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RWVoices

Thursday
Mar082018

What’s at stake this International Women’s Day?

So many gains for women’s health, and so much at risk from new attacks!
 
Today, March 8th, marks International Women’s Day. We’re taking a moment to recognize all the once-in-a-generation advances we’ve seen for women’s health because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But, we’re also acutely aware that we need to keep up our vigorous resistance to the attacks on women’s health that are taking place practically every week in Washington, D.C., and in some of the states.
 
What are we celebrating today? The ACA has improved health coverage for millions of women. For example:
  • The uninsured rate for women has been cut nearly in half.
  • An estimated 53 million women now have contraceptive coverage without co-pays.
  • Insurance plans must cover maternity care without charging us extra.
  • Women can’t be charged more than men for the same health plan.
  • Women can’t be denied coverage or charged more because of “pre-existing conditions” such as having once been sexually assaulted, or having had a Cesarean section delivery.
But many of these hard-won gains have been under steady attack from the Trump administration and Congressional leaders for more than a year. Since taking office, Trump has tried to repeal or undermine the ACA, roll back contraceptive coverage requirements, prevent women from using their Medicaid coverage at Planned Parenthood and sabotage last fall’s ACA open enrollment period. So far this year, we’ve seen the Trump administration endorse cheap short-term “junk” health plans that offer inadequate coverage (such as no maternity care), propose “religious refusal” rules that would make it easier for health providers to deny care to women and LGBTQ people, and allow states to impose burdensome work requirements on Medicaid enrollees (which are likely to cause women to lose coverage).
 
This week, we learned that an advocate of “abstinence-only” sex education will be the final decision-maker on which clinics and agencies receive federal Title X family planning grants! Meanwhile, House Republicans are demanding the inclusion ofanti-reproductive health riders in the omnibus spending package needed to keep the federal government open.


That’s why it is important that women all across the country stand up and speak out against these attacks on our health. Make your voices heard! You can call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to urge your members of Congress to protect the gains for women’s health care we are celebrating today.
 
Reproductive Parity Act passes in Washington State!
 
Our Seattle-based regional coordinator, Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA),has had a major win with the passage of the Reproductive Parity Act. The bill requires Washington health plans issued on or after January 1, 2019, to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and voluntary sterilization with no cost-sharing, as well as all FDA approved over-the-counter contraceptives without a prescription. In addition, it requires coverage of abortion services in a substantially equivalent manner as maternity care and services, and subject to the same cost-sharing as maternity coverage. Not all plans, however, are subject to the Reproductive Parity Act, such as self-insured health plans, which are regulated at the federal level.
 
“This bill ensures Washingtonians have access to all FDA approved contraceptives, products, and devices free of cost-sharing barriers and prescription requirements for over-the counter contraceptives and products, and protects the right of women to access abortion services. We are thankful to our partners and legislators for working diligently to safeguard the right to reproductive health care and services,” said NoHLA Staff Attorney Huma Zarif.
 
Constitutional Amendment Restricting Abortion Goes to the Ballot in WV
 
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, our Charleston-based regional coordinatorWV FREE is leading the charge against a harmful proposed state constitutional amendment that would take away the constitutional right to abortion in that state. On Monday, West Virginia lawmakers passed Senate Joint Resolution 12, the “no constitutional right to abortion” measure, which will now go to the ballot for a public vote during the general election this November.
 
WV Free and its coalition partners are fighting back against this egregious attack on women’s health. On Saturday, WV FREE and partners held a rally at the West Virginia State Capitol, where West Virginians from all over the state joined together to tell politicians not to play politics with women’s health care (#HealthNotPolitics). WV FREE Executive Director Margaret Chapman Pomponio (second to left) is shown with WV advocates Bradley Milam, Jen Wagner, and Kate Chilko pictured above (left to right) at the Enough! Rally for Women’s Lives.
 
What’s behind this attack? In 1993, the Supreme Court of West Virginia ruled that the state constitution protects women’s health care, and that if the state Medicaid program funds pregnancy care, it must include all pregnancy related medical services, including abortion. Now, with Senate Joint Resolution 12, the West Virginia legislature is trying to overturn that decision.
 
