Poverty Scorecard
Rating members of congress

Bills in 2015

Each year, through the legislative process, our elected officials choose whether or not to adopt policies that address the multi-faceted and complex issues facing low-income Americans.

In 2015, members of Congress cast votes on 39 bills, amendments and resolutions that sought to have an impact on Americans living in poverty. These votes addressed a wide array of issues — ranging from healthcare, to employment, to housing, to early childhood, to the environment — but they all, in one way or another, mattered to low-income Americans.

Some votes had a demonstrable effect — both positive and negative — on the lives of millions of Americans living in poverty. Other votes, while not carrying the force of law, expressed the sense of the chamber on certain issues, demonstrating elected officials’ commitment to, or apathy toward, racial and economic justice.

A summary of each of the votes included in the Poverty Scorecard appears below.

KEY

 
Budget and tax
 
Early Childhood
 
Employment
 
Environment
 
Healthcare
 
Higher Education
 
Housing
 
Immigrants
 
K-12 Education
 
Public Benefits

Senate Bills


House Bills


House

H. 14. (H.R. 30). For purposes of the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Save American Workers Act of 2015 would have amended the IRS code to redefine “full time employee” from 30 hours of hours per week to 40 hours.

Under the employer mandate of the ACA—formally the Employer Shared Responsibility Provision–employers with more than 50 full-time employees must provide health insurance that meets minimum affordability and coverage standards or else pay a penalty.

Increasing the number of work hours that qualifies a full time employee for employer-based health coverage from 30 hours to 40 hours would have reduced the number of people receiving employment-based coverage by about one million, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Although many of those who lose employer based coverage would have enrolled in health coverage through Medicaid, CHIP, or the marketplace, some would not; CBO estimates that the number of uninsured people would have increased by up to 500,000 people. In addition, CBO estimates that the Save American Workers Act would have actually increased the budget deficit by $53.2 billion over the next 10 years, due to the changes in sources of peoples’ health insurance as well as decreased revenue from employer mandate non-compliance penalties.

Finally, the Save American Workers Act would have incentivized employers to reduce hours for low wage workers not currently receiving employer based coverage in order to avoid paying non-compliance penalties. As a study from the Labor Center at the University of California-Berkeley explains, increasing the full-time threshold to 40 hours would have allowed many more employers to decrease the number of hours worked by employees (than the 30 hour threshold does)—for example, from 40 hours to 39 hours per week—in order to avoid having to pay penalties for not providing health coverage. The study estimates that increasing the work hour threshold would have increased the number of employees at risk of having their hours reduced, as a result of the provision, by almost threefold—from 2.3 million under current law to 5.6 million.

The bill passed by a vote of 252 – 172 but was not voted on by the Senate.

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H. 29. (H.A. 6 to H.R. 240). This amendment to the 2015 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act would have prohibited the use of any federal funds or fees towards implementing certain immigration policies — many of which aimed to bolster the financial stability of millions of undocumented immigrants.

As of 2014, about 11.3 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States. In addition to living in constant fear of deportation and being separated from their families, most undocumented immigrants also struggle financially: according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), two-thirds live in households with income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line. Undocumented immigrants, because of their precarious legal status, are also particularly vulnerable to labor abuses. Research has shown, for example, that undocumented immigrants are three times more likely to experience wage theft than documented workers.

In 2011, federal immigration agencies began issuing a series of orders, better known as the Morton Memos, which instructed employees to prioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a felony or have entered the country more recently. Lower priority was given to undocumented immigrants who have been in the country longer and have close family, educational, work, or other ties in the United States. In November 2014, President Obama issued various executive actions that would have allowed many of those undocumented immigrants deemed low-priority to defer deportation and gain temporary documentation.*

One of President Obama’s executive actions would have expanded eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for immigrants brought to the United States as children. Another established the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would have allowed the undocumented parents of certain American citizens to apply for a 3-year, renewable work permit.

Though they did not create a pathway to citizenship, these and the other executive actions, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), would have helped about 5 million people remain in the United States. The work permits made available through the 2014 executive actions also would have bolstered the financial stability of beneficiaries, leaving them less vulnerable to labor abuses and better able to apply for jobs that best match their skills. One study found that 60% of those participating in DACA reported obtaining new jobs and 45% reported increased wages. A Center for American Progress (CAP) report estimates that the greater labor market mobility and stronger workplace protections offered by work permits would increase the average undocumented immigrant’s earnings by 8.5% — or an additional $1,872 each year.

This amendment would have barred federal agencies from using any funds appropriated by the 2015 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 240), as well as any fees they collect from administering services, to implement the 2014 executive actions and the earlier Morton Memos. Barring the use of fees is particularly important because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — the wing of the DHS tasked with processing DACA and DAPA applicants — is overwhelmingly funded by fees, rather than by appropriations. Finally, this amendment would have prohibited any substantially similar policies from being enacted in the future.

This amendment passed by a vote of 237 – 190 but H.R. 240, with this amendment attached, was passed by the House and blocked by the Senate. The restrictions outlined above never became law.  However, the House and Senate passed a separate bill that fully funded DHS without these provisions and was signed into Public Law by President Obama.

*President Obama’s 2014 executive actions have yet to take effect. Twenty-six states have filed suit against the federal government to block them and, in February 2015, a federal judge sided with the states and issued an injunction against the orders. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recently upheld this injunction.  The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear the case and is expected to hand down a ruling in July.

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H. 58. (H.R. 596). Passage of the Repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would have repealed the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Passed in 2010 and implemented over the past six years, the ACA is the strongest effort to date to ensure that all Americans—regardless of income or preexisting conditions—have access to quality, affordable health care. Because of the ACA, insurance companies can no longer deny or price coverage based on preexisting conditions or gender and must adhere to minimum standards of coverage of essential health benefits; states can expand Medicaid to millions of low income adults who live at or below 138% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL); and millions of low to moderate income families including lawfully present immigrants can purchase health insurance with financial assistance on insurance marketplaces.

The ACA has been integrated into the United States’ health care system and proven its efficacy in extending quality health coverage to low-income individuals and those living in poverty. 31 states and the District of Columbia have implemented federally funded Medicaid expansions that have extended health coverage to 10 million low-income people. Collectively, these states have seen their uninsured rate cut in half, from 14.9% in 2013 to 7.3% at the end of 2015, according to a survey by the Urban Institute. Those who gained coverage through Medicaid expansions have taken advantage of new-found access to preventive care services, such as dentistry, and cholesterol, cancer and diabetes screenings that save both lives and money in the long term. For example, a study that evaluated Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion (now under threat from a new Governor) found that almost 100,000 people that received coverage through the Medicaid expansion now have access to such preventive services.

In repealing the ACA’s provisions without passing any legislation to replace it, H.R. 596 would have recklessly undone all of the progress achieved towards extending health coverage for all, regardless of income. In the first year alone of the ACA’s repeal, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ranks of uninsured people would have grown by 19 million, with 8 million fewer people receiving coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). By 2025, the number of uninsured people would have grown to 24 million while the number of people receiving coverage through Medicaid and CHIP would have shrunk by 14 million. Finally, in addition to causing the country to regress dramatically from extending health coverage to low income people, repealing the Affordable Care Act would also have been fiscally irresponsible, as it would have increased the federal deficit by as much as $353 billion over the next ten years.

The bill passed by a vote of 239 – 186 but was not voted on by the Senate.

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H. 95. (H.A. 24 to H.R. 5). This amendment to the Student Success Act would have allowed states to use certain federal education funding for programs that support minorities, women, and low-income students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Many of our nation’s fastest-growing occupations are in the STEM fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has estimated that STEM occupations will grow by 17% from 2008 to 2018 whereas non-STEM occupations will grow by only 10%. What’s more, wages in STEM occupations are projected to grow faster than the compensation in other occupations. In short, as one expert puts it, “the future of the economy is in STEM.”

But if STEM is the future of our economy, then women, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged are being left behind. From enrollment in appropriate postsecondary courses to degree attainment to employment, women, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged are markedly under-represented in STEM fields. This lack of diversity is nothing new, but the STEM divide has persisted mostly unchanged since 2001

This amendment attempted to reduce the STEM divide by allowing states to use some of their federal education funding to support STEM students from those underrepresented demographic backgrounds. Specifically, states would have been allowed, though not required, to use some of the funding they receive under Title 1 to award STEM grants to school districts or other non-profit organizations that promote the engagement of and success of minorities, women, and low-income students in STEM. Those grant funds could have been used at primary or secondary education levels to, among other things, encourage interest in STEM, provide after-school STEM-centric programming, and/or partner with higher education or other institutions to promote pursuing careers or further education in STEM fields.

This amendment was rejected by a vote of 204 - 217

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H. 142. (H. Con. Res. 27). The 2016 House Budget Resolution laid out a ten-year spending plan that made massive cuts to programs that are critical for low-income Americans, including repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

The budget resolution is not a binding law, but is rather a blueprint, setting out general, multi-year targeted revenue and spending levels for the entire federal government and particular congressional committees. Rep. Tom Price’s 2016 resolution aimed to eliminate the federal deficit and balance the budget over the next ten years by cutting $5 trillion in funds to domestic programs, most of which help those with low- and moderate-income.

$2.9 trillion of Rep. Price’s cuts come from health-care expenditures to moderate- and low-income Americans. The resolution would have required repeal of the market place subsidies and elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Medicaid expansion — which would have, at the time, left 16.4 million Americans uninsured. On top of dismantling the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, the resolution also would have converted Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) into block grants and reduced spending on the programs by $913 billion, leaving many more low-income people without health care.

