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Russia, Health Care, Debt Ceiling on Summer Agenda for Texans in Congress

WASHINGTON — After a sour spring, Congress is prepping for the summertime blues.

With the August recess just a few weeks away, there is one question on everyone’s mind on Capitol Hill: Can Republicans move any major legislation this summer? Or if not that, can they even move basic, must-pass bills to keep the government functioning normally?

That the answers to those questions are not clear shows how things have changed for the Republican-controlled Congress since the high hopes of January.

Internal GOP divisions and general chaos coming from the White House have translated to meager legislative accomplishments so far.

Republicans are increasingly backing off timelines to wrap up any of the items high on their agenda by August.

A rolling stream of evidence about the 2016 Russian cyberattacks and connections to allies of President Donald Trump continues to undermine public relations efforts to focus on other issues. So much so, that Republicans who used to roll their eyes at Democratic concerns are now beginning to wonder what the future holds on the Russian front.

Why does any of this matter, given that we are barely six months into the new administration? Because sooner rather than later, the pressure of the 2018 midterms is likely to further paralyze Congress.

And then there is the unknown: Members are increasingly bracing for more curve balls coming from an unpredictable White House.

Nonetheless, five issues remain the most likely to dominate Congress’ summer. Texans are well-positioned to potentially play key roles in all of them:

Russia Investigations

While members spent the week back home, Congressional subpoenas were flying around Washington. Upcoming hearings are likely to only increase attention on the investigations. And it all starts Thursday with former FBI Director James Comey set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The notion that a fired FBI director is postured to reveal possibly incriminating evidence against a sitting president of the United States has members of both parties stunned and concerned.

There are likely to be plenty of other hearings on both sides of the U.S. Capitol, even as special counsel Robert Mueller continues his own Justice Department investigation.

Texans to watch: Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, and Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, all serve on their respective chambers’ intelligence committees and will participate in hearings. But no one will be closer to the storm than U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Midland, who is the Republican leader of the House-side investigation.

Raising the debt ceiling

Ever since Republicans took control of the U.S. House in 2011, the concept of increasing the government’s ability to borrow money has become a game of chicken between the two parties. Most economists say a default would be economically catastrophic, but such brinksmanship can translate into the opposition exacting major demands.

Congress was bracing for a fall fight. But some Trump administration officials suggest the need to raise the limit could come sooner and are urging Congress to address the issue before they let out for the August recess.

Texans to watch: House Freedom Caucus members like Republican U.S. Reps Louie Gohmert of Tyler and Randy Weber of Friendswood, combined with Texas Democrats who tend to fall in line behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, will undoubtedly squeeze the House Republican leadership from opposite directions amid debt limit negotiations.

Health care overhaul

Cornyn predicted Republicans will pass a repeal and replace of former President Obama’s 2010 health law by the August recess. Few others on Capitol Hill are that optimistic.

The House passed a bill in early March that has drawn strong opposition from the Senate, which is expected to craft its own version of the legislation.

Previous efforts to pass an overhaul unleashed tumult within the House GOP and ate up most of the winter and spring.

Republicans are worried about more town hall backlash over the August recess over health care. Such scenes dogged Democrats in the summer of 2009 amid their push for a health care overhaul during Obama’s first term.

Texans to watch: Both Cornyn and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz are participating in a Senate working group to hash out health care policy. Cornyn, as the Senate majority whip, will be the lead vote-counter on any legislation; and Cruz is influential among House conservatives. Additionally, U.S. Reps. Kevin Brady of the Woodlands and Michael Burgess of Lewisville, have committee assignments that make them key players on this issue. Freedom Caucus members like Gohmert and Weber could be pivotal votes if the House and Senate ever aim to reconcile different versions of a bill. If that came to pass, Hurd, who is expected to face a tough re-election race in 2018, will also be one to watch amid the vote-counting efforts of GOP House leaders.

Tax code overhaul

Rewriting the tax code is so difficult that it is typically addressed only once in a generation. Hopes were high at the dawn of the Trump administration. But a tax code overhaul was tied to the success of passing of a health care overhaul — which hasn’t happened yet.

Initially, the hope was to move tax legislation by the August recess. House leaders have scaled back those ambitions and are now hoping it will pass by the end of the calendar year.