While the amendment is being explained as an effort to take away Medicaid funding for abortion, WV FREE and other women’s health advocates point out that the bill’s very short text makes it clear that the bill’s aim is even broader. Crafters of the resolution have said they hope that Roe v. Wade will eventually be overturned and that the state constitution will then enable antiquated language to criminalize abortion altogether.
 
To make matters worse, WV legislators rejected a motion to add to the constitutional amendment exceptions for rape, incest or where the woman’s life is at risk. At the same time, Republicans in the state legislature are pushing a bill that would ban nearly all Medicaid-funded abortions in the state, with no exceptions for rape or incest (only an exception to save the life of the pregnant woman). HB4012 is still making its way through House.
 
WV Free will continue to do outreach and education around the state to encourage West Virginians to oppose this harmful measure that would not only take away Medicaid coverage of abortion for low-income women, but could pave the way to criminalizing abortion. WV FREE’s Executive Director Margaret Chapman Pomponio, shown speaking at Saturday’s rallysaid of the amendment: “The legislature abandoned women and families by passing SJR12... WV Free has already snapped into action to defeat this nasty amendment at the ballot box in November. This amendment is extreme to the core to say the least and it’s a bridge too far. It is out of step with what West Virginians want.”
 
A January Hart Research Poll revealed that two-thirds of West Virginia state residents do not support legislation to ban Medicaid-funded abortions. And 62 percent said they do not believe that government should have a say in abortion decisions. Instead, West Virginians want good jobs and healthy families - not politically motivated attacks on health care.
 
Had a life change? You may be able to sign up for health insurance!
 
If you recently experienced a life change, you may be able to sign up for health insurance at HealthCare.gov by qualifying for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). A Special Enrollment Period is a time, other than during annual Open Enrollment, when you can sign up for health insurance. If you qualify for an SEP, you have to act fast! You only get 60 days after a life change to enroll in a health plan.
 
Which life changes qualify?  Some of the most common qualifying life changes include:
  • Losing your health insurance, such as through a layoff.
  • Moving to a new zip code or county.
  • Getting married or divorced.
  • Having a baby, adopting or becoming a foster parent.
  • Having a change in immigration status.
  • Turning 26 and aging off your parents’ health insurance.
Survivors of domestic violence can also qualify for an SEP and apply for their own health plans. Survivors can qualify whether or not they are married. Additionally, a survivor’s dependents can also be added to a new health plan.

Survivors who want to apply for their own health plan should call HealthCare.gov at 1-800-318-2596. Those who qualify will then have 60 days to enroll in a Marketplace plan.

Help us spread the word!  Because there is only a 60-day window to apply for health insurance after a life change, it is important that people know about SEPs.  Raising Women’s Voices is especially concerned about reaching groups of people with the highest remaining uninsured rates: African-Americans, Latinx people, LGBTQ people and immigrants. We have produced a set of new Special Enrollment Period badges like the ones shown here. These badges will be shared online by our RWV regional coordinators around the country and by national partner groups such as Out2Enroll and Unidos US.  Please help us share them! You can find all of our SEP badges, as well as suggested posting text and other great resources (like flyers and fact sheets), on a Google Drive created by Community Catalyst. You can also share these badges by going to Raising Women’s Voices’ Facebook and Twitter page.
Thursday
Mar012018

Title X Family Planning Program under attack!

Trump Administration Takes Aim at Title X Family Planning Program 

A Trump administration Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for the Title X family planning program is signaling a radical shift in the program’s priorities. Title X is the national program that provides essential health care like birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams to 4 million patients each year. For over 40 years, it has served as a critical safety net for women who would otherwise go without health care, including low-income women, women of color and immigrant women.

While the announcement doesn’t explicitly exclude Planned Parenthood, it penalizes reproductive health care providers like Planned Parenthood, while prioritizing providers who don’t offer the full range of birth control methods. The FOA also signals the administration’s efforts to roll back access to the most effective forms of birth control, encouraging women to use “fertility awareness” methods over other common forms of birth control that are up to 99 percent effective.