But the resolution didn’t stop at health care. It gutted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) by $125 billion, or 18% — which would have reduced critical food assistance to millions of low-income families and their children, leaving them more vulnerable to food insecurity. It made $159 billion in cuts to key tax credits, which would have pushed 16 million people into, or deeper into, poverty. It froze the size of the maximum Pell Grant award for the next ten years and eliminated the program’s mandatory funding — which, according to the Committee for Education Funding, would diminish the maximum award by as much as 16%. As the price of college continues to rise and the purchasing power of the Pell Grant wanes, these cuts would make college less financially viable for the over 8 million low- and moderate-income students who rely on them. Additionally, the resolution made another $460 billion in unspecified cuts to programs that serve low-income people.

All in all, 69%, or just about $3.7 trillion, of Rep. Price’s non-defense cuts were to programs that support Americans with low- or moderate-income, reducing the size of these programs, on average, by about 40% over the next ten years. And, because people of color utilize these programs at disproportionately high rates, these cuts would hit them the hardest.

While Rep. Price’s budget sought to impose painful cuts on those least able to afford them, it did not provide for any new revenue generation, leaving about $1 trillion in tax expenditures — which are heavily tilted towards the wealthy — untouched. For this reason, Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, termed this plan “Robin Hood in reverse.”

The resolution passed by a vote of 228 – 199.

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H. 144. (H.R. 2). Passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years.

Originally created by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, reauthorized in 2009 and extended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), CHIP provides health insurance to children that are low income but above the cut-off for Medicaid eligibility. In most states, CHIP exists through Medicaid expansions or combines Medicaid expansion with a separate CHIP program.

CHIP, along with Medicaid and improvements mandated by the Affordable Care Act, has been instrumental in reducing the rate of uninsured children, from 14% to a historic low of 6% in 2014. Now, CHIP is a vital part of the health safety net for low-income children.  8.1 million children received health coverage through CHIP in 2014, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

CHIP has proven effective in promoting access to care and improving health outcomes.  According to the Urban Institute, rates of access to and use of primary care among children covered through Medicaid or CHIP are comparable to the rates for privately insured children. An evaluation of Healthy Kids, Oregon’s CHIP program, found a significant increase of respondents who reported good general health after their children were enrolled in Healthy Kids for 12 months, and a national study found that a 10% increase in CHIP/Medicaid eligibility resulted in a 3% decrease in child mortality.

Ultimately, the reauthorization of CHIP—which includes a 23% increase in CHIP federal matching rates for states--ensures that millions of low income children will retain access to high quality, affordable care for the next two years.

The bill passed by a vote of 392 – 37. After being passed by the Senate, the Legislation was signed by President Obama and became Public Law No: 114-10.

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H. 275. (H.A. 294 to H.R. 2578). This amendment to the 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act would have reallocated $25 million in federal funding from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 

LSC is the largest funder of civil legal assistance for low-income people in the United States, providing 39% of all funding for these services. LSC dispenses grants and provides evaluation and training to 134 nonprofit legal aid programs —25% of the country’s civil legal assistance providers. These programs provide legal representation to low-income individuals and families faced with issues such as domestic violence, housing discrimination and foreclosure, predatory lending, and accessing public benefits. In 2013 alone, LSC-funded organizations served 1.8 million people living at or below 125% of the federal poverty line.

People in poverty are more likely than middle- or high-income citizens to need legal representation, but the number of poor people seeking legal aid far outpaces the capacity of existing providers. According to a 2009 report published by LSC, 50% of  those who sought legal assistance from LSC grantees were turned away because of the lack of adequate resources. More broadly, the National Center for Access to Justice reports that many states have less than one legal aid lawyer for every 10,000 impoverished residents. This disparity between the demand for and supply of legal aid has only grown in recent years: while LSC’s funding has been reduced by over 10% since 2010, the number of low-income people qualifying for free legal aid has grown during that same time. Reducing federal spending on LSC by $25 million, or 7% of its 2015 funding — would have further limited the ability of LSC and its grantees to provide legal assistance to people living in poverty. 

This amendment was rejected by a vote of 163 – 263

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H. 287. (H.A. 337 to H.R. 2578). This amendment to the 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Act (H.R. 2578) sought to bar the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using funds for litigating based on a disparate impact theory, an essential tool for enforcing the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

The Fair Housing Act (FHA), passed as a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, seeks to establish a fair housing market by making any discrimination based on race, religion, sex, color, religion, or national origin unlawful, with later amendments to the FHA also barring discrimination on the basis of family status and disability. This doctrine, which has recently been affirmed by the United States Supreme Court as cognizable under FHA, allows plaintiffs, both private litigants and the DOJ, to bring forth claims of discrimination by showing, usually through statistical analysis, that a policy or action has had disproportionate, adverse impact on a protected class — even if they are unable to prove discriminatory intent. This structural analysis is essential in enforcing FHA because it allows plaintiffs to challenge outwardly neutral yet still discriminatory policies or practices; substantiating intent, on the other hand, is extremely difficult.

For decades, disparate impact litigation has been a powerful and vital weapon wielded against housing discrimination. Recently, for example, DOJ used it to win a settlement from Countrywide Financial Corporation for charging African-American and Hispanic consumers discriminatorily high fees and interest rates. In addition to winning $335 million in recourse for hundreds of thousands of borrowers, the settlement also requires Countrywide to institute policies that prevent such discrimination in the future.

Thus, by barring funds appropriated in H.R. 2578 from being used for disparate impact litigation, this amendment would have hamstrung DOJ’s ability to address systemic housing discrimination, leaving practices that limit housing opportunities for protected classes unchallenged. These sorts of discriminatory policies and practices, in turn, contribute significantly to poverty, residential segregation, the racial wealth gap, and financial insecurity more broadly.   

The amendment was adopted by a vote of 232-196. H.R. 2578 was passed by the House but was not voted on in the Senate. 

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H. 307. (H.A. 393 to H.R. 2577). This amendment to the 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2577) sought to prohibit the use of appropriated funds for the Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI), an important effort in combating housing discrimination.

The Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP), which is administered through HUD, provides competitive grant awards to non-profit organizations that promote fair housing laws and provide direct assistance to people who believe they have been subjected to housing discrimination. FHIP ties its grant awards to four initiatives or categories, one of which is the Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI). PEI funds are used by organizations for investigating individual fair housing complaints, testing for systemic discrimination, and implementing other enforcement activities. In 2015, HUD made available a total of $29,275,000 for PEI, and in 2014, awarded roughly 90 organizations with PEI grants.

PEI funds play a major role in financing housing discrimination investigations. A 2011 study conducted by HUD found that organizations who receive FHIP funds are the primary source for testing evidence associated with housing discrimination complaints. HUD also found that, because of a dearth of alternative sources, those organizations rely heavily on PEI grants as a stable source of funding for testing and enforcement activities. In 2006, PEI funds supported two-thirds of the investigations and tests conducted by FHIP organizations. What’s more, that same study also shows that FHIP organizations, relative to their non-FHIP peers, are more effective at screening out complaints that do not reflect fair housing violations and more efficient in referring appropriate cases to HUD. 

So, by barring funds appropriated in H.R. 2577 from being used for PEI, this amendment would have eliminated an important source of funding for fighting housing discrimination, undermining some of the most efficacious organizations in the process and thus leaving instances f housing discrimination unchallenged.

This amendment was adopted by a vote of 224-198. H.R. 2577 was passed by the House, but was not voted on in the Senate.

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H. 311. (H.A. 399 to H.R. 2577). This amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016 sought to prohibit the use of funds to carry out the duty to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), a mandate of the federal Fair Housing Act and the Housing and Community Development Act that promotes diverse, inclusive communities.

AFFH requires the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and those receiving HUD funds (housing authorities and state and local governments) to proactively address historic patterns of segregation and promote fair housing choice and inclusive communities. But as has been well-documented, the implementation of this provision has been ineffective and segregation has stubbornly persisted, leaving communities of color in particular without the same level of access to quality schools, housing, and other critical resources as others. 

So, on July 19, 2013, HUD proposed a new regulation for implementing the duty to AFFH. Prior to the new rule, HUD required participants to analyze impediments to fair housing within their jurisdiction, plan to reduce those impediments, take appropriate actions, and then maintain records of such efforts. But those efforts were typically not submitted to or reviewed by HUD, leaving essentially an “honor system” approach to AFFH compliance. The new rule institutes a review process by HUD of participants’ efforts, and equips participants with an Assessment Tool — which includes geospatial data related to certain key fair housing issues — that they must utilize. Previously, participants were on their own to pay for and analyze this data.  HUD estimates that administering and implementing this rule will cost local entities $25 million and HUD $9 million yearly. The rule was finalized on July 8, 2015. 

But, by barring funds appropriated in H.R. 2577 from being used for this purpose, H.A. 399 would have undermined this new rule — leaving HUD grantees less equipped to address segregation and promote fair housing choice and inclusive communities.

This amendment was adopted by a vote of 299-193. H.R. 2577 was passed by the House, but was not voted on by the Senate.

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H. 320. (H.A. 422 to H.R. 2577). This amendment to the 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2577) would have merely reaffirmed existing law that prohibits unauthorized immigrants from receiving federal housing assistance. But, in doing so, it also ginned up dangerous xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiments.

In the United States, unauthorized immigrants are barred from accessing virtually all federal public benefits, including housing assistance. Section 214 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980, as amended, defines which categories of noncitizens are eligible for federally-assisted housing programs and unauthorized immigrants are not included. This was reaffirmed by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which banned unauthorized immigrants from accessing any “federal public benefits,” a term defined in the law to include public and assisted housing. So, in short, despite experiencing poverty and deep poverty at disproportionately high rates, unauthorized immigrants are simply ineligible for federal housing assistance.

