By / Sep 28

With a government shutdown looming, Congress is scrambling to find agreement on how to fund the government before this year’s budget runs out on Sept. 30. If Congress is unable to pass the appropriations bills or a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to temporarily extend its current funding, the government will shut down until an agreement is reached.

Though this tedious and dysfunctional process must be completed each fiscal year, it is one with great importance to Southern Baptists because we care deeply about how our taxpayer dollars are being used. As ERLC President Brent Leatherwood wrote in his letter to Congress on this topic, “As a nation, our values and priorities are most clearly displayed through the allocation of our resources. It is our desire for those resources to be used in a way that promotes life, religious liberty, and the flourishing of all our neighbors.”

In light of those core convictions, the ERLC engages each year with the congressional appropriations process, highlighting both areas of concern and support to lawmakers. As negotiations are taking place, we want to make sure the voices of Southern Baptists will be heard.

How is the government funded?

Each year, Congress must move through the appropriations process in order to fund the government. The process should work like this:

  • The president submits his proposed budget process in the early spring,
  • then appropriators in the U.S.House of Representatives and Senate begin drafting each of the 12 appropriations bills that fund different parts of the government.
  • From there, these bills pass the appropriations committees, pass through both chambers, and then go on to the president’s desk for his signature.

All of this work must be completed by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, or Congress is forced to pass a short-term funding patch known as a CR. 

In reality, the president’s proposed budget is largely ignored, and when the House and Senate begin working on their versions of each of these 12 bills, they look vastly different depending on the party in power. Compromise versions of those bills are often combined into a large omnibus or a few smaller minibus bills that make it easier for Congress to pass the bills rather than voting on them individually. The last time Congress passed all 12 bills individually was 1994.

Why does this appropriations process matter?

As trillions of taxpayer dollars are allocated, it is important that we speak into how that money is spent. Without continued advocacy, this money can go toward things that Southern Baptists find objectionable, such as gender transition procedures and abortion at home and abroad. Many of the protections that prohibit government funding from going toward these things and protect consciences must be included each year as a policy “rider.”

As these bills move through a complicated process, there are significant opportunities for harmful provisions to be added in unnoticed or for important protections to be excluded. Consistent advocacy on these issues is essential to ensure the inclusion of important riders such as the Hyde Amendment.

How is the ERLC advocating?

Every year, the ERLC engages in the appropriations process. Our team does a comprehensive review of all 24 of these bills—the 12 House bills and 12 Senate bills. As we wade through thousands of pages of legislative text, we look for anything of concern. Specifically, we’re looking for issues where government funding could be going to an abortion provider or funding gender transition procedures or policies that could implicate the consciences of medical professionals or taxpayers. 

We also look for positive things that we can support, such as expanded protections for life or funding to promote international religious freedom. 

When negotiators are down to the wire and are trying to decide what gets into a final, compromise package, we want them to know the priorities of Southern Baptists and urge them to include what we care about. After we do our review, we make sure that those concerns and priorities are communicated to negotiators and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

What is the ERLC advocating for?

One thing that we were excited to see in both the Republican-led House proposed bills and the Democratic-led Senate proposed bills was the inclusion of longstanding life and conscience protection riders. These riders, such as the Hyde amendment, provide essential, baseline protections. For the last two years, they have been excluded from the initially proposed House and Senate bills. Though they were ultimately included in both fiscal year 2022 and 2023 appropriations, it is a victory worth celebrating that compromising these protections was not on the negotiating table this year.

However, even with these protections in place, the proposed House and Senate appropriations bills contain several things concerning to Southern Baptists such as increased funding for:

  • abortion providers at home and abroad,
  • “gender specific care” that can go toward abortion-travel,
  • and the United Nations Population Fund.

Additionally, the House State and Foreign Operations bill excludes a longstanding provision known as the Lautenberg Amendment. The Lautenberg Amendment has provided an essential pathway for persecuted religious minorities from former Soviet Union countries, including many Christians, to find safety in the United States.

There are also several provisions in the proposed House bills that the ERLC is urging Congress to include in its final package. These include provisions such as:

  • Prohibiting funding for abortion providers;
  • prohibiting funding for gender transition procedures
  • prohibiting funding for abortion travel;
  • and reinstating important safety precautions for chemical abortion drugs.

Though it remains unlikely that all of these provisions would be included in a compromise package, the ERLC is continuing to advocate for as much progress to be made as possible in protecting life, caring for our neighbors, and upholding conscience rights.

What happens next?

