Weekly Washington Outlook — November 30, 2015

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What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

House:

On Monday, the House will vote on legislation under suspension of the rules:

  • 611– Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act (Sponsored by Sen. Roger Wicker / Energy and Commerce Committee)
  • R. 3490– Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act (Sponsored by Rep. John Ratcliffe / Judiciary Committee)
  • R. 3279– Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins / Judiciary Committee)
  • R. 1755– To amend title 36, United States Code, to make certain improvements in the congressional charter of the Disabled American Veterans, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller / Judiciary Committee)
  • R. 2288– To remove the use restrictions on certain land transferred to Rockingham County, Virginia, and for other purposes (Sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte / Natural Resources Committee)
  • R. 1541– PRISM Act (Sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva / Natural Resources Committee)
  • R. 2212– To take certain Federal lands located in Lassen County, California, into trust for the benefit of the Susanville Indian Rancheria, and for other purposes (Sponsored by Rep. Doug LaMalfa / Natural Resources Committee)
  • R. 2270– Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act (Sponsored by Rep. Denny Heck / Natural Resources Committee)
  • 1170– Breast Cancer Research Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Dianne Feinstein / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

The balance of the week, the House will consider the following:

  • R. 8– North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton / Energy and Commerce Committee)
  • J. Res. 23– Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of a rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell / Energy and Commerce Committee)
  • J. Res 24– Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of a rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito / Energy and Commerce Committee)

In addition, the House is expected to vote on the conference report to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and another conference report to reauthorize surface transportation programs.

Senate:

The Senate will vote on Monday evening on an executive nomination. Later in the week, the Senate may debate a revised version of House-passed budget reconciliation legislation.

White House:

While the White House did not release an official schedule this week, the president will be in Paris attending a climate summit.

Also this Week:

Education – The House will vote on a bipartisan conference report to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (last rewritten as No Child Left Behind) this week. The Senate is expected to follow next week. While the language, released Monday, clearly reflects a compromise, the provisions for English Learners are substantial. For the first time, ELs will be included in a state’s accountability system. The report also establishes standard entry and exit procedures for ELs, includes strong parent notification language, and creates new reporting requirements on ELs with disabilities and long-term ELs. That said, the accountability language delegates much to states and districts to ensure groups of students are meeting challenging goals.

Tax – The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee this week will continue their negotiations over making certain business tax credits and expansions to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit permanent. These credits were enhanced in 2009 as part of the stimulus, but these enhancements expire in 2017. An agreement could be reached in the coming days. However, it has been reported that any possible deal would include a number of “program integrity” provisions targeted at immigrants. Of the options mentioned in news accounts, one would require those applying for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to appear in-person; another would prohibit future DAPA recipients from retroactively amending their tax returns for up to three years to claim the EITC.

Appropriations – There are just two weeks left to pass a spending bill to fund the government beyond December 11. This week, Appropriators are expected to receive their 302(b) allocations, the topline amount for each agency. While the Administration has remained firmly opposed to all controversial policy riders, some lawmakers may still seek language to undermine Dodd-Frank, curtail refugee resettlement, and others.

Puerto Rico – On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Puerto Rico’s financial situation. Puerto Rico’s Governor and the Resident Commissioner are both scheduled to testify. While the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over bankruptcy reform, Chairman Grassley has been reluctant to move forward without other fiscal and regulatory reforms on the Commonwealth. Also this week, Puerto Rican members of Congress including Reps. Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Serrano (D-N.Y.) are assisting in coordination of a Puerto Rico Day of Action on December 2. Members and advocates will ask Congress to act to help address Puerto Rico’s financial and humanitarian situation.

Health – The Senate may take-up a revised version of House-passed budget reconciliation legislation to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, originally including the employer and individual mandates. However, the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that these provisions could not be altered in the reconciliation process, as they do not relate to revenue or spending. Under budget reconciliation, the Senate only needs a majority rather than sixty votes to move forward. In addition to the ACA provisions, the legislation would also block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding.

Immigration – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, “Oversight of the Administration’s Criminal Alien Removal Policies.” Elsewhere, it is possible the Senate may move in the coming days to take up legislation related to refugees. Additional House hearings on this subject are also likely.

Don’t Leave Money on the Table! Access Your Education Tax Benefits.

