Government Affairs and Advocacy

July 1 Federal Update: Key Protection for Survivors and Victims of Domestic Violence

Social Current logo Social Current
July 1, 2024

On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision in United States v. Rahimi to uphold a federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8), that prevents individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing a firearm. The longstanding federal protection is essential to protecting victims and survivors of domestic violence from their abusers.

Firearms can severely escalate risk within incidences of domestic violence, posing credible threats of death which can prevent individuals from leaving abusive relationships. Perpetrators of domestic violence may use firearms to further threats and intimidation, force compliance, or as psychological abuse. However, their use is not necessarily restricted to acts of coercive control. Victims and survivors of intimate partner violence are five times more likely to die when an abusive partner has access to a gun.

The danger of firearms within incidences of domestic violence enforces the gravity of the Supreme Court’s decision. Protective orders are a key step countless advocates have worked to protect, especially as guns are weaponized to further abuse. Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion, which Justice Kagan joined, highlighted the danger communities face. In approximately one quarter of cases in which abusers have murdered an intimate partner, they have also killed an additional individual, such as a child, family member, and roommate. The Supreme Court’s decision similarly benefits law enforcement officers as a study of those killed during domestic disturbance calls revealed 95% of homicides were committed with a firearm.

The ruling upholds key precedent protecting survivors and victims. The federal statute has been associated with a 27% reduction in state-level intimate partner homicide rates. The ruling of United States v. Rahimi is supported by President Biden and his administration. In a statement issued by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, the Justice Department vowed to continue to enforce the statute and utilize all available resources to support law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and victim advocates in addressing the pervasive problem of domestic violence.

Senate Finance Committee Discusses Challenges Social Security Insurance and Social Security Disability Insurance Recipients Face Alongside Potential Reforms

On Tuesday, June 4, the Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing titled, “Work and Social Security Disability Benefits: Addressing Challenges and Creating Opportunities.” Senators and expert witnesses discussed the challenges individuals with disabilities face in seeking employment as well as saving for key life expenses without endangering the benefits Social Security affords, including health insurance. They discussed key legislation and guardrails to ensure individuals with disabilities who wish to work do not exceed their eligibility limits. A loss of benefits can be especially harmful for recipients as their disability prevents them from working full-time.

Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) opened the hearing by commending the efforts of Senators Brown (D-Ohio), Casey (D- Pa.), Lankford (R- Okla.), and Cassidy (R- La.) in introducing the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Savings Penalty Elimination Act. The Act adjusts savings allotted from $2,000 to $10,000 for individuals and from $3,000 to $20,000 for married couples, while adjusting for inflation annually. Wyden highlighted an additional safeguard he introduced alongside Sen. Cassidy, the Work Without Worry Act. The act prevents a parent’s work history from disqualifying an individual from receiving Social Security benefits. The final protection outlined in the act lay in a pledge made by Martin O’Malley, the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (SSA), to offer Americans increased time and flexibility in correcting overpayments.

Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) highlighted the challenges individuals with disabilities can face in rejoining the workforce and the complexities of work incentives. He emphasized the importance of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which created a provision permitting the Social Security Administration to create a data-sharing agreement with payroll providers. Despite the delay in its implementation, Crapo emphasized the importance of such steps to prevent or limit work-related overpayments before they occur. Alongside the reform, Crapo encouraged the SSA to update occupational data to ensure relevant careers are included in determining an individual’s eligibility for disability benefits.

William R. Morton Analyst, an Analyst in Income Security at the Congressional Research Service, provided an overview of the Social Security Administration’s disability programs, including eligibility requirements and available work incentives. He discussed potential barriers to employment, including an individual’s physical or mental condition, feeling discouraged by previous work attempts, inaccessible workplaces, and the inability to find a job for which they are qualified. Morton also spoke of barriers within the SSI and Social Security Disabilities Insurance (SSDI) programs, including the complexity of work incentives. Overpayments may further discourage employment, leading the SSA to revise its guidance on recovering and waiving overpayments to reduce the burdens beneficiaries may experience. 

