Author archives: Connor Semelsberger

How Federal Coronavirus Legislation Will Impact Your Family (Part 3)

by Connor Semelsberger

April 1, 2020

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Despite many speedbumps, and several self-inflicted roadblocks—including House Democrat attempts to pass their ideological wish list—members of Congress from both sides of the aisle eventually came together to pass the most recent coronavirus relief bill. On Friday, March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is the third phase of coronavirus response legislation. This $2 trillion law is the largest relief package ever passed by Congress, demonstrating the powerful forces unleashed by the coronavirus and drastic congressional response—including from some typically fiscally conservative members. Indeed, we are facing a public health and economic emergency of the likes most of us have never seen. Here is a look at how this legislation will impact you and your family.

Direct Payments

The signature policy in the CARES Act, first proposed by the Trump administration, is a tax rebate that will be sent directly to families to help cover essential costs during this crisis. As a result of this bill, all Americans with an annual income of $75,000 or less will receive a direct payment of $1,200. For married couples with an income of $150,000 or less, this payment will double to $2,400. Families with dependent children will also receive an additional $500 per child. This policy was also adapted from a previous draft, to provide the full $1,200 rebate to those with little or no income. If you are someone who makes over the $75,000 threshold, you will still be eligible for a partial rebate. This rebate will be reduced by $5 for every $100 over the cap and will be completely phased out at incomes of $99,000 and above.

The great news is, if you have filed a previous tax return, there is no action required to receive the rebate. For Americans who have already filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS will rely on those returns to determine eligibility. If you have not filed for 2019, they will use 2018 returns. Even though the president signed the bill on Friday, the earliest families can expect to see these rebates is in three or four weeks, according to some estimates. The rebate will be sent via direct deposit if the IRS has that information from a tax return. If the IRS does not have direct deposit information, it will mail a physical check, which may take a few weeks longer to arrive.

Sending tax rebates directly to Americans is not something unique to the current situation. During the 2008 recession, President George W. Bush issued tax rebates of $600 for individuals and $1,200 for married couples to help stimulate the economy. The tax rebates in the CARES Act are not only higher than in 2008 but will be sent out much sooner due to the IRS’s ability to work through logistics faster. This policy cements and incentivizes family structure, as there is no penalty on married couples, giving them double the individual amounts. It also functions as an additional child tax credit, giving more money for each child a family has. For the average family of four, this tax rebate will equate to a $3,400 check providing immediate financial help.

For those with a greater financial strain, who may need to draw from their retirement funds, there is additional help. As done in previous emergencies, if someone withdraws no more than $100,000 from their retirement account for coronavirus-related reasons, the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty is waived. The taxes that would otherwise be collected on that withdrawal can be paid out over the next three years.

Unemployment Insurance

In addition to the rebate checks, the CARES Act provides $250 billion to expand unemployment insurance to help those who are without work because of the coronavirus outbreak. This bill creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Program that will run through the end of the year. This program will provide extended financial assistance, enabling those without work to make monthly payments for food, rent, and other necessities. The program provides unemployment benefits for those who do not usually qualify, including religious workers, the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. It also covers the first week of lost wages in states that do not cover the first week a person is unemployed and provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment for those who remain unemployed beyond the weeks provided by the state.

Another valuable expansion is that all recipients of unemployment insurance will get an additional $600 a week beginning in April and lasting for the next four months. This addition was not without controversy, as several Senate Republicans objected to this addition because of the potential for a perverse incentive for those who might make more on unemployment insurance than they would by working. Ultimately, given the negotiating dynamics and tight timeline, this provision was not fixed. Looking to pass this bill quickly, the Trump administration was willing to accept this provision, and the bill passed the Senate with unanimous support.

To view your state’s unemployment policy and apply for unemployment insurance, go to this helpful database provided by the Department of Labor.

Housing Assurance

In a public health crisis that requires families to remain quarantined in their homes, it is critical that current housing situations remain secure. For families who own a home and make mortgage payments, the CARES Act prohibits foreclosures on any federally-backed mortgages for 60 days. It allows borrowers affected by the coronavirus to push off any missed payments to the end of their mortgage with no added penalties or interest. To help families who make rent payments, it halts evictions for those renting from properties with federally-backed mortgages for 120 days. The Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided guidance for how homeowners and renters can respond to financial hardships.

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will coordinate these federal housing policies. He has been a vocal leader throughout the coronavirus outbreak, promoting faith and families. On March 20, Secretary Carson joined President Trump and Vice President Pence on an FRC conference call to pray with 800 pastors. On the call, Secretary Carson reminded the pastors that despite the uncertainty facing our country, God’s hand is guiding us.

