Here’s a roundup of what’s happening on the Congressional front from the UCC Washington Office. We’re endeavoring to rapidly and robustly respond to the massive economic and public health emergency from the pandemic, while holding up the need to continue advocating for the most vulnerable at all times. And our advocate partners are eager to engage. Over the month of April, through the Justice and Peace Action Network, a total of 3,106 advocates took action to make a total of 7,864 legislator connections. Thousands of emails were sent on multiple issues including racism and xenophobia, the 2020 census, sanctions, paid sick leave, and protecting the vulnerable amidst COVID. We were also excited to see over 800 first time advocates take action!Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions
COVID Congressional Action: Swift Congressional response to address the pandemic and resultant economic and societal fallout has resulted in four bills – with more planned on the way. However, advocates are saying more must be done for the most vulnerable and at the same time Congressional deadlock and partisanship has seeped back into the legislative process. The House will likely introduce their own bill this week, but we expect a lot of back and forth on the House and Senate versions of additional assistance.The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (March 6) was $8.3 billion in emergency supplemental spending to help government health officials with research and purchases of medications for treatments and vaccines. Quickly followed by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (March 18) $190 billion which contained provisions to provide free COVID-19 testing, increased federal funds to support state Medicaid costs, some increase in nutrition assistance, expanded unemployment insurance (UI) compensation, and paid leave and paid sick days for millions of workers. The largest package so far called theCoronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, (March 27) at $2.3 trillion contained a boatload of money for loans/grants/tax credits to businesses plus funding for nutrition assistance, unemployment insurance compensation, grants to states, education assistance, housing programs and funding for states/localities to bolster their programs. It also placed limited moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures. The most recent bill was primarily to inject more money into the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) the loans for small businesses to keep folks on payroll; and included some additional testing and treatment funding.For future legislation we’re asking for these following items:
- Health care: expand health coverage for the uninsured; ensure free COVID-19 treatment for all; more funding for poor and rural hospitals
- Aid to states, localities, tribes, and territories: additional funds with fewer restrictions to prevent disastrous budget cuts
- Cash assistance: additional stimulus payments to individuals, including immigrants, children over 17, and other low-income people who were left out last time, and with an easier delivery system that doesn’t create barriers to accessing it; expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to provide assistance down the road
- Housing and homelessness: additional funds to prevent homelessness and ensure housing stability, including emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention
- Additional aid for workers: expanded and extended unemployment insurance; proper protective equipment and OSHA safety requirements; expanded paid sick days and sick leave to cover all workers; additional aid for child care
- Nutrition assistance: an increase to the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent and an increase to the minimum monthly SNAP benefit to $30; expansion and extension of child nutrition programs; additional nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico.
- Other: expanded consumer protections and nondiscrimination protections; expanded broadband internet access for underserved communities; COVID-19 demographic data collection; allowing voting by mail in elections.
Check out the Getting to the Root this week, highlighting how women and girls are impacted especially by COVID. April’s devastating jobs report shows that women made up a bigger share of April’s job losses (55%) than men. For Latinx, nearly one in five were unemployed (18.9 percent); for African Americans, 16.7 percent; for whites, 14.2 percent; for Asians, 14.5 percent. The pandemic exposes and magnifies our nation’s ruinous inequality, by race, class, and immigrant status.As businesses reopen around the country, workers may be forced between returning to jobs that aren’t safe (either because of conditions on the job or their underlying health issues) or losing their unemployment benefits. We’ve already seen governors threaten workers, telling them they must return to work, no matter the circumstances, and if they refuse to, they will be disqualified from unemployment benefits. There is longstanding UI law about “suitable work” and “prevailing conditions of work” that makes it clear that workers need NOT return to jobs where their health and safety may be at risk, but in its recent guidance documents, DOL has all but ignored these laws. We’ve joined with other advocates demanding DOL adequately address this issue, and make it clear that no worker has to return to a job that threatens their health and safety upon penalty of losing their unemployment benefits.