Texans to watch: Brady, the U.S. House Ways and Means chairman, can be spotted regularly racing through the capitol to meetings and television interviews to champion this cause.

Financial Regulation Overhaul

There is, possibly, no bill House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarlinghas worked harder to move than an overhaul of Dodd-Frank, a Democratic-led legislation to rewrite Wall Street regulations in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

He’ll likely have some success in the next week, as the U.S. House is expected to vote on a Hensarling-crafted bill.

But like so many other conservative dreams, this one could wind up choked in the U.S. Senate. Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky downplayed expectations the legislation would make it through his chamber, although he said he supported the concept. Several GOP congressional sources agreed with this assessment.

Texans to watch: Hensarling.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

O’Rourke: President Trump’s Withdrawal from Paris Agreement ‘One of the Worst Executive Actions to Date”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; below is a statement posted to Facebook by El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, regarding his feelings on the President’s decision.

Today, President Trump announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change—one of his worst executive actions to date. In 2015, the U.S. agreed to modestly curb greenhouse gas emissions and provide funding to help developing countries adopt renewable energy at a faster rate.

The U.S. pulling out of the agreement signals to the rest of the world that we don’t intend to reach our emissions targets and that we will not be making those contributions.

The practical effects of leaving the agreement are dire. The primary goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep worldwide average temperatures from rising more than 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the pre-industrial era. Right now, we’re already almost halfway there and we’ve seen storms that have destroyed billions worth of property, shrinking ice caps, and droughts that have resulted in political instability and even wars.

Most importantly for El Paso and the state of Texas, it’s estimated that by 2050, the number of extremely hot days in Texas (temperatures exceeding 95 degrees) will double, resulting in an estimated 4,500 additional heat-related deaths. Additionally, it’s estimated that there will be a $650 million per year increase in storm-related losses along the Texas coast.

By taking the U.S. out of this agreement, all of these problems stand an increased chance of getting worse.

Just as important, President Trump is sending a signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is no longer interested in being a world leader. Any progress we make economically, diplomatically, and militarily all depends on our credibility as a nation. By pulling out of the agreement, we are signaling to traditional and potential partners that they cannot depend on Americans to stick with them during difficult times.

Leaving the agreement also means we’re going to let others lead on what the world’s renewable energy future will be. Doing so puts our domestic wind turbine and solar panel manufacturers and other renewable energy providers at a disadvantage relative to countries that are participating in the Paris Agreement. This is a mistake at a time when our state is home to nearly a quarter of the country’s wind power jobs. Texas is a leader in renewable energy production, and El Paso is poised to play an important role. Diminishing the U.S. role will have direct effects on our local economy.

Removing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement makes us one of only three countries, along with Syria and Nicaragua, to not join—even North Korea is part of the agreement. Historically, the U.S. has put more carbon into the atmosphere than any other country, so we must be a leader in curbing worldwide emissions.

I’m hopeful that the rest of the world continues to make progress on this front, and that we can revisit and rejoin the effort once we have a Congress and a President willing to lead because we have much to gain, and even more to lose.

Video: Cornyn – President’s Budget Prioritizes National Security, Fiscal Discipline

Tuesday on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) discussed President Trump’s proposed budget.  Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below:

“I think it’s worth pointing out several aspects of the President’s budget that are encouraging and a welcome change from the previous Administration. For one, it balances in ten years.”

“What a welcome relief from a White House budget anchored around overspending and growing the size of government, which we’ve seen for the last eight years. The other thing that the President’s budget does is it reverses the defense sequester. This is the artificial cap we put on defense spending.”

“One thing that President Trump has done, which I find a welcome sign, is that he wants to properly resource our military, so we can better defend against increasing threats around the world.”

“The President’s budget reflects a better understanding of the threat environment ahead, and for that I am grateful.”

2,000 Stories from Survivors of Rape, Abuse Displayed at US-Mexico Border

US and Mexican anti-violence advocates rallied at the border on Saturday against US immigration policies that create high rates of violence against undocumented immigrants.

On Trump’ 100th day in office, 2,000 stories from survivors of rape and abuse from the Monument Quilt spanned the US-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, TX.  Blocks of red fabric created 7-story tall letters to spell “NOT ALONE” and “NO ESTÁS SOLX”.

