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BPAA Federal Policy Update - February 1, 2021

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COVID-19 Relief Updates

 

  • Senate Republicans Counter Biden’s Covid Aid Plan A group of 10 Republican senators outlined a $618 billion counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package. The senators will head to the White House on Monday to discuss their proposal. While the GOP senators’ proposal includes similar amounts for national vaccine and testing programs, as well as other direct virus response measures, it omits several key items sought by the president and congressional Democrats, notably aid for state and local governments and expanded funding for schools to reopen. The Republicans’ offer also doesn’t include White House proposals such as an increase in the minimum wage and expanded tax credits for child care. It also would provide smaller direct payments and pandemic unemployment benefits.
    • More Direct Payments: Cassidy, during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” suggested that the direct stimulus payments included in the Republican proposal would be as high as $1,000. Biden’s plan calls for payments of up to $1,400, intended as a supplement to the $600 payments approved in December. New Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both campaigned heavily in favor of $2,000 stimulus checks during the Georgia runoffs, which gave Democrats control of the Senate.
    • Omitted Items: Below is a selected list of items from the administration’s initial proposal that weren’t included in the outline circulated by the group of 10 Republican senators on Feb. 1. You can view the outline of Biden’s plan below.
    • Labor provisions left out in the Republican plan:
      • Minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, as well as the elimination of lower wages for tipped workers and individuals with disabilities.
      • Creation of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration Covid-19 workplace safety standard.
      • Hazard pay for front-line essential workers, including back pay for 2020.
      • Extensions through Sept. 30 of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs, which are set to expire on March 14.
      • Extension and expansion of paid sick and family leave programs through Sept. 30.
    • Tax provisions left out in the Republican plan:
      • Extension and expansion of tax credits for employer-provided paid leave set to expire on March 31, through Sept. 30.
      • One-year expansion of the child tax credit and child care tax credit.
      • One-year expansion of the earned income tax credit for individuals without children, including the elimination of age caps.
    • Other omitted funding:
      • $25 billion emergency stabilization fund for child care providers.
      • $20 billion for tribal governments.
      • $20 billion for public transit agencies.
      • About $10 billion in emergency funding for information technology modernization projects across federal agencies.
      • $1 billion for additional Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding for states.
      • $800 million for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

 

  • President Biden’s $1.9T Virus Response Plan Roughly $1.9 trillion would be provided for state and local governments, health initiatives, schools, child care, workers, and more under a plan proposed Jan. 14 by President-elect Joe Biden.
    • The proposal would include $350 billion to help state and local governments, including to support first responders, expand testing, and reopen schools. The proposal would create a national vaccination program, provide funding to expand the health workforce by 100,000 people to conduct outreach and contact tracing, offer $50 billion to expand national testing, and provide $40 billion for supplies.
    • Biden also proposed:
      • Expanding emergency paid leave and unemployment programs, while increasing the minimum wage to $15.
      • Providing a direct payment to of $1,400 per person, in addition to the $600 provided under the omnibus spending law (Public Law 116-260).
      • Extending a 15% increase of benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
      • Expanding tax credits for children and child care and reducing health insurance premiums.
      • Offering grants and investment capital to small businesses.
      • Providing funding to help victims of domestic violence.
      • Dedicating $9 billion for the federal Technology Modernization Fund and $690 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, among activities to remediate the Solarwinds cyber attack.

 

  • Step Toward Aid Bill Set for This Week A budget resolution is poised to clear both chambers of Congress by the end of this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a White House news conference.
    • A budget resolution would be the first step toward passing coronavirus relief under the fast-track reconciliation process, which would shield it from a Senate filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had said the Senate would begin considering a big Covid-19 aid package next week and expressed willingness to move forward without Republican lawmakers if they continued to push back. Reconciliation can be used to move legislation under expedited procedures—avoiding a filibuster in the Senate—but there are budgetary restrictions.
    • Pelosi told reporters yesterday that she’s hoping lawmakers don’t need to rely on reconciliation, but “we’ll have it if we need it.”
    • A reconciliation package, though, has some downsides, in that not all parts of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan would qualify.
    • Funding for Covid-19 vaccines and testing would likely be out because discretionary spending is excluded from the process, and a proposed minimum-wage hike could also be excluded for having insufficient budget impact. On the other hand, stimulus checks and unemployment benefits could be included.
    • The White House opposes piecemeal virus relief.
    • “The needs of the American people are urgent from putting food on the table, to getting vaccines out the door to reopening schools. Those aren’t partisan issues. We are engaging with a range of voices—that’s democracy in action—we aren’t looking to split a package in two,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted yesterday. Full story at Bloomberg Government.