Congress will continue to debate these individual appropriations bills while also considering short-term measures to avert a government shutdown. While a government shutdown looks likely, and it remains unclear how an agreement could be reached to fund the government, the ERLC will continue to advocate on behalf of Southern Baptists and make lawmakers aware of these concerns and priorities.

By / Dec 22

On Dec. 22, 2022,, the Senate passed the fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations bill. The bill received significant bipartisan support in the Senate and is expected to be quickly passed with slim bipartisan support in the House of Representatives before being sent to President Biden’s desk to become law. The bill averts a government shutdown and will fund the federal government through the end September 2023. 

The massive, nearly $1.7 trillion bill was over 4,000 pages long and has significant implications for issues of life, religious liberty, and human dignity. The ERLC communicated our concerns with previously released versions of the appropriations bills to Congress and was pleased to see many of these concerns resolved in the final package. In addition to providing our analysis on these proposals, the ERLC has also advocated for multiple immigration reforms, including the incorporation of legislation that would provide permanent protections for Afghans evacuated to the United States last year, a solution for Ukrainian refugees, and a permanent pathway for Dreamers, all of which should be matched with enhanced measures for our nation’s border security. We also advocated for legislation that would end a disparity in drug sentencing and would be a helpful reform to our nation’s criminal justice system.

What was included in the bill?

Though originally excluded from the proposed bills, the final spending package included the “Hyde-family” of riders. This includes:

Though the inclusion of these riders after their initial exclusion was a significant victory for life and conscience protection, the omnibus bill also included significant funding for domestic family planning programs and similar international funds like the United Nations Population Fund which funnel money into pro-abortion organizations. Though these riders keep money from funding the actual abortion procedure, these organizations can use government funding to cover all other operational costs. While we would like to see no funding go toward the predatory abortion industry, it is noteworthy that the final funding levels were significantly lower than originally proposed earlier this year.

Also included as amendments were two proposals known as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the PUMP Act. Together, these bills provide substantial protections for pregnant and nursing mothers in the workplace. Though encouraged by the direction taken by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act proposal, we believe it needed to be improved through amendments, such as the one proposed by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), to create robust religious liberty protections, as well as ensure it excludes abortion as an available option for employees. Of note, an amendment offered by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) was adopted and included some helpful religious liberty safeguards. Ultimately, these proposals signal policymakers are proactively thinking through how to support mothers and families in the post-Roe moment. We believe this is best done in ways that protect preborn lives and bolster family formation, and policy development in this area will be a focus for the ERLC in coming legislative sessions.

Beyond these policies, there was a strong push for many more to be included in the omnibus package. It is worth noting that the Electoral Count Act was included. This bipartisan bill is largely a response to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol and seeks to revise and clarify the process of “casting and counting electoral votes for presidential elections” with specific attention given to the role of the vice president in certifying election results.

Harmful policies that were stopped 

We also want to draw attention to a number of harmful components from the originally proposed appropriations bills that, after significant advocacy work, were ultimately removed from the final package. Destructive policies were removed regarding funding for abortion tourism and requirements around leave for federal employees to obtain an abortion. Additionally, harmful language that would have prevented organizations who operate consistent with deeply held religious convictions—including adoption and foster care agencies—from receiving funding from HHS if they did not violate their consciences to provide services to same-sex couples was excluded from the final bill. 

Another piece from the original versions of the appropriations bills that was excluded was the expansion of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) mission. As we argued in a letter sent this fall, “USCIRF is the only agency dedicated exclusively to the monitoring of and advocating for religious freedom. It has been this narrow scope that has allowed the Commission to be highly effective since its inception, even with a relatively small budget.” If USCIRF’s mandate had been unwisely widened in scope to include monitoring and working against laws and policies of foreign governments that “permit or condone discrimination against, or violations of human rights of, minority groups and other vulnerable communities on the basis of religion” as originally proposed, it would have significantly hindered the important work for people of all faiths of this vital institution. We consider these moves to be important policy wins for our convention of churches.

What else was excluded from the final package?

As we briefly mentioned above, two issues we had hoped to see Congress address through the omnibus bill were immigration and criminal justice reforms. Though we had advocated for the inclusion of both needed border security improvements as well as a permanent solution for “Dreamers,” negotiators ran out of time for a compromise to be included. 

We also advocated for a secure pathway to legal status for Afghan and Ukrainian evacuees who were brought to the United States using “humanitarian parole.” Though these vulnerable individuals are essentially refugees, they lack the pathway to permanent status given to those formally designated as refugees. Unfortunately, despite broad bipartisan support for the Afghan Adjustment Act, it was ultimately excluded from the final bill. 

