Tag Archives: public health

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Senator Amy Klobuchar Releases Global Pandemic Prevention, Detection, and Response Policy

In the wake of global concern over the possible spread of the coronavirus, Senator Amy Klobuchar released her plan for Global Pandemic Prevention, Detection and Response Policy © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Several of the Democratic candidates for president have demonstrated how they contrast with the current occupant of the Oval Office in terms of how they would lead the country through disasters. Senator Amy Klobuchar released her plan for Global Pandemic Prevention, Detection and Response Policy. This is from Senator Klobuchar’s campaign:


MINNEAPOLIS, MN – The recent outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus is a stark reminder of the persistent threats posed by infectious diseases. Senator Klobuchar believes the United States must continue to lead the global fight to prevent, detect and respond to pandemics. In the Senate, she has championed efforts to address outbreaks at home and abroad. She successfully secured critical funding to combat Ebola in West Africa, helping strengthen health care infrastructure. And as Chair of the Senate Steering and Outreach Committee, she spearheaded efforts to rapidly address the spread of the Zika virus and support local prevention measures and research. As President, she will prioritize taking on global pandemics and protecting U.S. national security. She will: 

Renew U.S. leadership and recommit to the Global Health Security Agenda, an initiative launched under the Obama administration to respond to the threat that infectious diseases pose to the global community.

Work with our allies and through multilateral organizations like the World Health Organization to improve local health infrastructure in at-risk countries and regions.

Fully fund U.S. departments, agencies, and programs that are on the front lines in preventing and responding to outbreaks, both at home and overseas, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, State Department, United States Agency for International Development, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Strengthen early-warning systems to detect and respond to outbreaks on the ground before they spread into full-fledged pandemics. 

Develop the global rapid-response system for deploying international medical teams to respond to outbreaks at the source. 

Increase stockpiles of existing vaccines and treatments and streamline delivery systems for rapid deployment during outbreaks.

Invest in capabilities for accelerating the production of new vaccines and treatments when new pathogens emerge. 

Leverage public-private partnerships that can unlock new investments and innovations.

Warren Releases Plan to Prevent, Contain, and Treat Infectious Disease Outbreaks at Home and Abroad

Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to prevent, contain and treat infectious disease outbreaks at home and abroad. Diseases like Ebola virus, Zika virus and most recently, coronavirus demonstrate the real threat that outbreaks pose to our health and security. “The United States can be a leader in combating these problems. But to do so, we must invest at home to ensure our public health agencies, hospitals, and health care providers are ready to jump into action when outbreaks strike. And we must  invest and partner with other countries to help build strong public health systems abroad.”  © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Democratic candidates for president offer stark contrasts to the present occupant of the Oval Office. With a potential coronavirus pandemic creating global anxiety, Senator Elizabeth Warren has just released a detailed plan how she would prevent, contain and treat infectious disease outbreaks at home and abroad.

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to prevent, contain and treat infectious disease outbreaks at home and abroad. Diseases like Ebola virus, Zika virus and most recently, coronavirus demonstrate the real threat that outbreaks pose to our health and security. The United States can be a leader in combating these problems. But to do so, we must invest at home to ensure our public health agencies, hospitals, and health care providers are ready to jump into action when outbreaks strike. And we must  invest and partner with other countries to help build strong public health systems abroad.
 
By properly preparing, we will save lives, strengthen our relationships with allies, protect our interests, and help build resilience to outbreaks and pandemics around the world.
 
Warren’s Plan to prevent, contain, and treat infectious disease outbreaks will:

Restore White House leadership on health security by designating a senior official to focus solely on this issue and fully funding domestic public health and preparedness at key HHS agencies, in contrast to President Trump’s decision to eliminate this White House role and massive proposed budget cuts to public health;  

Restore American leadership in the international community, reversing President Trump’s assault on the State Department and USAID;  

Invest in global health security and rejoin global efforts on climate change by changing how diseases emerge and spread, reverse President Trump’s proposed global health cuts and retreat from international climate efforts.  

Ensure evidence-based decisions and equity in response to outbreaks, relying on science to contain them and ensuring that all communities get the help they need to stay healthy.  

Preventing, Containing, and Treating Infectious Disease Outbreaks at Home and Abroad
 
In 2014, the world watched as Ebola spread throughout six countries in West Africa and eventually jumped oceans to reach the United StatesSpainItaly, and the U.K. As the outbreak spread, over 50 countries stepped up to help respond. The experience revealed a new global reality: to effectively beat infectious diseases, we need all hands on deck.
 
In 2015 the state of Indiana experienced an outbreak of HIV stemming from the ongoing opioid epidemic. In a county with a population of less than 25,000, over 200 people contracted the virus. Simultaneously, Zika virus was spreading throughout the U.S. and causing birth defects in children born to some infected pregnant women.
 
In 2019, the U.S. saw a rise in outbreaks of measles — a disease we had eliminated in 2000. And today, the 2018 Ebola outbreak continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 
Experts believe the world is due for another bout of pandemic influenzaThe latest threat comes from coronavirus, a respiratory condition in the same family of viruses as SARS that is spreading throughout China and just last week reached the United States. With well over 2,000 people infected and a rising death toll, China has restricted the movement of 56 million peopleThe world is watching closely to determine if this will be designated as our next global Public Health Emergency.
 