Education Policies

The coronavirus outbreak has affected education across the country in many ways. Many schools have been directed to close their doors, replacing in-person classes with at home and online learning. Because of these changing dynamics, the CARES Act waives the federal testing requirements that students take in a typical school year. It also provides additional funding for K-12 schools to adapt to at home-learning and gives increased flexibility for how grants can be used for technology and other actions needed to adapt to the coronavirus situation. Private schools can also access these additional funds.

Many parents today also face the challenge of balancing student loan payments with other essential payments like rent and food expenses. To ease the financial burden of making student loan payments, the CARES Act suspends federal student loan payments for the next six months, and no interest will accrue on federal loans during these six months. The Department of Education has more information on which federal loans qualify and how these policies will be implemented.

The coronavirus’s impact on the public health and the economic stability of or country is something not seen for nearly a century. President Donald Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force have taken strong actions to slow the spread of the virus and protect the health of many. However, the crisis has resulted in unintended financial burdens on many families across the country. Members of Congress and the Trump administration worked together to negotiate a strong economic response that truly puts families first—a welcome sight in the typically-rancorous partisan political environment on Capitol Hill. The FRC team continues to engage members of Congress and the administration to ensure that faith, family, and freedom will remain protected even as our country responds to the coronavirus.

For more on how the coronavirus relief legislation specifically benefits churches and nonprofits, see our blog here.

How the Coronavirus Relief Bills Benefit Churches and Other Nonprofits

by Travis Weber , Connor Semelsberger

March 27, 2020

There has been much discussion recently about the “Phase 3” coronavirus relief bill, H.R. 748, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act. Passed by the Senate on March 25, passed by the House on March 27, and signed into law by President Trump on the same day, the CARES Act is designed to provide broad-based economic relief and funding in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. While some of the headline-grabbing sections of this bill address health care supplies and financial assistance for large corporations, several key provisions directly assist nonprofit organizations, including churches.

Direct Loans to Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Churches

One of the major sections of the CARES Act is the $350 billion Payment Protection Program, which creates federally-guaranteed loans (operated by the Small Business Administration (or “SBA”)) to small businesses and other entities (including nonprofit organizations) to cover eight weeks of necessary expenses. To be eligible for these loans, the entity must have fewer than 500 employees, or the number designated as “standard” for its specific field—whatever is greater. Including entities in this manner will result in many small businesses and nonprofits being covered by these loan provisions.

For purposes of these loans, the CARES Act defines an eligible nonprofit organization as “an organization that is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and that is exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of such Code.” Under IRS guidance, this generally includes churches—even if they have not registered with the IRS—as long as they meet 501(c)(3) requirements that:

  • They are organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific or other charitable purposes;
  • Net earnings do not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder;
  • No substantial part of their activity may be attempting to influence legislation; and they do not intervene in political campaigns; and
  • Their purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.

Under the CARES Act, limitations that the SBA places on loans to religious entities (including a requirement that religious entities show they are not principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counseling, or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs) are waived. As long as the church or nonprofit was operational and paying salaries and payroll taxes on February 15th, 2020, it is eligible for these loans.

Ian Speir, an attorney whose clients at Nussbaum Speir Gleason PLLC include numerous churches and nonprofits, agrees, telling us it would be constitutionally problematic to exclude churches in light of recent Supreme Court decisions, which clarify that generally available public benefits can’t exclude religious organizations who are otherwise eligible. Speir also noted his agreement that churches are included within the CARES Act’s definition of “nonprofit organizations.”

Under the CARES Act, the maximum loan an organization can receive is based on a calculation that will come out to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll, or $10 million, whichever amount is less.

If an organization uses the loan to cover payroll costs, health care benefits and premiums, employee salaries, mortgage or rent payments, or any other interest payments, the loan will be forgiven. There are also provisions for waiving borrower fees and other collateral and credit requirements, as well as automatic deferrals of any payments for six months.

There are also incentives for organizations to keep employees on the payroll. The total amount forgiven will be reduced if the employer lays off any employees or reduces employee pay more than 25 percent during the loan term. The program also encourages organizations to rehire any employee already laid off by not adding any penalties for those employees brought back onto the payroll. So, if the organization certifies with the lender that it used the loan for the appropriate expenses, the loan will act as a federal grant with no need to pay any amount back. If the organization does not use the loan for appropriate expenses, it must pay back outstanding funds with an interest rate of 4 percent.

To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, local and state authorities are restricting large gatherings, causing many churches and religious organizations not to meet in person, which can cause financial setbacks for them. We are also aware that churches and nonprofits are suffering operationally through no fault of their own, creating significant financial strain. If that is the case with your organization, you may benefit from this new loan program meant to help cover payroll and other essential costs for the next eight weeks.

We recognize not every entity may seek to avail themselves of these loans, but they are there for those who wish to do so. The goal is not increased dependence on the government, but rather temporary assistance that can serve as a lifeboat through unexpected shock. In all this, we want to ensure that churches and religious organizations are not discriminated against, but rather are treated fairly and allowed access to any programs that nonreligious organizations can participate in. The coronavirus has affected all of us—religious and nonreligious alike.