From a human dignity perspective, we also had hoped to see the inclusion of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act in the final package. This bill, which passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 361-66 and has 11 Republican co-sponsors in the Senate, would eliminate a sentencing disparity that is especially harmful for Black Americans. This effort is a logical next step following the historic signing of the First Step Act under President Donald Trump. Southern Baptists have long believed drug abuse “erodes the physical, moral, and spiritual well being” of our neighbors and our nation. At the same time, we have consistently advocated for efforts that will bring about helpful reforms to our justice system, especially those that will reduce high incarceration rates. This proposal aligns with that call and, regrettably, was not included in the final version of the bill.

Each year the appropriations process presents an important opportunity for the ERLC to raise the concerns of Southern Baptists on issues of life, religious liberty, and human dignity. As this appropriations cycle ends only a short time before the next one begins, we will be ready to once again advocate on these important matters.

By / May 29

On Friday, President Biden released his FY 2022 budget proposal. His budget notably removes the Hyde Amendment.

Every year, a president submits their budget proposal, and it serves as a blueprint for the administration’s priorities. A president’s budget proposal has no binding authority over Congress — the budget proposal is a request and a statement of priorities. The budget proposal serves as a starting point for a long negotiation in Congress as their work on the 12 spending bills that fund the government.

This is the first time since 1976 that the Hyde Amendment has not been included in a president’s budget proposal.

What is the Hyde Amendment?

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, abortion clinics were able to charge Medicaid for abortions. Three years later in 1976, Congressman Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, responded by introducing a budget rider on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill to prevent Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. This rider alleviated taxpayers from being financially responsible for something millions found to be a grave moral wrong. The congressman’s rider was added as an amendment then and later expanded to the Indian Health Service, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). 

This annual appropriations policy became known as the “Hyde Amendment.” An appropriations rider is not a permanent federal statute. Because Rep. Hyde attached the policy as a “rider” to the appropriations bill, it was only applicable for the money appropriated that year. The Hyde Amendment must therefore be attached to appropriations bills each year to be effective.

Why is the Hyde Amendment Important?

Before the Hyde Amendment was introduced, approximately 300,000 abortions a year were performed using federal Medicaid dollars. It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million lives since it was enacted. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been passed by every Congress. Its success across the generations is not due to a shared belief about abortion but precisely because those representatives and senators believed the disagreement deserved respect. According to a recent Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll, 58% of Americans oppose taxpayer funding for abortion domestically. In addition, since Medicaid is funded both by federal and state dollars, states can decide to use their own funding to cover abortions. Currently, 17 states have decided to use state funding to provide abortions for Medicaid recipients

Other pro-life riders that should be included in the appropriations process

The Hyde Amendment is just one of many pro-life riders that deserve to be included in all appropriations bills. Congress should also protect the Weldon (discrimination protections for those with objections to abortion), Dornan (Hyde protections in the District of Columbia), Helms (protection against funds being used for abortion in international aid), Siljander (protection against funds being used to lobby for abortion internationally), and Kamp-Kasten (protection against funds to organizations that support coercive abortion or sterilization) Amendments. 

What’s next?

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin the appropriations process which includes a hearing to discuss budget requests and writing and marking up the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Congress will therefore have the opportunity to include the Hyde Amendment and other important pro-life riders. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), founder and chair of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, led a letter to Leader Schumer pledging to vote to block any bill that would undermine the Hyde Amendment or any other pro-life protections. The letter included 47 senators.

Earlier this year, the ERLC sent congressional leadership a letter urging them to adhere to critical pro-life policy riders, including the Hyde Amendment. This week, we joined dozens of pro-life coalition partners in sending congressional leadership a similar letter. Each year, the ERLC is actively engaged in the appropriations process, working alongside committee and leadership offices to ensure that important pro-life, religious liberty, and conscience protections are included. The ERLC will continue to advocate for these pro-life provisions and other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life. 

For further reading:

By / Aug 20

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2021 (FY2021). These appropriations bills were packaged together and passed using H.R. 7608 includes Agriculture, Interior and Environment, Military Construction, VA, and State-Foreign Operations. H.R. 7617 includes Commerce, Justice, Science, Department of Defensense, Energy and Water, Financial Services, Labor HHS, and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. The legislative branch appropriations bill has yet to be considered. The Senate has not considered FY2021 appropriations. 

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy, laying out the four corners agreement not to include poison pills or new riders in appropriations bills.