Instead of building capacity to combat these problems, Donald Trump has deprioritized global health security and risked putting us on heels in a crisis.
 
Trump has repeatedly tried to nickel and dime federal programs essential to health security, proposing billions of dollars in cuts so drastic that even leading a House Republican thought they would leave Americans vulnerable. Trump eliminated the key position that coordinates global health security across the many federal agencies that work to keep us safe. And his response to natural disasters that could lead to serious outbreaks, like hurricanes in Puerto Rico, has been basically non-existent.
 
On the global stage, his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement demonstrates reckless denial about the role of climate change in fueling epidemics. His foreign policy has damaged long-standing alliances with partners like the U.K. and France, who are critical partners in responding to global health crises.
 
Like so much else, Trump’s approach to keeping us safe from disease outbreaks is a mess. But when he’s gone, we can fix it.
 
We can invest at home to ensure our public health agencies, hospitals, and health care providers are ready to jump into action when outbreaks strike. And we can help build strong public health systems abroad.  By taking these steps, we will save lives, strengthen our relationships with allies, protect our interests, and help build resilience to outbreaks and pandemics.
 
That’s why I have a plan to prevent, contain, and treat infectious diseases — one that will help keep America safe and healthy. And as President, I will work across all levels of government here at home and with our many partners abroad to turn that plan into action.  
 
Preventing Transmission and Preparing for Outbreaks
The best way to beat a pandemic is to prevent it from starting in the first place. As President, I will work to build the foundations that help us catch infectious diseases before they spread.
 
Build strong public health systems at home and abroad. Combating infectious diseases requires building health infrastructure that enables us to handle epidemics whenever and wherever they strike. Diseases do not recognize borders — we need a global approach to a global problem. To build strong systems we must:  

Fund agencies that prevent and manage outbreaks. President Trump has repeatedly proposed billions in cuts to the agencies responsible for fighting and preventing pandemics, a devastating blow that would put lives at risk. Some of the deepest proposed cuts were to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which runs essential pandemic prevention and response programs. As President, I will fully fund this work, ensuring that key agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have the support they need to do their jobs.  

Prepare health departments, health care providers and hospitals, and other facilities and frontline staff. We must increase funding for the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement that supports the critical work of health departments across the country to prepare for outbreaks, natural disasters, and more. Similarly, we must continue to support the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), which ensures we equip facilities and train staff on the front lines.

Fully fund the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). Designed to build capacity in nearly 50 countries, the GHSA funds work in partnership with other countries to strengthen their public health infrastructure and combat outbreaks before they start. And in a few short years, it is clear that investment has paid off. Under President Trump some of this work has ramped down, but we know that the ability to stop an outbreak requires consistent investment and support. As President, I’ll provide it.  

Reduce transmission of infectious diseases at home. By reducing the transmission of communicable diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, we keep families healthy and safe and strengthen our health system’s ability to respond to global pandemics. That’s why I have a plan to invest $100 billion to end the opioid epidemic, and why I’ve committed to end the domestic HIV epidemic by 2025 and ensure that patients can afford drugs like PrEP and Hepatitis C treatments by acting on Day One of my presidency to lower drug prices.

Move to Medicare for All. When people can’t access basic health care, infectious diseases are more likely to spread and cause severe, lasting health effects — as we saw in the recent Indiana HIV outbreak. This is especially true in underserved communities, who can experience the effects of outbreaks more severely. Under Medicare for All, everyone will have high quality health care they can afford, removing financial barriers for patients who may be contagious and need to seek care. We all benefit when we stop the spread of infectious disease faster.

Fully fund critical existing global health work. U.S. investments in global health, including programs that combat HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria help build capacity in countries around the world that enables them to better handle epidemics when they strike. As President, I will push to expand funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which funds vital services for individuals living with HIV or AIDS overseas and is a pillar of U.S. global health programs. I’ll also repeal the Trump administration’s heartless Global Gag Rule, which makes organizations that conduct or refer patients for abortion ineligible for global health funds — harming patients and reducing the capacity of other nations’ health systems. 

Fight climate change. A changing climate means infectious diseases will spread to new places, and it’s already happening. In 2016, the Zika virus threatened more of the U.S. because changing climates mean the mosquitos that carry it now thrive further and further north. And Lyme disease is expected to increase by 20% in the next decade due to climate change. West Nile is projected to more than double by 2050 due to warming, costing upwards of $1 billion annually. Our health depends on fighting climate change. And I have a lot of plans for that.  

Recommit to the Paris Agreement and invest in the Green Climate Fund. On Day One of my administration, I’ll commit the United States to rejoin the Paris Agreement, including meeting Obama era commitments to the Green Climate Fund — a critical funding stream to prevent the spread of climate fueled pandemics — and backfilling the contribution that the Trump administration neglected to deliver.