The SBA should soon be adding more helpful information to their website on how to access this relief, but in the meantime, Senator Rubio has a good FAQ sheet with information on how to apply for these loans, available here.

Incentivizing Giving to Churches and Nonprofits

Now more than ever, churches and other charitable organizations need donations in order to meet immediate needs related to the coronavirus outbreak. But simultaneously, many Americans face financial hardship due to job loss, limited working hours, or increased medical costs. Such hardships may lead to a decline in charitable donations. By creating additional tax incentives for charitable contributions, the Phase 3 coronavirus relief package seeks to encourage Americans to continue giving throughout the crisis.

Under the CARES Act, charitable contributions up to $300 can be deducted above and beyond the standard deduction on annual tax returns. This new policy will help offset the negative impact on charitable giving precipitated by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which simplified and raised the standard deduction to $12,000. This change caused many tax filers to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing their charitable contributions. During negotiations on the CARES Act, the FRC team worked alongside allied organizations to increase the total amount of tax-deductible donations. While the $300 amount was not raised, this new level may apply to tax years 2020 and beyond, leading to more incentive for charitable giving going forward.

Finally, reducing charitable giving limits for those who itemize deductions on their tax return is another positive incentive put in place by the CARES Act. The cap limiting charitable contribution deductions to 50 percent of a person’s income has been lifted for the 2020 taxable year. This policy also raises the limit on corporate deductions from 10 percent of taxable income to 25 percent and raises limits on food inventory donations from 15 percent to 25 percent.

Unemployment Insurance Assistance for Those Working for Nonprofits

In addition to the $1,200 one-time rebate checks for many Americans, the CARES Act expands unemployment insurance to help those who are without work because of the coronavirus outbreak. This bill creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Program that will run through the end of the year. The program provides unemployment benefits for those who do not usually qualify, including religious workers, the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. It also covers the first week of lost wages in states that do not cover the first week a person is unemployed.

While most churches are not subject to unemployment insurance, some nonprofits should be aware of this new policy in case they need to lay off or have already laid off employees who may claim unemployment insurance. Fortunately, there is language in this bill to help nonprofits cover some of these costs. H.R. 748 provides payments to states to reimburse nonprofits that are not a part of their state’s unemployment system, reimbursing for half of the costs the nonprofits incur to pay unemployment benefits. Unlike other employers, nonprofits have the option to pay state unemployment insurance taxes or reimburse the state only for the benefits paid to former employees who collect unemployment insurance. The U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Unemployment Insurance and individual states provide more detailed information on how unemployment insurance programs operate.

Paid Medical and Sick Leave Requirements that May Implicate Nonprofits and Churches

In addition to the Phase 3 bill being discussed here, President Donald Trump signed the Phase 2 coronavirus relief bill, H.R. 6201, on March 18th, 2020. While this bill included new paid medical and sick leave requirements designed to benefit employees but which may place requirements on nonprofits, the Phase 3 bill provides for some ways to cover these expenses. The Labor Department recently released initial guidelines for these paid medical and sick leave mandates, and will provide further regulations in April 2020.

First, H.R. 6201 expands the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) by including increased leave protection for employees who are unable to work or telework because they need to care for a child whose school or childcare facility was closed due to the coronavirus. Under this expansion, employers are not required to pay the employee during the first 10 days of leave, but the employer has to pay for remaining leave time up to $200 per day.

Separate from the FMLA change described above, the Phase 2 relief bill establishes an emergency paid sick leave program that requires employers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for employees that cannot work or telework because of the coronavirus. Employees are only entitled to this mandatory sick leave if they are: having coronavirus symptoms, have been advised to self-quarantine, subject to a government quarantine, or caring for someone with coronavirus symptoms. The total amount of paid leave is equal to two-thirds the employee’s regular wages, whether salary or hourly work, and is capped at $511 a day. Both leave requirements will expire at the end of the year.

Providing paid leave during an uncertain financial situation can be difficult for some churches and nonprofits. The cost for the above two policy changes fall on employers, but there are ways for employers to alleviate the financial burden, as described below:

  • These mandates apply only to employers with fewer than 500 employees. H.R. 6201 also provides the Secretary of Labor with the ability to exclude organizations with fewer than 50 employees if providing the paid leave would jeopardize the viability of the organization.
  • If an organization has more than 50 employees or is not excluded from the Department of Labor’s waiver for other reasons, the Phase 3 coronavirus relief bill creates advanceable credits to help cover paid leave. These credits are a dollar for dollar reimbursement for all wages paid under these new requirements. The tax credits also apply to costs incurred to maintain health insurance coverage.
  • An organization can also apply for the Payment Protection Program loans previously mentioned that are designed to help nonprofits cover payroll costs, health care benefits during periods of paid medical and sick leave, and employee salaries.

