Poverty Scorecard
Rating members of congress

Senate Bills


House Bills


House

Food and Nutrition: H. 31. (H.R. 2642). Title IV of the Farm Bill reauthorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly Food Stamps) and includes new and updated rules that will strengthen the program moving forward. Significantly, the final version of the bill eliminated all but one of the damaging measures included in the House’s version. The House’s bill would have caused 3.8 million people to lose SNAP eligibility in 2014 and cut SNAP spending by $40 billion. It would have obtained these cuts by, among other things, denying eligibility to unemployed, childless adults not working at least 20 hours per week even where unemployment is high; incentivizing states to remove families not satisfying a similar work requirement from their caseload; allowing states to subject applicants and recipients to drug testing; and barring certain felons from the program for life.

The one cut in SNAP benefits included in the Farm Bill affects states that have provided a nominal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefit that substantially boosts a household’s SNAP benefits. Households will now have to receive at least $20 in LIHEAP benefits per month to qualify for the increased SNAP. This change was projected to save $8.5 billion since, according to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately 850,000 households could lose an average of $90 per month in benefits However, most of the affected states, including those with larger populations like California and New York, have announced that they will be increasing their LIHEAP payments to $20 per month to avoid this loss of federal food and nutrition funding. Consequentially, the number of households this change is expected affect has decreased significantly, along with projected federal savings.

The Farm Bill allocates federal funding for up to ten states to conduct pilot projects that test innovative strategies in SNAP’s Employment and Training Program (E&T) and updates both the state and USDA requirements for reporting on, reviewing and monitoring E&T programs. There were also rule changes, proposed pilots and funding allocated to improve access to healthy foods.

The Farm Bill ultimately benefits Americans living in poverty by maintaining most funding for SNAP and improving the program’s future. In 2013, SNAP assisted 47 million Americans in purchasing a healthy, adequate diet and kept 4.8 million Americans out of poverty.

The bill passed by a Vote of 251 – 156. Previously agreed to in the Senate, the Legislation was signed by the President and became Public Law No: 113 – 79. 

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Consumer Protection: H. 85. (H.R. 3196). This bill amends the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 to establish, in lieu of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent Financial Product Safety Commission.

H.R. 3193 would have weakened the CFPB through a series of structural and funding changes, leading to a less effective regulatory body protecting consumers.

Congress established the CFPB four years ago in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, as part of its response to the policies and practices that led to the 2008 financial crisis. CFPB is the only consumer-focused regulatory body, overseeing both banks and previously unregulated non-bank financial institutions. Since its inception, CFPB has handled over 270,000 consumer complaints, secured more than $3 billion for 10 million consumers who were the victims of bad actors, and changed mortgage standards and foreclosure policies to be more fair and safe for consumers. CFPB and other independent Federal agencies are funded outside the appropriations process, which protects them from political agendas that interfere with financial supervision.

This bill proposed a series of changes, including replacing the agency’s director with a five-member Financial Product Safety Commission; giving the Financial Stability Oversight Council more power to set aside rules and regulations created by the five members; and changing the agency’s funding to appropriations. These changes would have led to a less efficient and effective body protecting consumers’ financial interests and left the CFPB vulnerable to political interests. In a Statement of Administrative Policy, the Executive Office of the President wrote that the bill “makes the Nation’s economy more vulnerable to another devastating financial crisis by undermining the core reforms included in Wall Street Reform.”

The bill passed by a vote of 232 – 182 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Health Care: H. 97. (H.R. 4118). This bill would have delayed, for one year, implementation of the penalty for failure to comply with the individual health insurance mandate, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, commonly known as Obamacare).

The individual mandate requires individuals to pay a fine if they do not enroll in health insurance. This provision of the ACA applies only to those who can afford to purchase health insurance but refuse to do so, with some special-circumstances exceptions. By increasing the number of people, particularly the number of healthy people, who enroll in employer-sponsored, non-group (marketplace), or Medicaid insurance, the individual mandate expands insurance coverage and diversifies insurance risk pools. In doing so, the mandate distributes health costs more evenly among individuals, companies, and care providers, reducing premiums for individuals and uncompensated care costs for hospitals.

Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy research center, predicted that delaying the individual mandate would decrease insurance enrollment by 11 million people in 2014. The resulting smaller, less diverse insurance risk pools would increase premiums by up to 24 percent in the non-exchange market, with greater potential increases in exchange markets. This in turn would threaten the viability of Obamacare by jeopardizing its affordability.

