Trump Attacks Puerto Ricans, ‘Totally Incompetent’ San Juan Mayor Ahead of Hurricane Florence

MAs Hurricane Florence is about to bear down on the southeastern U.S. coastline, President Trump is attacking San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for her criticism of the government’s “unappreciated great job” of how it handled the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Here’s the part where Trump advised people to take appropriate safety measures to prepare for Florence.

Yesterday, Trump held a pool spray where he bragged about about the federal government’s “unsung success” in handling the disaster in Puerto Rico last year. These remarks were panned immediately by critics who wonder how Trump can possibly call the recovery a success when almost 3,000 died as a result of the storm.

Last night, Cruz responded to Trump by blasting his “despicable” comments and “lack of understanding of reality.” Puerto Ricans governor Ricardo Rosselló also gave a statement, saying the island is still in the middle of a crisis, and he also criticized the “unfair and unAmerican” relationship between Puerto Rico and Washington.

[Mediaite]

Trump nixes federal pay raise

President Trump on Thursday announced that he would cancel a scheduled 2.1 percent across-the-board pay increase for federal workers, as well as locality pay increases.

“In light of our Nation’s fiscal situation, Federal employee pay must be performance-based, and aligned strategically toward recruiting, retaining, and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets,” Trump wrote in a letter to the Speaker of the House and the president of the Senate.

The proposal sets up a fight with Congress, which could effectively overturn the action in upcoming spending legislation. Without such intervention, the move would affect most of the 2.1 million federal employees around the nation, about 1.7 million of which live in areas outside of the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Members of the military, on the other hand, are on schedule to receive a 2.6 percent pay increase.

Last year, the Trump administration approved a 1.4 percent increase in federal pay and a 2.4 percent increase in military pay.

In the letter, Trump said he had the authority to propose an alternative pay schedule based on Title V of the U.S. Code, which allows the president to alter scheduled pay changes he deems inappropriate in light of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare.”

Trump’s 2019 budget proposal sought to freeze federal pay, but the Senate Appropriations Committee included a 1.9 percent pay bump in its spending plans for 2019. The House version of the bill did not include such an increase, and sought reductions to spending on federal pension plans.

The two chambers are scheduled to meet in the coming weeks to work out the differences between their bills, negotiations which could effectively override Trump’s move to cut pay. Trump has not indicated if he would veto such a measure if it included a pay increase.

Democrats, and some Republicans, blasted the move.

“For someone who claims to be a leadership maven, President Trump certainly gives the impression through his actions that he has no idea how to run an effective organization,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2 Democrat in the House.

[The Hill]

Reality

Trump’s Space Force: Billions.

Pentagon budget increase: $94 billion.

Trump farm bailout: $6 billion.

Trump golf outings: $77 million.

Mnuchin flights: $1 million+

Price flights: $1 million+

Pruitt flights & phone booth: $211k

Zinke door: $139k

Carson dining set: $31k

DeVos prepping new rules on sexual misconduct standards for campuses

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is formulating new policies regarding how universities handle sexual assault and harassment cases.

The new rules would increase protections for students accused of sexual misconduct, reduce liability for colleges and universities and encourage schools to broaden their support networks for victims, according to The New York Times.

The rules would reportedly limit accountability for schools to complaints that happened on campus and were filed through proper authorities. They would also raise the bar legally for proving a school mishandled a complaint, according to the Times.

The move comes while multiple universities are facing allegations that staff members failed to properly act when made aware of sexual misconduct.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.” Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, told The Hill in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelines for universities handling sexual assault complaints. Rescinding the requirements did not have the force of law, while the new rules would, according to the Times.

The move comes while multiple universities are facing allegations that staff members failed to properly act when made aware of sexual misconduct.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.” Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, told The Hill in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelinesfor universities handling sexual assault complaints. Rescinding the requirements did not have the force of law, while the new rules would, according to the Times.

