As the foliage in Washington, DC starts turning orange and red, time is ticking for Congress to pass crucial pieces of legislation. If you have been busy “pumpkin patching” and apple picking, or if you are having a hard time keeping up, here is an overview of the latest legislative issues affecting nonprofits:
Reconciliation and Infrastructure Bills Update
The House failed to vote on the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on September 27 due to disagreements among moderate Democrats on the price tag of the reconciliation package. Since September 29, when Sen. Manchin (D-WV) suggested he could not support a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, and instead proposed a $1.5 trillion framework, Democrats have spent most of October trying to nail down the details of the reduced package.
After many weeks of talks between The White House and Sens. Machin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ), this week has become the latest target date as Democrats have until October 31 — when the highway authorization expires — to pass the infrastructure bill (unless another extension is adopted). Contentious issues remain to be resolved before Democrats can reach a deal, including disagreements on clean energy, health, and paid leave provisions, as well as the tax revenue measures to pay for the legislation. At press time there was optimism that a framework deal could be reached this week, but it wouldn’t be the first missed deadline these negotiations have seen.
Improvements to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program Announced
Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced a set of changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The Department of Education will offer a time-limited waiver so student borrowers can count payments from all federal loan programs or repayment plans toward forgiveness. This includes loan types and payment plans that were not previously eligible. It will also pursue opportunities to automate PSLF eligibility, give borrowers a way to get errors corrected, and make it easier for members of the military to get credit toward forgiveness while they serve.
The limited PSLF waiver will apply to borrowers with Direct Loans, those who have already consolidated into the Direct Loan Program, and those with other types of federal student loans who submit a consolidation application into the Direct Loan Program while the waiver is in effect. The waiver applies only to loans taken out by students and will run through October 31, 2022. That means borrowers who need to consolidate will have to submit a consolidation application by that date. Similarly, borrowers will need to submit a PSLF form on or before October 31, 2022 to have previously ineligible payments counted. The Department recommends borrowers take this action through the online PSLF Help Tool, which is available at StudentAid.gov/PSLF.
The Department estimates that the limited waiver alone will help over 550,000 borrowers who had previously consolidated their loans see their progress toward PSLF grow automatically.
Awaiting Guidance on Vaccine Mandate for Employers
On September 9, President Biden announced his Path Out of the Pandemic: COVID-19 Action Plan to get more people vaccinated. The President signed several executive orders requiring all employers with 100+ employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly. It will also require all federal executive branch workers to be vaccinated, and it would extend this requirement to federal contractors’ employees. On September 24, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued guidance for federal contractors covered under the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act.
In October, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) submitted for approval to the Office of Management Budget (OMB) the COVID-19 Vaccination & Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for employers with more than 100 employees. Nonprofit organizations have many questions regarding the awaited OSHA ruling on vaccination and testing requirement. The National Council of Nonprofits (NCN) submitted a letter to OSHA asking for clear guidance addressing all of the nonprofit questions, and nonprofit partners, including Independent Sector, have raised these questions when meeting with OSHA directly.
Putting the Nonprofit Sector in The White House
On October 21, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) participated in a 2021 Upswell Summit session to talk about the importance of securing a seat at the table in The White House for nonprofit organizations. Rep. McCollum spoke about her passion for the nonprofit sector and her plan to put nonprofits in The White House with the introduction of forthcoming legislation, which is one component from “A Seat at the Table” initiative.
The Seat at the Table initiative, through the proposed executive order and draft legislation, would create permanent, structural mechanisms for the sector to help shape and improve federal policy, while also expanding opportunities for the government to work more effectively with the sector to achieve shared goals. The initiative would create a three-part structure to deepen this partnership. The White House Office on the Nonprofit Sector (ONS) and the Interagency Council will coordinate within the federal government to ensure policies are designed with an understanding of the sector’s capacity to realize critical priorities in a way that maximizes the benefit to communities and our nation.
Debt Ceiling Update
On October 14, President Biden signed a bill into law to increase the debt limit, averting a government default. Earlier that week Congress passed a debt limit increase bill expanding the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority by $480 billion to nearly $28.9 trillion until December, when lawmakers will again have to raise the ceiling to avoid catastrophic economic consequences.
The Senate and House votes followed a standoff between Democrats and Republicans, with Republicans unwilling to suspend or increase the debt ceiling due to President Biden’s spending plan. After the Senate vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Republicans would not assist Democrats with raising the debt ceiling further when it must be done again in December. This likely leaves Democrats to use a complicated reconciliation process to act on the debt limit.
Nonprofit Jobs Update
According to the latest report from The Center for Civil Society Studies (CCSS) at Johns Hopkins University, following two strong months of gains, September saw a small reversal in the recovery of nonprofit jobs, with employment in the sector as a whole declining by an estimated 2,500 workers compared to August’s total — representing an additional loss of 0.4% over the 557,000 jobs still lost as of August. September’s job losses in educational institutions; religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations; and health care institutions, resulted in all three fields taking steps back in the overall recovery.
If your organization or those in your network are experiencing challenges in filling job vacancies, please complete and circulate this brief survey.