These changes to the Title X Program will have chilling effects on women who rely on the program and on Planned Parenthood for access to reproductive health care. It means that more women will be forced to go without the health care they need. HHS’ attempts to undermine Title X will disproportionately hurt women of color, who comprise over half of the people served by the program. You can speak out against these attacks on Title X by using the hashtags #TitleX and #Fight4BirthControl on social media.

Join today’s Twitter chat on how to use health insurance effectively

Join Raising Women’s Voices @RWV4HealthCare today at 2 p.m. Eastern for a Twitter chat on how to use your health insurance wisely to get the care you need and avoid unexpected costs.

We’ll be tweeting out answers to questions from Community Catalyst about how to take advantage of free preventive care that is covered by insurance plans and how to choose a primary care provider (PCP) who is in your health plan network and is right for you. We’ll also explain those confusing insurance terms like co-payment, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum.

Take action Monday to protect young immigrants
Following Congress’ failure earlier this month to approve bipartisan legislation to restore legal protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, the fate of “Dreamers” has remained unclear. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court declined to take up the Trump administration’s fast-track challenge to two lower court decisions blocking the administration from terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that granted 800,000 young immigrants protection from deportation and provided them with the ability to work and support their families.  The Supreme Court action means that DACA will remain in place for the time being. But despite these temporary wins, which will allow immigrants who already have DACA status to continue applying for renewals after March 5, we still need a permanent solution for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers whose fate remains in limbo.

How can you show your support for Dreamers? You can participate in one of the hundreds of events happening across the country on March 5 for the National Day of Action to Protect Immigrant YouthCheck out what events are happening near youhere. You also can continue to call on Congress to come up with a permanent solution that would protect all Dreamers.  
You can’t advocate for us, without us! RWV at Take Root 2018
Kalena Murphy, RWV’s Regional Field Manager, and many of our regional coordinators joined advocates from across the country over the weekend for Take Root: Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice conference in Norman, OK. The event was hosted by the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma. The conference focuses on struggles and the strengths of those working towards reproductive justice in the more conservative parts of the country.

Several of our regional coordinators provided in-depth perspectives on their work in their respective states. Cherisse Scott, CEO and Founder or SisterReach (RWV’s regional coordinator in Tennessee), presented on “Faith and Reproductive Justice.” The session included background on the concept of Reproductive Justice, connecting RJ principles and practices with faith principles, and discussion about how to craft conversations around RJ issues.

Lakeesha Harris and Nia Weeks (second from right in photo), two representatives of our New-Orleans based coordinator, Women With a Vision, addressed alternatives to engaging with police and provided creative and holistic solutions to addressing community needs of safety. Nia Weeks also spoke on a panel discussing criminalization as a mechanism of punishment for pregnant women, intersectional issues (pregnancy, HIV status, and drug possession), and positive strategies to counter punitive approaches.

Kwajelyn Jackson (second from right in photo), Co-director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center (RWV’s Atlanta based coordinator), served on a panel focusing on birth justice, maternal mortality, the right to parent and mass incarceration. Kwajelyn, a steering committee member of Black Mamas Alliance, also highlighted their work addressing black maternal mortality.

Amber Garcia (second from right in photo) of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights COLOR(RWV’s regional coordinator in Denver) andAuduwyn Williams (at left in photo) of WV Free (RWV’s regional coordinator in West Virginia) both presented on building a healthier, more sustainable RJ movement. The panel discussed living wages, treatment of staff and volunteers and self-care.

Rebecca BerryBlack Women’s Health Imperative Fellow and member of RWV’s national coordinating team, spoke on the history of shackling of incarcerated pregnant women and shared prisoners’ experiences. The session explored grassroots solutions for bringing oversight and accountability to prisons violating anti-shacking laws.

RWV is proud to support the work of our regional coordinators. We are glad they are able to provide expertise in these spaces and demonstrate an intersectional perspective to addressing the needs of women and LGBTQ+ folks.
 