This amendment, introduced by Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), sought to prohibit funds appropriated by H.R. 2577 from being used to “provide financial assistance to unauthorized immigrants in contravention of section 214(d) of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980.” As the language of the amendment suggests, and as Representative Mario Diaz-Balart put it on the floor of the House chamber, “[The amendment] doesn't change current HUD policies. It merely restates current law. I don't, frankly, see a reason to have the amendment.”

While it didn’t aim to alter existing law, this amendment was apparently a vehicle to propagate anti-immigrant rhetoric. In his floor speech in support of the amendment, Rep. Brooks suggested that it’s not only problematic that unauthorized immigrants are using federal housing assistance because it is illegal, but also because it directly undermines the financial security of the rest of the country. Specifically, Brooks suggested that unauthorized immigrants continue to live in federally assisted housing while “American families struggle to make ends meet and” are forced to wait in line for public housing.

Rep. Brooks was perpetuating the pervasive myth that unauthorized and ineligible noncitizens are using federal assistance programs in order to position them as inimical to the interests of low-income in Americans in particular, and to the financial health of the country more broadly. What Brooks was thus arguing is that immigrants are bad for the country.

This claim is, at one level, deeply xenophobic and indicative of a broader trend of anti-immigrant rhetoric — which, by stirring up racial hatred, threatens the security of all immigrants. At a second level, it is also empirically bankrupt. Immigrants pay a significant amount of taxes. They contribute to the economy. And they help comprise and foster a richer, more diverse American community. Contra Brooks, immigrants are in fact a value added to the country.

This amendment was adopted by a vote of 246 – 180. H.R. 2577 was passed by the House but was note voted on by the Senate. 

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H. 354. (H.A. 499 to H.R. 2685). This amendment to the 2016 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2685) would have prohibited certain federal funds from flowing to companies that have willfully and repeatedly violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the last five years.

Passed in 1938, the FLSA established basic worker protections including the minimum wage and overtime pay. Certain violations of the FLSA — paying workers less than the jurisdictional minimum wage, forcing workers to labor off the clock, not paying overtime, misclassifying workers, or refusing to pay workers at all — are considered wage theft. Wage theft is a national epidemic, costing workers hundreds of millions of dollars per year. And though wage theft affects workers throughout the entire economy, low- and moderate-income workers — those who are least able to afford it — are particularly vulnerable to being illegally stripped of their earned income. One estimate suggests that the typical low-wage worker who experiences wage theft loses $51 weekly, or $2,634 annually — significantly undermining their financial stability. 

The United States government pays roughly $500 billion annually to private companies in exchange for goods and services, and the companies receiving those funds employ, in total, approximately one-fifth of the American workforce. It has been well-documented that many companies that the federal government contracts with engage in unfair labor practices. A Congressional investigation in 2013 found that, between 2007 and 2012, nearly 30% of the companies receiving the highest penalties for violations of federal labor law were also federal contractors. Of the 100 largest back pay awards during that period, 35 were against companies that held federal contracts. Thirty-seven of the 49 federal contractors examined in that investigation had been cited for a wage violation. A 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that, of the 50 largest back wage assessments made by the Wage and Hour Department (WHD) during fiscal years 2005 through 2009, 25 were made against companies that subsequently received federal contracts. Other instances of wage theft have been cataloged by survey, demonstrating not only the pervasive nature of this problem, but also the real-life consequences of shortchanging workers: they are unable to make ends meet and provide for their families. But the contractors who committed these violations were able to — and did — secure more government contracts and taxpayer money.

To review prospective contractors and grantees, the federal government uses the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System — a database that consolidates contractor performance and integrity data from various sources, including five years worth of criminal, civil, or administrative agency actions that have a final disposition (i.e., are not pending or under appeal). This amendment would have prohibited any funds in H.R. 2685 from being used by the Department of Defense (DOD) — which, in FY2014, obligated more spending on contracts than all other federal agencies combined — to enter into a contract with a company that has “willful” or “repeated” violations of the FLSA listed in that database.

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 187 – 242.

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H. 413. (H.A. 56 to H.R. 5). This amendment to the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) would have created a competitive grant program to fund and analyze state and locally led high school dropout prevention programs.

The U.S. has made major strides in reducing the incidence of high school dropouts over the past eight years. Thanks in part to improved dropout rate measurement and goal-setting policies implemented by the Department of Education under President Bush in 2008 and extended by President Obama in 2011, the rate of students who did not graduate from high school dropped 27% between 2008 and 2012.  In 2013, the U.S. national high school graduation rate reached an all-time high, with 81% of the class of 2013 graduating in four years.

Still, major challenges remain in erasing the high school dropout rate once and for all. Every year, 1,235 schools nation-wide fail to graduate one-third or more of their students, and the students who attend these schools are disproportionately low-income and students of color. Although black students comprise 16% of K-12 students nationwide, they make up 40% of the student body in these schools, and in half of the schools, black students make up 90% or more of the student body. Clearly, the measures implemented under President Bush were effective but they are insufficient. More research on best practice drop out interventions is needed, as are funds specifically targeted towards schools with high overall dropout rates.  

The adoption of this amendment would have been a step in the right direction towards meeting these goals. It would have appropriated $125 million to create a competitive grant program for state and local education agencies to fund drop out intervention and prevention programs at specific schools whose graduation rates are below their state averages. To ensure that these intervention and prevention programs were informed by the most effective strategies and practices, this amendment also would have provided for data collection and evaluation on the efficacy of programs implemented with the new funds. Finally, it would have mandated that the Department of Education create a national clearinghouse containing the results of the aforementioned analyses, as well as research on evidence-based best practices in dropout prevention and intervention programs.

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 192 – 237

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H. 505. (H.R. 3134). Passage of this bill would have prohibited Federal funding of Planned Parenthood for a one year period.

Prohibiting Federal funding of Planned Parenthood, which accounts for $450 million or about 40% of its annual revenue, would have significantly diminished access to contraceptive services and supplies, as well as reproductive healthcare, for women living in poverty.

Planned Parenthood plays an indispensible role in providing access to reproductive health services to low income women. Of the three million patients Planned Parenthood serves each year, 79% live at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL).

Proponents of this legislation asserted that the funds that go to Planned Parenthood could be redirected to other providers, such as community care organizations, and thus ensure that women living in poverty retain access to affordable and effective reproductive healthcare. Research suggests this is unlikely for many reasons.

First, Planned Parenthood is, in many areas, the largest or sole safety net provider of contraceptive services and supplies. In two-thirds of the 491 counties in which they are located, Planned Parenthood clinics provide care to at least half of all women obtaining contraceptive care from safety net healthcare providers. In one-fifth of the 491 counties, they are the only safety-net family planning provider.

Further, the capacity of the Community Care provider system is insufficient to address the immediate rise in demand that would result from defunding Planned Parenthood. Although community care providers ensure access to primary and reproductive healthcare for millions of low income women, there are many millions more living in poverty for whom community care providers lack the capacity to provide care. Thus, a massive influx of new patient demand would overwhelm an already saturated system, and deprive care or access to contraceptives to many.

States that have removed Planned Parenthood from their safety net family planning services system have caused access problems and service shortages. When Texas passed legislation to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program in 2012, non-Planned Parenthood clinics faced the insurmountable challenge of having to increase their capacity by 81%. These remaining clinics did not have the ability to adequately respond. Between 2011 and 2013, enrollees in Texas’ Women’s Health Program decreased 9%, Medicaid claims decreased by 26%, and contraceptive claims decreased 54%. All of these measures signal a major decrease in utilization rates that resulted from the loss of access to Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas.

Although the exact number of women that would have lost access to contraceptive services and reproductive healthcare if Planned Parenthood had been defunded is unknown, it is clear that the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics would be devastating. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 400,000 women would have faced reduced access to care had Planned Parenthood been defunded.

The bill passed by a vote of 241 – 187 but was not voted on in the Senate

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H. 518. (H.R. 348). The Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2015 (RAPID Act) would have restricted the evaluation of the environmental impacts of major federal actions required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

Enacted in 1969, NEPA requires federal agencies to prepare a report that details the environmental impacts of any proposed federal action that may significantly impact the quality of the environment and to evaluate project alternatives that could reduce or eliminate such impacts.  These reports, termed Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), must examine the multiple environmental impacts of federal actions that often disproportionately affect the health and livelihood of low income communities and communities of color.    NEPA does not require agencies to adopt the alternative identified to be least environmentally harmful.  Still, the process of drafting these reports ensures that environmental considerations are a central part of decisions on major federal actions.  Additionally, the process provides important opportunity for public input and scrutiny; especially from the communities that most often bear the brunt of these decisions.

Under the guise of reform, proponents claim that the RAPID Act would have streamlined the EIS process in order to increase market certainty, thereby creating more jobs.  To expedite the EIS process, the RAPID Act would have created an arbitrary timeframe for EIS drafting and finalization of only two years and limited the period of public comment on EIS drafts to no more than 60 days. For many projects, completing an EIS that takes the full breadth of environmental impacts and meaningful public input into account takes far longer than two years; eight years, for example, is not out of the ordinary.  Limiting the entire EIS process to only two years would severely undermine an agency’s ability to evaluate the full scope of environmental impacts resulting from major federal actions and to respond effectively to public concerns.  The RAPID Act would have also implemented a short deadline of 180 days for federal agencies to either approve or reject a federal action following the completion of an EIS and failure to act within this deadline would have resulted in the automatic approval of the federal action. These arbitrarily short deadlines would have been most problematic for large-scale, complex projects that have the greatest potential to harm the environment and public health.

Finally, the RAPID Act would have barred federal agencies from considering the social cost of carbon in EISs.  Carbon emissions are recognized as a major cause of global warming and its associated consequences.  The social cost of carbon attaches a monetary estimate to economic damages associated with increased carbon emissions, including damage to health, property damage from natural disasters, and changes in the cost of energy. Although global warming affects all of us, the costs of global warming’s associated damages are disproportionately borne by those living in poverty as they are more often exposed and vulnerable to climate related shocks and less likely to have the financial resources and support systems to cope with such shocks.  

