Great News For Workers

April 23, 2024

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON

APR 24

In the past two days, the Biden-Harris administration has announced a wide range of new rules to protect ordinary Americans. 

Yesterday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the administration has finalized two new rules affecting patients in nursing homes and receiving home care, as well as the workers who care for them. The first sets minimum staffing requirements for facilities funded by Medicare and Medicaid, and the second concerns how home healthcare companies account for Medicaid funding. 

In a speech at the Hmong Cultural and Community Agency in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Harris noted the extraordinary value of healthcare workers. She also explained that about 1.2 million Americans live in federally funded nursing homes, which make up about four fifths of the nursing homes in the country. But the majority of those homes—about 75% of them—are understaffed. This is dangerous and isolating for patients and demoralizing for workers, who have high rates of burnout and turnover.  

Now, nursing homes that receive federal funding will have to provide at least 3.48 hours of nursing care per resident every day, less than the 4.1 hours the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advocate but enough to require the hiring of about 12,000 registered nurses and 77,000 aides, at an annual cost of almost $7 billion. 

Consumer organizations and labor unions pushed for the new rule, but nursing home operators strongly oppose the new mandate, saying it will force facilities to close because of a shortage of nurses. In response, Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra told Tami Luhby of CNN that no one should live in facilities that are unsafe or should receive inferior care. Luhby noted that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in September launched a $75 million campaign to increase the number of nurses in nursing homes.

The second rule the vice president announced had to do with home health aides. Medicaid currently pays about $125 billion a year to home healthcare companies, which employ hundreds of thousands of workers providing services for elderly and disabled Americans. These companies have never been required to report how that money was being spent. Now they will be required to spend 80% of the federal dollars they receive on workers’ salaries rather than administrative overhead.

Also yesterday, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a final rule that strengthens the HIPAA medical privacy rule for people from states that ban abortions who seek reproductive health care in states that permit them. In response to threats by Republican state officials to charge women who cross state lines to obtain abortion, contraception, or fertility treatments, the new rule prohibits health care providers, health plans, and other entities from disclosing patients’ reproductive health care records to state officials when they are being sought to investigate or charge patients, doctors, or others.  

Today, the Labor Department announced a new rule that would guarantee that salaried workers who make less than $59,000 a year are compensated fairly for overtime work. The Trump administration set the salary threshold for those who did not have overtime protections at $35,568. As of July 1, 2024, the threshold will be $43,888, and on January 1, 2025, it will rise to $58,656. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), former chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said the change could affect 4 million workers.

“Too often, lower-paid salaried workers are doing the same job as their hourly counterparts but are spending more time away from their families for no additional pay,” acting secretary of the Department of Labor Julie Su said. “That is unacceptable. The Biden-Harris administration is following through on our promise to raise the bar for workers who help lay the foundation for our economic prosperity.”

Also today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted 3–2 along party lines to ban the noncompete agreements that prevent workers from minimum-wage earners to top executives from changing jobs within the industry in which they work; senior executives can still be bound by such agreements. Initially used to protect trade secrets, noncompete clauses have expanded to cover what the FTC estimates to be 30 million people—one in five U.S. workers. They take away workers’ ability to improve their wages and conditions by quitting their jobs and moving to another company or starting their own. The FTC estimates that the end of such clauses could add almost $300 billion a year to workers’ wages. 

“Robbing people of their economic liberty also robs them of all sorts of other freedoms,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said. Neil Bradley, head of strategic advocacy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, countered: “If they can issue regulations with respect to unfair methods of competition, then there’s really no aspect of the U.S. economy they couldn’t regulate.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to sue over the rule. 

A CBS News/YouGov poll released Monday found that, although Biden and Harris have made addressing climate change a centerpiece of their administration, only 10% of the people who say they think climate change is a very important issue had heard or read a lot about what the administration has accomplished, and 49% said they had read not much or nothing about it. When told some of the things the administration has done, a strong majority of those who care about addressing climate change support those policies. 

“Even people who feel the administration has done too little on climate change support these policies,” reporters for CBS News note. They conclude that the disconnect “may be more about Mr. Biden needing to get his message out there than having to convince this ‘climate constituency’—those who call the climate issue very important—of the substance of his policies.” 

Meanwhile, today is the fourth anniversary of the press conference in which former president Donald Trump suggested injecting disinfectant to get rid of Covid, prompting the maker of Lysol to warn people not to use their disinfectant cleaning products internally. Four years later, Trump spent the day in a Manhattan courtroom, where his former friend David Pecker, who ran the company that published the National Enquirer tabloid magazine, testified for the prosecution. 

Legal analyst Lisa Rubin summarized Pecker’s testimony, noting that the big takeaways were that Trump and Pecker were transactional friends for decades and that “the agreement they struck in 2015 went way beyond the ‘catch and kill’ aspect of the scheme that has been known for years.” Together, they not only killed stories damaging to Trump, but also pushed fake stories about Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, who were running against him for the 2016 Republican nomination, as well as Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

As the trial grabs headlines, Trump’s power seems to be diminishing. He is demonstrably not in power in the courtroom, where he must do as the judge tells him and reporters say he has often fallen asleep, and none of his family members have shown up to support him.

Trump seems aware that his power is waning. Early yesterday, he called for supporters to “RALLY BEHIND MAGA,” but only a handful of people gathered outside the courthouse. Today he claimed that the turnout was low because police had “completely CLOSED DOWN” the streets around the courthouse. That was a lie: the streets, the sidewalk, even the courthouse have remained open to the public. 

Pennsylvania’s primary election today revealed Trump’s real electoral weakness. He won about 83.5% of the Republican votes, but Nikki Haley, who dropped out of the race in early March and has not campaigned since, won 16.5%. In the suburbs of Philadelphia, the so-called “collar counties,” Haley won closer to 25% of the Republican vote. 

Biden, meanwhile, took the fight against MAGA Republicans to Trump’s home state of Florida. There, an extreme abortion ban signed into law by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis will take effect on May 1, but in November, Florida voters will have the option to add protections for abortion before fetal viability to the state constitution, returning the state to the standards it had before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. That measure is expected to energize Democrats in the state.

And then, tonight, by a vote of 79–18, the Senate passed the $95 billion national security supplemental bill that provides funding, mostly for military supplies, to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific and humanitarian aid for war-torn countries; requires the sale of TikTok; and permits confiscating Russian assets. MAGA Republicans are still adamantly opposed to aid for Ukraine, but a strong bipartisan majority has finally gotten the chance to weigh in.

As soon as the measure passed, Biden issued a statement, saying: “Tonight, a bipartisan majority in the Senate joined the House to answer history’s call at this critical inflection point. Congress has passed my legislation to strengthen our national security and send a message to the world about the power of American leadership: we stand resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression.”

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