Another GOP lawsuit trying to overturn the ACA

This week, 20 Republican state attorneys general filed suit in Texas, once again alleging that the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be overturned. The Supreme Court held in 2012 that Congress did not have the constitutional authority to mandate the purchase of health insurance but that it could tax Americans who failed to do so. The states argue that since Congress repealed the tax penalty associated with the individual mandate through the GOP tax bill starting next year, the soon-to-be toothless mandate that remains on the books is unconstitutional, and by extension, so is the rest of the law.

The Supreme Court already ruled in 2012—when it made Medicaid expansion optional for states—that even if parts of the ACA are found to be unconstitutional, the rest of the law will stand. Numerous courts, including the Supreme Court, have already rejected prior attempts to gut the ACA or interpret it in a way that would cause the health insurance markets to collapse. Now, with the GOP Congress having affirmatively tried and failed to repeal the ACA legislatively after an unprecedented outpouring of support for the ACA from the American people, it seems even less likely that the courts will disrupt health coverage for millions of Americans.
 
But we will be monitoring this last-ditch attempt by Republicans to keep their ACA repeal attempts alive.

 

Thursday
Feb222018

“Junk” health plan won’t cover what women need!

Trump proposes to expand use of “junk” health plans
 


This week, the Trump administration rolled out yet another proposed rule designed to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and push younger, healthier people into unregulated “junk” insurance. This is just the latest step in a long line of steps to sabotage the ACA and drive up the costs of insurance for women, families and anyone with a pre-existing condition.
 
Under current law, short-term health insurance plans intended to cover very short gaps in coverage don’t have to comply with the ACA’s consumer protections. But under Obama-era regulations, they are limited to just three months. Under the Trump proposal, these short-term “junk” plans could last 364 days.
 
Much like the Trumpcare proposals pushed by the GOP Congress last year, these plans would not be required to cover essential health benefits like maternity care, prescription drugs or mental health care. They could discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, charge limitless out-of-pocket expenses and reinstate annual and lifetime coverage caps.  Unlike ACA-compliance policies, these “junk” plans would not be required to spend a minimum percentage of our premiums on actually providing health care, instead of on CEO salaries or advertising.
 
It's particularly disturbing that the administration is pushing these plans—which could put affordable mental health care out of reach for hundreds of thousands of families—even as the White House is explaining away the epidemic of gun violence as a mental health problem. 
 
With lower monthly premiums, “junk” plans would appeal to younger, healthier people who don’t expect to get sick, have an accident, or need much insurance throughout the year. Referencing an earlier, similar proposal, insurance companies warned, “This would allow the new plans to ‘cherry pick’ only healthy people from the existing market, making coverage unaffordable for the millions of people who need or want comprehensive coverage, including, for example, coverage for prescription drugs and mental health services. … In fact, it creates two systems of insurance for healthy and sick people.”
 
Strong sign-ups for ACA coverage this year despite the GOP’s sabotage efforts suggest that ACA markets will be protected against a “death spiral” for low- and moderate-income households whose premiums are subsidized by the government. But for middle-income households who don’t qualify for financial help, the combined impact of repealing the individual mandate and promoting non-compliant “junk” plans could set up a “death spiral” in comprehensive coverage.
 
Some younger and healthier people would opt for cheaper, junk plans making the market for comprehensive coverage slightly older and sicker. That would drive up premiums which would price out the next tier of healthy people, including those who wanted comprehensive coverage but could no longer afford it. That, in turn, could leave ACA markets as a de facto high risk pool with only the very sickest middle class households still trying to purchase comprehensive coverage.
 
Texas Summit on the Black Church and Reproductive Justice
 
The Afiya Center (RWV’s Dallas-based regional coordinator, which is led by Marsha Jones), hosted its annual Texas Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Summit last week. This year’s theme was “The Black Church’s Response to Reproductive Justice.”

“The church has historically played a pivotal role in the lives of Black women and the Black community. We love the Black church,” said Deneen Robinson, Program Director, The Afiya Center.  “We also know that the Black church has been absent in the work of reproductive justice. The Black church by and large has fallen down on the needs of women, except as it relates to their presence in the lives of men, in part because of the long-held role of patriarchy, misogyny and sexism. We believe it is, in part, because they see reproductive justice as advocating solely for abortion rights. We conducted this meeting to share the full breadth of reproductive justice."