By implementing timeframes that drastically reduce the ability of Federal Agencies to fully evaluate the environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions, and banning those agencies from considering the costs of global warming that disproportionately burden people living in poverty, the RAPID Act would have recklessly increased the likelihood of approval of a federal action, regardless of its environmental consequences. 

The bill passed by a vote of 233-170 but was not voted on by the Senate

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H. 579. (H.R. 1314). Passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 provides significant relief from sequestration mandated discretionary spending cap limits and provides a framework for federal spending for Fiscal Years 2016-2017.

For the past five years, spending on programs that assist low income people—such as childcare, Head Start, federal support for low income schools, job training, housing assistance, and services for individuals experiencing homelessness and seniors—has been constrained by discretionary spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Known as sequestration, these spending limits have measurably diminished the capacity of the Federal Government to extend support to low income people. For example, sequestration forced local and state housing agencies to cut the number of Housing Choice Vouchers they offer by almost 100,000 from 2013 to 2014.

Ever since sequestration went into effect in 2011, Congress has been enacting legislation to mitigate its impact. Most recently, the 2013 Murray-Ryan Budget Deal (formally the Bipartisan Budget Act) ameliorated a portion of sequestration’s spending limits and restored about one-third of the Housing Choice Vouchers that had been cut. However, its provisions were slated to run out at the end of 2015 and sequestration’s harmful spending caps would have been implemented full force starting in 2016 without new intervening legislation.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 picked up where the Murray-Ryan Budget Deal left off. It eliminates about 90% of the $37 billion in sequestration cuts on non-defense discretionary spending in fiscal year 2016 and about 60% in fiscal year 2017. It also suspends the debt ceiling through early 2017, maintains the solvency of Social Security Disability Insurance through 2022, and prevents a drastic increase in insurance premiums and deductibles for Medicare beneficiaries. Ultimately, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 mitigates more of sequestration’s spending caps than any earlier piece of legislation.  

Still, the spending levels afforded by the raised spending caps provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 are very low in historical terms. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, non-defense discretionary spending for fiscal year 2016 will be about 12% lower than it was in fiscal year 2010. Thus, the Bipartisan Budget Act does not raise spending limits enough to make new investments in programs that help low income people. Instead, it provides a framework that prevents the further erosion of resources available to those programs.

The bill passed by a vote of 266 – 167. After being passed by the Senate, the Legislation was signed by President Obama and became Public Law No: 114-74.

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H. 661. (H.A. 858 to H.R. 8). This amendment to the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015 sought to reauthorize, through 2020, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) — a program that has helped reduce energy costs for millions of low-income Americans.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) provides grants to states to improve the energy efficiency of the homes of low-income people. States use the grants to contract with local governments and nonprofit organizations, which then provide weatherization services free of charge to benefiting households. Local providers tend to emphasize permanent and cost-effective measures, and services provided through WAP include, among others, weather-stripping windows or doors, insulating walls or roofs, and repairing or updating furnaces. These services, in making homes more energy efficient, help reduce energy costs. Most households with income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are eligible, but high priority is given to households with a vulnerable person, defined as a child, a person 60 years or older, or a person with a disability. Because it isn’t an entitlement and is thus limited in reach by how much money Congress appropriates to it, WAP only serves a small fraction of the 20 to 30 million families who are eligible.

Despite WAP’s limited reach, the services it delivers has reduced the energy costs of millions of low-income people. People with low income typically shoulder a relatively heavier burden when it comes to energy costs. Whereas middle- and upper-income households spend 5% or less of their total household income on energy purchases, households with low-income spend anywhere from 10% to 20%. And, since its inception, WAP has helped reduce this burden for over 7 million low-income families. The most recent research suggests that WAP’s services help households save anywhere from $283 to over $400 annually in heating and cooling costs. Additionally, on top of reducing the energy costs for those who need it the most, weatherization strengthens the durability of housing, improves the health of occupants, reduces carbon emissions and pollution, and even spurs economic activity.

This amendment would have reauthorized the WAP through 2020.

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 198-224.

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H. 703. (H.R. 2029). The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 made key improvements in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) permanent. These working-family tax credits keep more children out of poverty than any other policy tool.

It should be noted that a “no” vote on this piece of legislation did not necessarily mean that the member was opposed to making the EITC and CTC improvements permanent. Some of the EITC and CTC’s strongest champions voted against this resolution out of concern that business tax credits also made permanent would add to the budget deficit and lead to future cuts in services vital to low-income families. Nevertheless, we included this vote because making the improvements permanent is one of the most significant anti-poverty victories in the last 20 years. 

The EITC is a refundable income tax credit aimed at low and moderate income working families. The size of the benefit depends on the taxpayer’s marital status, family size and income. Starting at $1 of income, the benefit grows larger as one earns more until reaching a maximum benefit after which it begins to taper off and eventually phases out completely. The benefit is used to reduce the amount a person or family owes in federal income taxes but, because it is refundable, if the credit for which a family qualifies exceeds their federal income tax liabilities, that difference is then dispersed to them by the federal government. During the 2013 tax year, the average EITC benefit was $3,074 for a family with children. In that same year, the EITC alone lifted about 6.2 million people out of poverty, including 3.2 million children. It also kept 21.6 million people — 7.6 million of whom are children — from falling deeper into poverty.

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) is a similar refundable tax credit that helps low- and moderate-income families offset the cost of having a child. The CTC also grows with the size of a household’s earnings, with a maximum benefit of $1,000 per child. In 2013, the CTC kept 3.1 million people, including 1.7 million children, out of poverty. It lessened the severity of poverty for another 13.7 million people, 6.8 million of whom are children.

In 2009, lawmakers made three important improvements to these credits as part of the economic stimulus package. First, the income eligibility threshold to claim the refundable portion of the CTC was lowered from $10,000 to $3,000. Second, the EITC was made more generous for families with more than two children. And third, the income level at which the EITC begins phasing out for married couples was increased, reducing the “marriage penalty” for those filing jointly. All in all, these improvements strengthen the credits’ anti-poverty impact by about 20 percent.

These improvements were scheduled to expire in 2017 when the credits would have reverted to their pre-2009 status. Had this occurred, it would have negatively impacted the financial security of 50 million people, including about 25 million children, and pushed many into or deeper into poverty.

Congress missed an opportunity to fix a serious flaw in the EITC which is its treatment of childless workers. The EITC completely misses many low-income workers without children and does too little for those childless workers it does reach: in 2013, the average childless family benefiting from the EITC only received $281.  

This bill passed by a vote of 318-109.  Following its passage in the Senate, the Legislation was signed by President Obama and became Public Law No: 114-113. 

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Senate

S. 8. (S.A. 69 to S. 1): This amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act would have mandated that the storage and transportation of petroleum coke (petcoke), a granular, coal-like co-product of heavy crude oil distillation, be federally regulated in order to protect public and ecological health. 

Over the past five years, residents of low income neighborhoods in close proximity to petcoke storage sites in Chicago and Detroit have reported high numbers of sick children as high winds have blown petcoke dust from their towering outdoor storage piles to surrounding neighborhoods.  On one occasion in Chicago, ambient air surrounding a petcoke storage and transfer site owned by KCBX Terminals—a company owned by Edward and Charles Koch—was found to be polluted with high levels of petcoke fugitive dust that contained dangerous concentrations of fine particulate matter

Legislation is needed that protects communities that are in close proximity to polluting sources of harmful industrial products and waste such as particulate matter.   Exposure to such pollutants can have dire health consequences.  For example, chronic human exposure to particulate matter is linked to increased mortality and morbidity associated with a wealth of cardiovascular, metabolic, developmental and neurological pathologies.  Because sources of pollution disproportionately tend to be located within or near low income communities or communities of color, these health risks are likewise disproportionately borne by low income people and people of color.   

This legislation would have mandated that the EPA create new rules that ensure the safe containment of petcoke throughout the course of its storage and transportation in order to protect against its release into the environment.  Further, the amendment would have ended petcoke’s exemption from being designated a hazardous substance under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act—legislation that provides federal funding to address emergency or uncontrolled releases of hazardous pollutants into the environment.  .

Petcoke is just one of many sources of environmental risk that can harm human health, and more comprehensive measures would still have been needed to ensure that all Americans live in a healthy environment.  Still, this amendment would have been a step in the right direction towards protecting low-income communities and communities of color from disproportionately high exposure to environmental risks.    

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 41 – 58 (3/5 majority needed).

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S. 28. (S.A. 74 to S. 1). This amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act sought to express the ‘sense of the Senate’ that the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) should be funded at no less than $4,700,000,000 annually. That is, at the FY 11 funding level.

LIHEAP defrays the cost of heating and cooling energy bills for millions of low-income households. The assistance is federally funded and most of it is delivered to states through block grants. States can set the income threshold for assistance between 110 and 150% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), and some states allow a small portion of assistance to be used to weatherize homes. The amount of assistance provided is contingent on the recipient’s income, household size, home energy costs, and geographical location.

Low-income households are often relatively cost-burdened by energy and heating costs compared to more affluent households. While middle- and upper-income households spend 5% or less of their total household income on energy, many low-income households spend as much as 10% to 20% of their gross income on energy costs. In 2011, LIHEAP helped approximately 7.6 million low-income households cover heating and other emergency winter energy costs, and assisted approximately 900,000 households with cooling costs. LIHEAP primarily assists the most vulnerable households; according to a 2011 survey, 89% of LIHEAP households include children under the age of 18, household member(s) with a disability, or household member(s) over the age of 60.  