Recognize interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health. When it comes to pandemics, we must think about how animal, human, and environmental factors interact. Last year the Trump administration shut down the Predict program to test animals for dangerous pathogens that could cross over to humans. As President, I would restore this essential work. And I will support new scientific research to help understand and predict the impact of warmer temperatures on disease emergence and transmission.  

Invest in CDC’s Climate and Health Program. This essential program invests in adaptation for the effects of climate change on our nation’s health, but it’s budget only allows for programs that cover roughly half our population. Rather than follow President Trump’s attempts to kill this program, I will expand it to cover every American so no community is left behind.  

Prioritize effective federal management. As President, I’ll take key steps to ensure that the agencies who handle outbreaks have clear leadership, responsibility, and support.  

Restore White House leadership position for health security. President Obama created this position in response to the Ebola epidemic. In 2018, the Trump administration eliminated it – and I demanded answers. As President, I will bring it back, with a formal senior lead in my White House who focuses solely on global health security and oversees this work across the entire federal government.

Rebuild the State Department and USAID. American security and health depend on robust diplomacy and development assistance, but the Trump administration has declared war on the State Department and USAID. We must reverse the trend of declining American diplomacy and development aid by creating a 21st century foreign service and corps of development specialists. My plan to rebuild the State Department ensures that we have the diplomats we need leading our engagement with the world to help effectively manage outbreaks.  

Build on CDC’s legacy as the world and domestic leader in public health. The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) holds our nation’s largest supply of medical countermeasures and medical supplies. Historically, CDC has managed the SNS because it has the public health expertise to stock the right medical countermeasures and ensure they get to communities who need them during an emergency.  In 2018, the Trump administration removed the SNS from CDC management in an ill-advised attempt to streamline response activities that could make it easier for drug companies to lobby for their products to be included. As President, I will move it back to optimize public health while ensuring coordination with other agencies.

Strengthen the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE). PHEMCE coordinates the federal government’s efforts to prepare for potential  chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, as well as from emerging infectious diseases. We must ensure the PHEMCE fully utilizes expertise from across agencies and reinvigorate its ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies.
 

Develop vaccines for infectious diseases. The United States should join it’s peer countries and invest in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a public/private global alliance focused on vaccine development, and actively participate in global coalitions working toward vaccine development. I have pushed CDC to prepare for pandemic influenza, which must include the development of a universal flu vaccine — a necessity if we want to effectively fight the next strain of pandemic influenza.
 
Containing Outbreaks and Ensuring Equity
Effectively containing infectious diseases requires effective coordination, flexible resources, clear data and communication, and the ability to move fast while not leaving anyone behind.
 
Ensure surge funding to handle the outbreak. Responding to pandemics costs money. And when it’s needed, it’s needed yesterday. In 2014, Congress did not provide funding to combat Ebola when it was out of control in West Africa, and waited until nearly 3 months after the first case occurred in the U.S. to appropriate additional funding. But epidemics don’t wait for Congress. To have a shot at getting ahead of the next big outbreak, we must appropriate and replenish funding for the Public Health Emergency Fund at HHS. This fund enables HHS to quickly respond to public health crises without waiting for supplemental appropriations from Congress.
 
Establish the Global Health Security Corps. Sometimes outbreaks occur in places experiencing intense conflict. And when health experts cannot enter those regions, outbreaks can grow exponentially. A bipartisan commission recently proposed creating a global health team that can handle these challenges — doctors, scientists, and aid workers with extensive security training who can go into conflict zones to do contact tracing, build trust in communities experiencing conflict, and work effectively with foreign governments at the local, regional, and national level. As president, I’ll launch this Global Health Security Corps to ensure that we can get the right expertise to the center of an outbreak before it becomes an epidemic.

Mitigate impact on underserved populations. Underserved and disadvantaged populations are hit harder by outbreaks. Adding insult to injury, vulnerable populations are often scapegoated for spreading disease. Outbreak responses must ensure that everyone can get the help they need. This requires constant effort on the front lines – but system-level solutions can help, too.  

Practice ethical and evidence-based infection control. My administration will work with state and local governments to ensure that disease surveillance and response is based on facts and science, not fear. We will also reject ill-informed, unscientific, and often counterproductive travel bans in favor of science-based efforts at isolation and quarantine. These efforts will be undertaken only when necessary, and we will provide strict protection of civil liberties for those involved, including the rejection of any unlawful detentions.
 

Leverage federal health care programs to respond to disasters. Studies have shown the clear connection between extreme weather events and outbreaks. After Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, for example, fatalities from bacterial Leptospirosis spiked, eventually leading to 26 deaths. In addition, despite the extensive damage to the islands infrastructure, the Trump administration waited months before delivering aid or assistance. I have committed to leverage federal programs to quickly tailor health care responses to specific environmental disasters or outbreaks in affected communities when they occur.  

Build equity protections into preparedness grant funding and government seeded innovations. I will instruct my administration to incorporate equity requirements into health preparedness and response programs to ensure all communities get the resources they need to stay healthy. I have also committed to improve environmental equity mapping via “a rigorous interagency effort to identify cumulative environmental health disparities and climate vulnerabilities and cross-reference that data with other indicators of socioeconomic health.” When the government helps fund development and clinical trials of medical countermeasures, we should be sure to negotiate a fair market price so that everyone can afford it.  