“Xenophobia closes the possibility for people to talk about their trauma. As immigrants, we are invisible,” said Lorena Kourousias, Director of Life Enrichment Services at VIP Mujeres. “We are not the worst people like Trump says, we come here to escape violence and /or poverty, and we face violence in coming here. We are trying to improve our lives. The Monument Quilt offers the possibility to see the real face of immigration and to change the narrative.”

According to International Amnesty Mexico 70% of undocumented immigrant women experience sexual assault while migrating to the United States. Immigrant women are three to six times more likely to experience domestic violence than U.S.-born women, according to immigrant rights group We Belong Together.

The Monument Quilt Project was organized by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, La Casa Mandarina and Violence Intervention Program, Inc (VIP Mujeres), in partnership with UTEP- Women and Gender Studies Program, Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, Mujeres en Movimiento, Make the Road NY, Feminismo Consciente and Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ).

Photos courtesy The Monument Quilt Project

HOPE Statement: SB4 Threatens Border Communities

Today’s actions by the Texas House of Representatives to advance SB4 have injected renewed fear into local Texas communities and should serve as a wakeup call for all Americans. SB4 represents an extreme example of “Show Me Your Papers” legislation that targets migrants, families and local communities by deputizing local law enforcement to feed an immoral deportation and immigrant detention machine.

SB4 will not make Texas or the border safer. Playing politics and coercing local police to serve as immigration enforcement officers is a direct threat to the community-based policing efforts that are vital to public safety in Texas neighborhoods. Trust between local law enforcement officers and the community is critical.

unnamed (51)When the community can count on law enforcement without the fear of being detained, deported and separated from families, we are all safer. We need to support local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to ensure community safety and protect us all from violence and danger, regardless of immigration status.

We cannot allow today’s actions to tempt us to despair and inaction. In the face efforts to divide us, we must work for a greater solidarity capable of building bridges and overcoming fear.

In the face of actions to criminalize migrants and militarize our communities, we must work for a revolution of tenderness and a country where the human dignity of all, documented and undocumented, is respected and promoted.

***

Hope Border Institute (HBI) is an independent grassroots community organization working in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez-Las Cruces region, that seeks to bring the perspective of Catholic social teaching to bear on the social realities unique to our region. Through a robust program of research, reflection, leadership development, advocacy and action, HBI develops and aligns the border’s community leaders engaged in the work of justice from across the Mexico-US border to deepen solidarity across borders and transform our region.

Trump Agrees Not to Terminate NAFTA

WASHINGTON — After a trial balloon went over poorly with Congress, President Donald Trump told foreign leaders Wednesday night that he wouldn’t end the North American Free Trade Agreement just yet.

Late Wednesday night, the White House released a statement backing off of the notion after the president spoke with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.

“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” the statement said.

Texans in Congress had reacted with concern on Wednesday after reports surfaced that Trump was considering taking the first steps of possibly unwinding the agreement. Trump administration officials were reportedly considering issuing an executive order to signal the United States’ intent to withdraw from the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, according to several news organizations.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, represents a district that shares the border with Mexico and was the most overtly unhappy member of the Texas delegation.

“He can do the same thing with his NAFTA order that he can do with his wall,” Vela said, alluding to a previous missive to Trump encouraging the future president to “take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

“Killing NAFTA is going to kill the Texas economy,” he added. “It would be devastating.”

The highest-ranking Texas Republican in Congress, U.S. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, encouraged caution.

“I think we’d better be careful about unintended consequences,” said Cornyn, according to Politico.

Interviews with Capitol Hill staffers Wednesday afternoon showed Democrats are increasingly frustrated with how issues like NAFTA spring forward from the administration, even as Congress is attempting to address how to fund the government, resurrect a health care overhaul and rewrite the tax code.

Texas Republicans, who tend to support free trade, were similarly uncomfortable, but it it could prove unlikely that the rank-and-file House member who believes in free trade would oppose one of Trump’s signature campaign policies. Back in August, a number of Texas GOP members defended the trade agreement in statements to the Texas Tribune.

As reports surfaced about the possible executive order, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz‘s office pointed to comments the Texas Republican has previously made saying there is “no doubt that Texas benefits enormously from international trade,” including with Canada and Mexico. Cruz has expressed support for renegotiating NAFTA under Trump — he has said doing so is long overdue — but not abandoning it altogether.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

State Senator Jose Rodríguez’s Issues Statement on SB 4

Austin – Senator José Rodríguez, Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, released the following statement regarding SB 4, which coerces local police to carry out federal immigration law:

SB 4 is an attack on Hispanics and the immigrant community. In a sad irony, a bill purportedly about public safety and the rule of law makes us less safe and erodes confidence in the justice system by disregarding constitutional due process protections and separation of powers.