Susan Wilschke is the Associate Commissioner of the Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support at the SSA. Her testimony centered on work incentives, highlighting SSA’s efforts in providing a path to jobs with self-supporting futures while removing work determents. Wilschke additionally discussed a comprehensive study conducted in 2021, examining four decades of SSA’s disability demonstration research. Notably, implementation issues and the complex nature of interventions reduced their overall effectiveness. For most demonstrations, a small number of individuals took up work programs offered through SSDI. Wilschke shared how additional funding may assist in improving service levels and reducing wait times, especially as the number of Social Security beneficiaries rise. 

Erin M. Godtland, the Assistant Director Education, Workforce, and Income Security for the United States Government Accountability Office highlighted three key disincentives to work: the loss of cash and medical benefits, overpayments, and complexity of rules surrounding work. Despite research to examine the potential impact of policy changes, a comprehensive study examining 11 demonstrations found there were “essentially never increases in [program] exits” and “rarely reductions in [disability insurance] expenditures.” Difficulty addressing key issues and modernizing have led the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to place SSA’s disability programs on its high-risk list since 2003. The challenges are exacerbated by the agency’s staffing shortages, although the SSA is working with local offices to potentially increase pay and implement initiatives to improve job satisfaction, recruitment, and retention.

Katherine Zuleger is the manager of the Wausau, Wisconsin Social Security Administration field office and the President of the Chicago Social Security Management Association. Zuleger testified on behalf of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations, a professional association comprised of those providing direct assistance to SSI and SSDI beneficiaries.  In detailing the complexities of SSI and SSDI, she recommended standardizing the treatment of work across both programs. She further suggested pursuing early intervention measures once a beneficiary is enrolled and raising the substantial gainful activity limit to encourage individuals to return to the workforce. Lastly, to ease administrative burden, Zuleger proposed simplifying SSI wage reporting through automatic updates to the agency’s system without requiring faxing or mailing pay stubs, which require manual updates.

The challenges and associated reforms discussed are essential to addressing key obstacles which individuals who receive SSI and SSDI benefits face, including earning livable wages and understanding complex, stringent work limits. The reforms discussed take vital steps to ensure recipients retain access to needed benefits, including health insurance.

The Immediate and Long-Term Challenges Facing Public School Teachers: Low Pay, Teacher Shortages, and Underfunded Public Schools: A Senate Hearing Recap

On June 20, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing titled, “The Immediate and Long-Term Challenges Facing Public School Teachers: Low Pay, Teacher Shortages, and Underfunded Public Schools.” Senators and witnesses discussed key challenges our schools are facing, from the underlying causes of teacher shortages to declining test scores.

Chairman Sanders (D-Vt.) highlighted the daily challenges teachers face due to low pay and independent costs of maintaining their classrooms, often leading educators to obtain a second, part-time job. He reiterated his commitment to fair wages through his introduction of S. 766, the Pay Teachers Act, which provides funding to support education programs and addresses teacher shortages. Sanders concluded by thanking teachers and commending their profound impact on students.

Senator Cassidy (R-La.) similarly opened his remarks by highlighting the profound influence his teachers have had on his life before expressing concern surrounding the state of public education. He stressed the decline of reading and math scores before fourth grade alongside spikes of absenteeism, despite the dramatic increase of education spending. Cassidy issued multiple recommendations, including screening for dyslexia, addressing the negative impact of Tik Tok and social media, examining the impact of school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rising cost of college.

John Arthur is a National Board Certified Teacher who has taught at a Title I public school in Utah for 11 years. He spoke of how increasingly difficult conditions have challenged the joy teaching brought him and countless of his colleagues. Arthur illustrated through his testimony how compensation, community, respect, and room to grow as professionals are the key elements teachers need to thrive.

Gemayel Keyes is a middle-years special education teacher in a Philadelphia public school and a member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, a local branch of the American Federation of Teachers. Keyes began his career as a bus attendant before becoming a paraprofessional, in both positions earning such a low salary he struggled to afford daily necessities, let alone further education. He stressed the importance of investing in teachers and paraprofessionals as well as creating pathways to assist paraprofessionals in becoming teachers.