LIHEAP is a vital resource for millions, but more qualified households are excluded from — rather than served by — the program. Unlike some federal assistance programs, such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), simply being eligible for LIHEAP does not entitle a household to the program’s benefits. Available benefits are limited by the amount that Congress appropriates each year, so the number of households served depends on the level of program funding.

Congress is authorized to appropriate approximately $5.2 billion annually to LIHEAP, but in recent years it has opted to appropriate far less. In the years following FY11, Congress has appropriated around $3.4 billion to the program annually, leaving an even larger number of eligible households without this critical form of assistance.  

S.A. 74, however, would have expressed the ‘sense of the Senate’ that funding for LIHEAP should at least return to the FY11 level of $4.7 billion — a significant increase but still only enough to serve less than one in five eligible households.

The amendment was tabled by a vote of 49 – 45. So far in FY16, only $3.017 billion has been appropriated by Congress and dispersed to states in block grants for LIHEAP. 

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S. 63. (S. 534). The Immigration Rule of Law Act of 2015 would have prohibited federal funds and fees from being used to enforce particular executive actions that aimed to help millions of unauthorized immigrants avoid deportation and obtain work permits.

As of 2014, about 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States. In addition to living in constant fear of deportation and being separated from their families, most unauthorized immigrants also struggle financially: according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), two-thirds live in households with income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line. Unauthorized immigrants, because of their precarious legal status, are also particularly vulnerable to labor abuses. Research has shown, for example, that unauthorized immigrants are three times more likely to experience wage theft than documented workers.

In November 2014, President Obama issued various executive actions that would have allowed unauthorized immigrants not convicted of a felony to defer deportation and gain temporary documentation.* One of the actions expanded eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Another one established the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would have allowed the unauthorized parents of certain American citizens to apply for a 3-year, renewable work permit.

Though they did not create a pathway to citizenship, these and the other executive actions, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), would have helped about 5 million people remain in the United States. The work permits made available by the programs also would have bolstered the financial stability of beneficiaries, leaving them less vulnerable to labor abuses and better able to apply for jobs that best match their skills. One study found that 60% of those participating in DACA reported obtaining new jobs and 45% reported increased wages. A Center for American Progress report estimates that the greater labor market mobility and stronger workplace protections offered by work permits would increase the average unauthorized immigrant’s earnings by 8.5% — or an additional $1,872 each year.

This bill, however, would have barred federal agencies from using any funds appropriated by Congress, as well as any fees that they collect from administering services, to implement these executive actions. Barring the use of fees is particularly important because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — the wing of the DHS tasked with processing DACA and DAPA applicants — is overwhelmingly funded by fees, rather than by appropriations. Finally, this bill would have prohibited any substantially similar policies from being enacted in the future. 

The motion to invoke cloture failed by a vote of 57 – 42 (3/5 majority required).

*President Obama’s 2014 executive actions have yet to take effect. Twenty-six states have filed suit against the federal government to block them and, in February 2015, a federal judge sided with the states and issued an injunction against the orders. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recently upheld this injunction. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear the case and is expected to hand down a ruling in July.

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S. 82. (S.A. 362 to S. Con. Res. 11). This amendment sought to address the gender wage gap by closing legal loopholes and strengthening tools for legal recourse in cases of pay discrimination.

From the 1980’s into the early 2000’s, the gender pay gap was reduced substantially. In 1980, the typical woman working full-time, year round earned 60 cents for every dollar that a typical man was paid; by 2005, that figure was 78 cents. But, since then, progress in reaching pay equity has stalled. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, in 2014, a typical woman working full-time, year round was paid only 79 cents for every $1 that a typical man was paid. This amounts to a $10,762 annual median income gap. Gendered pay inequity has indeed remained a fixture of the U.S. economy, persisting at every level of educational attainment and in 96% of the occupations for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides earnings data. The gap hits women of color the hardest: as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) reports, for every dollar that a white male makes, African-American women make 63 cents and Latino women just 54 cents.  It is also particularly deleterious for single mothers: they make only three-quarters of what single fathers do and are more than three times as likely to live in poverty.

This amendment would have amended the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to address the gender wage gap in three important ways. First, it would have made employers who violate sex discrimination prohibitions liable in a civil action for punitive damages. Second, it would have prohibited employer retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or discuss their own wages with other employees to determine fair payment. Third, it would have replaced the most lax of four exemptions that businesses can currently use to justify a pay disparity with a more stringent one — employers would have been required to prove that a pay differential was of “business necessity” rather than merely because of “any other factor than sex.” Ultimately, these reforms would have bolstered federal efforts to combat pay discrimination and improve the financial stability of working families.

This vote was on an amendment to a budget resolution and has no binding legal effect because the resolution itself is not a law but merely expresses “the concerns of the legislative body.”

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 45 – 54

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Employment: S. 98. (S.A. 798 to S Con. Res. 11). This amendment would have required employers to allow workers to earn paid sick leave.

Lack of access to paid sick leave is an epidemic in the United States that plagues low-wage workers. Between 43 and 48 million workers — or about 40% of the workforce — are in jobs that do not provide paid time off for sickness. Roughly 80% of workers who make less than $15,000 annually lack access to paid sick leave. This makes it tough, if not impossible, for workers to take time off to recover from short-term illness.

Restricting access to paid sick days not only imperils workers’ physical health, it also threatens their financial health. For workers without paid sick time off, particularly low-income working, single mothers, a sick day can be disastrous. Two-thirds of low-income working mothers have lost wages when they had to miss work to care for a sick child or other family member, and nearly one in five low-wage working mothers have lost a job for this reason.

And, in addition to the harm caused to low-wage workers, restricted access to paid sick days is also a liability for public health and a drag on the productive capacity of businesses.

This amendment would have required employers to allow their workers to earn paid sick leave.

This vote was on an amendment to a budget resolution, and has no binding legal effect because the resolution itself is not a law but merely expresses “the concerns of the legislative body.”

The amendment was adopted by a vote of 61 – 39

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S. 100. (S.A. 432 to S. Con. Res. 11). This amendment to the 2016 Senate Budget Resolution sought to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and use that revenue to provide two years of community college to students free of charge. 

Higher education is critical to upward mobility and community colleges are a key access point to higher education for millions of low- and moderate-income people. The most recent analysis shows that 44% of low-income undergraduates attend community colleges as their first college after high school.

While community colleges can be crucial for low- and moderate-income students seeking upward mobility, tuition costs can be a serious drain on their financial health and prevent them from staying in school. In recent decades, the cost of attending community college has grown and continues to grow significantly. Whereas Federal Pell Grants — financial aid awards given to students based on need and other risk factors — used to cover the entire cost of attending community college, they now typically cover only 60%. After taking such need-based grant awards into consideration, the average out of pocket cost facing community college students from low-income families ranges from $8,000-$11,000 per year. And, on top of having low income, community college students are also more likely to be independent of their parents, have dependents of their own, and/or face other risk factors that make it tougher to afford college while making ends meet.

This amendment sought to improve access to higher education by making it more affordable. Specifically, it would have altered the 2016 Senate Budget Resolution — which sets the multi-year targeted spending and revenue levels for the federal government — to raise income taxes on the highest earners by an estimated $72.5 billion over the next ten years. This revenue would have been used to provide students with two years of community, vocational, or tribal college, free of charge — making college, a critical stepping stone to upward mobility, more viable for all students, and low-income students in particular.

This vote was on an amendment to a budget resolution and has no binding legal effect because the resolution itself is not a law but merely expresses “the concerns of the legislative body.”

This amendment was rejected by a vote of 45 – 55.

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S. 101. (S.A. 828 to S. Con. Res. 11). This amendment to the 2016 Senate Budget Resolution would have restored mandatory funding to the federal Pell Grant program, which helps millions of low and moderate income students pay for college.

Federal Pell Grants are financial aid awards given to college students based on their financial need, tuition and course load. For the 2015-2016 school year the maximum award was $5,775. The Department of Education estimates that over 8.2 million students rely on these grants to help pay for school. Pell Grant recipients are more likely to come from low-income households, be financially independent, have dependents of their own, be employed while enrolled, hold student loans, and/or face other risk factors that can limit their ability to afford and attend school.

Pell Grants are a particularly important source of assistance for students of color. Whereas only a third of white undergraduates received Pell Grants in 2011, 60% of African-American and 50% of Hispanic undergraduates received such assistance. Moreover, students of color who receive Pell Grant aid are more likely to finish their degrees than those who do not. But while Pell Grants are especially crucial for students of color, they help all beneficiaries attend and finish college: research shows that these sorts of grants encourage low-income students to enroll in college in the first place and help recipients receive their degrees quicker. And though they remain a critical source of assistance for those who need it the most, it’s worth noting that the purchasing power of Pell Grants has significantly declined in recent decades.

The 2016 Senate Budget Resolution (which sets the multi-year targeted spending and revenue levels for the entire federal government) would have made severe cuts to the Pell Grant program, likely reducing the value of the maximum award by as much as 16%, down to $4,860. At best, these cuts would mean a higher debt burden for students of low-income and of color, who already shoulder an outsized amount of debt after graduation. And at worst, they could mean students having to forgo attendance altogether. Either way, students who could afford it the least stood to lose the most from these cuts.

This amendment would have altered the budget resolution to restore the mandatory funding to the program, staving off those cuts.

This vote was on an amendment to a budget resolution, and has no binding legal effect because the resolution itself is not a law but merely expresses “the concerns of the legislative body.”

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 46 - 54.

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S. 124. (S.A. 360 to S. Cons. Res. 11).  This amendment to the Fiscal Year 2016 Senate Budget Resolution sought to deter the migration of unaccompanied, undocumented children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the “Northern Triangle,” to the United States, using expedited removal. 

