they are requesting be suspended are H-2Bs, which allow non-agricultural seasonal workers into the U.S.; H-1Bs for highly skilled applicants; and the Optional Practical Training program, which extends foreign student visas after graduation. They are also requesting the President suspend EB-5 visas - a program by which an immigrant can become a green-card holder by investing in business in the U.S. In April, the president halted new green cards, but exempted students and guest workers.

House Appropriations Committee

On Wednesday, May 6, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies held a hearing on the COVID-19 response. Witnesses for the hearing included Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, and former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dr. Caitlin Rivers, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Click here to watch a video of the hearing.

Senate HELP Committee

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (TN) will lead a hearing on the coronavirus remotely from Tennessee this week after a member of his staff tested positive for the virus. Senator Alexander decided not to travel back to D.C. after consulting with the Senate’s attending physician. He tested negative for the coronavirus on Thursday afternoon and is not exhibiting any symptoms.

Student Loans

On Monday, May 4, Senator Dick Durbin (IL) said he would push to include full loan forgiveness for students defrauded by two collapsed for-profit colleges in the next coronavirus economic rescue package. Durbin released a new legislative plan that would provide full loan forgiveness to student loan borrowers who were covered by the Education Department’s findings of misconduct against Corinthian Colleges or ITT Tech. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called for only partial loan forgiveness to many of those borrowers based on a calculation of what the department believes was the economic harm that defrauded borrowers incurred.

Durbin’s plan would also provide full loan forgiveness to borrowers who were included in group loan discharge applications submitted by state attorneys general, typically with evidence of a school’s misconduct that was gathered through state investigations. The Trump administration has generally rejected this type of approach to claims, arguing that borrowers should file individually and submit their own evidence. Under the proposal, the Education Department would be required to fully discharge all eligible loans within 30 days and correct borrowers’ credit reports.

Click here to read the proposal.

Unemployment Rate

On Friday, May 8, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a record 20.5 million Americans lost their jobs last month with an unemployment rate of 14.7 percent - the highest ever recorded by the BLS. Officials warned that the unemployment rate will continue to rise in May and June and could reach 20 percent. March and April amount to layoffs so severe they more than double the 8.7 million jobs lost during the financial crisis.

Click here to read the full jobs report.

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