Since our last Federal Advocacy Roundup in early December, we’ve seen the passage of an end-of-year appropriations bill, the ushering in of a new Congress and the subsequent changes in Congressional leadership, landmark announcements from the administration on protecting tenants and migrant workers, and more! See below for our deep dive into these updates:
Last week, the Biden Administration announced various agency actions accompanying its release of a Blueprint for Renters Bill of Rights. While this is a step in the right direction, renters will need much bolder policies to meet the magnitude of the housing crisis, including (1) significant investments in deeply affordable housing, (2) rent regulation and protections, (3) efforts to take on corporate control of rental/housing markets, and (4) enforcement of housing/rental violations.
These actions come after years of tenant advocacy throughout the pandemic, including by the Homes Guarantee campaign, which coordinated tenant meetings with the administration, participated in Senate hearings, and organized a letter campaign that Local Progress signed onto. Click here to view their detailed assessment of the administration’s new actions.
Here are five of the big takeaways from the administration’s plan:
1. The Administration officially (1) recognizes tenants as a legitimate group facing a national crisis, (2) advocates for tenants having the right to organize without retaliation, and (3) emphasizes the importance of property managers recognizing tenants’ associations.
2. The Administration will hold quarterly meetings with a broad, diverse, and varying group of tenants and tenant advocates to ensure they continue to have a seat at the table and can share ambitious ideas to strengthen tenant protections.
3. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are to identify practices that unfairly restrict prospective and current tenants from accessing housing. The practices they will investigate will include “the creation and use of tenant background checks, the use of algorithms in tenant screenings, the provision of adverse action notices by landlords and property management companies, and how an applicant’s source of income factors into housing decisions.”
4. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the Enterprises will launch a process to conduct stakeholder outreach and engagement to identify the opportunities and challenges of adopting and enforcing tenant protections including policies that limit egregious rent increases at properties with Enterprise-backed mortgages going forward. FHFA will provide an update within 6 months.
5. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking that would require public housing authorities and owners of project-based rental assistance properties to provide at least 30 days’ of advanced notice before seeking eviction due to nonpayment of rent.
Last month, the Biden administration took a step that could potentially bolster the enforcement of labor standards in industries with undocumented workers who are often reluctant to raise their voices or organize against labor law violations for fear of retaliation based on immigration status. The announcement “comes after years of organizing by immigrant workers demanding protections when they seek to improve their workplaces, form unions, combat wage theft, defend civil rights, challenge harassment, and report unsafe working conditions.”
DHS released new instructions regarding how migrant workers can claim protection from deportation or other immigration enforcement if they are involved in labor disputes. Undocumented workers can now request immigration enforcement relief – known as deferred action– if they have been victims or are participating in an investigation involving violations of labor law. To streamline the process, DHS is creating a “single intake point for deferred action requests” handled by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), not US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Notably, the deferred action requests cannot be singlehandedly completed by the worker or their immigration lawyers; they will require a statement of interest from a federal, state, or local labor agency. This development underscores the importance of creating well-resourced local labor agencies to ensure migrant workers can avail their rights.
The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has released a FAQ with extensive guidance on how local authorities can best approach this development to support migrant workers. Please circulate, especially to any labor authorities, and do not hesitate to contact Senior Labor and Employment Policy Attorney Jessie Hahn at NILC for more information.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) won the election for the Speaker of the House after obtaining the support of some of the most extremist members of the Republican party. The historic 15 rounds of voting needed was the longest House speaker vote since 1855, and the only vote since 1923 that even required multiple ballots. Rep. McCarthy only obtained the Freedom Caucus’s support with numerous major concessions that will indubitably shape the parameters on the debate and discourse in the House over the next two years:
- Appoint Freedom Caucus members to seats on the House Rules Committee
- Cap discretionary spending in alignment with a conservative commitment to “balance” the federal budget within ten years
- Create a “Weaponization of Federal Government” subcommittee that would investigate alleged abuses of federal government authority
- Reinstitute the Holman Rule, which allows lawmakers to offer amendments in appropriations bills that result in the salary reduction or termination of federal employees
- Lower the number (from five to one) of GOP conference members needed to start the process of removing the Speaker
- Vote separately on the 12 different appropriation bills—from agriculture to defense spending to transportation—rather than combining them into an end-of-year omnibus spending bill.
During their lame-duck session in December, the outgoing Congress passed an end-of-year omnibus appropriations bill to avert a government shutdown. The bill provides $1.7 trillion in government spending, with $858 billion going towards defense spending and $772.5 billion going towards non-defense spending. Here are some important developments from the bill:
- Increase Domestic Law Enforcement Funding: The Department of Justice received a 10% increase in its budget for staffing in the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Prisons.
- Increased Immigration Enforcement: Border Patrol received a 17% funding boost which will fund 300 new Border Patrol agents. If Border Patrol is unable to meet the hiring goal, it can use the funds on “other efforts to boost morale.”
- Boosting Pandemic Preparedness: The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the Health and Human Services Department received a “20% funding boost to develop countermeasures against future pandemics and rebuild stockpiles of drugs, masks and other supplies.
- National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Budget Increases: Labor advocates had pushed for an increase in funding for the NLRB. The NLRB’s $25 million funding increase, though even less than what the White House requested, was included in the omnibus package text released earlier this week. “The boost will likely avoid furloughs, but some labor leaders say it’s not enough to handle the 53% increase in union representation petitions filed in fiscal year 2022.”
President Biden Meets with U.S. Conference of Mayors: In January, President Joe Biden met with over 250 mayors in the White House. The mayors were in Washington D.C. as part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Mayors particularly emphasized the need for the federal government to provide significant support directly to localities supporting migrants settling in their cities.
Debt Ceiling Fight Emerges: The U.S. hit its debt ceiling in January, which will force a standoff between conservatives who are opposed to increasing the debt ceiling and the administration who take much more seriously the implications of failing to raise the arbitrarily-set debt ceiling. Over the next few months, the administration is expected to engage in discussions with Congress in order to avert the potential calamities caused by the United States defaulting on its debt.
Supreme Court Investigation Into Dobbs Leak Concludes: In a 20-page report, the Supreme Court announced the results of its investigation into the leaked Dobbs opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade. Notably, the investigation yielded no answers; it’s still unclear who leaked the draft decision and why. In addition, concerns have been raised that the nine justices “were not being questioned [as] rigorously” as other court employees.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing with Ticketmaster: The Senate Judiciary Committee invited the top executive from Live Nation Entertainment, the concert industry conglomerate that owns Ticketmaster, to a hearing in late January. In a rare moment of bipartisan consensus, senators from both parties raised concerns that Live Nation was effectively a monopoly and should be broken up.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Proposes Rule to Ban Noncompete Clauses: The FTC proposed a groundbreaking new rule to universally prohibit employers from using non-compete agreements, and is now seeking public comment on the rule. The agency estimates that this could improve workers’ earnings by $300 billion per year.