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Although the year has hardly begun, the script seems already written for a difficult year for the budget and subsequent appropriations bills. If so, we can likely expect lawmakers to resort this fall to some form of a continuing resolution (CR) and/or a post-election omnibus spending package to complete the final business of the 114th Congress.
Washington calls each presidential election year the “silly season” for good reason. It is a time when serious legislating slows as elected officials seek to make political statements at the expense of compromise in an attempt to help their own election chances and/or that of their political party’s nominee for president.
At the outset of the silly season, things looked to be rather less silly and more much substantive. New House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and his budget and appropriations leaders all said they would return House processes to “regular order,” in which legislation moves from subcommittee to full committee and to the House floor for open consideration of amendments and passage. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) echoed that sentiment. With that commitment in hand, the House and Senate Budget Committees began the process by drafting Congress’s spending blue print for the upcoming fiscal year 2017, set to begin October 1, 2016.
This optimism was understandable. After all, Congress and the White House late last year agreed to a plan setting higher defense and non-defense spending limits for this year and next, partially offset by certain program cuts.
Trouble for leadership started in January, however, when House conservatives, the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” said they want an extra $30 billion in cuts to non-defense funding. As a result of that call for cuts, budgeteers have slowed their work to a crawl as leadership decides how to overcome this divide.
Compounding matters is the fact that the Freedom Caucus is also demanding inclusion in the 12 yearly appropriations bills of several legislative riders that Democrats successfully turned back late last year as a part of the spending agreement. These changes are outside the legislative jurisdiction of the House Appropriations Committee, meaning the authorizing committees with jurisdiction will insist that the bills clear their committees, which will delay action. For their part, House Democrats will be unified in their opposition to these riders, and may attract sufficient Republican support to block the Freedom Caucus.
Thus, it seems likely that final resolution of the fiscal year 17 appropriations bills will occur during a lame duck session following the federal election in November. Congress will likely adopt a CR sometime in September to continue funding into the new fiscal year until lawmakers can move an omnibus spending bill to fully fund the federal government.
Despite the gloomy outlook for regular order this year, AFOP has written to appropriations leaders in both the House and Senate in support of workforce development, explaining the need for and success of the National Farmworkers Jobs Program.
In addition, AFOP, as a member of the Coalition to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW) – a coalition of diverse national organizations dedicated to helping people of all ages and conditions improve their skills, gain employment, and improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses in today’s rapidly restructuring global economy – wrote last week to the Appropriations Committees urging them to provide the highest possible allocation for the fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill.
In the letter, CIAW argues that, despite recent, modest funding increases, America’s education and workforce programs are still funded below their pre-recession levels. This has hurt our nation’s workers and businesses. Restoration of funding is necessary to sustain our economic competitiveness. Without meaningful investments in enhancing the skills of our workforce, skill gaps will stifle job growth and make a full economic recovery impossible.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee received an increase of 3.6 percent for fiscal year 2016 relative to its fiscal year 2015 funding level. Other subcommittees received an average increase of 6.9 percent. Accordingly, CIAW urged appropriators to ensure that the fiscal year 2017 allocation for Labor-HHS provides sufficient resources to achieve the following:
- Fund WIOA Title I employment and training programs at statutorily authorized levels so states, local areas and other partners in the public workforce system can fully realize the bipartisan vision outlined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (Opportunity Act).
- Fund adult education and literacy programs under Title II of the Opportunity Act at least at authorized levels to ensure that the 36 million Americans with low basic skills are able to strengthen their educational levels to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities.
- Fund sufficiently Wagner/Peyser Employment Services (ES) activities under Title III of the Opportunity Act to give states the resources they need to provide intensive, in-person, reemployment services.
- Fully fund the Vocational Rehabilitation program and other employment services authorized under the Opportunity Act’s Title IV for adults and students with disabilities.
- Fund Opportunity Act youth programs to train the next generation of workers so they can become productive citizens, achieve their career goals, and contribute to their local communities.
- Fund job training and employment services for older workers and veterans authorized through the Older Americans Act and other laws at no less than level funding.
- Restore funding for the Perkins basic state grant program to pre-sequester levels to support our nation’s high schools, technical centers and community colleges in developing the highly skilled workforce demanded by employers.
You can be certain that AFOP is closely watching all appropriations developments in Washington, D.C. with the goal of seeing lawmakers approve robust funding for NFJP as well as make significant investments in America’s workers’ skills and education, so critical to businesses, workers, and the economy.
Seventeen-year-old Ana Flores has worked in the tobacco fields in North Carolina with her single mother for the past five years. Loopholes in US child labor laws and regulations have allowed Ana and other juvenile workers to endure brutal working hours and conditions cutting and spearing tobacco under the charge of unsympathetic farm labor contractors. Having long experienced symptoms consistent with heat exhaustion, pesticide poisoning, or “green tobacco sickness”, Ana has vowed that her younger brother and sister would never suffer such protracted feelings of hunger, exhaustion and illness as she has in those “suffocating” fields.