Provide aggressive dissemination of reliable information.  Communication is an essential element of effectively beating an outbreak. My administration will work with the private sector to promote the distribution of important factual information, to counter misinformation, and to ensure that critical facts are appropriately translated so communities can take the steps needed to stay healthy. The Trump administration banned CDC from using “evidence-based” or “policy-based,” as well as other terms, in official documents–unacceptable for an agency whose mission must be informed by science. In a Warren administration, science will once again be in charge at the CDC.
 
Uphold principles of open science and transparency. Sharing information about what is happening during an outbreak facilitates problem-solving. We must encourage sharing of specimens and data between researchers and public health officials, urge transparency from foreign governments, and increase support for data sharing platforms. During a public health emergency, publishers should not use paywalls to hide important data or force authors to keep data embargoed until publication. My administration will conduct a full-scale reassessment of the public health informatics supported by the federal government and modernize these systems, building on recent congressional investment. And I have already committed to improve interoperability of electronic health records, which will help providers all across this country see their patients’ medical histories and ensure that more patient data can be securely shared with critical public health databases, while ensuring that patient privacy is maintained.

Effectively partner with foreign governments and multilateral organizations. The U.S. cannot beat outbreaks alone. We must use all our tools, including diplomacy and international collaboration, to work through tough issues and partner with other countries. I’ll lead the world in promoting effective multilateral action, including through Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. And I’ll bolster our work with the World Health Organization (WHO) to continue reforms started after the 2014 Ebola outbreaks and improve the world’s ability to respond collectively to these crises.

Treating Emerging Infectious Diseases
It’s essential that we continue pushing for medical advances — both to treat those who contract diseases and vaccinate against those we can prevent. 
 
Invest in basic science. I have committed to invest $100 billion in the NIH — and $60 billion of that will fund basic science research. And when drug companies break the law, I’ll create a “swear jar” where companies will pay a portion of their profits from publicly-funded research back to the NIH. This funding will expand the research we need to develop vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases we know and novel diseases that have not yet emerged.
 
Invest and incentivize development of new medical countermeasures. To ensure we are able to effectively surge development during a pandemic, we must build and maintain strong infrastructure for medical countermeasure development. As President, I will ensure that small biotechnology innovators get ongoing support from Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and we will leverage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) expertise in manufacturing and clinical trials to help larger drug manufacturers bring these countermeasures to market at scale.  

Bring new treatments to patients. The $40 billion I’ve committed to invest in the NIH will fund the creation of the National Institute for Drug Development — a new institute that will work to bring that basic research of the rest of the NIH into reality for patients. And under Medicare for All, we will be able to better incentivize the private sector development of drugs for which the market is currently broken, like vaccines and antibiotics. Vaccines prevent outbreaks from starting, while antibiotics provide critical protection against infections, and we are in desperate need of new antibiotics to combat resistant infections.  

Enable surge support during outbreaks, especially for diagnostics. BARDA and FDA must be ready to surge at times of outbreak, when the need to quickly diagnose new cases is essential to containing an outbreak and properly treating patients. My Administration will work to provide this support and, when appropriate, use Emergency Use Authorizations to get new diagnostics into the hands of health care providers as soon as possible.

Prioritize therapies that work for all populations, especially kids. Therapies are often approved after being tested on populations that are not representative of the patient population. As a result, many therapies in the Strategic National Stockpile are not approved for kids, and some therapies do not work as effectively for racial minorities or women. As President, I will direct the FDA and BARDA to work with drug companies to develop pediatric medical countermeasures and increase the enrollment of underrepresented populations in clinical trials, ensuring that the treatments we develop work well for all of us.  

Ensure treatments can reach patients quickly. Time is critical when you’re combating infectious diseases. We must make sure that our system is ready to “turn on” at a moment’s notice. That means we must constantly evaluate our medical countermeasure stockpiles and prepare annual updated biological threat assessments. And during an outbreakwe must quickly distribute medical countermeasures, with proper protections for equitable distribution across communities.
 
Ensure safety of high security labs. My administration will not allow labs to generate novel viruses with epidemic or pandemic potential, or to perform field testing of such viruses and will closely monitor dual-use research on biological threats and update policies as needed. This knowledge is incredibly important to protect our health, but could be harmful if used as a weapon. And we must be vigilant about lab safety standards and avoid accidentally mailing anthrax or forgetting about smallpox specimens for 50 years.
 
Diseases like coronavirus remind us why we need robust international institutions, strong investments in public health, and a government that is prepared to jump into action at a moment’s notice. When we prepare and effectively collaborate to address common threats that don’t stop at borders, the international community can stop these diseases in their tracks.