Some facts about SB 4:

It was made clear when the bill passed the Senate, and again made clear in debate today in the House, that there are significant legal issues with SB 4.

  • El Paso County is under a settlement entered in federal court in 2006 that prohibits the county from enforcing civil immigration law. The settlement resulted from traffic checkpoints set up by the El Paso Sheriff’s Department in which it was alleged deputies conducted unlawful searches, seizures and detentions. Should SB 4 become law in its current form, it’s virtually certain to result in a costly lawsuit for El Paso County, which must choose between a federal settlement agreement and compliance with this new state law.
  • Texas cannot eliminate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure:

o   An ICE request to county jails to detain a person must be based on probable cause that the person is violating immigration law.

o   But these detainers are not issued by an independent judge who reviews them for probable cause. They are issued by immigration officers.

o   Federal courts in other jurisdictions have already held that a county’s compliance with voluntary immigration detainers violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

  • SB4 coerces local governments:

o   Creates a separate criminal offense under state law for failure to comply with the bill, making local officials personally liable for performance of each and every law officer working in their jurisdiction.

o   Subjects local entities to Attorney General lawsuits originating from public complaints that may have no merit, eroding community relations and creating unnecessary expense.

o   Singles out the enforcement authority of University Campus police to target students that may be DREAMers or DACA recipients.

Border Wall Plans Spur Effort to help Texas Landowners with Eminent Domain

As the Trump administration sets its sights on building a barrier on the country’s southern border, a group of Texas attorneys aims to help border residents ensure they are properly compensated for whatever land the government seizes.

A group of Texas attorneys launched a campaign Wednesday to help ensure that property owners on the state’s southern border are properly compensated should the Trump administration seize their lands for a border wall.

The Texas Civil Rights Project says it will focus its efforts on lower-income residents who don’t have the skills or knowledge needed to fight through the complicated eminent domain process that’s looming as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security moves ahead with plans for the wall’s construction.

“Under the rules governing federal condemnation actions, a landowner who disagrees with the amount offered by the government has the right to request a jury trial,” Efrén Olivares, the Civil Rights Project’s racial and economic justice director, said in a prepared statement. “Our team at the Texas Civil Rights Project is ready to represent landowners, as well as train and deploy legal volunteers to ensure that all landowners have the representation and respect they deserve.”

In his Jan. 25 executive order on border security and immigration, President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to begin planning a physical barrier on the country’s border with Mexico.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has since conceded that a coast-to-coast barrier isn’t likely to happen and that efforts would instead focus on a combination of technology and a physical wall. But a draft Homeland Security Department memo leaked last week stated that the Texas’ Rio Grande Valley area would probably be home to nearly three dozen miles of new construction once the building phase begins.

Facing off with the federal government won’t be a new challenge for the area. In 2006, the federal Secure Fence Act mandated that the government build about 700 miles of a steel barrier on the border. In response, hundreds of lawsuits were filed as Rio Grande Valley property owners sought proper compensation for pieces of land that varied in size from less than once acre to several hundred, according to documents provided by the Texas Civil Rights Project. Several dozen of those suits remain pending. The plaintiffs include private landowners, estate managers and local irrigation districts.

Read related Tribune coverage: 

  • The Trump administration may not be able to move mountains — literally — in its quest to build a coast-to-coast wall along the nation’s southern border. But that doesn’t mean the White House won’t review some longstanding treaties that have stymied past administrations.
  • At the U.S.-Mexico border, scientists say existing fencing is hurting endangered wildlife and warn that a continuous wall could devastate many species.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Rep Hurd Issues Statement on Military Strikes in Syria

In response to Thursday night’s strikes against an air base in Syria, U.S Representative Will Hurd issued the following statement:

“Bashar al-Assad showed a disregard for human life and longstanding norms against chemical weapons with his barbaric attack this week. Last night’s strikes were a limited, proportional, and retaliatory response directly to these actions.