Encouraging and Aiding the Church’s Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

The CARES Act also recognizes how important churches and local community organizations are to providing food and other needs during this crisis. To increase state grants for these types of services, this bill provides an additional $1 billion for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). This grant is given to the states so they can partner with local community organizations to lower poverty, address homelessness, and provide services addressing unemployment, education, nutrition, and health. This is a grant program that churches and religious organizations can access, as the law explicitly states religious organizations must be treated the same as other nongovernmental organizations when applying for these grants. Churches in several states have partnered with community organizations or received these grants themselves to operate food banks and other key services.

Churches and other nonprofit organizations have played a critical role in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of Americans affected by the coronavirus. During Senate negotiations over how best to respond to the economic hardships our country is facing, the FRC team worked to ensure that churches and other religious groups were not left behind and were instead recognized as organizations vital to the coronavirus relief effort—and we will continue to do so going forward.

How Federal Coronavirus Legislation Will Impact Your Family (Part 2)

by Connor Semelsberger

March 23, 2020

Things are moving rapidly in our nation’s capital as our government attempts to respond to the coronavirus. On March 18th, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is the second phase of coronavirus response legislation. Here is a look at how this legislation will impact you and your family.

Testing: One of the main legislative requests, both from President Trump and Congress, was to speed up testing across the country. This bill directly addresses that need by appropriating $1.2 billion to help cover the costs of coronavirus testing. With this new funding, access to coronavirus tests will increase dramatically while costs will come down to zero. If you are experiencing symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, consult the CDC website to see testing protocols.

Food Assistance: The second piece to this bill is providing necessary food assistance to those affected most by this virus, mainly schoolchildren and senior citizens. This package includes an additional $500 million to the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which is a critical program that helps low-income women and their children access healthy and nutritious food. The bill also sets aside funding to ensure that children from low-income families can receive a meal from the school lunch program if their school is closed longer than five days due to the coronavirus. State agencies will be responsible for administering these meals to schoolchildren.

This bill also contains $200 million for senior nutrition programs, including extra money for home delivered-meals and meals at senior centers. Since the elderly are most at risk of dying from the coronavirus, it is important that the government provides specific funding to ensure that the elderly can still access food in this difficult time.

Medical and Sick Leave Expansion: The major point of contention in H.R. 6201 was how to tackle medical and sick leave requirements.

First, H.R. 6201 expanded the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to require employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide family leave for those needing time off to care for a child because their school or childcare provider closed due to the coronavirus. The legislation mandates 10 days of unpaid leave, and any remaining leave after 10 days must be paid. There are caps to limit paid leave to $200 a day, and these requirements do not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees.

Second, this legislation requires all employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to any employee who has been advised to self-quarantine, is recovering from symptoms of the coronavirus, or is caring for a family member who has symptoms of the coronavirus. Paid leave is capped at $511 a day, and this coverage includes part-time and hourly employees. To ensure that small businesses are not disproportionately affected by this mandate, the Secretary of Labor has the authority to exempt certain small businesses if this requirement would jeopardize the viability of the business. There are also tax breaks to help employers cover the cost of this paid leave requirement.

These increased sick leave requirements are prudent measures to help workers affected by the virus. However, in the original bill and throughout negotiations, Democrats made several attempts to include controversial language that radically expands access to leave benefits in a way that alters longstanding social policy and weakens the family.

The term “domestic partnership” was inserted in several places throughout this bill, including in the definition of the word “spouse,” which should be reserved strictly for marriage. The injection of this term into federal statute in this manner takes advantage of our emergency posture and is unnecessary now that marriage has been redefined by the Supreme Court to include same-sex couples. It also further erodes marriage and family, the foundation of society, by equating a “domestic partnership” with the time-tested social building block of marriage.

Domestic partnership” is also defined here to include a “committed relationship.” While we have nothing against the idea of “committed relationships” in general, the way that term was defined here—to include those 18 years or older who “share responsibility for a significant measure of each other’s common welfare”—would expand the benefits under this bill in a way that waters down the significance of the family structure and renders it virtually meaningless. The rushed nature with which these serious changes to family structure were considered for codification into federal law was further cause for concern for us.

The FRC team identified this problematic language and worked with key negotiators to make sure it was removed from the House-passed bill. However, removing this language did not sit well with the Democrat leaders, so when the bill was considered on the Senate floor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) offered an amendment to re-insert this dramatic expansion into the medical and sick leave provisions. Our team alerted key senators about the damaging effects of this amendment, and fortunately, it was defeated by a vote of 47-51. H.R. 6201 passed absent the anti-family provisions, and was signed into law by President Trump on March 18th.

The federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been swift, and for good reason. As these large spending packages continue to move through Congress, the FRC team will continue to remain vigilant and work to ensure they support faith, family, and freedom.

How Federal Coronavirus Legislation Will Impact Your Family (Part 1)

by Connor Semelsberger

March 20, 2020

As the coronavirus has spread across the nation, our federal government has responded in a number of ways to address the damage inflicted by it. Part of that response has been legislative. This series will examine the different coronavirus response bills coming out of Congress, and how FRC has worked to advance faith, family, and freedom in this process.

On March 6th, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, the first in what has become a series of measures addressing the growing coronavirus crisis. This bill’s $8.3 billion price tag might seem steep, but it is the first major step in increasing funding for critical health care services and developing a vaccine. 

The largest pot of money, $3.1 billion, was appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for testing and treatments for those affected by the virus. It also invests in vaccine development so that scientists can develop a good vaccine in a shorter amount of time. Of this funding, $100 million will be directed to Community Health Centers (CHC). CHCs are critical components of our health care system, specifically designed to care for low-income families. These centers receive federal funding that cannot go toward abortions and therefore are an excellent pro-life alternative to Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities.

H.R. 6074 also directly provides $950 million to state and local governments to help slow the spread of this virus and treat those in need. A key provision states that half of these funds must be allocated within 30 days. There can be lots of requirements that slow the use of funds transferred from the federal government to the states, so this 30-day provision is critically important. As we have seen, the ways to effectively respond to this virus change so rapidly that states and local governments must be equipped to provide the necessary health care needs to combat this virus. The more the federal government can assist and bolster local and state response, the better. Governors and mayors will have the best insight into how the coronavirus has affected their local community and how additional funding can be used to stop the spread of this virus.

Lastly, H.R. 6074 includes a provision that allows HHS Secretary Alex Azar to make any vaccine that is developed or purchased with these funds affordable for all Americans. With a coronavirus vaccine in such high demand, there is a concern that the developer could price the vaccine in such a way that it is unaffordable for the average American. This provision ensures that no matter your family’s economic situation, you will have access to this potentially life-saving treatment.

As the federal government continues to act quickly in response to the spread of the coronavirus, the FRC team will continue to track and monitor legislation related to this rapidly-shifting threat to ensure that human life and dignity are valued, the family is supported, and religious liberty is protected.

Ninth Circuit Rules in Favor of the Protect Life Rule, Again

by Patrina Mosley , Connor Semelsberger

February 25, 2020

After a months-long legal battle, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (9th Circuit) ruled 7-4 that the Protect Life Rule, which separates federal Title X Family Planning funding from abortion facilities, can go into full effect.

In July 2019, an 11-judge panel sitting en banc in the 9th Circuit reinforced a decision that the Protect Life Rule could go into effect temporarily while the merits of the case against the rule filed by Planned Parenthood and several liberal states were argued. Since this July ruling, HHS has enforced this new rule which requires physical and financial separation between clinics that receive Title X funds for family planning services and facilities that perform abortions. It also prohibits physicians at Title X family planning clinics from referring patients for abortions.

Yesterday, the 9th Circuit finally ruled that the Protect Life Rule is constitutional and can go into full effect. This victory in the historically liberal 9th Circuit is a welcome sight and was made possible in part by the great work of President Donald Trump and the U.S. Senate to confirm 51 federal appeals court judges, including two 9th Circuit judges who took part in yesterday’s ruling. However, it would not be a surprise if Planned Parenthood and the other plaintiffs decided to appeal this ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, but even at the highest court in the land there is precedent for the Protect Life Rule to be upheld. In 1991 in Rust v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court upheld similar regulations governing Title X finalized under President Ronald Reagan. The decision in Rust was a crucial part of the opinion issued by the 9th Circuit yesterday, and suggests a similarly favorable outcome should this case reach the Supreme Court.

For far too long, the people’s tax dollars have been entangled with the abortion industry. Trump’s “gag rule” only gags the dishonesty and lack of integrity that has been taking place for decades, so ultimately the court’s decision to uphold the restrictions is a win for life and a win for women.

Under the Protect Life Rule, abortion is no longer considered to be “health care” or “family planning.” Abortion-performing entities like Planned Parenthood, who have decided not to comply with the new Title X restrictions, have by default opened up more opportunities for life-affirming health care centers like federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and Obria, which provide even more services to women than Planned Parenthood.

To see a list of the Grantees who voluntarily withdrew from Title X grant awards, see our blog here.

As a result of restoring integrity to the Title X regulations, there will be an increased diversity of health care providers available for women to choose from in the federal family planning program, and the taking of innocent life will no longer be accepted as “family planning” in America.

