Politics Democrats push for boost in wildland firefighter pay, increased mental health benefits

23:00  27 october  2021
23:00  27 october  2021 Source:   thehill.com

Democrats’ shrinking health care ambitions

  Democrats’ shrinking health care ambitions Fixing Obamacare is near the top of Democrats’ health care priorities, but other proposals may have to be cut.Lawmakers appear likely to prioritize proposed fixes to the Affordable Care Act in the forthcoming budget reconciliation bill, but some of the party’s other ideas for expanding health coverage may end up getting cut out of the legislation.

Democrats - and select Republicans - voiced their support for a bipartisan bill that would boost wildland firefighter pay and reclassify their job titles as firefighters during a House subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

Democrats push for boost in wildland firefighter pay, increased mental health benefits © The Hill Democrats push for boost in wildland firefighter pay, increased mental health benefits

"Wildfires today are really a year-round risk burning larger areas at higher intensity, and this is only projected to increase as the climate continues to warm," said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), who chairs the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. "While Congress has acted to increase the budget for wildfire suppression, we have neglected to prioritize the well-being of those on the frontlines of these climate driven disasters - our brave, federal wildland firefighters."

At the Races: Quarterly clues

  At the Races: Quarterly clues Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call campaign team. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here. By Kate Ackley, Bridget Bowman and Stephanie Akin Recent fundraising reports, detailing how much cash candidates hauled in during the third quarter, provide […] The post At the Races: Quarterly clues appeared first on Roll Call.

Wednesday's hearing was primarily considering the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act - co-sponsored by Reps. Neguse, Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) - which would raise pay and address the classification of wildland firefighters. The subcommittee was also considering a second bill, Rep. Zoe Lofgren's Wildland Firefighter Fair Pay Act, which would waive limitations on overtime and premium pay.

The first bill - also known as "Tim's Act" - is named for Tim Hart, a smokejumper from Wyoming who lost his life in May while battling the Eicks Fire in New Mexico.

The act, introduced last week, would raise pay to at least $20 per hour, improve healthcare and mental health services, provide a week of mental health leave, ensure retirement benefits for seasonal temporary work and provide both housing stipends and tuition assistance. The legislation would also establish a federal wildland firefighter classification category, so that firefighters are distinguished from other forest technicians for their dangerous duties.

What's still in the Dem megabill? Cheat sheet on 12 big topics

  What's still in the Dem megabill? Cheat sheet on 12 big topics The child tax credit, free community college, health care provisions and more all look drastically different from what Democrats first envisioned.Promises like free community college are dead altogether. Dreams of paid leave and expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing are at risk. Originally permanent expansions of Medicaid and the Child Tax Credit will now run for as little as one year.

Cheney, who joined the hearing briefly from the road, stressed the importance of bringing wildland firefighters "the kind of commitment they need through adequate pay and salary," while ensuring "that we recognize the real danger that they face and the sacrifices that they make to keep us safe."

"These reforms have come about with years of oppressive entry level wages below minimum wage in some states," said Kelly Martin, president of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, which helped shape the bill. "Something must give. These harmful physical and mental burdens can no longer be borne by our first responder federal wildland firefighters."

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — China's president to video in for climate confab

  Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — China's president to video in for climate confab Today is Friday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup. China's president, Xi Jinping, will not be attending next week's U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in person, and instead will appear at the Glasgow summit by video link, The Guardian reported, citing the country's foreign ministry.The announcement ends weeks of speculation over whether Xi would attend, as China - the world's biggest carbon emitter - continues to face pressure from other world leaders on climate, according to The Guardian.

Lofgren's bill, introduced in June, focuses on "lifting the cap" on overtime pay accrued by these firefighters, which she said could help topple "a significant hurdle in attracting and retaining our most experienced firefighters."

2020 NCAA football head coach salaries methodology

  2020 NCAA football head coach salaries methodology USA TODAY Sports requested all forms of compensation and pay reduction for the coach at all 130 schools to determine pay packages for coaches.To determine the total pay packages of Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches for their current contract years, USA TODAY Sports requested all forms of compensation and pay reduction for the coach at all 130 schools. About 20 of the schools or athletics departments are private or are public schools covered under state law exempting them from releasing full compensation data on coaches. Schools that provided contract information were given the opportunity to review their figures.

Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), ranking member of the subcommittee, agreed with his Democratic counterparts that "federal wildland firefighters have been stretched incredibly thin" and that the mental and physical tolls "hamper retention and recruitment." Fulcher said.

"The bills before us today are serious proposals that would address necessary compensation and support services," he said.

Nonetheless, Fulcher criticized the subcommittee's leadership for failing to hold hearings on the management of public lands and forests - noting that it would be impossible to "truly address wildland firefighter wellbeing" without aggressively scaling up the "management warranted to rein in this historic wildfire crisis.

The House had referred both bills to the Committees on Oversight and Reform, Natural Resources and Agriculture, while the Natural Resources Committees then referred the bills to the subcommittee conducting the Wednesday hearing.