I support the President for taking strong, decisive action, and I commend our troops for their professionalism in carrying out these strikes. The United States sent a signal to the world that the we will no longer stand idly by as Assad carries out atrocities against the Syrian people.

I continue to believe that a peaceful, prosperous Syria can only exist with a stable government in place which does not include Bashar al-Assad.

We must continue to work with our allies, partners, and the international community to achieve this goal.”

Cornyn: Brutality in Syria Can’t Be Ignored

Friday, on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) reacted to Thursday night’s airstrikes in Syria. Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below and video of his remarks can be found here.

“I’d like to start briefly by mentioning the horrific chemical attack on innocent civilians in Syria earlier this week. It was nothing short of evil, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Administration in condemning this brutality. Again we see Bashar al-Assad crossing a line, a line drawn and then ignored by the Obama Administration. The United States and the world community simply can’t stand idly while Syria continues crimes against humanity.”

“That’s why last night the Administration responded quickly and proportionately, and I commend the President and his national security team for acting decisively and sending a clear message to Assad and our allies.”

“I stand ready to work with the President and his Administration on a unified strategy to defeat Assad’s barbarism and to work toward greater stability in Syria and throughout the region.”   

Backers See ‘Medicare for All’ as Cure for U.S. Health Care

HOUSTON – With Republicans trying to resuscitate their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, the debate in Texas and elsewhere over how to fix the health-care system is heating up again.

While partisan divides remain deep, Glenn Pearson, former president of Physicians for a National Health Program, said the failure of the American Health Care Act presents a unique opportunity for President Trump to make good on campaign promises for more coverage and better benefits by moving beyond for-profit models.

“America is the only wealthy country in the world that has a free market, for-profit system,” Pearson said. “It treats health care as a commodity, like buying a TV. In every other country, health care is a human right.”

Pearson said the Medicare for All Act, introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would provide coverage to all Americans by expanding Medicare, the single-payer program already in place for people age 65 and older. Critics have said the move would be too costly, but research has shown most U.S. households would pay less than the current system of insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

Pearson, while not a fan of the ill-fated “Trumpcare” proposal, noted that the Affordable Care Act still leaves many without coverage and channels billions of taxpayer dollars to private insurance companies. He said a majority of Americans, including Republicans, support a system where money currently going to administrative overhead and private profits is spent on patient care instead.

“There would be no deductibles, no co-insurance; there would be very small co-pays,” he said, “and so nobody would ever go bankrupt because they became ill.”

Even though more people have insurance since the rollout of the ACA, Pearson said, nearly 2 million Americans go bankrupt each year because of health-care expenses. A National Day of Action calling for universal health care is set for April 8, the first day of the congressional recess.

The Conyers bill’s text is online at congress.gov, and an analysis is at pnhp.org.

Senator Cornyn Issues Statement on Administration Repealing Obama EPA Regulations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) released the following statement after President Trump signed an executive order repealing the job-killing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations put in place by the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan:

“For eight years the Obama Administration’s draconian regulatory regime hindered job growth and hit Texans at the pump and on their utility bills.

Rolling back the Obama Administration’s unnecessary, job-killing, and oppressive EPA regulations is another promise kept by this President.” 

“I’m glad President Trump continues to prioritize job creation over catering to environmental activists, and I look forward to working with him to harness our state’s energy potential for the benefit of the entire nation.”

Study: Undocumented Immigrants Pay More in Taxes Than Wealthy

DENVER – The richest one percent of U.S. taxpayers pay less in taxes, just five percent of their income, than undocumented immigrants who pay eight percent. That’s according to a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Meg Wiehe, the director of programs for the group, says the findings show widespread claims that immigrants are a drain on taxpayers are simply not true.

“Like you and like me and like everyone else, they pay sales and excise taxes when they purchase goods and services, they pay property taxes directly on their homes or indirectly as renters, and many undocumented immigrants are also paying income taxes,” she explained.

Colorado currently relies on sales, excise and property taxes for nearly 70 percent of its revenues each year. The study found undocumented immigrants currently add $140 million to Colorado’s tax coffers annually, and if they were given a pathway to legal status, they would contribute an additional $33 million.

Nationally, undocumented immigrants contribute nearly $12 billion in taxes.

In his recent joint address to Congress, President Trump claimed immigrants cost American taxpayers billions of dollars a year. Wiehe notes even though immigrants pay taxes that support safety-net programs, they are not eligible for benefits that other low- and moderate-income families depend on.