From 2012 to 2014, the number of unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who attempted to enter the United States at its southwest border dramatically increased, from 10,000 in 2012 to over 50,000 in 2014.  Many of these children fled their homes to escape extreme rates of violence; one study found that a clear majority of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. from Central America likely qualified for protection under international law.  President Obama recognized the massive flow of Central American children entering the U.S. as an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

Despite this recognition, the federal government reacted to this humanitarian crisis by treating it as a problem of illegal immigration.  Accordingly, the federal government sought to project the message that any apprehended children from these three countries would likely be deported back to their countries of origin—and the violence they fled. 

This amendment went one step further, seeking to avoid the due process protections provided under the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) altogether by subjecting unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. from Northern Triangle countries to deportation via “expedited removal”—a summary method of deportation.  Although this was an amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution, so no actionable legislation undergirded it, it is still part of the canon of legislative efforts that sought to react to this humanitarian crisis by recklessly increasing the rate of deportation.  .

Under current law, the TVPRA mandates that the custody of unaccompanied minors apprehended by border control from any Central American country be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which provides shelter and medical care while their cases are shepherded through the immigration court process.   During this time, unaccompanied minors are thoroughly screened to determine whether they are victims of human trafficking or other traumas that could qualify them to stay in the U.S. through a number of protective visas. 

Subjecting unaccompanied minors from the Northern Triangle to deportation by expedited removal would deny them due process and necessary care under the TVPRA.  Made legal by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, expedited removal allows immigration officers to act both as prosecutor and judge in determining whether certain non-citizens are eligible to remain in the U.S.  And, unless they declare a fear of persecution in their countries of origin and thus possible eligibility for asylum, noncitizens subject to expedited removal are ordered to leave the U.S. without an opportunity to seek out further protections.

Increasing the use of expedited removal would diminish the likelihood of identifying traumas that qualify children to stay in the U.S.  For starters, children who experience trauma often do not tell their stories for many weeks. Thus, expedited removal does not allow sufficient time for children to feel comfortable bringing these traumas to light.  Further, children from the Northern Triangle are unlikely to open up about their experiences to immigration officers as most harbor a distrust of law enforcement ingrained by experiences in their home countries. 

In short, subjecting unaccompanied minors from the Northern Triangle to expedited removal would prevent the identification of traumas that could qualify them for protection in the U.S. and, ultimately, result in the unjust deportation of thousands of children, placing them in grave danger.  In some cases, the consequences of being unduly deported via expedited removal are lethal; one report found that over 80 deportees had been murdered since their return to El Salvador in 2014.   

The amendment was adopted by a vote of 58 – 42, but no further actionable legislation was considered in either chamber.

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S. 125. (S.A. 968 to S. Con. Res. 11). This amendment to the 2016 Senate Budget Resolution made key improvements in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) permanent. These federal tax credits serve as a vital income boost for millions of low- and moderate-income working families and making the improvements permanent is one of the most significant anti-poverty victories in the last 20 years. 

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable income tax credit aimed at low- and moderate-income families. The size of the benefit depends on the taxpayer’s marital status, family size and income. Starting at $1 of income, the benefit grows larger as one earns more until reaching a maximum benefit after which it begins to taper off and eventually phases out completely. The benefit is used to reduce the amount a person or family owes in federal income taxes but, because it is refundable, if the credit for which a family qualifies for exceeds their federal income tax liabilities, that difference is then dispersed to them by the federal government. During the 2013 tax year, the average EITC benefit was $3,074 for a family with children. In that same year, the EITC alone lifted about 6.2 million people out of poverty, including 3.2 million children. It also kept 21.6 million people — 7.6 million of whom are children — from falling deeper into poverty.

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) is a similar refundable tax credit that helps low- and moderate-income families offset the cost of having a child. The CTC, too, grows with the size of a household’s earnings, with a maximum benefit of $1,000 per child. In 2013, the CTC kept 3.1 million people, including 1.7 million children, out of poverty. It lessened the severity of poverty for another 13.7 million people, 6.8 million of whom are children.

In 2009, lawmakers made three important improvements to these credits as part of the economic stimulus package. First, the income eligibility threshold to claim the refundable portion of the CTC was lowered from $10,000 to $3,000. Second, the EITC was made more generous for families with more than two children. And third, the income level at which the EITC begins phasing out for married couples was increased, reducing the “marriage penalty” for those filing jointly. All in all, these improvements strengthen the credits’ anti-poverty impact by about 20 percent.

But in 2017, these improvements were set to expire and the credits would have returned to their pre-2009 status. Had this happened, it would have negatively impacted the financial security of 50 million people, including about 25 million children, and pushed many into or deeper into poverty.

Congress missed an opportunity to fix a serious flaw in the EITC which is its treatment of childless workers. The EITC completely misses many low-income workers without children and does too little for those childless workers it does reach: in 2013, the average childless family benefiting from the EITC only received $281

Despite their shortcomings, the EITC and CTC, in combination, keep more children out of poverty than any other policy tool.

This vote was on an amendment to a budget resolution and had no binding legal effect because the resolution itself is not a law but merely expresses “the concerns of the legislative body.”

This amendment passed by a vote of 73 – 27. The improvements to the EITC and CTC were signed into law as part of H.R. 2029 by President Obama and became Public Law No: 114-113. 

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S. 137. (S.A. 1114 to H.R. 2). This amendment to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 would have repealed the individual tax penalty imposed for failing to comply with the individual mandate, a key tenet of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The individual mandate—which requires all individuals who can afford it to enroll in insurance or else pay a penalty—made possible the much needed reforms to the individual insurance market that were implemented by the ACA. Now, health insurers cannot deny coverage to or increase insurance premiums for individuals based on preexisting health conditions such as cancer or diabetes. In order to make these reforms financially viable for insurance companies, the individual mandate ensures that the insurance pools are comprised of a mix of healthy and non-healthy individuals and are large enough to sufficiently spread out the cost to make coverage affordable for all. In part because of these measures, the ACA has sharply decreased the ranks of the uninsured. Since it was implemented, 20 million Americans have gained health coverage and the uninsured rate for non-elderly adults (age 19-64) has fallen from 20.9% in 2013 to 11.5% as of early 2016.  

Repealing the individual mandate would have jeopardized the historic gains in health coverage accomplished under the ACA. The ranks of the uninsured would have swelled yet again; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the number of uninsured individuals would have increased by 14 million by 2025. Because the size of the insurance pool would shrink so drastically, the cost of coverage would have increased for those who kept their insurance, with premiums increasing 20% between 2017 and 2025, according to the CBO.

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 54 – 45 (3/5 majority required).

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S. 144. (H.R. 2). Passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years.

Originally created by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, reauthorized in 2009 and extended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), CHIP provides health insurance to children that are low income but above the cut-off for Medicaid eligibility. In most states, CHIP exists through Medicaid expansions or combines Medicaid expansion with a separate CHIP program.

CHIP, along with Medicaid and improvements mandated by the Affordable Care Act, has been instrumental in reducing the rate of uninsured children, from 14% to a historic low of 6% in 2014. Now, CHIP is a vital part of the health safety net for low-income children.  8.1 million children received health coverage through CHIP in 2014, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

CHIP has proven effective in promoting access to care and improving health outcomes.  According to the Urban Institute, rates of access to and use of primary care among children covered through Medicaid or CHIP are comparable to the rates for privately insured children. An evaluation of Healthy Kids, Oregon’s CHIP program, found a significant increase of respondents who reported good general health after their children were enrolled in Healthy Kids for 12 months, and a national study found that a 10% increase in CHIP/Medicaid eligibility resulted in a 3% decrease in child mortality.

Ultimately, the reauthorization of CHIP—which includes a 23% increase in CHIP federal matching rates for states--ensures that millions of low income children will retain access to high quality, affordable care for the next two years.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 92 – 8. Previously passed by the House, the Legislation was signed by President Obama and became Public Law No: 114-10

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S. 159. (S.A. 290 to S. 178).  Passage of this amendment to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 would have reauthorized the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA).  

Homelessness is a common experience for too many children and young adults in the United States, with one study estimating that there are 1.68 million runaway or homeless youth under the age of 18 nationally. 

Through U.S. Department of Health and Human Services administered grants that are distributed to local and regional service providers, RHYA provides foundational support for homeless youth through funding three intervention initiatives.  First, the Street Outreach Program supports projects that provide treatment, education counseling and service referrals.  Second the Basic Center Program provides short term shelter, counseling and family reunification and aftercare services.  Finally, the Transitional Living Program supports organizations that provide long term residential services for homeless youth. 

Reauthorizing RHYA would have implemented key improvements to the three intervention initiatives.  The maximum amount of time that homeless youth are permitted to stay in Basic Center shelters would have been lengthened from 21 to 30 days to ensure that service providers have sufficient time to find long term, stable housing for homeless youth.  Homeless youth service providers would have received training to recognize victims of human trafficking and effectively address their unique trauma.  It also would have put new emphasis on providing suicide prevention and family reunification services and expanded access to aftercare services.  And, providers would have been required to collect demographic data on the youth they serve to refine their care to better meet the needs of those they serve.

Finally, reauthorization of RHYA would have implemented a new provision protecting homeless youth from provider discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, disability, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.  Helping to ensure access to safe, welcoming care is especially important for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth because although they make up 7% of the population under the age of 18, they account for up to 40% of all homeless youth in the United States.

Unfortunately, the reauthorization legislation would not have increased funding for RHYA despite the fact that its funding has remained flat since Fiscal Year 2011 and the need for homeless youth services is far from met, with thousands of homeless youth turned away from shelters each year

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 56 – 43 (3/5 majority required).

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S. 233. (S.A. 2169 to S. 1177). This amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to include information on the graduation rates of homeless and foster children in their annual education report cards.