Trump Administration Closes Out 2019 by Protecting Life and Religious Freedom

by Connor Semelsberger

December 20, 2019

Since taking office, President Trump has become known for his determination to protect life and religious freedom. Now, he has further strengthened his record with new regulatory actions. Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a finalized regulation that protects taxpayers from paying for abortion, and yesterday, the comment period closed on HHSproposed rule revising its grants process. Family Research Council has voiced support for this proposed rule because it would protect the religious freedom of adoption and foster care providers.

Towards the end of his administration, President Obama mandated that adoption providers and other organizations working with HHS must accept same-sex marriage and an individual’s professed gender identity. This mandate’s infringement on religious freedom was so severe that South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster had to ask HHS for a special waiver from this regulation so that Miracle Hill, the state’s largest provider of foster homes, could remain open.

South Carolina was far from being the only state or locality in which adoption providers encountered religious freedom hardships on account of the Obama-era regulation. Now, President Trump is seeking to remedy the existing regulation’s problems with this newly-proposed rule. Now that the comment period on the rule has closed (FRC’s comment is available here), we hope to see protections for adoption and foster care providers finalized soon.

When Obamacare was passed in 2010, it circumvented the longstanding Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funds paying for abortion. Obamacare allowed plans to cover elective abortions so long as payments for abortion coverage were collected “separately” from those paid for with federal subsidies. Not only was this policy an inadequate means of protecting taxpayers from funding abortion, but the Obama administration also issued a regulation skewing the word “separate.” As a result, many of the payments meant to be collected separately are instead collected together. Under the current regulations, a single notice about the abortion surcharge or an itemized surcharge on the bill would satisfy Obamacare’s requirement for separate abortion payments.

Because this implementation is so obscure, many Americans are unaware that they are paying for abortion coverage in their health plans. This is one reason why FRC has partnered with the Charlotte Lozier Institute to create Obamcareabortion.com, which provides much-needed transparency concerning which Obamacare plans cover elective abortion.

As 2019 comes to a close, we can be thankful we have an administration that seeks to enforce the law as written—not skew it. The newly-finalized regulation will force insurers to collect two distinct payments, one for elective abortion coverage and one for all other covered health services. This separate collection of payments will serve to alert consumers when their plan covers elective abortion, thereby allowing them to make an informed decision on whether to select a plan that covers abortion or not. The setup of Obamacare still subverts longstanding protections against taxpayer funding for abortion; therefore, it is essential that the administration enforce the separate payments provision the way Congress intended.

Whether on religious freedom or life, President Trump continues to deliver on the promises which got him elected.

Trump’s Office of Civil Rights is Becoming a Beacon of Freedom for the American People

by Connor Semelsberger

December 5, 2019

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has once again taken action to protect Americans, this time from disability discrimination. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) initiated an investigation into the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) upon learning that two small children were removed from a mother and father simply because the mother and father had a disability. The children were removed shortly after their birth based on the assumption that the parents would not have the ability to care for the children because of their disability, stripping away their parental rights.

Since the Oregon policy assumed from the children’s birth that a disability prevented the parents from caring for their children, they had to undergo psychological evaluations and participate in parenting classes to prove that they were fit to be parents. Thanks to a local county circuit court dismissing the neglect petition, the parents were finally able to be reunified with their children. If the county court had not stepped in, the Oregon Health Department would not have reunited the family.

These actions prompted OCR to convey major concerns to ODHS with how policies to prevent discrimination against parents with disabilities were being implemented in Oregon. Fortunately, the Oregon health department agreed to comply with federal disability rights laws and update its policies and procedures to create a new disability rights training plan. It is very unfortunate that these parents in Oregon had to go four years without custody of their eldest child simply because state officials decided their disability prevented them from being proper parents without any evidence to prove so. Thankfully, the Office of Civil Rights at HHS investigated this case and worked with the state of Oregon to make systemic changes to their child custody policies so that future parents with disabilities will not have their parental rights taken away.

From enforcing conscience protections for nurses who object to performing abortions, to preventing further sexual abuse at Michigan State University, this is just another example of how President Trump’s HHS has followed through with enforcing all federal anti-discrimination laws, not just ones that fit into his political agenda. An administration should not get to pick and choose which civil rights laws to enforce, but unfortunately there are many federal civil rights laws that are not prioritized and are even forgotten due to political reasons. For example, in 2011, the Obama administration issued new regulations to limit the number of federal conscience protection laws that would be enforced by HHS to only three. This is in stark contrast with a new Trump administration regulation currently pending in the courts to enforce 25 existing conscience protection laws.

Protecting Americans from all types of discrimination has been a priority of the Trump administration from the beginning. Examples like this parental rights case demonstrate that if someone who believes they have been discriminated against files a complaint with OCR, the administration will follow the appropriate civil rights laws and take all complaints seriously.