“Throughout the summer of last year, the Administration worked diligently with Congress to finalize a two-year budget agreement that set bipartisan spending limits for defense and non-defense expenditures, work that culminated in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (Public Law 116-37). This agreement included a provision prohibiting poison pills – new riders, changes in mandatory programs, other changes in policy or conventions that allow for higher spending levels, or non-appropriations measures – unless agreed to on a bipartisan basis by the four leaders with the approval of the President. The agreement also included a provision maintaining “[c]urrent transfer funding levels and authorities” unless the four leaders and the President agreed on changes. This compact was absolutely essential to the completion of all 12 appropriations bills in December 2019.”

In 2019, President Trump sent Speaker Pelosi a letter delineating his pro-life position, and actions his administration has taken to support the life of the unborn. He stated that he would “veto any legislation that weakens current pro-life Federal policies and laws, or that encourages the destruction of innocent human life at any stage.”

Southern Baptists affirm the full dignity of every human being and that every life is worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception, and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God and his knowledge of each of us even precedes the creative act of conception (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13). At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.”

The ERLC is committed to conscience protection policies because they uphold two of our most closely held convictions. First, we work to protect the consciences of our neighbors because we believe religious freedom is an inalienable human right, thankfully secured as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. Second, protecting health-care workers from the coercive power of the profit-seeking, on-demand abortion industry is a pro-life responsibility.

The ERLC opposes appropriations riders that deny religious freedom and conscience protections to millions of Americans. Efforts to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. Many of the riders discussed below do the same. As Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, often notes, “A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere.”

By / Apr 3

What financial aid is available to churches and nonprofits affected by the COVID-19 crisis?

As part of the economic response to the COVID-19 crisis, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The primary financial aid offered under this Act that is applicable to churches is the Paycheck Protection Program. This program authorizes up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to organizations to pay their employees during the ongoing pandemic.

(Note: For the sake of simplicity, this article explains how the process works for churches. But everything applicable to churches also applies to other 501c3 organizations, such as Christian private schools.)

What are the religious liberty concerns with this financial aid?

Russell Moore, ERLC president, recently addressed this question in his article, Do SBA-backed loans violate the separation of church and state? Moore wrote in response to several pastors who asked us the same question, “is a church or ministry taking advantage of newly approved government-backed Small Business Administration (SBA) loans wrong to do so? Would such a church be now a government-funded enterprise?” Moore does not think so and we’d encourage you to read his full article for why.

When can my church apply for this loan?

Churches can begin applying for the program on Friday, April 3. The deadline for submitting your application is June 30, 2020. However, because there is a funding cap, you should apply as soon as possible.

How do I apply to the program?

The application for the Paycheck Protection Program can be filled out and downloaded at this link. Once completed, you can submit the form to your Small Business Administration (SBA) participating lender. You will also need to provide your lender with payroll documentation.

How do I find an SBA participating lender?

The easiest way is to simply ask the bank which currently manages your accounts if they are participating in the program. Although the SBA is working on a web page where you can view approved lenders near you, that resource is currently not available.

How many loans can I take out under this program?

The Paycheck Protection Program can only be used to acquire one loan for your church. If you use this program, though, it may prevent your church from being eligible for the CARE Act’s delayed payroll tax provisions. (That provision allows an employer to defer paying their portion of an employee’s Social Security taxes through the end of 2020. Half of the deferred amount will be due at the end of 2021 and the other half will be due at the end of 2022.)

What can my church use the loan for?

The proceeds of the loan can be used to pay for payroll costs (including benefits) and for interest on mortgage obligations (incurred before Feb. 15, 2020); rent (under lease agreements in force before Feb. 15, 2020); and utilities (for which service began before Feb. 15, 2020).

What counts as payroll costs?

For churches, payroll costs include salary, wages, and commissions (capped at $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee); employee benefits (including costs for vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave); allowance for separation or dismissal; payments required for the provisions of group health care benefits including insurance premiums; and payment of any retirement benefit; and state and local taxes assessed on compensation.

How much money can my church borrow under this program?

The loan amount can total up to two months of your average monthly payroll costs from the last year plus an additional 25% of that amount.

This can be calculated by taking the average monthly payroll and multiplying by 2.5. For purposes of calculating “Average Monthly Payroll” on the application, you will use the average monthly payroll for 2019, excluding costs over $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee. If your church or organization began in 2020, the average monthly payroll may be calculated using the time period from Jan. 1, 2020 to Feb. 29, 2020, excluding costs over $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee.

As an example, let’s consider a church that has three employees who had total annual payroll costs in 2019 of $120,000, $75,000, and $50,000. The church’s actual average monthly payroll for 2019 would be $20,416 ($245,000 a year/12 months). But because of the $100,000 cap per employee, the allowable average monthly payroll would be $18,750. We then take that number and multiply it by 2.5. The church would thus qualify for a total loan amount of $46,875.