Read Warren’s plan here

Vice President Joe Biden issued his own criticism of the Trump’s administration’s handling of a potential pandemic, in an op-ed in USA Today: Joe Biden: Trump is worst possible leader to deal with coronavirus outbreak citing the need for the President of the United States to cooperate with international partners to address this pandemic and prevent future ones. Biden writes that this is a moment that requires leadership — leadership that Trump is incapable of delivering — and lays out how his policies will be informed by science and reassert U.S. leadership on global health security. 

White House Highlights Actions to Expand Paid Sick Leave, Gather Data to Fight for Equal Pay

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez discussed two new actions to support working Americans.   First, the Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to require employees of businesses doing work on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days a year.  Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is collecting data to improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez discussed two new actions to support working Americans. First, the Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to require employees of businesses doing work on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is collecting data to improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.  She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.  A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too.”— President Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union Address 

Today the White House is highlighting two new actions to further support working Americans.   First, the Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to require employees of businesses doing work on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days a year.  Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is publishing its final and approved collection of summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity from businesses with 100 or more employees to improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws.

In a White House conference call with reporters, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania applauded the Administration’s actions, noting that he has been in public office for less than two years, but prior, “I was a business owner, employed up to 600-700 employees. We did all these things – paid sick leave, personal time off, holidays, long vacation time. These were not a cost to the business, they made business sense with lower turnover, better morale, healthier employees, better productivity.

“One of the things we must acknowledge: it’s not just a fair thing, a matter of public health, public good, but something that is good for business. “

More than one million workers will not have to depend on the kindness of employers because of these new rules. “Workers shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery or geographic lottery to win access to paid sick leave,” commented Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Jenny Yang.

Contrary to the “sky is falling” reaction of many private employers, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez noted, in places where earned sick leave has been implemented – including San Francisco, Tacoma Washington, New York City and Connecticut – employers are by a wide margin satisfied.  “When the law into effect [in these places] they had trepidation, but what they saw was that were able to adjust and in fact thrive.” Indeed, customers may be miffed if a waiter sneezes on their plate; other employees can be taken ill because of a worker with a flu could not afford to stay home.

“The beauty of incubators of innovation like Philadelphia, Connecticut, San Francisco, and Tacoma is that we have track record to build on and tremendous confidence that building on this part of the social contract is both good for workers, public health, families and not an undue burden on business.

“Bringing fairness and balance to workplace is really not something that should be seen as expense.”

FACT SHEET: Helping Working Americans Get Ahead by Expanding Paid Sick Leave and Fighting for Equal Pay

Since taking office, President Obama has promoted policies to grow and strengthen the middle class by supporting working families.  Despite tremendous changes that have transformed America and its families over the past 50 years, our workplaces have not kept pace.  In most families today, both parents work and share in the responsibilities of caring for children or other family members. Recently released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that these efforts have resulted in strong progress for America’s working families.  Today, a record share of private sector workers now have access to paid sick leave, increasing from 61 to 64 percent over the past year.  Furthermore, this increase was driven almost entirely by increased access in low-wage jobs: in just one year, the share of workers in the lowest-paid quarter of occupations that had access to paid sick leave jumped from 31 to 39 percent.  Since the President took office, the number of private sector workers with paid sick leave has grown by 10.6 million.

Despite this progress, millions of Americans still do not have access to even a single day of paid sick leave, so when workers get sick they may have to choose between caring for themselves or paying their bills.  Too many parents must make the painful choice between staying home to take care of a sick child—and losing out on a day’s pay—or sending their child to school sick.  For that reason, President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act—which would guarantee most Americans the chance to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year—and urging states, cities, and businesses to act where Congress has not.

Similarly, despite a woman’s pay being just as critical for a family to make ends meet, women make less than their male peers.  The President has fought to close that gap, and the first legislation he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an important step in ensuring that Americans can effectively challenge unequal pay in the courts.  Since then, he has taken numerous other steps to advance equal pay, including issuing a 2014 Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss their pay, and announcing a White House Equal Pay Pledge that has now been signed by more than 50 of America’s leading businesses.

Similar to the expansion of paid sick leave, progress has been made on the gender pay gap.  In 2008, a typical woman working full-time earned only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a typical man; today, that has risen to 80 cents.  That means that for a woman working full-time, the pay gap has shrunk by more than 10 percent, or about $1200, since the President took office.

Yet much work remains.  Too many women and workers of color are still not paid equally for equal work, with African-American women earning 63 cents and Latina women earning 54 cents for every dollar earned by a white non-Hispanic man.  And 41 million private sector workers do not have access to even a single day of paid sick leave.   Today’s actions mark critical progress to support the needs of working Americans and their families.

