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Women will lose big if state and local governments can’t close coronavirus budget gaps

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The United States is on track to lose millions of jobs if the federal government doesn’t help state and local governments fill in budget shortfalls. Some of the jobs will be in the private sector as governments drop contracts and as public workers curtail their spending, but it’s a guarantee that government workers will be hard hit. And like so much else about the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, that means increased inequality.

The National Women’s Law Center details the damage women, and especially women of color, have already experienced and face if things don’t get better. Already, women are 63% of the 1.5 million state and local government jobs lost between February and May. That’s in line with the six in 10 workers in state and local governments who are women. These aren’t the jobs of last resort, either. They’re jobs that do better by women than the private sector, reducing inequality.

“In 2018, women instate and local government jobs had a median wage of almost $7,000 more per year than women in private sector jobs,” the NWLC notes. “For Black women and Latinas, the difference was even more pronounced, with the typical salary for a Black woman working in state or local government exceeding the typical salary for a Black woman working in the private sector by $10,000 per year, and the typical salary for a Latina working in state or local government exceeding the typical salary for a Latina working in the private sector by $15,000 per year.”

That narrows the wage gap, with Black women coming 17 cents an hour closer to white, non-Hispanic men than they do in the private sector. Across all women in state and local government, the wage gap narrows by 3 cents an hour. That’s added to women working for state and local governments being much more likely to have health coverage. And it’s a significant source of good jobs for women of color: One in seven Black women in the workforce is in state or local government.

If the federal government doesn’t help state and local governments close budget shortfalls, the economic crisis across the country will deepen and settle in, making for a longer and harder recovery. “This is not an abstract concern—the historically slow recovery in state and local spending following the Great Recession by itself delayed a recovery in unemployment to pre-crisis levels by four full years,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.

And it won’t be rich white men—or even mostly non-rich white men—who pay the price.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Immigration agency warns of furloughs amid cash crunch

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USCIS says it’s facing a $1.2 billion shortfall, but lawmakers say they’re still waiting on a detailed budget breakdown from the White House.

The agency charged with administering the nation’s immigration system is facing a $1.2 billion budget shortfall that it says will force thousands of furloughs in the coming weeks absent an emergency cash infusion from Congress, which could come in the next round of coronavirus relief.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says the pandemic has led to a dramatic drop in fee processing, putting the agency’s finances in dire straits. But Democrats and Republicans say they’re still waiting on a detailed budget breakdown from the White House that fully outlines the problem and addresses the agency’s needs.

Meanwhile, former Obama administration officials — who have raised concerns about existing budget problems at USCIS and what they view as the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda — say Congress should tread with caution.

A senior Trump administration official contended that it has given Congress ample warning about the coming budget shortfall, including in a June 19 letterfrom acting OMB Director Russ Vought to House and Senate appropriators.

“The Administration has provided Congress with all the information they need to do their job,” said Robert Kuhlman, a former Department of Homeland Security official who’s now a spokesperson at OMB. “If Congressional Democrat appropriators have a problem with keeping the lights on at USCIS they should just say so.”

But that letter, Democratic and Republican appropriators note, didn’t even include a dollar amount.

“The Trump White House is responsible for requesting supplemental funding, but all they have sent Congress is a one-page letter that provides virtually no information on the shortfall or proposed remedies,” said House Appropriations spokesperson Evan Hollander.

“Despite this egregious lack of communication, House Democrats are closely tracking USCIS’ financial difficulties and are prepared to discuss solutions as part of negotiations on the next phase of coronavirus response legislation. So far, Senate Republicans are unwilling to begin those talks.”

A Senate GOP aide confirmed to POLITICO that Republican appropriators are still waiting for an official budget request that provides a top-line number, including a more detailed breakdown of the pandemic-related needs at USCIS.

Without intervention from Congress, the shortfall threatens to put 13,400 USCIS employees on furlough beginning August 3.

The agency said last Wednesday it will prioritize southwest border screening and fraud detection in its refugee and asylum office during the furlough, according to a copy of an email reviewed by POLITICO. The administration ramped up those procedures during his first term in an effort to discourage illegal immigration.

In response to a request for comment on its priorities during the furlough, a USCIS spokesperson told POLITICO via email that, “In the event of a furlough, all agency operations will be affected.”

A former Obama administration official and the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute say that a falling number of immigration applications, as well as the agency bringing on more personnel to detect fraud and vet applications, likely played a large role in the funding gap.

“They went on a huge staffing surge … so they ramped up their expenses at the same time revenues were going up. And then, Covid just exposed the fragile position they put themselves,” said Doug Rand, who worked on immigration policy in the Obama White House and is now the co-founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship.

He argues that the increased vetting practices implemented as part of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration agenda also slowed down processing and increased application denials, sapping potential revenues for the agency.