The bill passed by a vote of 250 – 160 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Health Care: H. 156. (H.R. 2575). This bill would have repealed the 30-hour threshold for classification as a full-time employee for purposes of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replaced it with a 40-hour threshold.

Raising the threshold for classification as a full-time employee from 30 hours per week to 40 hours per week would have threatened workers’ employer-based healthcare coverage. The new 40-hour classification would have decreased the number of people who receive employer-based health coverage by about one million and increased the number of uninsured people. By increasing the number of people who would need coverage through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or health insurance exchanges, and shifting the cost of healthcare from employers to taxpayers, this legislation would have increased the budget deficit by $73.7 billion between 2015 and 2024.

This bill also would have exacerbated the existing problem of employers reducing workers’ hours in order to avoid offering healthcare. According to a study by the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, H.R. 2575 would have nearly tripled the number of workers in danger of having their hours cut from 2.3 million to 6.5 million.

The bill passed by a vote of 248 – 179 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Budget and Tax: H. 177. (H. Con. Res. 96). Representative Paul Ryan’s proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget would have made severe cuts in funding for programs for low-income Americans while reducing tax rates for wealthy individuals and corporations. The Ryan budget also would have weakened safety net programs by fundamentally altering their structure.

Seventy percent of the Ryan budget’s spending savings would have come from slashing programs for low-income people. Fewer low- and moderate-income students would be able to afford college due to a $125 billion cut in Pell Grant funding over ten years. Food insecurity would increase as a result of an 18 percent cut in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps). In addition, his budget made sweeping, unspecified cuts to many other vital programs that lift several million people out of poverty, potentially including low-income tax credits, Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled, and subsidized school lunches for almost 300,000 children and other nutrition programs

Simultaneously, the Ryan budget would have adjusted tax laws to benefit the highest-income Americans and corporations at a cost of $5 trillion in lost revenue over the next ten years. Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has called the Ryan budget “an exercise in obfuscation—failing to specify trillions of dollars that it would need in tax savings and budget cuts to make its numbers add up. … It’s also something of an exercise in hypocrisy—claiming to boost opportunity and reduce poverty while doing the reverse.”

The resolution passed by a vote of 219 – 205 but was never passed by the Senate.

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Foreign Aid: H. 208. (H.R. 2548). The Electrify Africa Act would have established a comprehensive United States government policy of encouraging the efforts of countries in sub-Saharan Africa to develop an appropriate mix of power solutions, including renewable energy, and expanded electricity access in the region, in an effort to reduce poverty, promote development, and drive economic growth.

As of 2010, 589 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or 68 percent of the population, did not have access to electricity, and about thirty countries in the region experienced chronic power shortages. According to the United Nations Development Programme, this absence of “affordable and reliable” electricity and other modern energy services has restricted multiple aspects of the region’s development, with disastrous consequences for local poverty rates, health, education, local service delivery, climate change, environmental sustainability, and socioeconomic opportunities. This legislation complemented the $7 billion “Power Africa” initiative launched by President Obama in 2013 to promote private corporate investment in six sub-Saharan countries’ energy sector.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), countries in sub-Saharan Africa would require an extra $19 billion investment each year to achieve universal energy access by 2030. The U.S. funds and policies authorized by Power Africa and Electrify Africa represent important contributions to that goal. In order to reach the level of universal access, however, the majority of energy investments need to support the creation of renewable off-grid networks that operate at the village or district level and can more efficiently deliver energy to rural areas, where 84% of the world’s population without electricity access live, rather than extending existing centralized electrical grids.

The bill passed by a vote of 297-117 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Legal Services: H. 253. (H. AMDT. No. 736 to H.R. 4660). This amendment would have eliminated all federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

The LSC is the largest funder of civil legal assistance for low-income people in the United States. LSC provides grants, evaluation, and training to 134 nonprofit legal aid programs, or approximately 25% of the country’s civil legal assistance providers, to help low-income individuals and families address 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 guidelines.

A high percentage of people in poverty need legal representation and legal aid has proven its effectiveness in helping low-income people obtain favorable case outcomes. Not surprisingly, the number of people seeking legal aid far outpaces the capacity of existing providers, with more than half of those seeking assistance at LSC-funded organizations turned away due to limited resources and even more not attempting to obtain legal aid in the first place. This disparity between the demand for and the supply of legal aid has only grown with LSC funding being reduced by over 16% since 2010 even as the number of low-income people qualifying for free legal aid has increased by 5% during the same time. Eliminating federal funding for LSC would have had a catastrophic effect on low-income people’s access to justice. 

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 116 – 290.