The Summit gathered faith leaders, layfolk and activists for engaging plenaries, break-out sessions and panel discussions on Faith Based Reproductive Justice. Faith leaders speaking at the Summit included Bishop Yvette Flunder, who is Senior Pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ and Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries; Toni Bond Leonard, a long-time reproductive justice advocate who is completing her doctorate in religion, ethics and society at Claremont School of Theology; and Kentina Washington-Leapheart, a minister who is Director of Programs for Reproductive Justice and Sexuality Education at the Religious Institute.

Among those representing the medical community was Dr. Willie J. Parker, who considers his practice as an abortion provider to be part of his Christian calling, as he explained in his recent book, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice.  Dr. Joia Creer-Perry, an ob-gyn who is founder of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, screened the film “Death by Delivery.” Other speakers included Cherisse Scott, founder of RWV’s Tennessee regional coordinator, SisterReach.
 
“We wanted to provide an environment where Pastors, church leaders, laity, community providers and allies could share space and learn from each other,” explained Deneen Robinson. “We also wanted to hold the church accountable for its absence in the lives of Black women, who in most cases are the principal supporters of our ministries. As a faith leader, I want to make sure that women have faith communities that are concerned about their lives enough to show up for them not just in word but deed. Faith leaders have to find a way to show compassion for those they are called to serve.“

A key takeaway from the Summit will be creating a coalition that will remain engaged to assist The Afiya Center in creating a moral agenda for the next Texas state legislative session. Center leaders are also planning have a follow-up meeting in the fall to deal with the unspoken sexual trauma that sits in the Black communities of faith.

Making Contraceptive Coverage More Transparent in Maryland
 
Our Maryland-based regional coordinator, Consumer Health First, is supporting SB 744 / HB 780, a bill that would require insurers to develop and publicize a document with contraceptive coverage information for each of their plans. The document would be required to list all of the contraceptive drugs and devices covered by the plan (brand name and generic), as well as the surgical contraceptive methods that the plan covers (such as sterilizations). It would also include information about cost-sharing requirements and medical management for each covered contraceptive drug or device. This information would be published on the insurer’s public website.
 
Consumer Health First submitted testimony in support of the bill, which you can read here. The bill would build on Maryland’s 2016 Contraceptive Equity Act, which went into effect at the beginning of this year, by ensuring that women have accurate, comprehensive and easy-to-access information about their contraceptive coverage options.

 

Thursday
Feb152018

Trump issues terrible budget, Senate plan to protect Dreamers fails

Trump proposes ACA repeal, Medicaid block grants and huge cuts to Medicare
 
This week, the Trump White House released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2019. While we knew it was going to be bad, we were still shocked at just how deeply and ruthlessly the administration proposed cutting services for poor and middle-class households. Coming on the heels of the GOP’s $1.5 trillion deficit-financed tax giveaway to corporations and the ultra-wealthy, the president’s budget doubles down on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)’s promise to use the fiscal crisis created by the tax bill to justify gutting the social safety net. While most of the budget’s specific policy proposals have little chance of becoming law this year, the budget sets out a clear marker of what Republicans hope to do in 2019 if they retain control of Congress in the November elections.
 
The budget once again calls for blocking women from using their public health insurance at Planned Parenthood, repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and replacing them with a Graham-Cassidy style block grant program designed to disappear after a few years. The budget also doubles down on last year’s Trumpcare proposals to block grant Medicaid—eliminating its long-standing guarantee of coverage for pregnant women, children, seniors and people with disabilities. But the budget envisions even deeper cuts than what Republicans voted for in 2017. Despite Candidate Trump’s promises to protect Medicare on the campaign trail, the budget proposes $554 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next decade.
 
The budget envisions equally devastating cuts beyond health care. It calls for $213 billion in cuts to the food stamp (SNAP) program—slashing the program by almost one-third—elimination of community development block grants, deep cuts to housing assistance, elimination of 29 education programs that serve low-income students and $240 billion in cuts to infrastructure. Meanwhile, Trump’s infrastructure plan also introduced this week would replace direct federal investment—financed by progressive income taxes—with private investment financed by regressive tolls and fees. Women already face significant obstacles in accessing safe, affordable, and reliable transportation compared to men, with consequences for their health. In a 2013 study, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly one in five low-income women nationwide (18%) cited transportation problems as a reason for forgoing medical care.
 