EXPANDING SICK LEAVE

Last September, President Obama signed an Executive Order requiring federal contractors (and subcontractors) to allow their employees working on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days each year.  Today, the Department of Labor is finalizing its rule implementing the order.  It takes into account extensive public comments from employers, business associations, small businesses, workers, unions, and worker advocates.  The final rule, which goes into effect for new solicitations issued on or after January 1, 2017, will:

  • Give additional paid sick leave to 1.15 million people working on federal contracts, including nearly 600,000 employees who do not currently have even a single day of paid sick leave.  Workers will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked on (or in connection with) a covered federal contract, up to 56 hours in a year or at any point in time.
  • Allow workers to use paid sick leave for their own illnesses, preventive care, or other health care needs; to care for a family member or loved one who is ill, seeking preventive care, or otherwise in need of care; and for absences resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  Employers may not retaliate against employees for using paid sick leave or require them to find replacements in order to take it.
  • Improve the health and performance of employees of federal contractors and bring benefits packages offered by federal contractors in line with leading firms, ensuring they remain competitive in the search for dedicated and talented employees.
  • Protect public health by reducing the transmission of illnesses in the workplace from sick employees to coworkers or their customers.
  • Respond to employers’ concerns by ensuring coordination with existing “paid time off” policies that give workers a flexible bank of leave; existing collective bargaining agreements; and multi-employer plans. 

This action reflects leading practices by major employers, states, and localities throughout the country.  Since the President’s call to action in 2014, four states and more than 25 cities and counties have taken action to expand paid sick leave in their community, and many businesses small and large have adopted similar policies.  For example:

  • Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota passed ordinances in May and September, respectively, requiring businesses to offer their workers an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.  Both ordinances go into effect on July 1, 2017 with phased implementation periods.  The Twin Cities have a joint population of nearly 700,000 residents, though the ordinances cover anyone who does work within the respective city limits.
  • Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), a nonprofit clean energy consulting company and federal contractor in Vermont, testified in support of Vermont’s new paid sick leave law, passed earlier this year.  VEIC’s founder pointed to the monetary, physical, and cultural value of paid sick leave to employers.
  • Cava Grill, a fast-casual national restaurant brand headquartered in Washington, DC, announced in July that it began offering paid sick and parental leave to its hourly workers, for whom it also raised its starting wage to $13 an hour.  Employees will now receive up to six days a year of paid sick leave, up to four days of paid parental leave, and one day for community service.
  • Microsoft, a federal contractor, took a similar step last year by announcing it would require suppliers with at least 50 employees doing business with the company to provide employees who handle its work with 15 days of paid leave annually (including 5 paid sick days).  In announcing this change, Microsoft pointed to research showing that paid leave contributes to the health and well-being of workers and their families, strengthens family ties, increases productivity, improves retention, lowers health-care costs, and contributes to the health of colleagues.

ADVANCING EQUAL PAY

Today, the EEOC, in cooperation with the Department of Labor, is publishing its finalized revisions to its EEO-1 form, which for the first time will collect summary pay data, broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity, from all businesses with 100 or more employees.  This data collection, which stems from a recommendation by the President’s Equal Pay Task Force and a Presidential Memorandum issued in 2014, is expected to cover roughly 63 million employees and 60,000 employers.

Today’s action will promote improved voluntary compliance by employers with existing equal pay laws.  It will also help EEOC and the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) better focus investigations on employers who are illegally shortchanging workers’ pay based on their gender, race, or ethnicity.

The data will be a tool not only for the federal government, but for employers as well.  It will help employers evaluate their own pay practices to prevent pay discrimination in their workplaces.  The EEOC will also compile and publish aggregate data that will help employers in assessing their pay practices relative to others in the same industry and geographic area.

Businesses have long used the EEO-1 form to report demographic information on their workforces.  With the revised EEO-1, businesses also will report summary data on the range of compensation paid to employees of each demographic group.  Businesses will not be required to disclose individual employees’ salaries.

Employers will first be required to submit pay data for 2017 by March 31, 2018, giving them 18 months to prepare for the change.  This revision does not impact the 2016 EEO-1 report, which is due on September 30, 2016 and is unchanged.  EEOC will be offering webinars and technical assistance to employers, payroll and human resource information system providers, and other stakeholders in preparation for the new submission requirements.

Today’s publication of the revised form comes after the EEOC approved this action by a vote of the Commission, and follows final approval by the Office of Management and Budget pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act.  The EEOC is an independent government agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information.

BUILDING ON A RECORD OF SUPPORTING WORKING FAMILIES

Since taking office, President Obama and his Administration have taken a number of actions to support working families and combat the pay gap, including:

  • Publishing a final regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. The program provides subsidies to working families and last year provided services for roughly 1.4 million children aged 0-13, most of whom are younger than 5. The rule, which has not been comprehensively revised since 1998, will provide a roadmap to states on how to implement the new law and clarify ambiguities around provisions that deal with eligibility for services; health and safety requirements; and how best to support the needs of parents and providers as they transition to the new law.  It also clarifies that worker organizations can provide professional development to child care workers and contribute to discussions around the rates states set for subsidies.
  • Signing his first piece of legislation as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pair Act, in January 2009 making it easier for employees to challenge unfair pay practices.
  • Creating the National Equal Pay Task Force in January 2010 to implement his pledge to crack down on violations of equal pay laws, which included representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management. The Task Force has issued reports on its progress, including Fighting for Equal Pay in the Workforce, Keeping America’s Women Moving Forward, and Fifty Years After the Equal Pay Act.  In addition, since the creation of the Equal Pay Task Force in 2010, the EEOC has received over 18,000 charges of sex-based pay discrimination, and through its independent enforcement efforts, the EEOC has obtained over $140 million in monetary relief for victims of pay discrimination on the basis of sex.
  • Calling on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, commonsense legislation that would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by closing loopholes in the defenses for equal pay violations, providing stronger remedies, and expanding protections against discrimination for employees who share or inquire about information about their compensation at work.
  • Signing a Presidential Memorandum in May 2013 directing the Office of Personnel Management to develop a government-wide strategy to address the gender pay gap in the federal workforce, leading to a report in April 2014 and new guidance in July 2015—which cautioned against reliance on a candidate’s existing salary to set pay, as it can potentially adversely affect women who may have taken time off from their careers or propagate gaps due to discriminatory pay practices by previous employers.
  • Issuing an Executive Order in April 2014 and publishing a Department of Labor rule in September 2015 prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss or inquire about their compensation.
  • Announcing a White House Equal Pay Pledge, with more than 50 leading businesses signing on to take action to advance equal pay.  By signing the pledge, these companies are committing to conduct an annual company-wide gender pay analysis, review hiring and promotion processes, embed equal pay efforts in broader equity initiatives, and identify and promote best practices that will close the wage gap.
  • Hosting a White House Summit on Working Families in June 2014, highlighting the issues that women and families face, setting the agenda for a 21st century workplace, and announcing of a number of steps to help working families thrive.
  • Hosting the United State of Women Summit in June 2016, highlighting the progress that has been made over the course of this Administration and discussing public and private sector solutions to the challenges that still lie ahead.
  • Signing a Presidential Memorandum in January 2015 directing federal agencies to advance six weeks of paid sick leave to federal employees with new children, calling on Congress to grant another six weeks of paid leave for federal employees, and calling on Congress to pass legislation that gives all American families access to paid family and medical leave.
  • Publishing a final Department of Labor rule in May updating outdated overtime regulations, expanding overtime pay protections to 4.2 million additional Americans, boosting wages for workers by $12 billion over the next 10 years, and allowing workers to better balance their work and family obligations.
  • Issuing an Executive Order in February 2014 requiring federal contractors to raise their minimum wage initially to $10.10 an hour, indexing it, and lifting the tipped minimum wage (which disproportionately impacts women)—and urging Congress, states, cities, and businesses to do the same.
  • Directing the Office of Personnel Management and federal agencies to enhance workplace flexibility for federal employees to the maximum extent practicable, including enshrining a right to request flexible work arrangements.
  • Signing into law the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, which requires agencies to support and establish policies for telework by eligible employees.
  • Calling on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations to workers who have limitations from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer). The legislation would also prohibit employers from forcing pregnant employees to take paid or unpaid leave if a reasonable accommodation would allow them to work.
  • Finalizing a Department of Labor rule updating its sex discrimination guidelines for federal contractors for the first time since 1978, to align with current law and address barriers to equal opportunity and pay, such as pay discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environments, a lack of workplace accommodations for pregnant women, and gender identity and family caregiving discrimination.
  • Announcing the Department of Labor’s award of $54 million in “Strengthening Working Families” grants to help low- to middle-skilled parents access the affordable, quality child care they need to earn an education, participate in training programs, and compete for better-paying jobs in emergency industries.
  • Expanding access for women to higher-paying jobs through a proposed rule updating equal employment opportunity requirements in registered apprenticeships and through a Mega-Construction Projects (MCP) Initiative at the Department of Labor.

Do-Nothing-But-Harm Congress Needs to Set Aside Anti-Abortion Fanatacism and Fund Zika Prevention

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl), a rabid opponent of abortion rights who has said that birth defects should not warrant an exemption, has told Congress to set aside ideology on Zika funding – because of the harm to Florida’s tourism industry and his reelection campaign © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl), a rabid opponent of abortion rights who has said that birth defects should not warrant an exemption, has told Congress to set aside ideology on Zika funding – because of the harm to Florida’s tourism industry and his reelection campaign © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Zika is a small label from a tiny source that has world-shattering implications for families, for communities, for society and the economy.

It is also shorthand for everything that has been so absolutely wrong with the Republican-controlled Congress. It is no longer sufficient to describe it as “Do Nothing.” It is more appropriate to describe how their dysfunction, inaction, their idolatry to ideology has become destructive. Rather than a government with “limited power,” the right-wing ideology has intruded into our personal lives in such devastating.

Rather than treat Zika – a neurotropic virus that grows in target brain cells, literally destroying the fetal brain as it develops –  as the public health crisis that it is, the Right Wingers who control Congress have wrapped it up with abortion as an excuse to derail a vote.

The party that purports to hold a lock on family values? Pregnancy is stressful enough, but instead of being excited and happy at a pregnancy, a woman would be consumed by anxiety, and even hatred for the fetus and the baby that emerges.

When Zika first came to the world’s attention in Brazil, I was thinking that Americans were luckier than the hapless Brazilian women, who were being told to defer child-bearing for four years, because while abortion is illegal in that Catholic country, it is a Constitutionally protected right here in the US – except that the Right Wingers have found ways to throw up so many obstacles to a woman’s reproductive freedom, even declaring that a mother is a mere “vessel” to incubate the fetus, rather than a person with the same rights of self-determination as men.

