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Advocacy & Policy Update - May 26, 2020




The House initially planned to pass all 12 appropriations bills by June, but that plan fell through as top Democratic lawmakers rushed to draft a fourth, $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, which passed the House on May 15. Leaders of the House Appropriations Committee now say they won’t markup spending bills until Congress can agree on another massive infusion of federal coronavirus relief, which might still be weeks away. There is also still disagreement between House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the Administration on many of the demands in the fourth package. 

Many of the Houses’ delayed hearings and markups will largely be moved online after lawmakers voted along party lines last week to allow committees to hold them remotely. The House will be able to vote remotely for the next 45 days.

Coronavirus Relief Package

A debate over whether to extend enhanced unemployment benefits is emerging as a significant obstacle to getting a deal on another round of coronavirus relief legislation.  Republicans are increasingly saying they expect to pass a fifth coronavirus bill; and while a growing number of GOP senators say they should move quickly, deep divisions remain within the caucus on everything from key policy provisions and timing to if another bill should be passed at all.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) says that Senate Republicans don't have any interest in extending the $600 federal increase to state unemployment benefits that was a core component of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, but not all Republicans are on board with McConnell.  Most notably, Senator Pat Roberts has said unemployment benefits “ will have to continue for a while."  The enhanced benefits are due to expire at the end of July, making them a principal topic of upcoming negotiations, and the GOP brainstorming comes as Democrats have clamored for Congress to pass another large-scale coronavirus relief package.

There are some signs that Congress will pass another recovery package at some point this summer. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has now said that there's a "strong likelihood" they will need another relief bill. And McConnell told President Trump during a private meeting last week that the next piece of legislation has to be under $1 trillion. But it could be awhile before we see progress and McConnell has indicated that any new relief bill  told won't look anything like the House Democrats' bill — the HEROES Act.  McConnell said Senate Republicans will talk next month about what may be needed, but also added that another stimulus measure is "not too far off."  Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Grassley (IA) has said that negotiations wouldn't even begin until the third or fourth week of June.

Bi-Partisan Skills Training Bill

On Wednesday, May 20, Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN), Brian Schatz (HI), Ben Sasse (NE), Cory Booker(NJ), and Tim Scott (SC) introduced the Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act, a bill that would give workers who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic a $4,000 tax credit to offset the cost of skills training programs. The legislation would create a massive new jobs program to help states across the country recruit, train, and hire more than a million workers to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and provide newly unemployed Americans with jobs in the growing public health care sector.

These training programs could include apprenticeships, two- and four-year college programs, and certificates, and workers would be able to use the tax credit through December 2021.

Click here to read the press release.

Gillibrand Details Plan to Rebuild U.S. Workforce

In a May 14 op-ed on, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) laid out her plan to rebuild the U.S. workforce. She is one of several senators calling for $15.1 billion for workforce training in the next coronavirus stimulus bill, and she supports creation of a national health force to train 1 million workers in contact tracing and other coronavirus response efforts. Senator Gillibrand also wants to create "free college" programs in exchange for public service, close the gender pay gap, establish universal paid sick and family leave, and eliminate the tipped minimum wage. 

Click here to read the op-Ed.

Pell Grants

On May 18, 77 education groups wrote a letter to Senate and House appropriators overseeing education funding urging them to double the Pell Grant maximum award as part of the next economic relief package. The letter said Congress should ‘help ensure the long-term viability of the Pell Grant program by confirming that the program’s surplus funds remain within the program. 

Click here to access the letter.

Helping Gig Economy Workers Act of 2020

On Friday, May 22, Congresswoman Carol Miller (WV) and Congressman Henry Cueller (TX) introduced the Helping Gig Economy Workers Act of 2020 to allow businesses to provide contractors with employee assistance without being penalized for miscategorizing them as full-time employees. The legislation permits digital marketplace companies to provide payments, health benefits, trainings, and PPE to users of the digital marketplace through the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.  This would be without it being used as evidence in any federal, state, or local law, ordinance, or regulation for the purposes of determining whether a user is considered an employee or independent contractor or the company is considered a joint employer. 

Click here to read the full press release.

Department of Education

On Friday, May 23, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced approval of six state plans for career and technical education under Perkins V — the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (HR2353) — including Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Click here for details about the approved plans 

On Friday, May 15, the U.S. Department of Education issued updated guidance to postsecondary institutions regarding the CARES Act and the Higher Education Act, expanding on the Department’s March 5, 2020 and April 3, 2020, guidance. The guidance expands the broad approval for the use of distance education to include periods that overlap March 5, 2020 or that begin on or between March 5, 2020 and December 31, 2020 in order to provide the necessary flexibility for institutions to make timely decisions on distance learning. 

Click here to access the guidance. 

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