The Trump administration continues to roll back environmental regulations on a massive scale—The New York Times counted nearly 100 environmental rules that have been weakened or will soon be weakened, disregarding a recent study from Harvard University that links polluted air with higher COVID-19 death rates. As we know from the many studies including the UCC’s own report on toxic air, vulnerable populations face a public health risk due to deregulation and lack of enforcement of air purity standards.
Staff: Madison, Brooks
In a letter sent late last week, Sens. Rob Portman (OH) and Ben Cardin (MD) called for a revision to a rule preventing some formerly incarcerated people from receiving small business assistance through the Payroll Protection Program. Formerly incarcerated people are too often excluded from economic relief legislation, and there is growing bipartisan support for ending these carve-outs. Additionally, we have joined with the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition and the Justice Roundtable calling for mass decarceration coupled with robust support for reentry.
Stop the Hate
The U.N. secretary general, warned that the coronavirus pandemic is “unleashing a tsunami of hate” which could lead to a global human rights crisis. The UCC has a sign on letter from the National Officers as well as an action alert that folks can join to speak out against the hate and xenophobia that has arisen in the wake of COVID.
Staff: DC OfficeMilitarism/Pentagon SpendingThe Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released its annual report last Mondayon global military expenditures. The U.S. was at the top of the list, spending $732 billion in 2019 out of the almost $2 TRILLION spent globally. The UCC and other faith-based groups issued a joint statement condemning the American expenditures and a video of comments as part of the Global Day of Action Against Military Spending.Staff: MikeIran War PowersLast week, President Trump vetoed the Iran War Powers resolution, a bipartisan effort to rein in presidential authority to use military force against Iran without congressional approval. The measure was introduced in response to the January strike against Iranian leader Qasem Soleimani. Senators voted 49-44, falling short of the two-thirds support necessary to nix Trump’s veto. To make matters even worse, President Trump recently gave the Navy the go-ahead to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian ships at sea if they “harass” US vessels.Staff: Peter, Beka, MikePhilippinesConcern continues to grow over human rights abuses in the Philippines as President Duterte uses COVID-19 as cover for extending power and repression. Human rights groups have called for days of action against what has become a de-facto martial law in the country, with estimates of over 150k arrested. Staff: Derek, Mike, and BekaSanctions: Iran and VenezuelaThe UCC has endorsed several letters supporting the Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act, which would assert more Congressional oversight on their use and application. Here is anarticle summarizing recent efforts, as well as our UCC action alert on the issue. Of particular concern is the need to ease sanctions on Iran (the NCC/WCC released a statement on this) and Venezuela where President Trump also recently deployed navy ships under the auspices of counternarcotic efforts and has put into place a new policy “framework” that supports the opposition leader. Last week, several mercenaries were captured, including two U.S. citizens by Venezuelan officials that claim it was a failed coup attempt. Global Ministries is working on a letter for the NCC to issue on this issue, calling for the end of sanctions or any military involvement. Staff: Krista, Beka, and MikeDebt Cancellation – JubileeTwo weeks ago, the IMF announced it would cancel 6 months of debt payments for 25 poor countries in an effort to boost their health systems and economies to better respond to the Coronavirus. Jubilee USA and a coalition of faith groups, including the UCC, has endorsed a call for debt cancellation in light of COVID-19. Here is the NYTimes coverage and a piece in the Nation on that effort. Staff: MikeGlobal impact of COVID-19As we struggle in the U.S. to respond to COVID-19, many nations around the world are facing the prospect of dire consequences should the rate of spread continue, as lockdowns disproportionately impact the world’s poorest. India’s lockdown has sparked a massive migration of laborers who do not fear disease, but hunger. Mexico and other Latin American nations are underprepared, and in some cases, leaders are dismissing the crisis. Africa may face the greatest crisis given poverty rates and lack of medical resources. The impact on fragile states could lead to greater instability, and further conflict. Ultimately, the crisis could push half a billion people around the globe into poverty. To make matters worse, President Trump has announced that the U.S. would cut funding to the WHO (and here) at a critical time when greater capacity around the globe to respond to the virus, here is our action alert pushing back against these cuts.