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Criminal Justice: H. 259. (H. AMDT. No. 750 to H.R. 4660). This amendment sought to prohibit the use of funds to transfer or temporarily assign employees to the Office of the Pardon Attorney for the purpose of screening clemency applications.

In April 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a new clemency initiative, identifying six expanded criteria that the Pardon Attorney’s Office would focus on when considering federal clemency petitions. These expanded criteria, in an effort to decrease federal drug sentencing disparities, focused on non-violent offenders who would have received considerably shorter sentences if convicted today. This would potentially require the efforts of dozens of additional lawyers to consider thousands of additional applications. Former Attorney General Holder said the initiative would save authorities money, provide relief for overcrowded federal prisons, and re-focus law enforcement on the most violent offenders. A criminal record is both a cause and effect of poverty and this initiative would have aligned with a greater mission to redirect the efforts of the criminal justice system.

The amendment passed by a vote of 219 – 189 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Employment: H. 262 (H. AMDT. No. 759 to H.R. 4660). This amendment sought to deny Federal contracts to those who violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The FLSA establishes federal minimum wage, overtime pay and child labor standards. Violations include failing to pay a nonexempt employee the required minimum wage or denying an employee overtime pay when appropriate, which is known as wage theft. Although the Federal Government does not track the number of federally contracted positions, it estimates that there are 24,000 businesses with contracts that employ 28 million Americans. When the National Employment Law Project surveyed these workers, they found that FLSA violations were not uncommon. It is critical that the Federal Government protects employees from wage theft and sends a message about the importance of compliance with the FLSA to all American businesses.

Although this amendment did not pass the House, President Obama issued an Executive Order addressing this issue and the House later amended a different bill to prevent Defense Department contracts from going to firms with documented histories of wage theft.

The amendment failed by a vote of 196 – 211. 

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Housing: H. 265. (H. AMDT. No 768 to H.R. 4660). This amendment sought to prevent the Justice Department from utilizing disparate impact theory as a tool for alleging discrimination on the basis of race. 

The amendment would weaken the power of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to combat discrimination and ensure equal housing opportunities for persons of color. Disparate impact analysis allows the DOJ to challenge structural and institutional barriers that result in discriminatory outcomes without having to meet the much higher burden of proving discriminatory intent. These analyses are critical to enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and prevent outwardly neutral policies that limit housing opportunities for people of color to persist, unchallenged.

Recently, the DOJ used disparate impact analyses to challenge home loan providers whose policies resulted in a disproportionate number of qualified African-American and Hispanic applicants receiving subprime loans rates. Regardless of whether brokers offering subprime loans to applicants who qualified for prime rates intentionally favored white borrowers, the results of their practice were contestable because of their disparate racial impact. These seemingly neutral policies, which contributed to the foreclosure crisis and resulted in huge losses of wealth for communities of color, have now been changed because of settlements reached between multiple mortgage companies and the DOJ

The amendment passed by a vote of 321-87 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Housing: H. 274. (H. AMDT. No. 787 to H.R. 4745). This amendment sought to reduce Section 8 funding by $3 billion.

Section 8 vouchers provide tenant-specific rental assistance to low-income households, with 75 percent of funds reserved for households living at or below 30 percent of the area median income. Program participants pay 30 percent of their income towards housing and the voucher covers the remainder. These vouchers offer important support to renters with otherwise unaffordable housing costs and have helped reduce chronic homelessness by 30% since 2007. Over 2.1 million households, 90 percent of which include a child, a disabled adult, or an elderly person, currently utilize vouchers to offset their cost of living, but only one in four eligible low-income households accesses some form of rental assistance due to long waiting lists and insufficient funding. Since December 2013, funding cuts have forced housing agencies to reduce their assistance by 100,000 families.

A $3 billion, or 10 percent, cut to this already underfunded program would have made the thousands of renter households already paying unaffordable housing costs even more vulnerable to homelessness and poverty.

The amendment was rejected by a vote of 127 – 279.

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Housing: H. 285. (H. AMDT. No. 813 to H.R. 4745). This amendment sought to prohibit use of funds to implement, administer, or enforce the proposed rule entitled, "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing" published by HUD on July 19, 2013.

Under the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, HUD program participants—including local and state governments and public housing agencies—must proactively address historic patterns of segregation and ethnic and racial concentrations of poverty, reduce disparate access to community assets, and respond to the disproportionate housing needs of any protected class. The proposed rule, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, would introduce a new process for HUD and its partners to follow, aiming to more effectively comply with the Fair Housing Act. HUD estimated the cost of implementing and administering the proposed rule would have been $3 to $9 million.