“You’ve got an agency that in the best of times was adding all this red tape, slow walking adjudications, wait times are skyrocketing, denial rates are going up …” Rand told POLITICO, “then Covid hit, and suddenly they’re claiming they’re insolvent and they might just shut down legal immigration completely for some period of time.”

The agency, which relies solely on immigration fees for funding, did shutter its field offices during the pandemic. But USCIS acknowledged it was facing a funding deficit as early as November, writing in a proposed rule that it needed to raise immigration application fees and charge a first-ever fee for asylum — and that without the hike in fees, it would face an annual shortfall of $1.2 billion.

USCIS counters that the deficit predicted in the rulemaking and the shortfall it’s seeing from the pandemic are “different scenarios.”

A spokesperson said in an emailed statement that USCIS “did not spend at the levels estimated in the proposed fee rule” and that “the precipitous decline in revenue as a result of COVID-19 began in March.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on July 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Caitlin Emma covers the federal budget and congressional spending bills on Capitol Hill for POLITICO Pro. Prior to that, she spent five years as an education policy reporter for Pro.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter. Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.


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The Trump Budget: The Other Shoe Drops

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When Congress passed a nearly $2 trillion tax cut for corporations and the wealthy in 2017, we warned that the obscene cost of this tax cut bill would be used as a pretext to cut programs that benefit working people.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) said at the time that the 2017 tax bill was:

Nothing but a con game, and working people are the ones they’re trying to con. Here we go again. First comes the promise that tax giveaways for the wealthy and big corporations will trickle down to the rest of us. Then comes the promise that tax cuts will pay for themselves. Then comes the promise that they want to stop offshoring. And finally, we find out that none of these things is true, and the people responsible for wasting trillions of dollars on tax giveaways to the rich tell us we have no choice but to cut Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education and infrastructure. There always seems to be plenty of money for millionaires and big corporations but never enough money to do anything for working people.

Now those predictions are coming true, as President Trump has released his new budget plan for the coming year.

The president proposes to cut $2 trillion from safety net programs, which is about the same amount as the cost of the 2017 tax bill. His budget plan would cut $1 trillion from Medicaid and subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. The Labor Department gets whacked by $1.3 billion. Adjustment assistance for people who lose their jobs to imports is slashed by nearly $400 million, and a program to help U.S. manufacturing companies create jobs is eliminated. The budget plan also eliminates subsidized student loans and the public service student loan forgiveness program.

While supporters of the 2017 tax bill promised it would benefit working people, almost all of its benefits have gone to corporations and the wealthy, and very little has trickled down to working people. Paychecks are still flat, and too many working people still have to work more than one job just to make ends meet. Wages grew by only 0% in September, -0.1% in October, -0.1% in November and -0.1% in December, when adjusted for inflation.

To make things worse, the president’s budget proposes another tax cut that goes disproportionately to the wealthy?—extending the tax cuts from the 2017 tax bill for another 10 years at a cost of $1.4 trillion over the next decade. Two-thirds of these tax cuts would go to the richest 20% of all taxpayers. Here we go again.

They keep running the same play because it keeps working. Since 2001, the wealthiest 1% of all taxpayers have gotten $2 trillion in tax cuts, and federal tax revenues have been reduced by $5.1 trillion. This is money that should have been used to make life better for working people?—for example, by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, funding quality public education for every child and guaranteeing retirement security for our seniors?—rather than building up the fortunes of the 1%.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on February 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

 


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FY 2019 OSHA Budget Is Here: Good News, But More Work to be Done

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For the first time practically in recorded memory, the Labor-HHS-Education budget, which includes OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH, was passed and signed into law before the beginning of the new Fiscal Year — October 1st.  The final OSHA budget actually contains a $5 million increase over FY 2018 and $8.8 million over the President’s FY 2019 Request. We can thank the Senate for that, considering the final budget is a whopping $12.5 million over what the House wanted.

Highlights include:

  • The total OSHA budget is $557.8 million, a $5 million increase over FY 2018
    • $1 million increase for federal enforcement,
    • $1.5 million increase for state plans
    • $2.5 million increase for federal compliance assistance ($3.5 million will be spent on the Voluntary Protection Programs)
    • Susan Harwood Worker Training Grant program continues to be funded at $10 million — despite the Trump administration’s continuing efforts to kill it.
    • There are no “poison pill” riders — attempts to kill silica enforcement or OSHA’s electronic recordkeeping standard.
  • The MSHA budget is level funded.
  • NIOSH will receive  $336.3 million (a $1 million increase over FY 2018).
    • Trump’s proposal to transfer NIOSH to the National Institutes of Health and slash the NIOSH budget was rejected. Funding for the Educational Resource Centers, Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Research Centers and other NIOSH programs was maintained.
  • A few other Labor Department programs — Wage and Hour Division, Bureau of Labor Standards and the Office of Labor Management Standards — also got small increases although funding for employment services was cut.