By Brenda Calderon, Education Policy Analyst, NCLR

IRSLogoA 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly 14 percent of all tax filers failed to claim a credit for which they were eligible. Tax credits help us afford higher education expenses by reducing the amount of income tax we have to pay or by issuing a refund. Unfortunately, millions of students and their families are unaware or don’t apply for the correct tax benefits, leaving much-needed dollars on the table—an average of $466 for each qualified filer!

Are you one of them?

Recently, NCLR joined Rep. Danny Davis (D–Ill.) and others on a campaign to get more people to apply for their education tax benefits. The #TaxBreaks4Students campaign encourages eligible students and families to apply for tax credits.

While eligibility criteria vary for each credit, there are a number of options available for students and families. The two largest tax credits available are the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), although there are many others.

GraduationAmerican Opportunity Tax Credit

The AOTC can be claimed for the first four years of post-secondary education if a student is enrolled at least part time in courses. The maximum tax credit for AOTC is $2,500, and up to $1,000 is available as a refund if you owe no taxes. If you are a current graduate student, you are not eligible for AOTC; however, you may be eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit.

Lifetime Learning Credit

The LLC provides up to $2,000 per year for a student enrolled at least part time. Unlike the AOTC, the LLC has no limit on the number of years it can be claimed, meaning it is available to graduate students and those in continuing education programs. However, if the credit is greater than the total amount owed in taxes, it will not be issued as a refund.

How do I claim these credits?

The IRS provides an interactive guide to help you determine whether you qualify for a tax credit. Only students who attend schools participating in federal student aid programs can qualify for the AOTC. Once you confirm eligibility, the IRS provides Form 8863 to help you calculate the education tax credit. Most education institutions will mail you Form 1098T, which provides this information for you.

To learn more about income thresholds for the AOTC and the LLC, visit the IRS website.

Remember, the deadline to file your taxes is April 15!

Cutting Vital Tax Credits for Working Families Will Put Our Nation’s Children at Risk

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

ACAdiabetesblog_pic1_resizedBy any measure, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), created by President Gerald Ford, has been a resounding bipartisan success. President Ronald Reagan, who substantially expanded the credit during his administration, called it “the best antipoverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure ever to come out of Congress.” The equally successful and bipartisan Child Tax Credit (CTC) was enacted during the Clinton administration and increased under President George W. Bush.

As a nonpartisan organization, NCLR has worked with all of these administrations, as well as with Congress, on both the EITC and the CTC. These tax credits have helped lift millions of families out of poverty and have had a measurable impact on the poverty rate in this country. So why, then, are some Republican members of Congress pushing for proposals to scale back the EITC and significantly reduce the number of families eligible for the CTC?

One answer is that they think these cuts will only affect immigrants, since they are proposing to exclude recipients of immigration relief, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), from receiving the credits. Some lawmakers might even believe that this is “good politics.” But they are very wrong, both on the substance and on the politics. The greatest beneficiaries of these tax credits are children—American children. More than 90 percent of the children who would be affected by these proposals are native-born U.S. citizens.

Cutting credits to these kids is fiscally unsound. Eliminating them would cost the average family about $1,800, yet studies show that an increase of just $1,000 in family income raises a child’s math score by 2 percent and reading score by 3.5 percent. Common sense dictates that removing this source of income would have an equally dramatic negative impact.

Putting these children’s educational achievement and their family’s financial stability at risk doesn’t just shortchange the kids—it shortchanges the future of everyone in this country. One in every four children is Latino. The average age of U.S.-born Hispanics is 18. These kids are our future workers and the future contributors to Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of the country’s safety net. We should be investing in these young children, not punishing them.

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This is what makes these proposals also morally bankrupt, an ironic twist given the professed pro-family, pro-faith, and pro-traditional values of the Republican Party. No matter how one feels about immigration policy, it is simply wrong to punish children for their parents’ deeds, as the Bible notes in Deuteronomy (24:16) and again in Ezekiel (18:20). DACA participants—the so-called DREAMers—were brought to this country as children. Those eligible for DAPA are, by definition, parents of U.S.-citizen or legal resident children. Has our political culture become so ugly that we would go out of our way to impose harsh measures on children raised in this country for simply being born into the “wrong” type of family, as some proponents of these cruel proposals assert?

I hope not. But if it has, the lessons will be memorable. A major strength of the Republican Party has been consistent fidelity to key maxims: low taxes, hard work, family values, and reverence for Judeo-Christian traditions. If its leaders allow devastating tax increases aimed squarely at Hispanic American children simply to score political points, they do so in knowing violation of their core values.