Specifically, HUD would have provided program participants with data, guidance and an evaluation tool to assist the local partner in developing an assessment of fair housing (AFH). The AFH would evaluate barriers to fair housing and inform the program participant’s decision-making process. As a result, a community seeking HUD resources would have to consider existing patterns of segregation, housing choice, and community inclusivity when determining their community’s policies and investment plans.

The amendment passed by a vote of 219 – 207 but was not considered in the Senate.

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Workforce: H. 378. (H.R. 803). This bill amends the Workforce Investment Act to strengthen the United States workforce development system through innovation in, and alignment and improvement of, employment, training, and education programs.  It also provides for the amendment and expansion of adult education and family literacy education under Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

By reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act, now the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Congress set a solid foundation for states and localities to improve their workforce development programs, more effectively and efficiently preparing Americans to enter today’s workforce. WIOA shifts national workforce infrastructure to focus on training the most vulnerable workers, and connecting these participants with higher quality jobs. WIOA will align planning and accountability policies across programs, for both adults and youth, and asks states to expand upon best practices of combining employment and training activities through career pathways programs, industry or sector partnerships, and an emphasis on industry-recognized certificates or credentials. It also aims to cut down on bureaucracy by eliminating overlapping programs, and to increase the accessibility of one-stop centers.

Workforce programs offer critical support to Americans living in poverty. While this Act will not eliminate unemployment, if properly funded and embraced by state and local advocates it will lead to vast improvements in workforce training for Americans who need the most assistance in finding adequate employment.

The bill passed by a vote of 415 – 6.  Previously agreed to in the Senate, the bill was signed by the President and became Public Law No. 113 – 128.

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Consumer Protection: H. 427. (H.R. 5016). This Act provides for appropriations for agencies responsible for regulating the financial, telecommunications, and consumer products industries.

Weakening taxpayer enforcement

The bill would have cut the budget of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by nearly $340 million below the amount enacted in 2014. This cut would have exacerbated the significant decrease in approved IRS funding since Congress began cutting discretionary programs in 2010, bringing the cuts to a total of a $2.3 billion—a 27 percent reduction of the agency’s inflation-adjusted budget over the past five years. These additional cuts would have further damaged the country’s already weakened tax enforcement and taxpayer services and reduced the funding available for vital poverty-reducing programs.

In addition, this funding cut would have slashed resources for IRS volunteer programs, preventing millions of taxpaying Americans from being able to access these services and refunds and forcing many to seek assistance from unqualified or predatory commercial tax preparers. During the 2014 tax season, IRS volunteers prepared over 3.6 million free tax returns across the country for seniors, disabled people, and low-income families, allowing them to save thousands of dollars every year in preparation fees as well as tax credits and refunds.

The bill also specifically targeted national healthcare by prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services from providing funding for the IRS to implement provisions of the Affordable Care Act such as the individual shared responsibility mandate (known as the “individual mandate”) and the premium tax credit that have enabled more than 5 million people to gain insurance coverage since 2013.  

 

Undermining Wall Street reform

In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in order to oversee financial firm growth and activity and protect consumers from the unsafe business practices responsible for the 2008 financial crisis that caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs and their homes, and increased poverty rates across the country. This bill would have limited the ability of the Federal government to regulate the financial institutions that caused the economic recession, weakening the government’s power to prevent these institutions from taking advantage of low-income families. Sections of H.R. 5016 would have amended the Dodd-Frank Act to stop the government from requiring Federally-backed financial institutions to remove risky derivative activities from taxpayer-insured banks, as well as restricting the funding and spending of the Securities and Exchange Commission responsible for market oversight, compliance, and enforcement. The bill also would have blocked independent funding for the Office of Financial Research (OFR), which collects information on the country’s economy and reports potential financial risks to federal regulators. These changes would have compromised the new institutions created by the Dodd-Frank Act to prevent another financial crisis and the subsequent costs to the economy and society.

Along with compromising the country’s financial regulatory agencies, amendments to the Dodd-Frank Act and other sections of H.R. 5016 would have weakened consumer protections for low-income families and taxpayers. Under the new bill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) would have lost its independent funding from the Federal Reserve along with the OFR, making it vulnerable to financial industry efforts to reduce its funding during future appropriations. The CFPB is responsible for overseeing bank regulation as well as fighting illegal business practices, such as predatory lending and illegal debt collection, that disproportionally take advantage of low-income people. As a result of the CFPB’s enforcement and supervisory actions between 2011 and 2014, 15 million consumers harmed by illegal practices will receive over $4.6 billion in monetary relief. Subjecting the CFPB to political pressure and excessive reporting would have undermined the agency’s ability to ensure long-term financial security for millions of vulnerable Americans.