DeVos claimed the guidelines represented federal overreach.

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” she said at the time. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”

[The Hill]

Student Loan Watchdog Quits; Blames Trump Administration

The federal official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory lending practices has stepped down.

In a scathing resignation letter, Seth Frotman, who until now was the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, says current leadership “has turned its back on young people and their financial futures.” The letter was addressed to Mick Mulvaney, the bureau’s acting director.

In the letter, obtained by NPR, Frotman accuses Mulvaney and the Trump administration of undermining the CFPB and its ability to protect student borrowers.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” it read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

The letter raises serious questions about the federal government’s willingness to oversee the $1.5 trillion student loan industry and to protect student borrowers.

Frotman has served as student loan ombudsman for the past three years. Congress created the position in 2010, in the wake of the financial crisis, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As ombudsman and assistant director, Frotman oversaw the CFPB’s Office for Students and Young Consumers and reviewed thousands of complaints from student borrowers about the questionable practices of private lenders, loan servicers and debt collectors.

Since 2011, the CFPB has handled more than 60,000 student loan complaints and, through its investigations and enforcement actions, returned more than $750 million to aggrieved borrowers. Frotman’s office was central to those efforts. It also played a role in lawsuits against for-profit giants ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges and the student loan company Navient.

Over the past year, the Trump administration has increasingly sidelined the CFPB’s student loan office. Last August, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would stop sharing information with the bureau about the department’s oversight of federal student loans, calling the CFPB “overreaching and unaccountable” and arguing that the bureau’s actions were confusing borrowers and loan servicers alike. Of the move, Frotman writes, “the Bureau’s current leadership folded to political pressure … and failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices.”

In May, Mulvaney called for a major shake-up in Frotman’s division. The Office for Students and Young Consumers would be folded into the bureau’s financial education office, signaling a symbolic shift in mission from investigation to information-sharing. While the CFPB told NPR at the time that the move was “a very modest organizational chart change,” consumer advocates reacted with alarm.

Christopher Peterson, director of financial services at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, called the move “an appalling step in a longer march toward the elimination of meaningful American consumer protection law.”

In his resignation, Frotman also accuses the CFPB’s leadership of suppressing a report, prepared by his office, revealing new evidence that some of the nation’s largest banks were “saddling [students] with legally dubious account fees.”

The Trump administration has also taken steps outside the CFPB to curb oversight of the student loan industry. The Justice and Education departments have argued that debt collectors should be protected from state efforts to regulate them. And, earlier this month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved to scrap a rule meant to punish schools where graduates struggle with poor earnings and deep debt. The department defended its decision, saying it would instead give borrowers school performance data so they can decide for themselves what colleges offer the best value.

Mick Mulvaney was tapped to run the CFPB while also serving as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Before joining the Trump administration, he was a Republican congressman from South Carolina and a fierce critic of the bureau he now manages. He once called the CFPB “a joke … in a sick, sad kind of way” because, Mulvaney argued, it often acted above the law with no accountability to Congress.

Frotman has served at the CFPB for seven years, since its inception. He arrived in early 2011 as part of the Treasury Department’s implementation team. Frotman began in the Office of Servicemember Affairs as senior adviser to Holly Petraeus. That office was instrumental in expanding service member protections under the Military Lending Act and in cracking down on lenders and retailers that preyed on service members.

Petraeus, now retired, tells NPR she felt “privileged” to have worked with Frotman at the CFPB. “Seth is a true public servant. I think he’s leaving for the purest of motives: He wants to help student borrowers.”

In response to a request for comment, the CFPB issued this statement: “The Bureau does not comment on specific personnel matters. We hope that all of our departing employees find fulfillment in other pursuits and we thank them for their service.”

[NPR]

 

Ben Carson moves to roll back Obama-era fair housing rule

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is taking new steps to roll back an Obama-era rule intended to combat housing segregation.