Last week, AFOP Executive Director Daniel Sheehan had the pleasure of meeting Ana at the Human Rights Watch and Child Labor Coalition’s special briefing “Too Young and Too Dangerous: The Hazards of Harvesting Tobacco and Other Crops for Farmworker Children” in honor of International Human Rights Day. When questioned how she would address opposition to reforms of US labor laws, Ana exclaimed: “It’s the 21st century! Come on!! Why are these tobacco companies being allowed to exploit us? Wasn’t child labor in factories banned in the 19th century?”
U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), author of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act of 2015), Virginia State Delegate Alfonso Lopez, and U.S. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), lead sponsor of the Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act (H.R. 1848), echoed these sentiments during the briefing as each narrated their struggles to pass legislation that would lead to stronger labor protections and ban child work on tobacco farms.
Fortunately, after more than a decade of advocacy, proponents of legislation reform won a major victory this September with the passing of the EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, which bans children under the age of 18 from handling pesticides and limits individuals from re-entering fields where pesticides have been recently sprayed.
As AFOP commemorates this 67th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we also seize this moment to reiterate the urgency to eliminate all unjust labor standards in the United States and around the world that deprive children of their dignity, their childhood, their potential, and their physical and mental health. Again, we say “Come On!” Children are not small adults. They have a right to a childhood. These changes are long overdue.
Now that the budget deal finalized late last month has given them revised spending totals for fiscal year 2016, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are quietly working towards finalizing an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016. To facilitate its adoption, the Senate last week approved the House-passed Military Construction/VA appropriations bill (MilCon/VA)(H. R. 2029) to serve as the legislative vehicle for a House-Senate conference on all twelve of the yearly appropriations bills, to be reported in one omnibus package and signed into law by December 11.
MilCon/VA is the first fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill that the Senate has been able to take to the floor. Prior to its passage, Democrats had successfully filibustered several earlier attempts to bring up appropriations bills because they were backing the White House’s strategy to force Republicans to negotiate on the overall spending caps under which they originally wrote this year’s spending bills. This strategy was successful, and the budget deal recently signed into law adds a total of $50 billion to those discretionary spending caps for fiscal year 2016: $25 billion each in the defense and non-defense categories.
The Appropriations chairmen have tentatively decided on how to divide up that $50 billion among subcommittees and have told their subcommittee chairmen to work towards those targets, although the final numbers will not be nailed down until later and will not be made public until the last minute. Some bills, like the Labor-HHS-Education bill that funds the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP), were originally given allocations so low that many seriously doubted the legislation could ever go to the floor at those amounts. Indeed, some experts are now saying that, because of those initial low spending levels, those bills are likely to get a greater share of the extra money.
To that end, the Coalition to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW), a group of collegial workforce system and anti-poverty organizations to which AFOP belongs, has written in recent days to Appropriations leaders in Congress to press for adequate funding. The November 13 CIAW calls for the following:
As you work to finalize allocations to annual appropriations bills under the revised budget caps, we urge you to ensure that the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill includes sufficient funding to support key workforce and education programs at FY 2016 authorized levels. Severe cuts to vital education and workforce programs over the past few years have hurt our nation’s workers and businesses and restoration of funding is necessary to sustain our economic competitiveness. Without meaningful investments in a skilled workforce, skill gaps will stifle job growth and slow our nation’s economic recovery.
Additionally, AFOP itself has directly contacted the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee to urge continued federal support for the National Farmworker Jobs Program, specifically:
To sustain this wise and safe investment in the needs of our nation’s businesses and workforce, it is essential that Congress preserve NFJP funding at fiscal year 2015 levels, as provided in the House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill. Doing so will allow agencies to continue using their special expertise to serve effectively and efficiently this exceptionally vulnerable farmworker population. Their success in this work is integral to the nation’s food chain, its industry, and, subsequently, its pursuit of job creation and economic stability.
Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved their versions of all twelve FY 2016 appropriations bills, but the House has only passed six: Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Energy and Water Development, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, and Transportation-HUD. As for the other six bills, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) recently announced that the subcommittee chairmen in charge of each of those six bills would be holding closed-door listening sessions with all House members who wish to attend so that the chairmen can learn of planned amendments and the sentiment of rank-and-file lawmakers. The idea is to let the subcommittee chairmen know which provisions are most important to insist on (and which Senate provisions should be fought the hardest) in the upcoming House-Senate talks on those bills.
Meanwhile, the current continuing resolution (CR) expires December 11, which is the current deadline for action. A short-term CR or two may be necessary to finish up fiscal year 2016 appropriations, so we may not see things finalized here in Washington, D.C. until just lawmakers leave town for the holiday recess.