The bill passed by a vote of 228 – 195 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Budget and Tax: H. 432. (H.R. 4719). This bill sought to provide enhanced tax breaks for individual and corporate donations to food banks and other charitable causes. According to Feeding America, food banks help feed over 46.5 million Americans each year, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. The Food Donation Connection estimates that since the original expansion of charitable tax credits for food inventory contributions in 2006, restaurant and other business donations to food banks have increased by 127 percent.

The Act would have expanded and made permanent the tax deductions available to businesses for charitable food contributions. In addition to incentivizing business donations to food banks, the Act also would have permanently enabled seniors to donate to charities from their retirement accounts without a tax penalty and extended the deadline for taxpayers to make and file charitable contributions from December 31 until April 15 in order to encourage individual giving.

The bill passed by a vote of 277 – 130 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Budget and Tax: H. 451. (H.R. 4935). This bill would have extended eligibility for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to higher income American families while denying the credit to many low-income, working families and taxpaying immigrant families.

The CTC offsets the expenses of raising children. In 2009, Congress extended this benefit to more low-income, working families by significantly lowering to $3000 the minimum earnings a family must report to receive a refund. As a result of this change, a mother with two children working full time at the minimum wage—$14,500 a year—received a credit of $1,725 instead of $200. H.R. 4935 would not have extended the 2009 improvements to the Child Tax Credit, thus excluding families earning the minimum wage from receiving the Child Tax Credit beginning in 2017 and cutting the incomes of the estimated 10 million low-income people who currently receive the credit.

While allowing eligibility for low-income Americans to expire, this bill would have made a two-child household with an income between $150,000 and $205,000 newly eligible for the credit. Increasing the threshold for CTC eligibility in this way would have meant that in 2018, a single mother working minimum wage would qualify for $0 and a family making $150,000 a year would receive a $2,200 credit.

Additionally, the bill included a provision intended to exclude many immigrant taxpayers from qualifying for the credit by limiting the credit to persons with a Social Security Number (SSN). Many immigrants are not eligible for a SSN and file their taxes with an IRS-issued Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs). This provision would deny the Child Tax Credit to low-income, working immigrant families that do not have SSNs despite the fact that the IRS collects $9 billion in payroll taxes each year from taxpayers filing with an ITIN.

The bill passed by a Vote of 237 – 173 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Immigration: H. 478. (H.R. 5230). The Secure the Southwest Border Supplemental Appropriations Act provided supplemental FY14 appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies for expenses related to the rise in unaccompanied, undocumented children and undocumented adults accompanied by an undocumented minor at the Southwest border of the United States.

This bill would have severely cut funding and legal protections for undocumented immigrant children entering the United States while expanding harmful family detention and border enforcement policies. As modified, the appropriations provide only $694 million, or less than 20 percent of the funds requested by the Obama administration, to address the humanitarian crisis at the Southwest border prompted by the vast increase in unaccompanied children attempting to enter the country over the past year, mostly from Central America. H.R. 5230 also would have prevented unaccompanied children from accessing certain due process rights under the Trafficking Victims Protection Authorization Act, despite the fact that over half of the children fleeing to the United States from Mexico and Central America may be victims of human trafficking, sexual violence, or other forms of serious harm and are therefore entitled to international legal protection. Additionally, the reduction of funds for hiring more immigration judges and the total elimination of funding for children’s legal services would have further delayed the proceedings of already overburdened immigration courts, leaving many immigrants locked up in detention centers for years until their hearings and preventing many children from receiving fair hearings.

While slashing allowances for the care and protection of unaccompanied children, the bill would have diverted large amounts of funding to family detention and military border enforcement operations. As noted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the provision of $262 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would support the creation of new family detention facilities throughout the Southwest. These facilities cost an average of $266 per person per day and deprive families of food, child care, health care, legal assistance, and protection from abuse by staff, and they also frequently separate children from parents.

The bill passed by a vote of 223 – 189 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Immigration: H. 479. (H.R. 5272). This bill would have prohibited the use of federal funding for programs such as Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) that increase economic resources and opportunities for newly-arrived undocumented immigrant youth.

Established as a presidential program in June 2012, DACA defers deportation and provides a Social Security number and two-year work visas for certain undocumented youth who immigrated to the U.S. before age 16 and have resided in the country since 2007. As of August 2013, over 430,000 people have received deferred action, with an additional 123,000 approved to receive DACA as of March 2014. A study by the American Immigration Council (AIC) found that after only two years, 59% of young adult DACA recipients obtained a new job, 49% opened their first bank account, 33% obtained their first credit card, 57% obtained their first drivers license, 21% obtained health care, and 45% increased their job earnings.