On Monday, the Trump administration formally began the process of revamping a 2015 rule that required cities and towns to examine historic patterns of segregation and create plans to combat it, or lose federal funding.

The administration argued that the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule hinders the development of affordable housing.

The current rule is “suffocating investment in some of our most distressed neighborhoods that need our investment the most,” Carson said in a statement. “We do not have to abandon communities in need.”

Sara Pratt, a former Obama official who helped develop the rule, said that the Trump administration’s moves would enable communities to ignore long-standing barriers to fair housing and integration.

“You’re going back to communities willfully blinding themselves to patterns of segregation,” said Pratt, whose law firm is representing a coalition of groups suing the Trump administration for its earlier efforts to suspend the rule. “Without this rule, communities will not do the work to eliminate discrimination and segregation.”

The Trump administration said it would instead focus on increasing the supply of affordable housing across the country. Carson told The Wall Street Journal that he would “encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings all over the place” by making HUD money contingent on looser zoning rules.

Conservatives had vocally opposed the original rule by arguing that it was “an attempt to extort communities into giving up control of local zoning decisions,” according to Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.. Despite Carson’s stated interest in using federal funds to shape local zoning policies, they praised the Trump administration for taking the next big step in undoing the original rule.

“Secretary Carson’s work to rollback Obama’s overreaching housing rule is a great step in the right direction,” Gosar said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing HUD completely rescind the utopian Obama regulation.”

[NBC News]

DeVos ends Obama-era protections for students of for-profit colleges

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Friday to end rules passed under the Obama administration that penalized for-profit colleges with a record of leaving graduates in crippling debt and with few job prospects.

In a statement that appeared on the Education Department’s website on Friday, the agency claimed the move was born out of an effort to treat all types of institutions “fairly.”

“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” DeVos wrote in the statement.

“That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

The agency is now seeking public comment on whether or not the Department of Education should require institutions to disclose publicly whether their programs are accredited as well as their program graduation rates and costs.

After the 30-day comment period, the Obama-era rule is set to be reversed on July 1, 2019.

DeVos’ plan to roll back the gainful employment rule was first reported last month. At that time, the agency refused to comment on the proposal until its completion and publication.

DeVos has taken a number of steps to roll back other Obama-era rules targeting for-profit colleges, including dismantling a team dedicated to uncovering fraud at such institutions and reinstating a for-profit college accreditor despite her own staff’s warnings that the organization did not meet federal standards.

OSHA to reduce Obama-era injury report requirements for large companies

The Trump administration has proposed rolling back an Obama-era Labor Department rule requiring companies with 250 or more workers to submit detailed forms to the agency on workplace injuries, a move labor advocates say will allow companies to cover up the extent of injuries.

The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a notice on Friday stating that it is seeking to roll back the rule passed under the Obama administration that greatly increased the amount of detail supervisors are supposed to provide to the federal government on workplace injuries.

Some of that information was then posted publicly by the Labor Department under the rule, and included summaries of incidents that occurred in larger-scale companies.

A spokesperson for the Labor Department told NBC News that the rule change would not alter the agency’s ability to collect information from companies on workplace injuries and safety violations.

“This proposal maintains safety and health protections for workers while protecting sensitive worker information from public disclosure,” communications director Megan Sweeney told NBC. “The data OSHA continues to collect is robust and enables the agency to most effectively protect workers on the job.”

The Labor Department argued that the original rule violated workers’ privacy by exposing incidents that they were involved in to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Public safety advocates argued that the rule’s rollback would only hurt workers.