Does my church have to pay back the loan?

Under certain conditions, the loan is forgivable (i.e., not required to be paid back).

The loan amounts will be forgiven as long as: the loan proceeds are used to cover payroll costs, and most mortgage interest, rent, and utility costs over the 8-week period after the loan is made; and employee and compensation levels are maintained. (Due to likely high subscription, it is anticipated that not more than 25% of the forgiven amount may be for non-payroll costs.)

For the loan to be forgiven your church must also maintain your staff and payroll. Your loan forgiveness will be reduced if your church decreases the number of full-time employees working or decreases salaries and wages by more than 25% for any employee that made less than $100,000 annualized in 2019. If employees have already been furloughed or laid off, your church has until June 30, 2020 to restore your full-time employment and salary levels for any changes made between Feb. 15, 2020 and April 26, 2020.

How can my church request loan forgiveness?

The church can make such a request to the lender that is servicing the loan. The request will include documents that verify the number of full-time equivalent employees and pay rates, as well as the payments on eligible mortgage, lease, and utility obligations. You must certify that the documents are true and that you used the forgiveness amount to keep employees and make eligible mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments. The lender must then make a decision on the forgiveness within 60 days.

What are the terms and conditions of the loan?

The interest rate is fixed at 0.50%. While all payments are deferred for 6 months, interest will continue to accrue over this period. The loan is due in 24 months. There are no prepayment penalties or fees, no collateral is required, and there is no personal guarantee requirement.

As part of the loan application, your organization must also agree in good faith to each of the following:

  • That the current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of your organization.
  • That the funds will be used to retain workers and maintain payroll or make mortgage payments, lease payments, and utility payments (if the funds are used for unauthorized purposes, the federal government may pursue criminal fraud charges).
  • That your organization must provide documentation verifying the number of full-time equivalent employees on payroll as well as the dollar amounts of payroll costs, covered mortgage interest payments, covered rent payments, and covered utilities for the eight-week period following this loan will be provided to the lender.
  • That the loan forgiveness will be provided for the sum of documented payroll costs, covered mortgage interest payments, covered rent payments, and covered utilities.
  • That you can only receive one loan under this program.
  • That the information you provide on the application is true and accurate.
  • That the lender will calculate the eligible loan amount using tax documents that you submit and that they are identical to those previously submitted to the IRS.
  • That you understand, acknowledge, and agree that the institution from which you obtain the loan can share the tax information with SBA’s authorized representatives, including authorized representatives of the SBA Office of Inspector General, for the purpose of compliance with SBA Loan Program Requirements and all SBA reviews.
By / Mar 27

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Congress has tentatively agreed to five rounds of emergency supplemental appropriations. Currently, two rounds have passed and signed by the president, one has passed the Senate and is pending in the House, and two others have yet to reach the drafting stage.

Here are some highlights from the supplemental bills that have passed or are pending.

Supplemental I: The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act

Overview: This legislation, which was signed by President Trump on March 6, allocated $8.3 billion to fund a response to coronavirus that includes vaccine development, support for state and local governments, and assistance for affected small businesses. The Act includes:

  • $61 million in funding to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to facilitate the development and review of medical countermeasures, devices, therapies, and vaccines to combat the coronavirus.
  • $1 billion in Small Business Disaster Loan subsidies to be made available to help small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small aquaculture producers, and nonprofit organizations which have been impacted by financial losses as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. This funding enables the Small Business Administration to provide an estimated $7 billion in loans to these entities. In addition, provides $20 million to administer these loans.
  • $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus. Included in that allocation is $950 million, of which $475 million must be allocated within 30 days, to support states, locals, territories, and tribes to conduct public health activities such as: surveillance for coronavirus; laboratory testing to detect positive cases; contact tracing to identify additional positive cases; infection control at the local level to prevent additional cases; migration in areas with person-to-person transmission to prevent additional cases; and other public health preparedness and response activities. Out of the $2.2 billion, $300 million will be used to replenish the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, which supports immediate response activities during outbreaks, and at least $300 million will go for global disease detection and emergency response.
  • More than $3 billion for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to prevent or treat the effects of coronavirus, including more than $2 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to support advanced research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, prioritizing platform-based technologies with U.S.-based manufacturing capabilities; $826 million for the National Institutes of Health to support basic research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics; and $300 million in contingency funding for procurement of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
  • Nearly $1 billion for procurement of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, to support healthcare preparedness and Community Health Centers, and to improve medical surge capacity.