Life-Affirming Title X Recipients Will Now Receive Even More Funding Thanks in Part to Planned Parenthood

by Connor Semelsberger

October 1, 2019

The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Protect Life Rule, which separates abortion activities from federally-funded family planning clinics, is currently in effect, as further court proceedings play out in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In response to this rule, Planned Parenthood and several pro-abortion states decided that performing abortions is more important than providing family planning services to underserved women when they voluntarily withdrew from the Title X Program on August 19th.

This week, HHS announced that $33.6 million of the funding forfeited by pro-abortion grantees will now be awarded to 50 current Title X grantees that do not promote abortion as a method of family planning.

This supplemental funding will enable current grantees to better meet the family planning needs of underserved women across America. Contrary to what opponents of the Protect Life Rule claim, Title X patient coverage will not suffer. Clinics like Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Centers (RHCs), which do not promote or perform abortions, will now be able to provide high-quality and affordable family planning services to even more women and families in need than they did before.

Here is the list of Planned Parenthood entities and pro-abortion states that chose to reject millions of dollars in federal funding rather than stop referring patients for abortion:

Grantees Voluntarily Terminated

  • AK     Planned Parenthood of Great Northwest & Hawaiian Islands
  • CT     Planned Parenthood of Southern New England
  • ID     Planned Parenthood of Great Northwest & Hawaiian Islands
  • IL     Illinois Department of Health
  • IL     Planned Parenthood of Illinois
  • MA     Health Imperatives Inc.
  • MA     Massachusetts Department of Public Health
  • MD     Maryland Department of Health
  • ME     Family Planning Association of Maine Inc.
  • MN     Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota
  • NH     Planned Parenthood of Northern New England
  • NY     Public Health Solutions
  • NY     New York Department of Health
  • OH     Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio
  • OR     Oregon Health Authority
  • UT     Planned Parenthood Association of Utah
  • VT     Vermont Agency of Human Services
  • WA     Washington State Department of Health

Grantees Receiving Supplemental Award

  • AL     Alabama Department of Public Health
  • AR     Arkansas Department of Health
  • AZ     Arizona Family Health Partnership
  • CO     Colorado Department of Public Health
  • CT     Cornell Scott-Hill Health Corporation
  • DC     Unity Health Care Inc.
  • DE     Delaware State Department of Health
  • FL     Primary Care Medical Services of Poinciana Inc.
  • FL     Community Health Centers of Pinellas Inc.
  • GA     Neighborhood Improvement Project Inc.
  • GA     Family Health Centers of Georgia Inc.
  • IA     Family Planning Council of Iowa
  • ID     Idaho Department of Health & Welfare
  • IL     Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness Inc.
  • IN     Indiana Family Health Council Inc.
  • KS     Kansas Department of Health & Environment
  • KY     Kentucky Cabinet for Health & Family Services
  • MA     Action for Boston Community Development Inc.
  • MD     The Community Clinic Inc.
  • MS     Mississippi State Department of Health
  • MN     Ramsey County
  • MT     Montana Department of Public Health
  • ND     North Dakota Department of Health
  • NE     Family Planning Council of Nebraska
  • NM     New Mexico Department of Health
  • NV     Nevada Primary Care Association
  • NV     City of Carson City
  • NV     Washoe County
  • NV     Southern Nevada Health District
  • NY     The Floating Hospital Inc.
  • OH     Ohio Department of Health
  • OK     Community Health Connection Inc.
  • OK     Oklahoma Department of Health
  • PA     AccessMatters
  • PA     Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania Inc.
  • PA     Maternal and Family Health Services Inc.
  • PA     Adagio Health Inc.
  • RI     Rhode Island Department of Health
  • SC     South Carolina State Department of Health
  • SD     South Dakota Department of Health
  • TN     Tennessee Department of Health
  • TR     FSM Department of Health & Social Affairs
  • TR     Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
  • TR     Family Planning Association of Puerto Rico
  • TR     American Samoa Medical Center Authority
  • TX     Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas
  • TX     City of El Paso
  • WI     Wisconsin Department of Health Services
  • WV     West Virginia Department of HHS
  • WY     Wyoming Health Council

You may find more information about the Title X program here.

Vermont Nurse Forced to Participate in an Abortion Despite a Conscience Objection

by Connor Semelsberger

August 28, 2019

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that they are issuing a violation notice to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) because they forced a nurse to participate in an abortion despite a conscience objection.

In 2017, UVMMC (located in Burlington, Vt.) began performing abortions on site without notifying their employees. A nurse had expressed objection to assisting in abortions for many years, and was even included on a list of staff with objections. However, UVMMC purposefully assigned the nurse to assist in an abortion despite her objection to the horrific procedure. The nurse did not know that the procedure was an abortion until the nurse walked into the operating room and the abortionist said, “Don’t hate me.” The nurse then objected to assisting in the abortion. There were other staff on site who could have assisted with the abortion, but UVMMC forced the nurse to participate in the abortion or be subject to discipline that could include loss of licensure. In the end, the nurse decided to participate over fear of harsh retaliation by the health center.

