January 12th will mark the official first day of the 87th Texas Legislative Session, but this will not be a typical legislative session. The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, devastating families and wreaking havoc on communities across Texas and the nation. The national and state responses have fallen short, and the damage continues.
Until the new vaccines are widely distributed, hospitalization rates go down and the threat is reduced, we can expect limited access to the Capitol. The legislative session may start and pause for extended periods. The pandemic should not be an excuse, however, for limited public input, transparency or accountability of our legislative leaders. Every Texan, along with 72 organizations, has signed onto this letter drafted by our friends at Texans Care for Children.
The Texas Senate and House will adopt their rules for session, and we should demand transparency and an opportunity for robust public input that is safe and follows the medical advice of experts.
Beyond the process, Every Texan is advocating for substantive policy reforms that address the needs of our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis have disproportionately harmed Texas communities of color and underscored existing inequities. Black and Latinx communities are dealing with higher rates of layoffs than their white neighbors, and immigrant families are being systemically excluded from state and federal COVID-19 relief efforts. Here is a summary of how the Texas Legislature can begin the process of addressing the impacts of the pandemic both short-term and long-term.
- Use the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund), an estimated $9 billion in resources, as it was intended to avoid cuts to education, health care and other services essential to the livelihood of Texans in times like these.
- Accept Medicaid expansion for 2.2 million uninsured Texans, removing barriers to children’s coverage, food security and unemployment benefits.
- Do not reauthorize the massive school property tax giveaway program, Chapter 313, that gives corporations unnecessary tax breaks. Use that revenue instead for public schools, health care and higher education.
- Reform unemployment insurance to make sure benefits are adequate and that the insurance system does not put unnecessary hurdles in Texans’ way.
- Expand affordable access to college by protecting and increasing investment in need-based financial aid programs.
You can see our full list of legislative priorities here. While all our priorities are important, using the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) and addressing healthcare coverage need the most attention early on in session, because the budget is a must-pass bill and the pandemic has exposed the need to address our worst-in-the-nation health coverage.
Use the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund) for Health and Education Needs
With the next legislative session likely to stop and start unpredictably, there is a good chance the budget may be the only significant legislation that members prioritize, and the only must-pass bill of session. It is imperative that the budget reflects the needs of Texans struggling in this pandemic, especially if other priorities get postponed to future sessions. When it comes to the health and education of millions of Texans, the Legislature should not put lives and learning at risk when better alternatives exist.
Texas Health Care Needs Starts with a Real Discussion About Medicaid Expansion
After the budget, addressing healthcare needs in the midst of this pandemic becomes the next highest priority. The high number of health coverage bills introduced by Texas lawmakers during the first hours of bill pre-filing at the Legislature is the latest sign that health coverage will be a top issue during the upcoming session, according to health policy analysts. Many Republican and Democratic officials in Texas are speaking out about the need to reduce the uninsured rate this session because Texans can no longer afford to lead the nation in the uninsured rates and implementing Medicaid expansion would draw down $10 billion or more per year in federal health funding. The funding would help the economy recover from the current recession. Now is the time to get this done. Please join the movement at SickOfItTX.
Get Briefed in 2(ish) Minutes
How do we use public policy to ensure Texas’ hard-working families are able to thrive — even in a pandemic? Check out our Point of Order video series to hear our policy experts explain how public policy can expand equity and opportunity in Texas during the 87th Texas Legislative Session.