In 2013, child homelessness reached a historic high. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education, the American Institute for Research found that roughly 2.5 million children — or 1 in every 30 — experienced homelessness in 2013. These children, relative to their non-homeless peers, face particularly extreme obstacles to their social and cognitive development — including relatively higher rates of home mobility, mental and physical illness, and insecure attachment with their caregiver. As a result, they fall behind in school. Just under a quarter (24.4%) of elementary students experiencing homelessness are proficient in reading and only 21.5% are proficient in math. The numbers are even worse for homeless high school students:  Only 14.6 are proficient in reading and 11.4% are proficient in math. And though there aren’t national statistics on the graduation rate for homeless high school students, one estimate holds that they are 87% more likely to drop out than their peers.

The over 400,000 foster children in the United States also face severe impediments to academic achievement. They are much more likely than non-foster children to transfer schools, which is highly disruptive to learning. They are also more likely to receive special education services than their non-foster care peers but the services they receive tend to be of poorer quality. Thus, they too fall behind in school: as a group, foster children have lower attendance rates, higher rates of suspensions, expulsions, and disciplinary problems, and score much lower on standardized tests. And even though there isn’t a national estimate, researchers have found that youth in foster care are less likely to complete high school than their non-foster care peers, and when they do graduate, they are also more likely to do so at an older age.

So, ultimately, there is a pressing need for more comprehensive reporting on the academic success of homeless and foster children. By requiring states to report the graduation rates of homeless and foster children in their annual report cards, this amendment would generate progress on this front. This data would give lawmakers and stakeholders the information needed to target these vulnerable populations, improve their educational outcomes, and ultimately increase their chance at financial stability

The amendment was adopted by a vote of 56 – 40.  Following the passage of S. 1177 in the Senate, the Legislation was signed by President Obama and became Public Law No: 114-95

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S. 240. (S.A. 2161 to S. 1117). This amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act would have required states and school districts to measure access to critical educational resources and address any disparities between certain student subgroups. 

Though the United States Supreme Court formally outlawed racial segregation over six decades ago, American schools are still largely segregated by race and income. In their report assessing the state of integration 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children while white and Asian students typically attend middle class schools.  But American education is not only still separate; it’s also unequal. A U.S. Department of Education study found that, in 23 states, school districts serving the highest percentage of students from low-income families are spending fewer state and local dollars per pupil than districts that have fewer students in poverty. Relative to their wealthier peers, low-income students and students of color are less likely to have access to high quality preschool programming or to be taught by highly qualified teachers; often they are taught a less challenging curriculum. And they are less likely to attend high schools that offer college counselors and courses that are necessary to attend college. But because these students are already up against substantial achievement gaps, they are least able to afford missing out on these key resources.

This amendment sought to address, and ultimately reduce, some of those resource gaps. Specifically, it would have required state education agencies, as a part of their annual accountability reporting, to collect data on each school district and public school that measures access to at least three of the following: state-certified teachers, paraeducators, and other instructional support personnel (nurses, counselors, etc.); health and wellness programs; certain subject courses; early childhood education programs; and modern instructional materials and school facilities (e.g., school library programs). Importantly, states would be required to disaggregate the data by income, gender, race and ethnicity, as well as migrant, English proficiency and disability status. If disparities between those groups are found, states would then be required to work with school districts to develop plans and timelines to close them. If the districts do not reach the benchmarks they set in two years, states would then be responsible for lending additional support and resources. Finally, all of this information — termed the “opportunity dashboard” — would have to be made available to the public. So, ultimately, this amendment would have given states, school districts, communities and parents the information necessary to highlight and address disparities in access to resources so that students, no matter what their zip code, receive a quality education.

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 46 – 50 (3/5 majority required).

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S. 241. (S. A. 2241to S. 1177). This amendment would have strengthened the accountability measures of the Every Student Succeeds Act to ensure that state and local education agencies set broad but ambitious achievement goals for all types of students and intervene in schools and districts that fall far short of those goals.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reauthorized the 1965 landmark civil rights legislation, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The ESEA carved out a major federal role in advancing educational equity by targeting funding towards school districts with high poverty rates to supplement the cost of educating disadvantaged children. The federal role in advancing education equity has been progressively augmented by the enactment of state and local school accountability measures.

At their best, accountability measures strive to close achievement gaps between students of different racial and income backgrounds by setting a clear expectation that schools must raise the achievement level of all subgroups of students and not mask achievement deficiencies and disparities using school-wide averages. In setting such expectations, accountability measures require states to set high achievement goals for all, focus attention on the students that need additional support, and take prompt action when schools fail to meet the set expectations. These accountability measures are needed now more than ever to help ensure the academic success of low-income children who, as of 2013, made up the majority of children in public schools in the United States.

The most recent iteration of the ESEA, the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), implemented the most rigorous accountability measures to date. For the first time in history, NCLB required states to publicly report the achievement data of subgroups of students—distinguished by poverty status, race, English language proficiency and disability—known as disaggregated data. The federally regulated accountability system focused on evaluating progress towards achievement goals among disaggregated groups. To measure progress towards these goals, policy makers exclusively utilized standardized testing in math and reading. Finally, the accountability system imposed a strict, one-size-fits-all regime of sanctions and interventions meant to remedy the lagging progress of consistently underperforming schools.

Despite some research that indicates that NCLB improved student achievement—especially among low-income and black students—the NCLB accountability system unfortunately fell short of meeting the goal of closing racial and income achievement gaps across the country. For many policy makers, these shortcomings were interpreted as the consequence of a failed, overly prescriptive federal accountability system. Thus, discussions on the direction of the next ESEA reauthorization focused on giving more regulatory power back to states in shaping accountability systems and setting achievement goals. However, some policy makers sought to eliminate meaningful accountability measures in general, which would have dismantled ESEA’s efficacy as a tool in fighting for educational equity.  

For the ESSA, passage of this amendment would have addressed the concerns stemming from the shortcomings of NCLB while maintaining the strength of the ESEA accountability system. Importantly, states would still have had to publicly report disaggregated data and intervene under a clear timeframe in schools that consistently fail to meet achievement goals. However, unlike NCLB, it would have allowed states to design innovative school assessment tools that incorporate a wide array of indicators that go beyond testing, including high school graduation rates, English language proficiency, and measures of school quality and student readiness for post secondary education and future careers. Finally, while providing important guidance and establishing parameters, it would have given states flexibility in designing their own achievement goals and intervention schemes. Though it would have allowed for greater flexibility and thus avoided the one-size-fits-all pitfall of NCLB, S. Amdt. 2241 would still have provided that states, districts and schools report the right data, more completely assess students and schools, and intervene as necessary. Thus, S. Amdt. 2241 would have ensured that states, school districts, and schools are equipped with the right tools and information to effectively address the achievement gap and achieve equity in education for all.

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 43 – 54 (3/5 majority required). However, a number of its provisions were included in the enacted version of the Every Student Succeeds Act (S. 1177)

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S. 246. (S.A. 2100 to S. 1177). This amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) sought to extend the full-service community schools grant program — which awards a limited number of grants to public schools, states, community-based organizations, and other public and private entities that coordinate full-service community schools.

A majority of public school students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade come from low-income households, live in disconnected and vulnerable communities, and attend under-resourced schools. Many of these students face obstacles that have a significant impact on learning and success in school — untreated health issues, lack of stable housing or homelessness, limited early childhood education and high levels of violence and crime in their neighborhoods. Further, parents and family members are often unable to be deeply engaged in their child’s education, whether because of language barriers, work or their own negative school experience, among other issues.

Full-service community schools (FSCS) give students and their families access to critical academic and support services that address common barriers to students’ educational achievement and give those students greater opportunity to succeed.  FSCS are elementary or secondary schools that provide integrated academic, social, and health services for students, students’ family members, and community members. The school itself, serving as a hub, works in partnership with community-based organizations, non-profits and/or public agencies to integrate a variety of resources and services. These services include, but are not limited to, extended learning opportunities, preventive healthcare and wellness programs and services for adults that promote family stability, including GED and career training — as well as engage families and community members with the school and students.    

FSCS have proven successful. Evaluations show this integrated approach can produce positive outcomes in student achievement and attendance rates, reductions in dropout rates and disciplinary actions, and increases in parental involvement and access to preventative health services. And beyond full-service community schools in particular, research demonstrates that parent and community involvement in children’s education leads to better academic performance, including higher grade point averages and scores on standardized tests, enrollment in more challenging academic programs, more classes passed and credits earned, better attendance, improved behavior at home and at school, and better social skills and adaptation to school.

This amendment sought to extend, from 2016 through 2021, the federal program that awards a limited number of competitive grants to FSCS. The program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Education and funded under the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FEIE), awards $10,000,000 in new and continuing grants every year. Each recipient typically gets a little less than $500,000 per year for five years, and a total of 32 organizations and schools are currently receiving funds through this program — funding which helps them promote academic achievement, strong families, and healthy communities. 

The amendment was adopted by a vote of 53 – 44. Following the passage of S.1177 in the Senate, the Legislation was signed by President Obama and became Public Law No: 114 – 95

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S. 247. (S.A. 2242 to S. 1177). This amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) sought to expand and improve early learning opportunities for children across the birth-to-age-five continuum, particularly those who come from low- and moderate-income families.

Upon entering kindergarten, children of low-income and of color are less likely to be “school ready” than their wealthier peers, placing them at a serious academic disadvantage. According to the Brookings Institute, fewer than half — 48% — of poor children are prepared cognitively, socially, and emotionally for formal education at age five, compared to 75% of children from families with moderate and high income. One estimate suggests that, when they first step foot into kindergarten, the school readiness gap has already placed low-income students one year behind their wealthier peers. And, what’s more, research shows that this school readiness gap follows students well into the future, strongly affecting academic performance at higher-grade levels.   