“Undocumented immigrants are actually generally excluded from most public benefits,” she said. “Many are paying into Social Security but will not receive the benefits from Social Security. They’re not eligible for Medicaid, they’re not eligible for food stamps.”

A 2013 Social Security Administration report found undocumented workers paid $13 billion in Social Security taxes.

Researchers at City University of New York estimate mass deportation of immigrants would lead to a loss of nearly $5 trillion in U.S. economic output over the next decade.

Author: Eric Galatas – Public News Service

Trump Budget Cuts Would hit Texas Education Service Programs Hard

President Trump’s proposed budget would cut about $14 million from Texas programs designed to provide tutoring, mentorship and counseling for low-income students.

Mary Ellen Isaacs looks at the Trump Administration’s proposed budget and sees no federally-funded tutors for the 2,000 Austin students who pass through the Literacy First program for extra reading help each year.

Isaacs, the director of the program, placed about 106 AmeriCorps volunteers to tutor in low-income Austin schools this year, and received about $12,900 per full-time volunteer. Next year, she might not see any of that money.

The Trump Administration Thursday released its proposed federal budget, which would eliminate funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that deploys volunteers across the country to staff service programs in underserved communities.

Among the major programs the Corporation for National and Community Service runs is AmeriCorps, which funds more than 80,000 volunteers nationwide every year.

The funding cuts might not slash those programs entirely in Texas, but advocates say it will make it more difficult to provide their tutoring, mentorship and other education services for Texas students.

“There are options,” Isaacs said. But without the money to support volunteers, “all of the programs would need to rethink and tweak how the program is delivered. We’d be hard pressed to serve the same number of kids, at least immediately.”

Texas received $14 million in federal AmeriCorps grants in 2016-17, which funds 2,414 AmeriCorps volunteers to work with 28 schools and non-profits at 500 sites. The organizations are required to raise their own share of money to support the program; in 2016-17 they raised about $31 million in local match funding.

Most of the money goes to education programs, said Elizabeth Darling, CEO of OneStar Foundation, which administers AmeriCorps in Texas.

“Overall, I feel that it would definitely reduce many of those programs,” she said. “It shouldn’t eliminate them because we’re never the sole funder.”

For Communities in Schools in Central Texas, that means less capacity to provide mentorship, community resources, and counseling services year round in six school districts.

The federal money gives students help “to get them across the finish line. Schools don’t have resources to work one-on-one, or small group,” said Suki Steinhauser, CEO of the organization.

Trump’s preliminary budget eliminates funding for 19 other agencies, and cuts funding from many departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department, Agriculture Department and Education Department.

“Consistent with the President’s approach to move the nation toward fiscal responsibility, the budget eliminates and reduces hundreds of programs and focuses funding to redefine the proper role of the federal government,” reads a document of budgetary priorities the White House said in a written statement released Thursday.

Author:  ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

NM’s Udall Defends, Celebrates Free Press in U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall took President Donald Trump to task on the U.S. Senate floor Wednesday over his treatment of reporters and news organizations.

Udall shared some of the history of journalism with fellow senators, and spoke about why a free press is crucial to a functioning democracy. His statement came during Sunshine Week, an annual observance of America’s open government and free press.

Stewart Mizell III is an executive with USA Today and president of the American Society of News Editors, the group that founded Sunshine Week.

“It’s a week-long celebration of a true right that Americans have to get access to meetings, to records, to data – at every level of government,” Mizell said of the event.

He said his group is happy that Sen. Udall decided to add his voice to, “thousands of Americans who believe that open government is their right.”

In his presentation, Sen. Udall warned that a government that shrouds itself in secrecy can become an oligarchy.

Mizell explained that the purpose of Sunshine Week is to recognize the role and importance of the news media in getting information to the public about the workings of government. This year’s theme is, “It’s Your Right to Know.”

“It’s a critical element of the constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances,” Mizell said. “You don’t have an opportunity to know what to petition unless you understand what government is doing, and exercise your right as a citizen to find out.”

He said the point of Sunshine Week is also to reinforce the need for a well-informed population, and that’s what prompted the American Society of News Editors to establish Sunshine Week in 2005.

Author: Brett McPherson, Public News Service – NM

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