We will remember that the party’s principles were betrayed by the hypocrisy of some of its members. The Latino community will remember that the interests of more than four million of its children were sacrificed so a few politicians could pander to extremists. We hope candidates remember this episode in 2016, when they experience a record turnout of Hispanic voters.

At Long Last, Latino Employment Bounces Back

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

GuardRailWorkers_12_2_2014The U.S. economic recovery is in full force. February marked the 12th consecutive month of job growth above 200,000, with U.S. employers adding nearly 300,000 new jobs. But an even more promising sign of recovery is the jump in Hispanic employment. A front-page article in Sunday’s New York Times points out that the unemployment rate for Latinos has finally returned to its pre-recession average and job growth for Hispanics is outpacing other groups. This is good news for everybody, since Hispanics and Blacks were two of the communities hardest hit by the recession. The fact that not only Latino but also Black job growth in recent months is outstripping that of the job market overall means the recovery is more complete, more widespread, and more sustainable. But before we declare mission accomplished, let’s take a closer look at the economic recovery and the Latino employment picture.

The good news is that Latino unemployment is declining because more Latinos are working. As has historically been the case, Latinos are more likely than other workers to be employed or actively seeking work. Last month, the Latino labor force participation rate was 66 percent, compared to 63 percent for Whites and 61 percent for Blacks. Throughout the recovery, NCLR has highlighted several growth industries where Latinos are overrepresented, including restaurants and temp firms, home care, and retail. The revival of the construction industry in particular, where Latinos make up one-quarter of the workforce, is one industry that is helping the unemployment rate bounce back. Job gains in construction are also visible to those who do not work directly in construction, helping to build overall confidence among Latinos that the broader economy is improving. More work is probably the main reason that Latinos experienced a small, though significant, decline in poverty in 2013 when no other group experienced a change.

farmworker_thanks_newWhenever there is good news about Latinos, we brace for an attack from those who seek to blame immigrants for their own economic woes, despite the fact that the article confirms what we and many others have been saying all along—the Obama administration has engaged in an unprecedented amount of immigration law enforcement. But as Noam Scheiber points out, it’s U.S. citizens, not immigrants, who are the primary Latino beneficiaries of the job growth in the economic recovery. Many people are surprised to learn that U.S. citizens are now the majority of the Latino workforce. Additionally, U.S.-born workers either benefit or are not affected at all when immigrants find work. In the article, Giovanni Peri, a well-respected expert on the economic effects of immigration, sums up the virtuous cycle this way: “More construction workers generates the need for more supervisors, more managers to coordinate them, more contractors to give them work.”

But while the availability of jobs is improving, more needs to be done to raise the quality of those jobs to ensure that the benefits of the economic recovery are more widely shared. In a poll conducted by NCLR last summer, a majority of Latino voters said that they have not seen improvement in their household finances since the Great Recession. Fifty percent added that they are worried that they may not have enough money to pay their basic bills. Indeed, wages are growing slowly, but Latinos are more likely to earn poverty-level wages. This stems in part from a long-term trend in which wages have not kept pace with worker productivity. A White House report points this out directly: “In 2014, average real wages for production and nonsupervisory workers increased 0.8 percent after increasing 0.7 percent in 2013. Although not sufficient, these increases are a marked improvement from the 2000s, including the pre‑Great Recession years of 2001 to 2007, when real wage growth averaged 0.5 percent a year.” In addition, there has been a marked rise in part-time work—even among workers who would rather work full-time.

Labor-Day-Banner-Photo-6_resizedClearly the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done to build on the gains of hard work to ensure that all workers reap the benefits of the improving economy. These include:

  • Raising the federal minimum wage to restore its value to keep a full-time working family out of poverty. This should be at the top of Congress’s agenda.
  • Stepping up enforcement of labor laws, including basic health and safety protections, to make sure that workers do not pay with their lives—as many Latino workers do—for a day’s wage.
  • Making permanent the 2009 expansions of the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, which keep 16 million people out of deep poverty.

The good news is that Latinos and other communities are finally benefiting from the protracted economic recovery. It will be even better news if we make policy changes such as those above and make the investments necessary—as well as enacting comprehensive immigration reform, which will end wage abuse and put all workers on a level playing field. We need to secure this still-fragile recovery among communities of color by maximizing what they can earn, create, and contribute to further benefit our economy and the well-being of all Americans.