High quality, early childhood education can help level the playing field. Research has demonstrated that early learning opportunities, like preschool or childcare, can significantly reduce — if not completely eliminate — the achievement gaps faced by economically disadvantaged children at early ages. And, in addition to the immediate benefits, participation in these programs can also have other, longer-lasting effects, like increasing one’s likelihood of graduating high school and boosting one’s earnings later in life.

But, because of limited access to publicly funded programs and the high cost of private ones, many children go without — including many who need it the most. In 2014, only 60% of 4-year-olds and 40% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in some form of preschool. As the Center for American Progress points out, children of low-income and of color are the least likely to be enrolled in these programs and, even if they are enrolled, they are more likely to participate in programs of poorer quality.

Recognizing the crucial importance of high quality early childhood learning opportunities, this amendment sought to expand and provide support for various early care and education programs that serve low- and moderate-income families. Most notably, it authorized $30 billion over five years to the states to provide preschool to 4-year-olds who come from families with income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line. States that already have universally accessible public preschool for 4-year-olds could use their funds to expand access to 3-year-olds. All states would have the option to use up to 15% of their funding to provide full-day, high quality childcare to infants and toddlers.

This amendment also expressed support for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program — a federal program that deploys funding to states to provide home visiting services to families of young, at-risk children. These services help improve, among other things, the health, development, and school readiness of the children they reach.

Additionally, this amendment promoted increased funding to serve young children with disabilities by attempting to raise the authorized federal spending levels on programs for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities.

Ultimately, this amendment would have made great strides towards ensuring that all children, no matter what their socioeconomic background, are given an early education that lays the foundation for healthy development and a strong academic future.

This amendment was rejected by a vote of 45-52 (3/5 majority required).  

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S. 262. (S. 1881). Passage of this bill would have prohibited Federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Prohibiting Federal funding of Planned Parenthood, which accounts for $450 million or about 40% of its annual revenue, would have significantly diminished access to contraceptive services and supplies, as well as reproductive healthcare, for women living in poverty.

Planned Parenthood plays an indispensible role in providing access to reproductive health services to low income women. Of the three million patients Planned Parenthood serves each year, 79% live at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL).

Proponents of this legislation asserted that the funds that go to Planned Parenthood could be redirected to other providers, such as community care organizations, and thus ensure that women living in poverty retain access to affordable and effective reproductive healthcare. Research suggests this is unlikely for many reasons.

First, Planned Parenthood is, in many areas, the largest or sole safety net provider of contraceptive services and supplies. In two-thirds of the 491 counties in which they are located, Planned Parenthood clinics provide care to at least half of all women obtaining contraceptive care from safety net healthcare providers. In one-fifth of the 491 counties, they are the only safety-net family planning provider.

Further, the capacity of the Community Care provider system is insufficient to address the immediate rise in demand that would result from defunding Planned Parenthood. Although community care providers ensure access to primary and reproductive healthcare for millions of low income women, there are many millions more living in poverty for whom community care providers lack the capacity to provide care. Thus, a massive influx of new patient demand would overwhelm an already saturated system, and deprive care or access to contraceptives to many.

States that have removed Planned Parenthood from their safety net family planning services system have caused access problems and service shortages. When Texas passed legislation to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program in 2012, non-Planned Parenthood clinics faced the insurmountable challenge of having to increase their capacity by 81%. These remaining clinics did not have the ability to adequately respond. Between 2011 and 2013, enrollees in Texas’ Women’s Health Program decreased 9%, Medicaid claims decreased by 26%, and contraceptive claims decreased 54%. All of these measures signal a major decrease in utilization rates that resulted from the loss of access to Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas.

Although the exact number of women that would have lost access to contraceptive services and reproductive healthcare if Planned Parenthood had been defunded is unknown, it is clear that the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics would be devastating. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 400,000 women would have faced reduced access to care had Planned Parenthood been defunded.

The motion to invoke cloture was rejected by a Vote of 53-46 (3/5 majority needed)

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S. 294. (H.R. 1314). Passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 provides significant relief from sequestration mandated discretionary spending cap limits and provides a framework for federal spending for Fiscal Years 2016-2017.

For the past five years, spending on programs that assist low income people—such as childcare, Head Start, federal support for low income schools, job training, housing assistance, and services for individuals experiencing homelessness and seniors—has been constrained by discretionary spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Known as sequestration, these spending limits have measurably diminished the capacity of the Federal Government to extend support to low income people. For example, sequestration forced local and state housing agencies to cut the number of Housing Choice Vouchers they offer by almost 100,000 from 2013 to 2014.

Ever since sequestration went into effect in 2011, Congress has been enacting legislation to mitigate its impact. Most recently, the 2013 Murray-Ryan Budget Deal (formally the Bipartisan Budget Act) ameliorated a portion of sequestration’s spending limits and restored about one-third of the Housing Choice Vouchers that had been cut. However, its provisions were slated to run out at the end of 2015 and sequestration’s harmful spending caps would have been implemented full force starting in 2016 without new intervening legislation.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 picked up where the Murray-Ryan Budget Deal left off. It eliminates about 90% of the $37 billion in sequestration cuts on non-defense discretionary spending in fiscal year 2016 and about 60% in fiscal year 2017. It also suspends the debt ceiling through early 2017, maintains the solvency of Social Security Disability Insurance through 2022, and prevents a drastic increase in insurance premiums and deductibles for Medicare beneficiaries. Ultimately, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 mitigates more of sequestration’s spending caps than any earlier piece of legislation.  

Still, the spending levels afforded by the raised spending caps provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 are very low in historical terms. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, non-defense discretionary spending for fiscal year 2016 will be about 12% lower than it was in fiscal year 2010. Thus, the Bipartisan Budget Act does not raise spending limits enough to make new investments in programs that help low income people. Instead, it provides a framework that prevents the further erosion of resources available to those programs.

The bill passed by a vote of 64 – 35. Previously passed in the House, the Legislation was signed by President Obama and became Public Law No: 114-74.

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S. 313. (S.A. 2883 to H.R. 3762). This amendment to the Restore Americans’ Health Care Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015 would have permanently maintained at 100% the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) reimbursement rate for the cost of state Medicaid expansions.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) grants states the option to implement the Medicaid expansion that extends coverage to eligible adults ages 19-64 whose household income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty line. In order to incentivize the states to expand Medicaid, the federal government pays 100%of the cost through 2016. The federal contribution for the expansion will be phased down starting in 2017 to a low of 90% FMAP by 2020, and states will ultimately be responsible for paying 10% of the total cost of the expansion thereafter.  

To date, 31 states and the District of Columbia have implemented Medicaid expansions and, as a result, 10 million more low income people now receive health coverage through Medicaid. However, 19 states have not implemented expansions, including Texas and Florida—two large states with some of the highest rates of uninsured low income people in the U.S. Altogether, these 19 states’ election not to expand Medicaid coverage has left about 4.3 million people nationwide without health insurance who would otherwise receive coverage through expanding Medicaid.

Permanently maintaining FMAP at 100% would have put to rest the fear of increased state level costs resulting from expanding coverage—a concern commonly cited by Governors and law makers as justification for electing not to implement expansions.  Thus, committing to maintain 100% FMAP would have removed a major barrier for some states to implement expansions and, hopefully, would have added to the substantial progress already achieved under the ACA in ensuring that low income people have access to quality health insurance.  

The motion to waive all budgetary discipline with respect to the amendment was rejected by a vote of 45 – 55 (3/5 majority required)

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S. 329. (H.R. 3762). The Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015 would have repealed several of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) most important provisions.

The Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act (RAHFRA) was one of several congressional attempts in 2015 to repeal all or key parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This particular effort was pursued through reconciliation, a budgetary process that allows for the expedited consideration of specific pieces of spending, revenue and deficit legislation. Because measures considered through reconciliation are not subject to filibuster by the Senate and therefore need only a simple majority to pass, the process offers an advantage in passing controversial pieces of budget and tax legislation.

Under the guise of reducing the federal deficit, the RAHFRA would have dismantled the ACA by repealing several of its key provisions. It would have phased out the provision of the ACA that allows states to expand Medicaid coverage to anyone whose income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty line over two years. This provision alone has already covered millions of low income adults who would have lost coverage if RAHFRA had passed. It would have restricted the federal government from operating insurance exchanges (which most state have opted to have the federal government do for efficiency reasons) while phasing out funding for subsidies that make coverage purchased on those exchanges affordable for many low and middle income people (which over 80% of all people purchasing coverage on the exchanges are entitled to receive to defray the cost). Further, it would have repealed the individual and employer mandates and the Prevention and Public Health Fund. Finally, while separate from the ACA, but also vital to ensuring equitable access to healthcare, it would have prohibited federal Medicaid reimbursement to Planned Parenthood for one year.

Removing these key provisions from the ACA would have, in effect, dismantled the program. Eliminating funding for the state Medicaid expansion, subsidies to help low and middle income people afford health coverage, and the individual mandates would have increased the ranks of uninsured by the millions, undoing the tremendous progress achieved through the ACA in expanding access to health coverage for all Americans.

In addition to ending health care coverage for millions, the RAHFRA would have severely damaged health equity. For example, eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund would have ended one of the first major federal initiatives aimed at reducing the rates of obesity and tobacco use; both maladies that disproportionately impact low income people. And, cutting off Medicaid reimbursement to Planned Parenthood would have drastically decreased access to reproductive healthcare for low income women.

The bill passed by a vote of 52 – 47. Previously passed by the House, the Legislation was vetoed by President Obama. A subsequent veto override attempt in the House failed by a vote of 241 – 186 (3/5 majority required).

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