But even with these deep, deep cuts to health care, food security, education and infrastructure, the Trump budget still predicts deep red deficits every year. In fact, their numbers almost certainly aren’t dire enough, banking on unrealistic projections about economic growth and the government’s borrowing costs over the next ten years.
 
Trump and Ryan want to use the deficit to attack services for low- and middle-income families but their own budget shows that even eviscerating the social safety net won’t balance the budget. Instead it’s clearer than ever that the next Congress must repeal the #TrumpTaxScam. The Washington Post summed up the budget with the headline, “Trump budget highlights disconnect between populist rhetoric and plutocrat reality.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
 
Senate Fails to Approve Bipartisan Plan to Save Dreamers
 
This week, the Senate debated legislation to restore legal protections for the Dreamers. Named for the DREAM Act, which would provide them with a pathway to citizenship, the Dreamers are undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, many of whom have known no other home.
 
As we described last month, after Republicans blocked the DREAM Act in Congress in 2010, President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 by executive order, granting limited legal status and work authorization to Dreamers who registered with the federal government. In 2017, however, the Trump administration canceled DACA, rescinding those protections after March 5, 2018, and directed immigration officials to arrest and deport otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants, including the Dreamers. In 2017, the number of non-criminal immigrants arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) increased 250 percent. Unless Congress takes action, the end of DACA will be not only a looming humanitarian crisis, but also a public health crisis, as hundreds of thousands of employed Dreamers lose their jobs and their work-place health insurance.
 
On Wednesday, a group of 16 senators evenly split between the two parties introduced legislation to extend legal status to 1.8 million Dreamers and appropriate $25 billion for border security, distributed incrementally over the next decade. However, because the bill does not slash legal immigration—a top priority for the Trump White House and the GOP’s nativist base—the administration issued a veto threat and began aggressively lobbying against it. The Washington Post reported one Trump official as saying “we are doing everything in our power” to block the bill.
 
This afternoon senators took four immigration-related votes, including on draconian legislation to block federal funding for “sanctuary cities” and a White House proposal to tie protections for the Dreamers hostage with steep cuts to legal immigration. Several organizations who advocate on behalf of the Dreamers had alreadyrejected the Trump proposal, warning that Dreamers won’t accept attacks on other immigrants as the price of their own freedom. All four votes failed to win the 60 votes needed for passage. The Trump proposal was rejected 39-60 while the bipartisan bill fell just 6 votes shy at 54-45.
 
Ironically, the bill’s path forward was complicated by a major legal victory for the Dreamers, which may have taken pressure off of reticent Republicans to pass a deal. Two federal courts have now ruled that Trump illegally terminated the DACA program, and have ordered the federal government to continue processing DACA renewal applications beyond March 5. But because the program requires Dreamers to register with a federal government now viewed as openly hostile to them, many Dreamers fear renewing their authorizations without statutory protections from Congress.
 
With the Senate now set to leave town for the President’s Day recess next week, it’s not clear what will happen next. But it’s not too late to make your voice heard and let your senators know what you think of their votes today. Use the congressional switchboard (202) 224-3121 to tell them they need to protect Dreamers, defend DACA and support the DREAM Act now!
 
You can also amplify the importance of DACA and the DREAM Act on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. Reach out to your senators by tweeting at them or posting on their Facebook pages. You can use these messages and graphics from our friends at the National Immigration Law Center and the hashtag #DreamActNow.

 

Friday
Feb092018

Congress Acts to Fund Key Health Priorities, But Leaves Dreamers Behind

Congress Funds Key Health Priorities, But Leaves Dreamers Behind

Early this morning, Congress passed a wide-ranging budget bill to end the second government shutdown of 2018 a few hours after it began. The bill funds the government at current levels through March 23—the fifth short-term funding measure since the start of the current fiscal year in October.
 