Dr. William Kirwan, the vice-chair of Maryland’s Accountability and Implementation Board, discussed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a recently enacted PreK-12 education reform legislation. The bill outlays a multiyear, comprehensive plan which addresses all aspects of a child’s education from birth to high school completion, including the recruitment, retention, and compensation of high-quality teachers. The foundation of the Blueprint lies in five practices of the highest performing schools internationally: invest in early childhood development and education; prepare, compensate, and treat teachers like other professionals; develop a fully aligned, rigorous PreK-12 instructional system; invest heavily in students who need the most support to be successful; and require a high degree of accountability at the school level. Through his testimony, Dr. Kirwin emphasized the importance of addressing childhood poverty, pointed to the utility of community schools, and stressed professional growth and collaboration between teachers.

Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow for the American Enterprise Institute, highlighted the limitations of increasing teacher pay in addressing burnout, specifically in light of their growing responsibilities, poor preparation, and deteriorating classroom conditions. He pointed to a 2022 poll conducted by the National Education Association in which nearly half of teachers reported a desire or plan to quit because of school climate and safety. In addition to student behavior, Pondiscio described how time creating lessons can detract from time available to analyze students’ work, offer feedback, build subject matter expertise, and cultivate strong relationships with students and parents. While pay is an essential component, he reiterated the importance of examining the scope of a teacher’s role and responsibilities.

Nicole Neily, the president and founder of Parents Defending Education, expressed concern surrounding the topic of the hearing as incongruent with families’ concerns and priorities. Neily pointed to falling test scores and literacy rates as well as ruptured relationships between parents and their child’s school. She illustrated instances of curriculum differing with families’ values. Neily further stressed limited transparency, particularly in instances related to school safety capacity. While she maintained teachers deserve to be paid commensurate with their worth, she reinforced the need for a careful evaluation of educational quality and examination of how education funds are distributed and utilized. The hearing underscored the value and profound impact teachers hold while addressing the complex and multifaceted issue of teacher shortages. Low wages, unsustainable workloads, and difficult working conditions are just a few factors contributing to declining rates of teacher retention. Means of supporting teachers and students are especially important to consider as districts continue to witness high rates of absenteeism, low literacy rates, and declining test scores.

Overtime Final Rule Enjoined in Texas Ahead of Designated July 1 Implementation 

Judge Sean D. Jordan of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted Texas’ request for an injunction on Friday, June 28. The ruling temporarily prevented the U.S. Labor Department’s Overtime Final Rule from going into effect for the state of Texas, as an employer. Private sector employers, including charitable nonprofits, are excluded from the ruling. 

The Department of Labor issued the rule in April with the intent of ensuring fair compensation.  Previously, the Fair Labor Standards Act exempted certain white-collar employees from overtime pay requirements if they were salaried, met a certain pay threshold, and worked in executive, administrative, or professional capacities. The new rule automatically extends overtime eligibility to employees earning less than $58,656 a year if they work more than 40 hours a week.  

The first phase of the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect July 1, would have increased the yearly salary threshold for overtime eligibility from the current $35,568 to $43,888. Then, on Jan. 1, the salary threshold would rise again to $58,656, before updating every three years. Eventually, the rule is expected to expand time-and-a-half pay protections to four million workers who were previously ineligible.  

The court concluded the Department of Labor’s rule extends beyond their ability to define and delimit the exemption for employees in executive, administrative, or professional capacities. Judge Jordan clarified determining whether an individual works within an executive, administrative, or professional capacity depends upon their function and duties – not compensation. Moreover, the Fair Labor Standards Act does not expressly authorize the Department to utilize an objective salary level test.  

An additional lawsuit seeking a national injunction, Flint Avenue LLC v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, No. 5:24-CV-130-C (N.D. Tex.), is pending.

Subscribe to the Policy and Advocacy Radar to receive our biweekly policy roundup, which includes commentary on issues in Social Current’s federal policy agenda, opportunities to take action, and curated news and opportunities.

Social Current logo

About Social Current

Social Current is the premier partner and solutions provider to a diverse network of human and social service organizations. We offer a range of innovative solutions through COA Accreditation, consultation, impact partnerships, knowledge curation and dissemination, learning collaboratives, networking, public policy advocacy and mobilization, and trainings.