Preventing the extension of DACA benefits to include the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America and other regions would have blocked over 60,000 recently arrived undocumented youth from accessing these socioeconomic opportunities and forced many to remain impoverished.

This bill passed by a vote of 216 – 192 but was not considered by the Senate.

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Health Care: H. 495. (H.R. 3522). This legislation would have enabled health insurance companies to bypass consumer protections that went into effect through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 and continue discriminatory coverage practices for an additional four years. Provisions in the ACA currently limit insurers’ ability to deny, restrict, or rescind coverage and phase out health plans’ annual and lifetime coverage limits. They also ensure that people’s premium payments go primarily towards their healthcare rather than administrative costs. Since the 2013 opening of the ACA’s health insurance marketplace exchange and the subsequent implementation of these regulations in 2014, the national uninsured rate has fallen from 18% to less than 13%, with rates dropping most among Black, Latino, and low-income Americans. More than 6.8 million people have enrolled in a healthcare plan through the ACA.

H.R. 3522 would have allowed companies with health care plans in effect during 2013 to continue offering those plans to new customers through 2018, even if those plans did not comply with the 2014 ACA consumer protections. This extension would surpass the existing transition policy included in the ACA that allows insurers with state permission to continue offering non-ACA-compliant individual and group plans to previous enrollees through 2016. The bill therefore would permit companies to charge higher rates in their small business plans to all workers in small businesses with more women and people with pre-existing health conditions as well as raise premiums annually if an employee had an accident or was diagnosed with cancer. Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have noted that the bill also would allow insurers to market non-ACA compliant plans to companies with young, healthy workers while excluding firms with older, sicker workers, causing premiums for all workers with ACA-compliant plans to rise and hurting the ability of smaller businesses to shop together for insurance plans that offer more affordable, comprehensive healthcare coverage.

The bill passed by a vote of 247 – 167, but was not considered by the Senate.

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Immigration: H. 550. (H.R. 5759). This bill provided that no provision of the Constitution, the Immigration and Nationality Act, or other federal law shall be interpreted or applied to authorize the executive branch of the government to exempt, by executive order, regulation, or other means, categories of persons unlawfully present in the United States from removal under the immigration laws.

This legislation would have prohibited any executive action on immigration, eradicating deportation relief, work permits and other initiatives that benefit millions of working families and the national economy. The growth in undocumented immigration to the United States has leveled off since 2010, with 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living here as of 2013. Most have resided in the country for at least five years and one-third have a child with full citizenship. There has, however, been a vast increase in unaccompanied children fleeing to the United States and attempting to cross the Southwest border, the majority of whom are at risk of human trafficking, sexual violence, and other forms of harm.

In November 2014, the President unveiled a major plan to offer temporary legal status and a deportation reprieve to the 3.5 million parents of U.S. citizens with five or more years of residence. The recent executive action also expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the deportation deferment program that currently protects 1.2 million young immigrants, to benefit an additional 300,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children.

H.R. 5759 would have prevented the President from implementing this immigration plan, threatening the livelihoods of the estimated four million people, or approximately half of the national undocumented population, offered protection through his most recent initiative. In addition to separating parents from their children and punishing immigrants who were brought to the country as children, this legislation would have cut the added jobs, higher wages and boosted federal tax revenue generated by executive immigration reform.

The bill passed by a vote of 219 – 197 but was never passed in the Senate.

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Senate

Food and Nutrition: S. 21. (H.R. 2642). On the Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 2642, the Farm Bill.

Title IV of the Farm Bill reauthorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly Food Stamps) and includes new and updated rules that will strengthen the program moving forward. Significantly, the final version of the bill eliminated all but one of the damaging measures included in the House’s version. The House’s bill would have caused 3.8 million people to lose SNAP eligibility in 2014 and cut SNAP spending by $40 billion. It would have obtained these cuts by, among other changes, denying eligibility to unemployed, childless adults not working at least 20 hours per week even where unemployment is high; incentivizing states to remove families not satisfying a similar work requirement from their caseload; allowing states to subject applicants and recipients to drug testing; and barring certain felons from the program for life.