“The existing rule is in place to protect workers,” said Sean Sherman, an attorney at the Public Citizen Litigation Group which is involved in a lawsuit over the rule. “The idea that you can protect workers by rolling back a strong worker protection is absurd.”

http://thehill.com/regulation/labor/399323-osha-reduces-obama-era-injury-report-requirements-for-large-companies

Trump slashes funding that helps people sign up for Obamacare

The Trump administration is once again slashing funding for a program that helps Americans sign up for Obamacare.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Tuesday that it would provide only $10 million for the navigator program for this fall’s open enrollment season. The move is the latest effort by the Trump administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

This past year, navigators only received $36 million in funding, down from $63 million in 2016. The reduction was paired with a 90% cut in Obamacare’s advertising budget.
The agency once again defended the decrease by saying that navigators, which usually hail from non-profit and community organizations, are not effective. They enrolled less than 1% of consumers who signed up for 2018 coverage in 34 states using the federal exchange, according to CMS.

Navigators say they don’t get credit for all the consumers they help guide through the process but don’t actually sign up. Also, navigators assist people with enrolling in Medicaid, which is not reflected in the numbers.

The Trump administration broadened the opportunity for private sector agents and brokers to assist consumers in signing up last fall. They assisted 42% of enrollees, the agency said.

Navigators applying for funding will also be encouraged to show how they will educate people about the newly expanded alternatives to Obamacare, such as association health plans and short-term plans. The Trump administration is making it easier for Americans to sign up for these policies, which many experts say will weaken Obamacare by siphoning off younger and healthier enrollees. These alternative plans don’t have to provide all of the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections.

Consumer groups decried the move.

[CNN]

U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

The State Department declined to respond to questions, saying it could not discuss private diplomatic conversations. The Department of Health and Human Services, the lead agency in the effort to modify the resolution, explained the decision to contest the resolution’s wording but said H.H.S. was not involved in threatening Ecuador.

“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.” The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.

Although lobbyists from the baby food industry attended the meetings in Geneva, health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics. The $70 billion industry, which is dominated by a handful of American and European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breast-feeding. Overall, global sales are expected to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in developing nations.

The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported W.H.O.’s longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding.

During the deliberations, some American delegates even suggested the United States might cut its contribution the W.H.O., several negotiators said.

Washington is the single largest contributor to the health organization, providing $845 million, or roughly 15 percent of its budget, last year.

The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.

In talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Americans have been pushing for language that would limit the ability of Canada, Mexico and the United States to put warning labels on junk food and sugary beverages, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times.

During the same Geneva meeting where the breast-feeding resolution was debated, the United States succeeded in removing statements supporting soda taxes from a document that advises countries grappling with soaring rates of obesity.

The Americans also sought, unsuccessfully, to thwart a W.H.O. effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. Washington, supporting the pharmaceutical industry, has long resisted calls to modify patent laws as a way of increasing drug availability in the developing world, but health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts.

[The New York Times]

CFPB chief Mick Mulvaney disbands consumer protection board

The Trump administration is disbanding a panel of experts focused on protecting consumers from financial abuse.

Members of the panel, called the Consumer Advisory Board, say Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has dissolved the group, which includes consumer advocates, financial industry representatives, community leaders and others. The board advises the CFPB, a federal agency formed after the housing crash to prevent financial abuse.

Mulvaney, told the board’s 25 members that they are being replaced and the panel overhauled, according to two of the members. These people requested anonymity since the announcement was not official yet.

“By both right-sizing its advisory councils and ramping up outreach to external groups, the bureau will enhance its ability to hear from consumer, civil rights, and industry groups on a more regular basis,” the CFPB said in a statement.

Under Dodd Frank, the 2010 financial reform law that created the CFPB, the consumer panel is required to meet twice a year. But meetings were repeatedly cancelled since Mulvaney took the helm at the bureau in November.

Nearly a dozen members of the consumer board have expressed concern about the direction of the CFPB.

“As the Bureau unilaterally shifts its mission from one prioritizing consumer protection and upholding fair market practices to one focused on industry regulatory relief, we see families, once again, being left behind,” Ann Baddour, the consumer panel’s chair and director of the Fair Financial Services Project at Texas Appleseed, said in the statement posted by the National Consumer Law Center.

[CBS News]

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