A Word of Warning

But don’t get too happy. While these small increases (or level funding) are good news considering who’s in the White House and in control of Congress, funding for virtually all of the labor programs has been basically frozen for years. The total OSHA budget, and some line items like State Plan funding, are still lower than they were in 2012, as you can see in the table below.  And while the budget hasn’t shown much change, the  costs of operating these programs have increased, resulting in declining staffing levels and program activity.

As AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario summarizes, “we have a victory holding the line, but much more work to be done.”

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on October 3, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).


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Trump’s Worker Safety & Health Budget Again Undermines Worker Safety & Health

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Earlier this week, President Trump submitted his Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal. This is his second budget proposal, and like the first, although it left OSHA’s budget fairly flat, it once again proposes to slash or eliminate important safety and health programs and agencies.  And this is Trump’s second OSHA budget that has been proposed with no Assistant Secretary yet in residence.  Scott Mugno’s nomination continues to languish in the Senate.

First, the good news. With one major exception (see below), OSHA’s budget would remain mostly level– with a small $5.1 million (2.4% and 42 full time employees) increase over FY 2017 in the enforcement budget, as well as a small $3 million (4.2%) increase in compliance assistance — mostly to add Compliance Assistance Specialists who had been cut in previous years due to budget limitations, and an addition of eight staff to work exclusively on the Voluntary Protection Programs.

Meanwhile, in addition to trying once again to eliminate the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program and the Chemical Safety Board, the administration’s proposal also eliminates two OSHA Advisory Committees dealing with whistleblower protections and federal employee safety and health.

Harwood and the Chemical Safety Board: Deja Vu All Over Again

In what can only be characterized as the triumph of hope over experience, the Trump administration has yet again proposed the elimination of OSHA’s Susan Harwood Worker Training Program and the independent Chemical Safety Board — two proposals that had about as much lift as a Butterball Turkey when the administration floated these ideas in its FY 2018 budget.

Now this budget is not necessarily bad news for us bloggers. I mean, I don’t have to write any new stories about how terrible the elimination of the Susan Harwood Worker Training Program would be for the safety of workers — especially vulnerable workers like the mostly immigrant day-laborers who have been rebuilding Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

And I don’t have to write much new about how pointless the elimination of the Chemical Safety Board would be for chemical plant safety — and the safety of workers at the plants and communities surrounding the plants.

Because you, good readers, already know all of that. But perhaps more important, Congress already knows that. Certainly both the House and the Senate understand the importance of the Chemical Safety Board as they displayed when the relevant Appropriations bills in both houses voted to keep the CSB fully funded in the 2018 budget after the Trump administration recommended its elimination.

Similarly, after being sentenced to death in the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal (and in the House of Representatives’ Labor appropriations bill), the Senate Appropriations committee voted on a bipartisan basis to ignore the Administration’s proposal (and the House bill) and maintain the program.

CSB and Harwood: There’s no education from the second kick of a mule.

But these guys aren’t only irresponsible and just plain wrong; they’re also lazy. You’d think that after failing last year to eliminate these programs, they’d at least come up with some new and improved justifications. But no. As in 2018, the 2019 budget erroneously justifies the elimination of the Harwood program on an alleged lack of “evidence that the program is effective.” And they again incorrectly justify the CSB’s elimination on the the ‘relative duplicative nature of its work,” presumably assuming that the CSB duplicates the efforts of OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The CSB, however, is not discouraged. Being an independent agency, they submitted their own $12.1 million budget request to keep the agency open. The board is currently conducting nine open investigations: Red Mountain Operating, Arkema Inc., Didion Milling Inc., Midland Resource Recovery, Loy Lange Box Co., Packaging Corporation of America, Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, Enterprise Products Partners LP and DuPont.

I’m not going to waste scarce electrons or your valuable time explaining again why these justifications are — to put it mildly — bogus. If you want to re-read what I wrote last here about these proposals, you can start here.  (Here is much more on the importance of the Chemical Safety Board and the Harwood Grants.) And I’m sure we’ll be writing more about the importance of these programs in the near future.

There’s a saying that there’s no education from the second kick of a mule.  With a little lobbying and common sense, we can only hope that the Trump administration will get to witness that phenomenon with its 2019 workplace safety and health budget.

Compliance Assistance and OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program

OSHA’s federal compliance assistance budget is slated for a 4.2% increase which will include 8 employees fully dedicated to the Voluntary Protection Program and 24 Compliance Assistance Specialists (CAS).  OSHA once had a CAS in every one of its 70 Area Offices, but budget cuts and the hiring freeze had cut those numbers significantly.