The one cut in SNAP benefits included in the Farm Bill affects states that have provided a nominal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefit that substantially boosts a household’s SNAP benefits. Households will now have to receive at least $20 in LIHEAP benefits per month to qualify for the increased SNAP. This change was projected to save $8.5 billion since, according to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately 850,000 households would lose an average of $90 per month in benefits However, most of the affected states, including those with larger populations like California and New York, have announced that they will be increasing their LIHEAP payments to $20 per month to avoid this loss of federal food and nutrition funding. Consequentially, the number of households expected to be affected by this change has decreased significantly along with projected savings.

The Farm Bill allocates federal funding for up to ten states to conduct pilot projects that test innovative strategies in SNAP’s Employment and Training Program (E&T) and updates both the state and USDA requirements for reporting on, reviewing and monitoring E&T programs. There were also rule changes, proposed pilots and funding allocated to improve access to healthy foods.

The Farm Bill ultimately benefits Americans living in poverty by maintaining most funding for SNAP and improving the program’s future. In 2013, SNAP assisted 46 million Americans in purchasing a healthy, adequate diet, and kept 4.8 million Americans out of poverty during the previous year.

The conference report was agreed to by a Vote of 68 – 32. Following passage in the House (H.R. 2642), the legislation was signed by the President and became Public Law 113 – 79.

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Employment: S. 101. (H.R. 3979 as Amended). This amended act would have provided emergency unemployment compensation benefits (EUC) for the long-term unemployed, including five months of retroactive benefits. EUC benefits are provided to eligible unemployed workers who lose their jobs and cannot find a full-time job before their state unemployment insurance benefits expire.

EUC benefits have lapsed since the end of December 2013, leaving over 2.2 million unemployed workers searching for jobs without income support and reemployment services. The Economic Policy Institute found that continuing federal EUC benefits would have generated an additional 310,000 jobs as a result of boosted consumer spending.

H. R. 3979 as amended passed by a Vote of 59 – 38 but was not considered by the House.

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Employment: S. 117. (S. 2223). This bill, the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, would have increased the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by 2015 and provided a cost of living adjustment thereafter. Additionally, the bill gradually would have increased the federal minimum wage for tipped workers until it equaled 70 percent of the federal minimum wage for other workers. 

The Minimum Wage Fairness Act would have increased the incomes of low-wage workers and their families across the country and helped millions gain more financial stability. Full-time minimum wage and tipped employees, the majority of whom are women and 22% whom are women of color, earn an average of only $14,500 annually. Under the current minimum wage, a single parent minimum-wage worker with two children falls more than $5,000 below the federal poverty level.

Raising the federal minimum wage and indexing it to inflation would have directly increased the earnings of the 3.3 million workers paid at or below the new minimum wage and ensured that workers’ pay increases match higher living costs in the future. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this increase would have raised the labor “wage floor” to benefit a total of 27.8 million workers by 2016. Due to women and women of color’s disproportionate representation in minimum wage work and in single parent households, the raise also would have helped narrow the gender wage gap by an estimated 5%.   

The motion to invoke cloture was rejected by a Vote of 54 – 42 (3/5 vote required).

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Education: S. 185. (S. 2432). The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would have provided for refinancing Federal student loans at the current lower interest rate of less that 4%.  This would be paid for with a tax increase for people who earn more than $1 million.

This bill would have helped millions of young graduates struggling with school-related debt to refinance and pay back their federal student loans.  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, nearly 37 million people have outstanding student loan balances, amounting to a total of more than $1.2 trillion in federal loan debt alone, not including debt from loans issued by private companies. Both average student debt and the number of students taking out school loans have steadily increased over the past twenty years, with the percentage of students graduating with student loans rising from around 45% to over 70% and students graduating in 2014 owing an average of $33,000, nearly double the inflation-adjusted amount they had to pay back in 1993. While college graduates have significantly higher salaries and experience lower unemployment and poverty rates than those with no secondary education, the increase in school tuition costs and student loans accompanied by the drop in median salary for young graduates has begun to increase the financial burden of loans and hurt students’ long-term economic well-being. According to the Pew Research Center, student debtor households face between two and ten times the overall debt load; have lower credit scores; are less likely to become homeowners; frequently put off pursuing a career in order to pay the bills; struggle to buy daily necessities; and are more likely to delay saving for retirement, getting married, and starting a family.

This legislation would have eased the burden of student loans by allowing people with private and/or federal loans issued prior to 2010 to refinance at the 3.86% rate set for current undergraduate students last year. Allowing refinancing would have helped an estimated 25 million people save an average of $2,000 over the lifetime of their loans.

