Legislative Alert

Letter Supporting Emergency Pandemic Relief Legislation

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the AFL-CIO, I am writing to urge you to support the American Rescue Plan (H.R.  1319), which the House will consider tomorrow. This emergency measure will provide $1.9 trillion to  help us beat the pandemic and provide critical economic support to millions of American families.  Millions remain out of work, families are in danger of losing their homes and communities across the  country still lack the personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and vaccine distribution networks they  need to stay safe. Congress must pass this bill without delay. 

The American Rescue Plan includes $350 billion in unrestricted aid to states, counties, local  governments, tribes and territories. Since the start of the pandemic, over 1.4 million public service  workers have been laid off due to budget shortfalls, including firefighters, police officers, EMTs and other  front line workers. These layoffs are occurring at the same time that demands on public health, social  services, and education have been surging. Emergency aid to state and local governments is necessary to  stabilize the economy and get the spread of the virus under control.  

The need for extended unemployment benefits and the $400 supplement cannot be overstated.  The average duration of unemployment and the share of unemployed workers who have been unemployed  for 26 weeks or more continue to climb. Since July, the number of long-term unemployed has exploded  from 1.48 million to 4.02 million, and the average duration of unemployment has gone from 21.0 weeks  in September to 26.0 weeks today. At the current rate of job loss, we will still have a substantial share of  unemployed workers who will be out of work for over 26 weeks well into December of this year, if not  into February of next year. Economic impact payments are another lifeline for hard hit workers, and all  taxpaying families should be eligible for this relief regardless of their immigration status.  

The American Rescue Plan extends through August 29 vital pandemic-related unemployment  programs that would otherwise have expired on March 14. These programs expanded eligibility for  workers who are self-employed, independent contractors, or those who would otherwise not qualify for  regular benefits. The Plan also increases the amount of pandemic unemployment benefits, provides full  federal funding to states for work-sharing programs, and provides interest free federal loans to bolster  state unemployment trust funds. Funding is also provided for the Department of Labor to help states and  territories verify identities, accelerate claim processing, and detect fraud.  

The bill also includes necessary COBRA subsidies for employment-based health coverage, which  will allow 2.2 million working people to maintain access to their current in-network doctors and hospitals,  as well as their connection to full-time jobs. We support this coverage and hope that the Senate will  increase the subsidy level from 85 percent to 100 percent of premium costs. A January 2021 analysis  suggests that 7 million people have lost job-based coverage during the pandemic and another 7 million are  continuing coverage post-layoff. Additional millions remain vulnerable to loss of coverage with the rising  unemployment rate. It is important that these subsidies be increased to help the numerous additional  working families who cannot afford even 15 percent of premium costs when a breadwinner is  unemployed.

We also support eliminating the cap on Medicaid drug price rebates to more fully insulate federal and state budgets from price increases that exceed the rate of inflation. Removing the cap results  in $16 billion in federal savings that will help offset the costs of the COBRA policy and other important  coverage gains.  

The single- and multiemployer pension provisions in the bill are long overdue and critically  important for the millions of retirees who have been living in fear that their modest retirement benefits,  earned after a lifetime of hard work, will be gutted because their plans are heading towards insolvency.  This legislation will protect them from drastic benefit cuts, stabilize plans for active workers and  protect the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) as the insurance backstop for  multiemployer pensions. Because of how multiemployer plans are funded, the pandemic has only  deepened and hastened the need for federal assistance, putting even financially healthy plans at risk,  jeopardizing the retirement security of over 2.5 million workers, retirees and beneficiaries. 

We also strongly support the inclusion of an increase in the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.  Raising wages has never been more important or timely than during this pandemic. The frontline  workers whom we celebrate everyday as essential to keeping our economy moving are the most likely  to benefit from this long overdue raise. Lifting the minimum wage would benefit 32 million workers,  including millions of home health aids, grocery store workers and substitute teachers--the very  workers we have been calling heroes since the start of the pandemic. There is no community in  America where giving the working poor a raise to pull them out of poverty would not be politically  popular or a much needed boost for the local economy.  

This COVID relief package also includes $15 billion to extend the airline worker Payroll  Support Program, $3 billion to support aviation manufacturing, $30 billion for public transit, and $1.5  billion for Amtrak, along with the strong worker protections tied to the use of these emergency funds.  Though this funding will not fully meet the needs of our entire transportation sector, it is a critical step  forward to prevent both interruptions in transportation services across the country and the furloughs or  layoffs of millions of transportation workers. 

Once again, we urge you to vote for H.R. 1319 to help Americans get back on their feet and to  begin to rebuild our economy after suffering through a once-in-a-century pandemic. The American  Rescue Plan is the right response at the right time, and we urge you to pass it without delay. 

William Samuel 
Director, Government Affairs