"It is undeniable that the primary driver of our wildland firefighter workforce challenge is the enormous buildup of hazardous fuels on too many of our federal lands, which has led to worsening catastrophic wildfire seasons," Fulcher said.

How Sinema and Manchin are blocking a new Democratic consensus on Biden bills

  How Sinema and Manchin are blocking a new Democratic consensus on Biden bills It's hard to see amid the stormy conflict with Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but the elongated Democratic standoff over President Joe Biden's economic agenda shows how far the party consensus has moved toward a more aggressive role for government than during the presidencies of Bill Clinton or even Barack Obama. © AFP/Getty Images The intractable disagreements with Manchin and Sinema about the size and scope of the economic package have produced weeks of ugly deadlock among Democrats -- and Manchin's unexpectedly harsh denunciation of the party's sweeping economic development and social safety net bill on Monday points t

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, likewise expressed his support for "paying our firefighters more," but stressed that "we should also manage our forest so that we don't have to lose another brave hero like Tim."

"We need to actively manage our forest - a reality that Democrats on this committee have gone to unbelievable lengths to deny," Westerman said.

In response to these arguments, Neguse said that the Natural Resources Committee held a hearing earlier this year on his Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act, which would help increase funding available to the Agriculture and Interior Departments to conduct broader treatments in fire prone regions. Neguse also said that President Biden's proposed bipartisan infrastructure bill includes a $50 billion investment in the country's forests.

Under the current system - which lacks any wildland firefighter classification - when officials discuss federal wildland firefighters, they generally are referring to fire response personnel, those in fire leadership positions, fire equipment operators, those who do logistic support and those who conduct vehicle and aviation operations, according to Jaelith Hall-Rivera, deputy chief of State and Private Forestry at the U.S. Forest Service.

New 2020 Autopsy: Demographics Won’t Save Democrats

  New 2020 Autopsy: Demographics Won’t Save Democrats In Nevada, high turnout made the electorate more diverse but no more Democratic, while in Wisconsin white working-class Democrats kept dying off.But Democrats do have one tailwind at their backs: demographics. America’s rising generations are less white, religious, or conservative than any of their predecessors. The biases of America’s legislative institutions may be on the GOP’s side, but time is on the Democrats.

Within that workforce, she explained, about 60 percent are permanent employees and 40 percent are temporary - numbers that the Forest Service is hoping to change to 80-20.

"The toll of longer fire seasons, more extreme fire behavior, devastating fire impacts and pay and benefits that are not competitive is becoming unsustainable for our forest service firefighters," Hall-Rivera said.

Employees of CalFire, she continued, can make up to twice the amount of what federal wildland fighters receive.

Jeff Rupert, director of the Office of Wildland Fire in the Department of the Interior, expressed similar concerns, noting that his department's "firefighters are stretched to the limit."

"Many suffer from physical and mental fatigue with no time to rest and recuperate between deployments," Rupert said. "Simply put, the pay benefits and wellness programs that are currently in place do not adequately support firefighter needs or reflect the realities of today's conditions."

Rupert attributed these conditions to climate change, which he described as "a proven driver behind many of the larger, more intense wildfires" that are devastating communities - adding that as fire seasons become longer, firefighters have been asked to start working earlier and end working later.

"The status quo is no longer a viable management option," Rupert said.

Due to the intensity and duration of today's year-round fire season, Hall-Rivera said that conducting hazardous fuel treatment and prescribed burns has become increasingly difficult, as employees who would have been assigned this work are now out on fires. To bridge this gap, she explained, the Forest Service needs more permanent firefighters, and particularly those trained in 21st century firefighting technologies.

"We absolutely need to grow our firefighting crews so that people can take time off so that they can have a work-life balance," Hall-Rivera said.

Lucas Mayfield, vice president of Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, was one Forest Service firefighter who struggled with that work-life balance. After 18 years of serving in "the most gratifying job" he's ever had, Mayfield said he retired due to "seasonal depression, anxiety and the thought that my family would be better off with a life insurance check."

"Halfway toward retirement eligibility, I left regular government service due to the toll that it was taking on me mentally," Mayfield said. "This is the legislation that would have kept me employed by the United States Forest Service, and will stop the exodus that is currently occurring while adding to the needed capacity."

Can Joe Biden Save His Presidency? .
With his domestic agenda at risk of failure and the prospect rising of a Democratic drubbing in the midterms, Biden needs to act swiftly to rescue his term.Even as Biden announced the terms last week of a $1.75 trillion framework to salvage his signature "Build Back Better" legislation—cut in half from the bill's original $3.5 trillion price tag—his approval rating was taking a beating. The latest Real Clear Politics average has just 42 percent of Americans approving of the job Biden has done so far, while 52 percent disapprove; that represents a sharp downturn over the past two months and a nearly 14-point drop overall from his post-inauguration peak of close to 56 percent.

usr: 1
This is interesting!