Meanwhile, there are now approximately 18,000 confirmed case of the Zika Virus in the United States and territories, including 1,751 pregnant women infected, and that number is rising daily.

Earlier this year, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan Zika funding measure by a vote of 89-8. Even Marco Rubio, now running for reelection to the Senate he demeaned during his run for the Presidency, who has said that birth defects should not be an “exemption” for an abortion, told his colleagues that Zika warranted setting ideology aside, but that was because of the harm it was having to Florida’s tourism industry.

But then Republicans changed course, packing the bill full of partisan political riders — like demanding a ban on funding to Planned Parenthood, undermining key provisions of the Clean Water Act, even allowing Confederate flags in cemeteries— and shut Democrats out of the debate.

Now, the money that had been available to the CDC, $292 million “ is out the door already and there are things we wish we could do but can’t because we don’t have the resources,” Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said on “The Takeaway” on NPR. “The decisions made today, or not made, will have implications for decades to come.”

There is so much that is not known about Zika – funding is needed for research for a vaccine, to diagnose, on better ways to control its spread, to understand the impacts of development for infants that do not manifest microcephaly immediately (Hearing loss? Learning disability?) and whether there are latent impacts that could impact even adults (a connection to Alzheimer’s has been raised).

“We need the dollars and the legal authorities so that when there is an emergency, we can treat it as emergency.

“If get in early, can avoid problems – with an earthquake or flood you are providing assistance and picking up the pieces. But with an epidemic, if we can get there early enough, we can do the equivalent of stopping an earthquake…

“The long delay in providing additional supplemental funding makes it difficult to have robust response, and makes it more important to have an infectious disease rapid response fund so we can spend money quickly and effectively. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate are on board with creating such a fund,” he said.

“Zika will be around for years to come, so it is important to invest now in better ways to stop it. The sooner we get the funding, we can embark on those projects,” he said.

The failure to act on Zika is part and parcel of the right wingers’ continued assault on abortion rights –– essentially a woman’s right to choose, to control her own body and her own destiny, a family’s right to protect itself and create the best environment for its children. They have gone so far as to block the use of an abortion pill that is safer and easier to use than surgical procedure, and even preventing doctors from using a safer regimen of the medication.

This is not about “life” – as we now see in Texas where their anti-woman, anti-choice ideological crusade has resulted in closure of dozens of Planned Parenthood clinics, with the result that the rate of maternal mortality has exploded.

“From 2000 to the end of 2010, Texas’s estimated maternal mortality rate hovered between 17.7 and 18.6 per 100,000 births. But after 2010, that rate had leaped to 33 deaths per 100,000, and in 2014 it was 35.8. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 600 women died for reasons related to their pregnancies.

“No other state saw a comparable increase,” writes Molly Redden in The Guardian. Those rates put Texas on par with the Third World, where having a baby is the most dangerous thing a woman can do.

This is further proof that the right-wingers who control Congress do not care about “life” they care about control. This is about modern-day enslavement of women. They see a woman as a vessel, a vassal, not as a free person with the rights to make their own life’s choices. While they say they want individuals to be able to care for themselves, producing a generation born with microcephaly means they and their families will have to be dependent upon the state.

This cavalier attitude to life – particularly children – is also manifest in Congress’ failure to act on lead in the drinking water in Flint and other urban areas, likely impairing their normal brain development, contributing to learning and behavioral problems and lowering their IQ’s—and poor and minority children are unfairly at the greatest risk of lead poisoning. Half a million kids in the US already have elevated levels of lead in their blood and millions more are at risk.

The consequences for local school budgets – just as one example – to have to accommodate the special needs of children impacted by lead and now Zika-caused microcephaly – is mindboggling, making the challenge for school districts to keep Mylan’s overpriced Epipens on hand seem like small potatoes.

The Republican controlled Congress’ refusal to come to consensus and treat Zika as the public health emergency it is – no different than a terror attack – but instead, to hamstring it with poison pills that make it unpalatable to pass is not like the Do-Nothing-But-Harm Congress hasn’t been doing mischief since its return from a 7-week vacation. This includes three bills designed to overturn Dodd-Frank protections of the financial system, a bill to neuter Obamacare, a possible impeachment of the IRS Commissioner, and a yet a new investigation, investigating the FBI investigators into Hillary Clinton’s emails (is that the 9th or 10th Congressional investigation?).

But let’s look at what the Do-Nothing-But-Harm Congress has done nothing about: gun violence prevention (No Fly, No Buy), the Flint water crisis, confirming Merritt Garland to the Supreme Court,  and they are even dragging feet about adopting a Continuing Resolution in order to avoid yet another Republican government shutdown.

Congress needs to fund Zika programs and create an infectious disease emergency response fund, which, apparently is actually supported (at least with lip service) by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.

After his meeting with Congressional leaders on Monday, Obama expressed confidence there would be no government shut down and there would be funding for Zika.

Ah, President Obama, ever the optimist. We’ll see.