VPP, established in 1982 to recognize workplaces with exemplary safety and health management systems, has always been a favorite program of Republican administrations. As we’ve discussed, however, the program has faced significant integrity and funding issues over the past several years. Trump’s OSHA has held two stakeholder meetings to discuss problems with the program and although the outcome of those meetings have never been released by OSHA, the agency is doubling down on VPP growth. According to OSHA’s Congressional Budget Justification,  “with the addition of 24 CAS and 8 VPP staff, OSHA anticipates approving 155 new VPP sites and re-approving 395 sites in FY 2019.”

One notable change in the Trump budget from previous budgets is the total omission of a focus in its compliance assistance program on vulnerable workers, such as day laborers,  temporary workers and workers with limited English proficiency who often work in high hazard industries and are difficult for OSHA to reach. It is a common myth that the Obama administration focused totally on enforcement to the neglect of compliance assistance. The truth is that the Obama administration conducted a major compliance assistance program, but instead of focusing exclusively on assistance for employers, the Obama administration focused compliance assistance resources on helping vulnerable workers. OSHA’s CBJ doesn’t even mention vulnerable workers or working with labor unions in its Compliance Assistance section, focusing exclusively on broadening “its reach, assistance, and support to small businesses and other employers working to comply with OSHA requirements and protect their workers,” as well as working with more “trade associations, organizations, and employers it engages with directly through its cooperative programs.”

OSHA Standards

OSHA’s Budget Justification states that it plans to issue three final rules, including one on beryllium, and four proposed rules. As you may recall, OSHA proposed last June to weaken beryllium protections for maritime and construction workers.  (The schedule for this is a bit unclear as the CBJ also states that “OSHA anticipates that this rulemaking will proceed fairly quickly with a proposal either late 2018 or very early 2019.” Given that OSHA already issued a proposal in June 2017, it’s unclear whether this statement means they’ll issue a new proposal or it’s just a result of  lousy proofreading.)

Other final standards include a minor revision addressing respirator fit-test methods, and a revision of the recordkeeping standard.  OSHA has stated for some time that it doesn’t like parts of the Obama administration’s electronic recordkeeping regulation which requires employers to send injury and illness data to OSHA, and to prohibit retaliation against workers for reporting injuries or illnesses.  Given that no proposal has yet appeared, it’s possible, but unlikely that a final revised rule will be issued before October 1, 2019, the end of FY 2019.

The only small business (SBREFA) review mentioned is one for a cell tower standard. No mention of a SBREFA panel for workplace violence. SBREFA is the first formal step of the regulatory process.

In addition to numerous guidance products, OSHA plans to use its standards funding to throw a bone to its industry friends by conducting “retrospective reviews to revise and update existing standards in ways that will better protect workers and, where possible, reduce burden on employers.” Don’t expect much there. A thorough review of a standard or regulation takes years and generally confirms that the original standard protected workers more effectively, and at a lower cost than OSHA had originally predicted.

NIOSH

As it did last year, the Trump administration proposes to whack NIOSH, continuing to show its disdain for evidence-based practice that is supported by real research.  Trump is again proposing to cut NIOSH job safety research by $135.2 million (40%), and proposes to eliminate educational research centers, agriculture, forestry and fishing research centers and external research programs.

Then it gets weird. Trump is proposing to take NIOSH out of CDC and then possibly combine it at a later date with other parts of the National Institutes of Health.  Section 22 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act established the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the Department of Health and Human Services to “conduct research,experiments, and demonstrations relating to occupational safety and health.”  NIOSH is currently part of the Centers for Disease Control, which is also part of HHS.  How this envisioned reorganization will work with the OSHAct that establishes a separate institute specifically for Occupational Safety and Health remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the World Trade Center Health Program (administered by NIOSH director by law) would remain at CDC.

MSHA

Fifteen coal miners died on the job in 2017, compared with only 8 in 2016, but Trump apparently sees those troubling numbers as a reason to cut coal enforcement by $3 million. the overall budget for the agency will increase by $2 million, with funding for metal/non-metal enforcement increasing by $2.5 million

Advice? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Advice

OSHA has several advisory committees comprised of outside experts intended to advise, consult with and make recommendations to OSHA and DOL leadership about how to improve worker safety and health.  The agency currently has five advisory committees:  The National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), the Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH), and the Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH), the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH) and the Whistleblower Protections Advisory Committee (WPAC.)   NACOSH and ACCSH were established by law and the others by the Secretary of Labor and the White House.

Trump wants to eliminate two OSHA Advisory Committees and none have met in over a year

The committees are populated with national experts representing labor, management and public agencies who rotate every few years. Advisory committees traditionally meet two or three times a year, but none have met in the first 13 months of this administration.