In order to finance the reduced interest payments, the bill would also have introduced a new 30% minimum tax for individuals with adjusted gross incomes over $1 million, with a phase-in period for those earning less than $2 million. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that as a result of this provision, enacting the bill would have increased revenues by $72 billion, completely covering the costs of refinancing and reducing the federal deficit by $22 billion, over the 2015-2024 period. This net gain in revenue, combined with the bolstered purchasing power and financial stability caused by lessened student debt would have strengthened the nation’s economic recovery and the financial futures of students and recent graduates.

The motion to invoke cloture was rejected by a vote of 56 – 38 (3/5 majority required for passage).

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Workforce: S. 214. (H.R. 803, As Amended). This bill amends the Workforce Investment Act to strengthen the United States workforce development system through innovation in, and alignment and improvement of, employment, training, and education programs.  It also provides for the amendment and expansion of adult education and family literacy education under Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

By reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act, now the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Congress set a solid foundation for states and localities to improve their workforce development programs, more effectively and efficiently preparing Americans to enter today’s workforce. WIOA shifts national workforce infrastructure to focus on training the most vulnerable workers and connecting these participants with higher quality jobs. WIOA will align planning and accountability policies across programs, for both adults and youth, and asks states to expand upon best practices of combining employment and training activities through career pathways programs, industry or sector partnerships, and an emphasis on industry-recognized certificates or credentials. It also aims to cut down on bureaucracy by eliminating overlapping programs, and to increase the accessibility of one-stop centers.

Workforce programs offer critical support to Americans living in poverty. While this Act will not eliminate unemployment, if properly funded and embraced by state and local advocates it will lead to vast improvements in workforce training for Americans who need the most assistance in finding adequate employment.

The bill passed by a vote of 95 – 3 and, following passage in the House, was signed by the President and became Public Law 113 – 128.

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Employment: S. 262 (S. 2199). The Paycheck Fairness Act would have updated amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act originally made in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) to provide several additional measures for reducing the gender pay gap.

According to the United States Census Bureau, women working full-time in the United States were paid on average only 78 cents for every $1 paid to men in 2013, amounting to a median annual pay gap of almost $11,000.  While women’s participation in the workforce has increased by more than 30% since the 1970’s, over the past decade there has been virtually no growth in real wages for women and no reduction in the gender wage gap. This pay disparity exists across every education level, nearly every job occupation, and every racial and ethnic group, with Black, Native American, and Latina women paid the lowest percentage (as little as 54%) of white men’s earnings. The gender pay gap and stagnation in women’s real earnings not only undermine the economic security of women but also working families. This gap contributes to the stark situation of working mothers: 40% of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner and nearly one third of all single-mother families live in poverty.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would have closed loopholes and strengthened legal remedies and enforcement tools in the EPA to more effectively address instances of gender pay discrimination. The bill included measures that required employers to prove that wage differentials between male and female employees are based on factors other than sex; prohibited employer retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or discuss their own wages with other employees to determine fair payment; strengthened penalties for equal pay violations to match the remedies for discrimination based on race or national origin and enable EPA violations to proceed as class action lawsuits; and reinstated the collection of gender-based wage data by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in order to better enforce anti-discrimination laws. Through these and other steps, this legislation would have bolstered federal efforts to promote equal pay for women and improve financial stability for working families.

The motion to invoke cloture was rejected by a Vote of 52 – 40 (3/5 majority needed).

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Child Care: S. 276. (S. 1086). This bill reauthorizes the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program. It improves the quality of child care, requires more training for caregivers, improves child care safety, and helps working parents that receive subsidies to pay for child care. The Act had not been reauthorized since 1996.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) supports low-income families in accessing quality child care while a parent works or attends school. In addition to subsidizing child care payments for families, who otherwise would spend a crippling percentage of their income on these services, the Federal Office of Child Care works to increase the availability of quality care and provides technical assistance to states, territories and tribal governments who administer the CCDBG-funded child care programs.

The updates in this bill focus on increasing access to child care, improving the health and safety of children in care, and raising the quality of care offered by providers. Strategies for increasing access include establishing a minimum eligibility period of 12 months, increasing the supply for underserved areas and populations, and guidance on redetermination and payment practices. Health and safety improvements mostly revolve around required inspections and background checks, training and professional development, and consumer education informed by public reports. Finally, the bill will increase the percentage of funding states must spend on quality improvement activities as well as direct states to set training requirements that address specific topics and populations. The bill does not include any meaningful increases in funding despite declining participation due to state funding cutbacks, but will continue to offer critical support for the families who are able to access the program.

The motion to concur was agreed to by a Vote of 88 – 1 and, following passage in the House, the legislation was signed by the President and became Public Law 113 – 186.

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