 

Labor & Minimum Wage Update

  • Biden, Democrats Hit Gas on Push for $15 Minimum Wage The Democratic push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour has emerged as an early flashpoint in the fight for a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, testing President Joe Biden's ability to bridge Washington's partisan divides as he pursues his first major legislative victory.
    • Biden called for a $15 hourly minimum wage during his campaign and has followed through by hitching it to a measure that, among other things, calls for $1,400 stimulus checks and $130 billion to help schools reopen. Biden argues that anyone who holds a full-time job shouldn't live in poverty, echoing progressives in the Democratic Party who are fully on board with the effort.
    • On Tuesday (Jan. 26), Both House and Senate Democrats introduced a bill to raise the U.S. minimum wage to $15 per hour, following through on one of President Joe Biden’s priorities for the aid package. House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott said that the bill will raise wages for 32 million workers.
    • The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would:
      • Would increase the current rate from $7.25 to $9.50, and then gradually raise the federal minimum wage $15 by 2025;
      • Index future increases in the federal minimum wage to median wage growth to ensure the value of minimum wage does not once again erode over time;
      • Guarantee tipped workers are paid at least the full federal minimum wage by phasing out the subminimum wage for tipped workers by 2027, which will ensure decent, consistent pay without eliminating tips;
      • Guarantee teen workers are paid at least the full federal minimum wage by phasing out the rarely used subminimum wage for youth workers by phasing it out by 2027; and
      • End subminimum wage certificates for workers with disabilities to provide opportunities for workers with disabilities to be competitively employed and participate more fully in their communities.
    • If democrats were to take a bipartisan approach to increasing the minimum wage they would have to get 10 republican senators to pass it in the Senate. Though there is not much support from republicans for the bill. Opponents of a $15 pay floor have long contended Congress should not set a national standard because costs of living vary across the country and that it would hurt small businesses. Republican Senator Mitt Romney said that boosting the minimum wage to $15 would “be very devastating to many, many small businesses,” in remarks circulated by his spokesperson. Romney highlighted that the Congressional Budget Office calculated it would cost more than 1 million jobs.
    • “More than doubling the minimum wage to $15 dollars per hour, expanding paid leave mandates, and creating new federal enforcement actions on small businesses will make it even harder for Main Street to survive,” the National Federation of Independent Businesses said in a statement after Biden introduced his economic relief plan earlier this month.
    • But House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said Democrats are prepared to use budget reconciliation, a complicated Senate process that would allow them to circumvent the filibuster and advance the measure using their 50 seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking any tie.
    • Established by the Congressional Budget Reconciliation Act of 1974, reconciliation can be used on certain tax, spending and debt limit bills. It effectively prevents a legislative filibuster, a Senate rule that requires legislation to receive 60 votes in order to be brought up for a final vote (meaning Democrats would need to secure the support of at least 10 Republicans). Experts are divided on whether the minimum wage can pass using those budget-reconciliation rules -- which require a provision to have more than “merely incidental” fiscal impact.
    • Lawmakers have enacted 21 budget reconciliation bills since 1980, most recently in 2017, when Republicans used it to pass President Trump's 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

 

  • U.S. Department of Labor Issues Workplace Guidance on Coronavirus Today, The U.S. Department of Labor announced that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued worker safety guidance to help employers and workers implement a coronavirus protection program . Last week, President Biden directed OSHA to release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure. “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” provides updated guidance and recommendations, and outlines existing safety and health standards. OSHA is providing the recommendations to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. Read More at MBS

 

  • Walmart CEO Says Wage Hike Should Consider Regional Economics
    • Retailer’s top official says U.S. must move quickly on crises
    • McMillon, also chair of Business Roundtable, speaks at event
      • Walmart Inc. Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said the U.S. needs to confront its health and economic crises -- but added he doesn’t support a universal $15 minimum wage. President-elect Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current level of $7.25, which is “too low,” McMillon said during a media briefing with Business Roundtable CEO Josh Bolten. But instead of setting a uniform nationwide level, McMillon called for a higher wage that takes into account “geographic differences” and “small business.” Congress should find the “right pace” for wage increases, said McMillon, who is serving as chairman of Business Roundtable.

