Trump issues executive order freezing federal workers’ pay in 2019

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Friday freezing federal workers’ pay for 2019, following through on a proposal he announced earlier in the year.

The move, which nixes a 2.1% across-the-board pay raise that was set to take effect in January, comes as hundreds of thousands of federal employees are expecting to begin the new year furloughed or working without pay because of a partial government shutdown.
Trump told lawmakers he planned to scrap the 2019 pay bump for federal workers in August, saying the federal budget couldn’t support it. In addition to the 2.1% pay increase, the executive order also cancels a yearly adjustment of paychecks based on the region of the country where workers are posted, called the “locality pay increase,” that was due to take effect in January.

The move does not affect a 2.6% pay increase for US troops next year that was passed as part of the massive defense spending bill Trump signed in August.

Lawmakers could include a pay raise for 2019 in a spending bill to reopen the government, but negotiations have been at an impasse over money for Trump’s border wall.

About 380,000 federal employees are on furlough and 420,000 are working without pay as the new year approaches.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders in August, Trump described the pay increase as “inappropriate.”

“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” the President wrote.

Trump also stressed that a pay freeze would not affect the federal government’s ability to attract qualified workers. He cited his statutory authority to adjust pay out of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare.”

[CNN]

Sidestepping Congress, Trump Administration Proposes More Work Rules For Food Stamps

House Republicans couldn’t get stricter work rules for those who receive food stamps into law. So the Trump administration is attempting to sidestep Congress and add them anyway.

On Thursday, the Department of Agriculture unveiled a regulatory proposal to expand work requirements for those in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

The proposed rule change makes it harder for states to waive work requirements in areas that have high unemployment, currently defined as 20 percent above the national average.

The USDA is calling for those waivers to be limited to one year, down from up to two years states can currently request. It also wants to slash states’ ability to “bank” waivers for future years and is pushing to restrict waivers under certain criteria where local unemployment is around 7 percent.

In all, the proposed rule could reduce areas that qualify for waivers by roughly 75 percent, according to USDA officials.

The change to the federal SNAP program, which is overseen by the USDA, comes on the same day President Trump is expected to sign the $867 billion farm bill into law.

“These actions will save hard-working taxpayers $15 billion over 10 years,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, adding that the proposed rule would also get Trump “to support a farm bill he might otherwise have opposed.”

Under current law, able-bodied adults without dependents — commonly referred to by the acronym “ABAWDs” — are required to work 20 hours a week or be in a job training program. An ABAWD is classified as someone 18 to 49 who is not elderly, a woman who is pregnant or someone living with a disability.

According to a USDA fact sheet, 2.8 million individual ABAWDs on SNAP rolls in 2016 were not working. If the proposed rule change from USDA is approved, roughly 755,000 would lose food stamp benefits as a result of the new waiver restrictions.

This is the latest push by the Trump administration to call for stricter work requirements as a way to move more Americans off public assistance and toward self-sufficiency, often pointing to the low unemployment rate, currently at 3.7 percent, as evidence jobs are available.

“This restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while it’s also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the [SNAP] program,” Perdue said.

Farm bill negotiations were bogged down for months over work requirement provisions included in the House-passed version of the farm bill. Those provisions, supported by House Republicans and the president were eventually weeded out of the final bill.

Democrats on Capitol Hill lambasted the proposal, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, saying the change was “driven by ideology.”

“This regulation blatantly ignores the bipartisan Farm Bill that the president is signing today and disregards over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions,” Stabenow said in a statement.

“I do not support unilateral and unjustified changes that would take food away from families,” she said.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Agriculture committee, cheered the administration’s push.

“This is an issue we took head-on in the House-passed farm bill, creating a road map for states to more effectively engage [able-bodied adults without dependents] in this booming economy,” Conaway said in a statement.

“I applaud the proposed rule and proudly stand with the Trump administration in demonstrating the importance of state accountability and recipient success.”

Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, it will be open for 60 days for the public to comment.

[NRP]

The Trump administration reportedly wants the government to revoke civil rights protections from transgender people

The Trump administration is weighing making its biggest attack on transgender rights yet in a maneuver that would strip federal recognition of the gender identity of some 1.4 million Americans — and require genetic testing in some cases to match a person’s gender with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Erica Green, Katie Benner, and Robert Pear of the New York Times reported on Sunday that the Department of Health and Human Services is floating a memo that would establish the legal definition of sex under Title IX — the federal civil rights law that bans discrimination in education on the basis of gender — that would render immutable the sex of a person at birth. In other words, the government would not recognize a person’s gender other than the one based on their genitalia when they’re born.

Per the Times:

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

According to the Times, it would “eradicate federal recognition” of some 1.4 million transgender Americans.

HHS is preparing to formally present the new definition to the Justice Department before the end of the year, and if the department decides the change is legal, it could be enforced across Title IX laws and government agencies, including the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor.

The effects could be far-reaching — it could impact which locker rooms and bathrooms transgender students could use as well as which sports teams students join or what happens to single-sex classes, the Times points out. If enacted, it could even require some people to produce DNA tests as part of their educational experience — an unprecedented step to enforce a biological definition of gender.

The Trump administration has been terrible on transgender rights

The Obama administration worked to advance transgender rights and loosen federal regulations to allow for more gender fluidity including defining gender identity as protected by Title IX. President Donald Trump and his administration have taken steps to reverse that.

Soon after taking office, the Trump administration sent out a letter officially revoking Obama-era guidance on protecting trans students in federally funded schools, saying it was federal overreach. Trump has sought to ban transgender people from serving in the military, rescinded a memo protecting trans workers, and stripped protections for trans prisoners. It has also worsened protections for transgender people in health care.

Trump on the campaign trail said he would embrace LGBTQ people and said he would “fight” for them while Hillary Clinton would bring in “more people that will threaten your freedoms and believes.” But as Vox’s German Lopez pointed out, he’s done quite the opposite:

As president, Trump has acted more or less how you would expect a typical anti-LGBTQ Republican to act. Maybe that reflects his own opinions. Maybe it reflects the views of the people he’s surrounded himself with in his administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, both of whom have very long histories of anti-LGBTQ causes.

This new assault on transgender people — and one that includes genetic testing — is just the latest chapter.

[Vox

]

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

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