The legislation also allowed the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to waive certain Medicare telehealth restrictions during the coronavirus public health emergency. These waivers allow Medicare providers to furnish telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries regardless of whether the beneficiary is in a rural community. This provision also allows beneficiaries to receive care from physicians and other practitioners in their homes. This provision is estimated to cost $500 million.

Supplemental II: Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Overview: This legislation, signed by President Trump on March 18, expands access to emergency paid sick leave to as many as 87 million U.S. workers.

This legislation expands access to emergency paid sick leave to employees at companies with fewer than 500 employees; local, state, and federal government employees; and employees who work under a multiemployer collective agreement and whose employers pay into a multiemployer plan.

Eligible full-time employees are entitled to two weeks (80 hours) of fully paid time off (up to $511 per day) to self-quarantine, seek a diagnosis or preventive care, or receive treatment for COVID-19. Eligible part-time employees are entitled to fully paid time off (up to $511 per day) for the typical number of hours that they work in a typical two-week period.

Eligible full-time employees are also entitled to two weeks (80 hours) paid time off at two-thirds of their regular pay (up to $200 per day) to care for a family member or to care for a child whose school has closed, or if their child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19. Eligible part-time employees are also entitled to the typical number of hours that they work in a typical two-week period at two-thirds of their typical pay (up to $200 per day).

Employers initially front the cost of emergency paid sick leave but will be fully reimbursed by the federal government within three months. The reimbursement will cover both the wages paid and the employer’s contribution to employee health insurance premiums during the period of leave. Employers will be reimbursed through a refundable tax credit that counts against employers’ payroll tax, which all employers pay regardless of non-profit/for-profit status. Employers will then submit emergency paid sick leave expenses as part of their estimated quarterly tax payments. If employer’s costs more than offset their tax liability, they will get a refund from the IRS.

Supplemental III: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

Overview: This legislation, which passed unanimously by the Senate, provides emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The vote on Wednesday was 96-0 with four Senators absent due to coronavirus quarantines. Senator Rand Paul (R–Ky.) tested positive for the virus, and Senators Mike Lee (R–Utah) and Mitt Romney (R–Utah) are self quarantining out of caution because of personal interaction with Paul. Senator Thune (R–S.D.) was also absent due to illness.

This legislation would provide individuals who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income or less a direct payment of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $2,400, and an additional $500 per each child under age 17. The payment would scale down by income, phasing out entirely at $99,000 for singles and $198,000 for couples without children.

Workers who have been fired or furloughed (i.e., put on temporary leave due to special needs of a company or employer) would qualify for an expansion of unemployment benefits that would expand unemployment insurance by 13 weeks and include a four-month enhancement of benefits, on top of what state unemployment programs pay. Furloughed employees and gig workers, such as Uber drivers, and freelancers would also qualify.

The bill also includes $367 billion for Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantees and subsidies, as well as additional funding for SBA resources. The CARES Act increases the maximum 7(a) loan (i.e., the SBA loan program for providing financial assistance) amount to $10 million and would expand allowable uses of 7(a) loans to include employee salaries, insurance premiums, mortgage payments, payroll support (including paid sick or medical leave), and other debt obligations.

This program, which would end on Dec. 31, 2020, will mainly cover businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Nonprofits (including churches), sole proprietors, independent contractors, and other self-employed individuals are all eligible.

The bill also provides loan forgiveness in an amount equal to the amount spent by the borrower during an eight-week period after the origination date of the loan on payroll costs and on rent, utilities, and/or interest payment on any mortgage incurred prior to Feb. 15, 2020.

The amount forgiven would be reduced in proportion to any reduction in employees retained compared to the prior year, and to the reduction in pay of any employee beyond 25 per of their prior year compensation. Borrowers that rehire workers previously laid off will not be penalized for having reduced payroll at the beginning of the period.

The bill also includes an "employee retention" tax credit that's estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers' paychecks. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax.

Large companies may be eligible for loans from a $425 billion fund that would be controlled by the Federal Reserve. An additional $75 billion would be available for industry-specific loans, including to airlines and hotels.

An additional $100 billion in assistance would be available for hospitals and other healthcare systems.

Related: What is the federal government’s public health response to COVID-19?

By / Jan 11

For the past few weeks, the federal government has been under a partial shutdown after the Senate failed to pass a spending bill that includes border wall funding. President Trump has said he will not sign any additional funding that does not include $5.1 billion in additional money to pay for an extension of the border wall.

Here is what you should know about shutdowns and how they affect the country.