Trump’s OSHA budget proposes to eliminate two of the agency’s five advisory committees: FACOSH and WPAC.  WPAC is the newest advisory committee and was established in 2012 to help OSHA “improve the fairness, efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of OSHA’s administration of whistleblower protections.” WPAC was one of the many initiatives undertaken in the Obama administration to improve the operation of OSHA’s troubled Whistleblower Program, including creating a separate directorate and a separate budget item.  Achievements of the committee include the publication of the first-ever Recommended Practices for Employers for Addressing and Preventing Retaliation which assists employers in creating workplaces in which employees can voice their concerns without fear of retaliation.

Federal employees are not covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, but were provided protections by Executive Order 12196 which requires each federal agency to “Furnish to employees places and conditions of employment that are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  Executive Order 11612, issued by Richard Nixon, established FACOSH in order to “advice on how to reduce and keep to a minimum the number of injuries and illnesses in the federal workforce and how to encourage each federal Executive Branch department and agency to establish and maintain effective occupational safety and health programs.” Federal OSHA can cite, but not fine federal agencies and has uncovered and corrected a number of serious safety and health problems in the nation’s military bases, hospitals, prisons, hospitals and other federal facilities.

Elsewhere:

In related news, Trump’s budget

  • Cuts EPA’s budget by 34% so that the agency can eliminate “lower priority programs” and refocus on “core activities.”  Among the “lower priority programs” that the EPA is proposing to eliminate are those that address the only environmental threat that can literally destroy the earth as we know it — climate change.  After all, climate change may be good for us. “Core Activities” that need more funding apparently refer to a swollen security detail for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, his high security communications chamber and, of course, his first-class travel to points domestic and foreign.
  • Cuts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: In the midst of a flu pandemic and the ever-present threat of Ebola and the emergence of other “new” diseases, Trump is proposing to cut back CDC’s budget by $1 billion.

  • Cuts National Labor Relations Board by $25.2 million (9%)

  • Cuts Employment and Training Services by $1.3 billion (39%)

  • Cuts Unemployment Insurance and Employment Services by $45.4 million (13%)

  • Cuts Job Corp by $40.7 million (24%)

  • Eliminates the Older Worker Program

  • Cuts Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) by $13.4 million (13%). OFCCP  ensures that contractors and subcontractors who do business with the federal government comply with the legal requirement to take affirmative action and not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran.

  • Cuts Labor Department’s International by $67.6 million (79%)

  • Cuts Women’s Bureau by $7.6 million (68%)

  • Proposes $8.5 million (22%) increase for Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) enforcement. OLMS ensures that union elections and finances are conducted legally. Republican administrations traditionally use OLMS to harass unions; hence the increased funding.

What’s Next?

This is the beginning of the FY 2019 budget process. FY 2019 begins on October 1, 2018, but the budget will not be passed by then. No Congress in recent memory has finished a budget by the end of the budget year and that prospect is even less likely in an election year.

The next step in the process will be Secretary Acosta’s testimony before the House and Senate appropriations committees.  There will then be long deliberations in the House and the Senate, and eventually both Houses of Congress and the President will have to come up with a budget that they agree on.  The process is more difficult in the Senate because 60 votes are needed to pass a budget. And as we saw last year, the House budget was much worse than the President’s proposal (although they did vote to maintain the CSB), while the Senate’s OSHA budget was better then the President’s proposal.

And, of course, depending on the outcome of the Congressional elections on November 6, Trump could be facing a Democratic House of Representatives and/or a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic majority in either house of Congress would drastically change the final budget that emerges from this process.

But nothing good in this country happens by itself. It happens because knowledgeable and caring citizens ensure that their Senators and Congressional Representatives understand the importance of these programs in protecting worker safety and health. That’s where you come in. Especially in an election year, it’s important that those running for office understand the daily hazards facing American workers and the role of the OSHA and other government agencies in making sure workers come home safely at the end of the day.  And already, just days after release of the President’s budget, opposition to his proposal to eliminate the CSB has begun.

And there will be more.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on February 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).


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When three days sick means losing a month’s grocery budget

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Nearly two-thirds of private-sector workers in the U.S. have access to paid sick leave, but as with so many labor and economic statistics, that masks serious inequality: 87 percent of the top 10 percent of earners have paid sick leave, while just 27 percent of the bottom 10 percent do. And what that means is that the people who can least afford to take a day off without pay are the ones who are forced to do so if they’re too sick to go to work. A new Economic Policy Institute analysis shows how devastating that choice can be:

Without the ability to earn paid sick days, workers must choose between going to work sick (or sending a child to school sick) and losing much-needed pay. For the average worker who does not have access to paid sick days, the costs of taking unpaid sick time can make a painful dent in the monthly budget for the worker’s household:

  • If the worker needs to take off even a half day due to illness, the lost wages are equivalent to the household’s monthly spending for fruits and vegetables; lost wages from taking off nearly three days equal their entire grocery budget for the month.
  • Two days of unpaid sick time are roughly the equivalent of a month’s worth of gas, making it difficult to get to work.
  • Three days of unpaid sick time translate into a household’s monthly utilities budget, preventing the worker from paying for electricity and heat.
  • In the event of a lengthier illness—say, seven and a half days of unpaid sick time—the worker would lose income equivalent to a monthly rent or mortgage payment.