 

  • Eight States, D.C. Sue DOL to Block Tip-Credit Wage Rule A Department of Labor rule that reverses the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “dual jobs” regulation and allows employers to pay tip-credited wages for any amount of nontipped work drew a Tuesday lawsuit by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), along with attorneys general from seven other states and Washington, D.C.
    • If enacted, the rule will force tipped employees to “work more for less pay,” and substantially reduce their overall wages, further “exacerbating the impact the COVID-19 pandemic,” the complaint alleges. It will also harm the states’ interests in their workers, economies, and sovereignty.
    • The DOL rule unlawfully discards the longstanding 20% cap on the amount of time tipped employees can spend performing related, nontipped tasks before they must receive the full minimum wage instead of a tip-credited one, the complaint says. It also improperly expands “related, non-tipped duties” to include any task performed contemporaneously or immediately before or after performing the tipped duties.
    • The rule also implements “an overbroad test” for deciding if an employee is a manager or supervisor and thus ineligible to participate in a tip-pool, which would likely prevent many non-managerial workers from receiving tips, and imposes a new willfulness standard for alleged violations, the complaint says.
    • The lawsuit, which names Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia as the sole defendant, was filed by Shapiro and the attorneys general of Delaware, D.C., Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
    • The attorneys general seek a preliminary and permanent injunctions blocking enforcement of the rule, which they say violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it contravenes the FLSA and is arbitrary and capricious.

 

  • Brady: We Support Wage AND Job Increases for All The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee Kevin Brady (R-TX) released the following statement after reports surfaced that Democrats are considering tax hikes to force another new federal mandate that would hurt struggling small businesses and Americans looking for work:
    • “Republicans believe we must increase wages and job opportunities for all workers, and we’ve gotten real results, with tax and regulatory reforms achieving historic surges in jobs and wages for women, Asians, Black Americans, and those without a college degree, prior to the pandemic.
    • “Rejecting what worked and demanding job-killing mandates and higher taxes on Main Street businesses—could Democrats possibly play to stereotype any more than this? Workers, families, and small businesses don’t need more partisan regulatory barriers, they need more opportunities that we should provide by working together.”

 

Transition Update

  • Bloomberg Government reports: Biden’s DOL Nominee Faces Scrutiny Over Past Labor Secretary nominee Marty Walsh’s image as a bipartisan steward of Boston city hall will be tested as GOP-aligned groups look to resurface unflattering information ahead of his confirmation hearing.
    • Union Influence: Walsh’s ties to unions while holding public office, federal extortion charges against a pair of his aides, and a questionable financial arrangement with his girlfriend’s consulting firm all provide ammunition for conservative groups looking to damage his chances of getting confirmed. Some see him as a top target among Biden’s nominees.
    • “He’s particularly interesting among the agency heads because of all the corruption that took place under his leadership,” said Chris Martin, the deputy executive director of America Rising, a conservative political action committee.
    • Ethical Quandaries: Two of Walsh’s aides were charged with union influence peddling during his time as mayor. Though the aides’ convictions were eventually tossed out by a federal judge, the scandal shadowed him for years and could lead to uncomfortable questions during his confirmation hearing.
    • Broader Reputation: It’s unclear whether attacks on Walsh will get traction, given that he was well-liked by Democrats and business interests in Boston.

 

  • California Unemployment Fraud Woes Complicate Su’s DOL Hopes California Labor Secretary Julie Su’s admission that her department spent up to $31 billion on fraudulent claims for jobless benefits has collided with White House plans to tap her for a key labor post, creating a potential liability for her promotion to the federal stage.
    • Several hours after Bloomberg Law reported that President Joe Biden plans to nominate her for deputy secretary of the U.S. Labor Department, Su held a press conference Monday to declare that at least $11 billion of the $114 billion in unemployment insurance payments California has made since March went to bogus claimants. An additional $20 billion in benefits remains under review as suspicious, she said.
    • A subsequent state audit released Tuesday found that California’s Employment Development Department—a subagency within the massive state workforce bureaucracy that Su leads—was unprepared for the surge in unemployment claims amid the pandemic, despite warnings and similar challenges during the 2008-2009 recession.

 

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