What is a government shutdown?

As with any business or organization, federal government agencies have operating costs (salaries, utility bills, and more). The money for these expenses comes from tax dollars, but must be appropriated (i.e., devote money or assets for a specific purpose) by Congress.

The source of Congress’s power to spend comes from Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 (“No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”). This section, known as the Appropriations Clause, allows Congress to control spending by the federal government. Appropriations are annual decisions made by Congress about how the federal government spends money during the fiscal year.

Most government spending is mandatory spending, which means Congress has passed a law requiring monies to be used for specific purposes. Examples of mandatory spending are Medicare and Medicaid, Social security, and unemployment benefits. Approximately 35 percent of government spending, though, is discretionary spending. This type of spending includes spending on such things as defense, homeland security, and education. Congress has to authorize this spending for the federal agencies to receive this funding.

Federal law requires total appropriations for discretionary spending to be divided among the 12 subcommittees dealing with different parts of the federal budget. These subcommittees decide how to distribute funds and issue 12 individual spending bills. Sometimes many of them are combined into an omnibus appropriations bill, or a few are combined into a minibus appropriations bill.

When Congress fails to pass an appropriations bill that covers all 12 areas, or when current appropriations expire, or when the president refuses to sign a funding bill, it forces a government shutdown.

A partial government shutdown occurs when some government agencies have already been funded by other legislation but there remain some of the 12 areas that still need funding.

What parts of the federal government are affected by the shutdown?

Several government agencies were already funded for fiscal year 2019. But another funding bill was needed to cover several agencies for about seven weeks. Nine out of 15 federal departments, dozens of agencies, and several programs are closed or have reduced operations:

  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of Interior
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of State
  • Department of Transportation
  • Environment Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Federal Drug Administration (FDA)
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Programs related to science, financial services, and other agencies
  • The National Flood Insurance Program
  • The Violence Against Women Act
  • The Pesticide Registration Improvement Act
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • Immigration extensions (EB-5, E-Verify, Conrad 30 program for international medical school graduates, Special Immigrant Religious Workers program, and H2B returning worker authority for DHS)
  • The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act
  • Two expiring provisions of the Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act
  • Medicaid Money-Follows-the-Person and Spousal Impoverishment, through March 31
     

Is federal law enforcement affected?

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, more than 41,000 federal law enforcement and correctional officers are affected, including:

  • 2,614 ATF agents
  • 16,742 Bureau of Prisons correctional officers
  • 13,709 FBI agents
  • 3,600 deputy U.S. Marshals
  • 4,399 DEA agents
  • 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and customs officers
  • 42,000 Coast Guard employee

Why don’t government agencies just ignore the shutdown?

Under a federal law known as the Anti-Deficiency Act, it can be a felony to spend taxpayer money without an appropriation from Congress.

The entire government doesn’t actually shut down during a government shutdown, does it?

No. Even in a full, rather than partial, shutdown, programs deemed “essential”—which include, among other agencies and services, the military, air traffic control, food inspections, and more—would continue as normal. “Nonessential” programs and services such as national parks and federal museums would be closed. Federal workers deemed nonessential are also furloughed.

Are government benefit checks affected by the shutdown?

Not directly. Benefits like Social Security, Medicare, and retirement for veterans are mandatory spending, so they are unaffected. However, if the workers who mail the checks are considered “nonessential,” it may result in delays in the checks being sent out.

Are federal food stamps affected by the shutdown?

Not yet. The nation’s food stamp program—known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although the Agriculture Department is affected by the shutdown, SNAP is funded through February. However, if the shutdown lasts into March, about 42 million Americans will be affected.

A similar program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), provides food assistance for pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5. That program will also be affected if the shutdown lasts past February.

Will government workers still get paid?

Some will and some will not.

Federal workers who are required to keep working (i.e., “excepted employees”) do not get paid during the shutdown but will receive back pay after the shutdown is over. As the Office of Personnel Management guidance explains, “Agencies will incur obligations to pay for services performed by excepted employees during a lapse in appropriations, and those employees will be paid after Congress passes and the President signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution.”

Federal workers placed on furlough (a forced leave of absence) will also not get paid during a shutdown. However, after past shutdowns, Congress has always voted to pay furloughed workers retroactively. About 380,000 workers fall into this category.

The situation for federal contractors, those who are hired by the government to perform work but that are not direct federal employees, is more complicated. Private companies who are contracted by the government hire many low-wage employees, such as security guards and janitorial service workers. Depending on the type of contractual arrangement they have with the government, they may not get paid and so will be unable to pay their workers. About 4 out of every 10 people who work for the federal government are private contractors.