But this stop-gap, unlike previous ones, finally includes a desperately needed deal to set longer-term spending levels, repealing sequestration for two years and investing in starved domestic priorities. The bill also includes an additional four years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for a total of ten years, two years of funding for community health centers, and disaster relief for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But, the bill does nothing to protect the future of close to 800,000 Dreamers—young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, many of whom have known no other home. This is why we must urge Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act now. The DREAM Act would protect the ability of DACA recipients to live and work without fear of deportation and provide them a path to citizenship.
 
Following Congress’ action early this morning, appropriators will now use the next six weeks to draft a rest-of-the-year omnibus appropriations package based on new spending limits.
 
But before we get into the details of what was in the budget bill, a quick overview of the history. In 2011, the new Republican majority (elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave) held the debt limit hostage in the middle of the Great Recession in exchange for deep cuts to spending. The result was the Budget Control Act (BCA), a two-part attack on public investment.
 
The first part of the BCA instituted dangerously low statutory caps on discretionary spending, the category of funding for health care programs like Title X family planning and Ryan White HIV/AIDS care, K-12 education, housing assistance, infrastructure, food and drug safety, consumer safety, environmental regulation, and more. The second part of the BCA imposed sequestration—a process of deep, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts—if Congress failed to find other ways to reduce the deficit.
 
Bipartisan deals in 2013 and 2015 mitigated some of those cuts, but sequestration was set to come roaring back in 2018, with hardline conservatives poised to slash critical social programs while pushing for new spending for the Pentagon.
 
But in a key win for progressives, today’s deal not only eliminates sequestration for FY18 and FY19, it also increases discretionary spending above the BCA caps for those years too, adding $26 billion above the caps to non-defense in FY18 and $31 billion in FY19. Just how starved for funding have these programs been since the BCA? As the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities notes, even with this boost, funding on critical domestic priorities still remains “below its level of eight years ago in inflation-adjusted terms—a sign of how much this part of the budget has been squeezed in recent years.”
 
However, as we noted above, the deal does not include relief for the Dreamers. Activists had hoped that blocking the budget deal would give them additional leverage in the immigration debate, with the goal of pressuring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) into scheduling a vote. On Thursday, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA, left) gave a record-breaking 8-hour speech on the House floor, reading the personal stories of over three hundred Dreamers.
 
But because they have no control over the House floor, House Democrats are in an even weaker position than House Republicans were when they unsuccessfully pursued a shutdown strategy in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act and again in 2015 over Planned Parenthood. It’s not clear whether blocking the budget deal this morning would have pressured Ryan or simply strengthened the hand of House conservatives hoping to strip progressive priorities from the deal.
 
On Monday, the Senate is scheduled to start debate on a narrow, bipartisan immigration package designed to provide relief to the Dreamers in exchange for additional funding for border security. As reported by the Washington Post, the emerging deal "would grant legal status to Dreamers who have been in the country since 2013—a larger pool of undocumented immigrants than the 1.8 million Trump supports legalizing." Importantly, it would not cut legal immigration or authorize funding for a border wall, two poison pills for progressive but top priorities for the White House.
 
Ryan has so far refused to commit to a House vote on the Senate package unless it satisfies hard-liners in the Trump administration, but the real power lies with moderate House Republicans. Under House rules, it only takes 23 Republicans banding together with the Democrats to bring up a bipartisan immigration bill. If a majority of House members from both parties defeat a previous question or sign a discharge petition, they could win far more than just a promise from Ryan. They could take over the House floor.
 
That is why it is absolutely critical that we keep up the pressure on moderate Republicans. You can use the congressional switchboard at (202) 225-3121 to call your members of Congress, and urge them to protect young immigrants by passing the DREAM Act now. 
 
The Fight Against Harmful Medicaid Waivers Continues in the States
 
As we noted last week, states continue their march toward imposing burdensome new red tape on families with Medicaid under the guise of work requirements, lifetime limits, and unnecessarily frequent confirmations of eligibility. Earlier this week, we submitted joint comments with our Phoenix-based regional coordinator, Trans Queer Pueblo, urging CMS to reject Arizona’s proposed waiver, which would particularly harm women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ people.