State-level paid sick leave laws are starting to make a difference—in 2012, when the first such law was passed, in Connecticut, just 18 percent of low-wage private-sector workers had paid sick days. But workers outside of the five states with such laws need the federal government to act, and that’s not going to happen under Republican control.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


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If Trump Has His Way, You’ll Certainly Miss This Agency You Probably Don’t Even Know Exists

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The Trump Administration has released its proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Who’s set to lose big if this budget comes to fruition? Women—specifically working women and their families.

The only federal agency devoted to women’s economic security—the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau—is on the chopping block. The agency, which currently has a budget of only $11 million (just one percent of the DoL’s total budget), would see a 76 percent cut in its funds for the next fiscal year under the proposed budget.

Despite making up only 1 percent of the Department’s current budget and having only a 50-person staff, the Bureau serves in several crucial roles—simultaneously conducting research, crafting policy and convening relevant stakeholders (from unions to small businesses) in meaningful discussions about how to best support working women. The Women’s Bureau’s priorities have changed with the times—focusing on working conditions for women in the 1920s and 30s, and helping to pass the monumental Equal Pay Act in the early 1960s. (President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, making pay discrimination on the basis of sex illegal. However, because of loopholes in the 54-year-old law, the wage gap persists.) Throughout its nearly 100-year history, however, the agency has remained a powerful advocate for working women and families. Recent efforts have included advocating for paid family leave, trying to make well-paying trades jobs available to women and supporting women veterans as they re-enter civilian life.

Eliminating or underfunding the Women’s Bureau would be a huge setback for working women across the nation. Take the issue of paid family leave, for example. In recent years, the Bureau awarded over $3 million in Paid Leave Analysis grants to cities and states interested in creating and growing their own paid leave programs while federal action stalls. With the funding provided by the Women’s Bureau, states and localities have developed comprehensive understandings of what their own paid leave programs might look like. In Vermont, where the Commission on the Status of Women received a Paid Leave Analysis grant in 2015, state lawmakers are now on track to pass a strong paid family leave policy.

So why is the Trump Administration considering cutting such a low-cost, high-impact agency? Some suspect it’s at the suggestion of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s 2017 budget proposal, which calls the Women’s Bureau “redundant” because “today, women make up half of the workforce.”

What this justification conveniently leaves out is that despite important gains in recent decades, too many women, particularly women of color, are still stuck in low-paying, undervalued jobs, being paid less than their male counterparts and taking on a disproportionate amount of unpaid labor at home. It also leaves out the fact that those previously-mentioned important gains are largely the result of targeted efforts led by government agencies like the Women’s Bureau. Eliminating the agencies responsible for immense strides in preserving civil rights is, to quote the brilliant Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Instead of punishing an agency for its accomplishments, the Trump Administration should give the Women’s Bureau the resources it needs to tackle the problems remaining for working women.

Donald Trump is happy to engage in shiny photo-ops and feel-good listening sessions about women’s empowerment, but when it comes to doing concrete work to support the one government agency tasked with supporting women’s economic empowerment, this administration is nowhere to be found. If this government actually cares about women at all—that is, cares about more than good press and tidy, Instagrammable quotes—it should step up to defend this agency and its 97-year history. The working women of America deserve better.

This blog was originally published by the Make it Work Campaign on June 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maitreyi Anantharaman is a policy and research intern for the Make it Work Campaign, a communications intern for Workplace Fairness and an undergraduate public policy student at the University of Michigan.


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Trump’s Family Leave: An Empty Envelope for American Workers

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The White House budget dispels any hopes Trump might keep his promise to extend a helping hand to the nation’s millions of small business workers with a family and medical leave act that works for them.

Instead, the Trump team hands American workers an empty envelope.

Small business owners had reasons to hope: since the campaign, rumors have swirled the president might support a federal paid leave program. Candidate Trump had endorsed a call by his daughter Ivanka, who paints herself as an empathetic business owner, mother of three, and tuned-in working woman, to enact paid family leave.

Earlier this year, progressive lawmakers in the Senate also introduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Small business owners cheered this proposal, which lays out a framework for a strong national paid leave program that meets the needs of small business owners and workers alike.