How do lawmakers work if the Capitol is shut down and their workers are furloughed?

Congress is exempted from the furloughs and the Capitol building will stay open, so lawmakers aren’t really affected. Several types of executive branch officials and employees are also not subject to furlough. These include the president, presidential appointees, and federal employees deemed excepted by the Office of Public Management.

Will the shutdown save the government money?

Not if past shutdowns are any indication. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget reports that estimates vary widely, but “evidence suggests that shutdowns tend to cost, not save, money.” A recent shutdown cost the government $1.4 billion, according to an estimate by the Office of Management and Budget.

How many shutdowns have there been?

Since 1976 there have been almost two dozen shutdowns—including three under President Trump. However, before the 1980s, the government continued operating at reduced levels without furloughing workers. The two shutdowns in 2018 lasted mere days while the shutdown in 2013 lasted 16 days.

Prior to that was the longest shutdown of modern history—a 21-day shutdown in December 1995 that came soon after a five-day shutdown that lasted from November 13-19. Those shutdowns were sparked by a disagreement over tax cuts between then-President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

If it lasts until Sunday, January 12, the current shutdown will be the longest in U.S. history.

By / Dec 14

This year marks the 15-year anniversary of former President George W. Bush signing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Here are five facts you should know about this historic global health relief effort.

1. The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a federal governmental initiative focused primarily on Africa to address the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and help save the lives of those suffering from the disease. The current budget for PEPFAR is $6.75 billion, with the total spending on the program since its inception being $72.7 billion. Since the start of PEPFAR, new HIV infections have declined between 41 percent (in Swaziland) and 76 percent (in Malawi). But as the U.S. government notes, PEPFAR has an impact beyond HIV/AIDS. As a recent report to Congress observed, PEPFAR’s investments in countries with sizable HIV/AIDS burdens have “bolstered their ability to swiftly address Ebola, avian flu, cholera, and other outbreaks, which ultimately protects America’s borders.” The program has also enhanced global health security, accelerating the progress toward a world more secure from infectious disease threats.

2. PEPFAR is widely regarded as one of the most effective and efficient foreign assistance programs in history. Before PEPFAR, as the U.S. government explains, “controlling the HIV/AIDS pandemic was unimaginable.” In many countries in Africa a diagnosis of HIV was not only a death sentence for the individual but the first stage in the impending collapse of entire families and communities. The disease was also wiping out many of the previous hard-won global health and development gains. In certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa infant mortality doubled, child mortality tripled, and life expectancy dropped by 20 years because of the pandemic. Additionally, millions of babies were becoming infected with HIV and millions of children were being orphaned by AIDS. The result is that large numbers of children were susceptible to “recruitment by negative influencers,” including for sex trafficking and as “child soldiers” (i.e., children being used for military purposes, including killing and other acts of violence).

3. In his memoir Decision Points, President Bush says that when he first took office he decided to “make confronting the scourge of AIDS in Africa a key element of my foreign policy.” He adds that he hoped that PEPFAR would “serve as a medical version of the Marshall Plan,” referring to the United State’s economic assistance to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II. At the time, the United Nations was projecting that AIDS could be the worst epidemic since the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages.

4. When PEPFAR was first introduced, a contentious debate broke out about funding of abstinence-based programs. As Mark DeYoung has pointed out, Democrats in Congress were seeking condom-centered prevention, and Republicans were demanding abstinence-only programs. In the midst of it all, Uganda’s first lady, Janet Museveni, came to Washington and made a compelling case for abstinence-based programs. Congress ultimately voted to earmark $1 billion of PEPFAR for abstinence-only-until-marriage efforts. When President Obama took office, though, he kept a campaign promise to return to condom-centered efforts. In late 2008, Congress stripped PEPFAR of its abstinence-only earmark. 

5. PEPFAR is estimated to have saved over 17 million lives. Since the program's inception:

• HIV testing services have been provided for nearly 95 million people.

• More than 270,000 new health care workers to deliver HIV and other health services have been trained.

• Critical care and support has been provided for more than 6.8 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers to mitigate the physical, emotional, and economic impact of HIV/AIDS.

• Lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for more than 14.6 million people, including for more than 700,000 children.

• More than 2.4 million babies of HIV-infected mothers to be born HIV-free.

By / Dec 12

Andrew T. Walker, ERLC, and Bryant Millsaps, president of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, talk about the agency’s commitment to operating without government funding. The stand keeps the organization dependent on and accountable to Tennessee Baptists and frees them to be openly evangelical, a rarity even among faith-based welfare groups.