Choosing between your sincerely-held religious or moral beliefs and your career is a decision that no health professional should have to make. When someone is pressured to violate their conscience or lose their livelihood, it leaves the health care provider in a situation that creates great emotional and spiritual turmoil. Even though abortion has been legal in America for over 40 years, our federal laws have fortunately protected the conscience rights of health care providers. In the 1970s, the Church Amendments were enacted to protect the conscience rights of individuals and entities that object to performing or assisting in the performance of abortion or sterilization if it would be contrary to the providers’ religious or moral convictions.

On May 9, 2018, the nurse from Vermont filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS. HHS responded by fulfilling their duties to enforce the Church Amendments and launched an investigation into the complaint, contacting UVMMC to seek cooperation, but the hospital refused to conform its policies to the law and would not produce witnesses to be interviewed about this incident. Now, UVMMC has 30 days to notify HHS that they will change their current policies that force staff to participate in abortions and take steps to remedy the effects of their past actions. If they do not comply in this timeframe, they could be barred from the $1.6 million in federal funding they received.

This is now the third conscience compliant that OCR has investigated since President Trump took office. The other complaints dealt with the states of California and Hawaii forcing pregnancy resource centers to post materials that advertise for abortion. Because of action by OCR, both complaints have been resolved. The enforcement of these conscience protections is yet another example of how the Trump administration has followed through in protecting life, conscience, and religious liberty. These enforcement actions should encourage health care providers who feel like their employer is coercing them to participate in an abortion to file a complaint with OCR, for as we see above, the Trump administration will certainly enforce our conscience laws and defend their rights.

Planned Parenthood Forgoes Title X Funding, Choosing Abortion over Women’s Healthcare

by Connor Semelsberger

August 19, 2019

Today, Planned Parenthood officially withdrew from the Title X Family Planning Program, choosing to reject millions of dollars in federal funding rather than stopping referrals for abortion. This announcement came after their fifth failed attempt to find a court that would block the Protect Life Rule from going into effect while litigation over the legality of the rule continues. Ultimately, this shows the upside-down world of Planned Parenthood, in which abortion is prioritized more than women’s care.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the Protect Life Rule to require physical separation between clinics that receive Title X federal funds for family planning services and facilities that perform abortions. It would also prohibit physicians at Title X family planning clinics from referring patients for abortions.

After five months of mudslinging, Planned Parenthood is out of legal ammunition, and the Protect Life Rule is still squeaky clean. HHS has now won before numerous federal courts – a federal district court in Maine, a panel of the 4th Circuit, and two panels in the 9th Circuit. The last straw came on Friday, when not a single judge on the infamously liberal 9th Circuit was willing to block the Protect Life Rule. In other words, Planned Parenthood’s favorite court sent their lawyers home with their tails between their legs. This decision by the 9th Circuit allows HHS to begin enforcing the Protect Life Rule while the merits of the case are litigated.

Soon after the 9th Circuit lifted the nationwide injunction blocking the Protect Life Rule, HHS announced that all grantees that seek to comply in good faith must certify by August 19th that they do not provide abortions and do not include abortion as a method of family planning.

Yet rather than comply, Planned Parenthood backed out of the family planning program altogether. With their decision to withdraw, Planned Parenthood is sacrificing $16,120,000 in direct Title X grants, in addition to the millions more they receive as subgrantees of Title X funds.

Planned Parenthood and the mainstream media are already trying to spin the Protect Life Rule as a “gag rule” that is “forcing” Planned Parenthood out of a federal program that they have participated in for 50 years, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Despite Planned Parenthood’s loud protestations, The Protect Life Rule does not ban physicians from discussing abortion with their patients. The rule does prohibit physicians from referring patients for abortions, but it permits doctors to provide non-directive counseling on the risks and benefits of all options, including abortion.

Planned Parenthood has had every opportunity to comply with the new rules regulating the Title X program. HHS provided proper guidance and would have assigned them a project officer to help them comply with the regulations. Despite all this, Planned Parenthood chose abortion over helping provide family planning services to their clients. The organization touts itself as a leading women’s health provider, but Planned Parenthood turned their back on the needs of women when they opted to forego millions of dollars to fund critical family planning services so that they could keep promoting abortions.

The Title X statute is clear, “None of the funds appropriated under this act shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” The Protect Life Rule does nothing more than fully enforce the Title X program as it was written into law. No matter what Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates say, the Title X program was never intended to subsidize an industry that finds value in ending innocent human life.

Aside from harming the many women Planned Parenthood will no longer be able to serve, the main outcome of this decision is to make clear what Planned Parenthood’s true priority is: abortion.

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