Trump’s budget does include paid family leave, but as analysts unpack the proposal, it has become increasingly clear that his plan, unlike the FAMILY Act, doesn’t work for small businesses, their employees, or their communities.

Here are the top five reasons Trump’s family leave plan doesn’t work.

1: Trump’s “family” leave doesn’t cover the whole family

Trump’s budget proposal only includes new mothers and fathers. By contrast, the FAMILY Act covers the diverse caregiving situations that most small business owners and their employees face during their career. This includes recovering from personal illness or taking care of a sick spouse, an aging parent, grandparent, domestic partner, or adult child.

For small business owners, especially sole proprietors, a universal federal paid family and medical leave policy can make or break their business if they or a loved one needs extended care.

2: Paid leave is not guaranteed for all who work

Trump’s plan fails to establish a nationwide standard for who qualifies for paid leave. It’s up to each state to decide eligibility, which is likely to be based on restrictive unemployment rules that are already on the books.

In order for paid family and medical leave to really work for Main Street small businesses, everyone who works should to have the ability to earn leave from work to care for their families or themselves without fear of losing their job or not being able to pay their bills.

Paid leave should be available in all businesses, regardless of size or sector, and to all workers, whether they work part-time, full-time, or are self-employed. And everybody should be able to access the same amount of leave time, regardless of gender.

3: The funding is shaky

To fund a federal leave policy, the FAMILY Act sets up a simple payroll tax that amounts to about $1.50 per week per employee – the price of a cup of coffee. Like Social Security, that money goes into a pooled insurance account that covers all workers who are paying into the pool, and the program is administered by a new paid leave office.

The White House’s proposal, however, puts the tab on states’ budgets, indicating that state unemployment insurance funds will cover the cost by cutting benefits or figuring out how to collect overpayments. In many states, those unemployment funds are already far short of the reserve amount.

Rather than establish definitive federal fund for paid leave, Trump passes the buck, pun intended, to taxpayers, shifting the burden to the states to figure out how to administer and pay for his policy.

4: Trump’s plan is neither clear nor straightforward

The majority of small business owners are not equipped to handle the time and expense of administering a paid family and medical leave plan. It’s essential that any federal plan be easy, efficient, and minimizes the responsibilities of small business owners.

The FAMILY Act outlines a national program that builds off existing, successful state models, with streamlined coordination and a central administrative office. The Trump plan, on the other hand, is about as comprehensive as one of his Tweets – a couple of broad strokes, no detail. The details are all left in the hands of the states, from their level of participation to eligibility, funding, benefits, administration, and protections for employees.

5: Trump’s plan doesn’t consider small business owners

Fundamentally, a paid family and medical leave plan that works for small businesses needs to do three things:

1) Level the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger companies when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.

2) Invest in the families and communities that support small businesses by strengthening basic living standards for everyone.

3) Provide a measure of security for small business owners who need to recover from an illness or care for a sick loved one.

Across the board, the paid leave plan outlined in Trump’s budget fails to meet these needs of small businesses.

Alternative Visions

The Washington think tanks American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Brookings have released their own report on the issue, “Paid Family and Medical Leave: An issue whose time has come.” Touted as a bipartisan compromise plan, the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave proposal only includes parental leave, falling far short of the inclusive and comprehensive policy American small business owners and workers need.

The FAMILY Act is the type of legislation that would help small business owners keep pace with the needs of today’s workforce. It proposes a national paid family and medical leave program that would level the playing field for small businesses to compete, reduce turnover costs, provide a critical measure to security for business owners themselves, and support local economies.

Meanwhile, the Trump plan – underfunded, restrictive, and lacking in detail – seems more like a political play for points than a serious plan to boost small business in America.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on June 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Angela Simaan is Communications Director for Main Street Alliance, a national network of small business coalitions working to build a new voice for small businesses on important public policy issues.


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People’s Budget Puts Forward An Aggressive Plan To Green Our Economy

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Isaiah J. Poole

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will formally unveil their fiscal 2017 People’s Budget on Tuesday, and when they do one of the key features they will tout is an aggressive plan to shift the country to a green energy future.

“Climate change is no longer just a problem for a future generation — it is here today,” the budget document says, adding that the nation needs “to take bold action to fight climate change and invest in a clean-energy economy that supports green jobs with good wages.”

The policies embodied in the People’s Budget closely track the policies that the Campaign for America’s Future, along with partners National People’s Action, Alliance for a Just Society and USAction, called for in their progressive policy platform last year. The budget even echoes the platform language: “Catastrophic climate change is a clear and present danger. The United States should lead the global green revolution that builds strong and resilient communities.”

The People’s Budget would impose a tax on carbon polluters that would start at $25 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions and increase at a rate of 5.6 percent a year. Much of the money raised from that tax would be used to fund a range of renewable energy initiatives and to help low-income individuals cope with any increases in their energy bills that might result from the combination of the carbon tax and the switch to renewables.

This carbon tax would, according to the Energy Information Administration, lead to the U.S. cutting its carbon emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels within five years. That would be a significant contribution toward the United States’ pledges during the Paris climate talks last year to help limit global warming to no more than 3 degrees Celsius (about 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and preferably much lower.

The budget would also eliminate about $135 billion in fossil fuel subsidies over 10 years. These tax expenditures, combined with other loopholes fossil fuel companies typically exploit, enable these companies to pay a tax rate that is on average only about 11 percent of their profits, according to one study by the conservative-leaning Taxpayers for Common Sense. By shutting down these subsidies, the People’s Budget is able to pour resources into helping communities protect themselves from the consequences of climate change that are already beginning to unfold.

Lukas Ross of Friends of the Earth called the People’s Budget “the greenest option in Washington” in a post on DailyKos. Ross noted that in addition to what the budget proposes to do that is directly related to climate change, it includes $12 billion to cover the public financing of elections. That’s important to the environmental movement because so far this election season, “Big Oil has already poured over $13 million into Congressional races and over $100 million into the presidency. Climate solutions require politicians who aren’t beholden to Big Oil, and even though public financing can’t guarantee direct climate results, it can guarantee a more level playing field for candidates not drowning in oil money.”

The People’s Budget is a comprehensive road map for economic reform that will stand in sharp contrast to what Republican congressional leaders will propose this week as they launch their own 2017 budget debates. As the National Priorities Project outlines, the budget “includes a $1 trillion in much-needed investment in our national infrastructure …. fully funds Early Head Start, giving kids a strong start early in life, and adopts the president’s proposals for universal preschool … provide[s] federal matching funds to states so that students could go to college debt-free … does away with the Pentagon slush fund after fiscal year 2017 (Overseas Contingency Operations), saving $761 billion over ten years … [and] If you earn a billion dollars or more each year … the People’s Budget would assign you a tax rate of 49 percent [that] is still lower than the highest individual tax rate during most of the presidency of conservative hero President Ronald Reagan.”

The budget also serves as a standard for what a presidential or congressional candidate should be willing to embrace in order to earn progressive support. In that regard, a coalition of grassroots organizations are telling Democratic house members that their vote on the People’s Budget, expected the week of March 21, will be a key vote in weighing their support.

To declare yourself a citizen co-sponsor of the People’s Budget, and to show Congress that the ideas in the People’s Budget have broad support, sign this petition that will be delivered to Congress when the House begins floor debate.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on March 14, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.


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How Much Money Does a Family Need to Get by Where You Live?

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Laura ClawsonWe talk a fair amount about what people earn. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, or $15,080 for a year of full-time work. Workers are organizing to demand $15 an hour, or $31,200 a year. The median household income is around $52,000. To be in the top one percent of households, you need $385,195 in income. But we need to put those numbers in the context of what people need.

That minimum wage? It’s not enough to pay rent on an average one- or two-bedroom apartment in any state. But the median household income falls short of living costs in many places, as a new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows.

  • The basic family budget for a two-parent, two-child family ranges from $49,114 (Morristown, Tenn.) to $106,493 (Washington, D.C.). In the median family budget area for this family type, Des Moines, Iowa, a two-parent, two-child family needs $63,741 to secure an adequate but modest living standard. This is well above the 2014 poverty threshold of $24,008 for this family type.
  • For a two-parent, two-child household, housing ranges from 10.2 percent of a family’s budget in Binghamton, N.Y., to 25.6 percent in San Francisco. Housing for this family type is most expensive in San Francisco ($1,956 per month), and is least expensive in Franklin, Poinsett, and Grant counties in Arkansas ($561 per month).
  • Across regions and family types, child care costs account for the greatest variability in family budgets. Monthly child care costs for a two-parent, one-child household range from $344 in rural South Carolina to $1,472 in Washington, D.C. In the latter, monthly child care costs for a two-parent, three-child household are $2,784—nearly 90 percent higher than for a two-parent, one-child household.
  • Among two-parent, two-child families, child care costs exceed rent in 500 out of 618 family budget areas.

Household income is often higher in the more expensive places to live, of course. In the Washington, DC, metro area in 2013, it was $90,149. But that means that more than half of families fell short of what was needed to support a basic but stable lifestyle; the EPI calculated its budgets using rents at the 40th percentile and the second-least-expensive food plan the USDA outlines, to give a sense of what type of budget we’re talking about. What that means is that many, many families in this country are cutting basic corners because their incomes don’t keep up with the cost of living—and no wonder, since the cost of living keeps rising while incomes stagnate.

Check out the EPI’s family budget calculator to see basic living costs for families in your area.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on August 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.


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