AFOP has won renewal of its Susan B. Harwood grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). AFOP’s grant is one of $10.5 million in one-year federal safety and health training grants OSHA has made to 80 nonprofit organizations across the nation for education and training programs to help high-risk workers and their employers recognize serious workplace hazards, implement injury prevention measures and understand their rights and responsibilities. View Full Press Release
The department’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program funds grants to nonprofit organizations, including community/faith-based groups, employer associations, labor unions, joint labor/management associations, colleges and universities. Target trainees include small-business employers and underserved vulnerable workers in high-hazard industries. AFOP will use this $165,000 to provide agricultural safety training and 15-hour train-the-trainer training to peer trainers in the agricultural industry. Target audience includes low-literacy and non-English speaking seasonal and migrant farmworkers and their employers. Training topics will include the heat stress, pesticide safety, and tractor safety. AFOP also plans to use existing training materials on heat stress and pesticide safety, and develop new materials for tractor safety. Training will be offered in Spanish.
PathStone Wins DOL Grant to Improve Employment Opportunities for Formerly Incarcerated Adults and Youth
DOL announced June 25 that it has awarded AFOP member PathStone-Pennsylvania a $1.3 million grant through its “Training to Work” program which assists men and women enrolled in state or local work release programs in gaining the job skills necessary for in-demand occupations as they reintegrate back into society. Training to Work incorporates the comprehensive career pathways model that align education and training services to enable workers to attain industry-recognized credentials and find jobs.
According to DOL, with access to good jobs and stable employment, adults and youth involved in criminal justice system are less likely to become repeat offenders, which strengthens local economies and boosts public safety. However, rehabilitation becomes more difficult when a criminal record impedes the search for employment. To overcome this dilemma, DOL is awarding a total of $59 million to non-profit organizations to develop or expand programs to improve the employment opportunities for adults and youth involved in the criminal justice system. The funds will support programs that offer a range of services that include case management, mentoring, education and training that leads to industry-recognized credentials.
Administrator, Wage and Hour Division
Dr. David Weil
Prior to this appointment, Dr. Weil served as professor of economics and the Peter and Deborah Wexler Professor of Management at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. He also served as co-director of the Transparency Policy Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He has written five books, three regarding labor market policy including the recently published The Fissured Workplace. He has authored numerous articles and publications in a variety of economics, public policy, management, and industrial relations journals and books, as well as numerous publications in non-academic outlets.David Weil was sworn in as the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division on May 5, 2014. Dr. Weil is an internationally recognized expert in public and labor market policy; regulatory performance; industrial and labor relations; transparency policy; and supply-chain restructuring and its effects.
“Working together, through a combination of education and enforcement, we can affect change to benefit everyone in this industry — from the workers in the fields to the growers and contractors who employ them.”
No stranger to the Department’s mission or its work, Dr. Weil has served as an adviser to the Wage and Hour Division, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Department of Labor, as well as to a number of other government agencies. He also has served as mediator and adviser in a range of labor union and labor/management settings across the globe. In addition to his work for the Department, his research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, among others.
In fiscal year 2014, the Wage and Hour Division investigations in the agriculture industry yielded violations 80 percent of the time and collected more than $4.5 million in back wages for workers. Enforcement alone, though, is not enough to improve labor law compliance and conditions for workers — direct outreach to industry employers is needed. Wage and Hour Division Administrator David Weil did just that when he met with the National Council of Agricultural Employers at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. Weil told the gathering of growers, contractors, attorneys and others that, by collaborating to address common labor violations, a fair and level playing field is possible. “Working together, through a combination of education and enforcement, we can affect change to benefit everyone in this industry — from the workers in the fields to the growers and contractors who employ them,” he said.
Source: United States Department of Labor
The Administration announced June 12 new actions and investments of more than $110 million to support workers, farmers and rural communities suffering from drought and to combat wildfires. The new funding announced builds on the more than $190 million that agencies across the federal government have invested to support drought-stricken communities so far this year. View White House Fact Sheet
According to federal officials, 35 percent of the West is facing severe to exceptional drought. In California, the mountain snowpack that supplies most of the water during the summer months is only a trace above zero. All over the West, continued drought is leading to job losses, particularly in the agricultural sector. In California alone, a recent University of California Davis study estimates 18,000 lost jobs because of drought. Officials say that these losses leave working families struggling to make ends meet.
To help assist them in this time of need, DOL announced that it will award as much as $18 million to the State of California to provide jobs for workers dislocated by the drought. Starting in July, this National Dislocated Worker Grant will employ up to 1,000 workers for up to 6 months with public and nonprofit agencies working to build drought resilience, reduce wildfire risk, and improve water efficiency. The grant, made possible by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, will focus on the areas facing the most severe impacts in California. Other states that have received a drought emergency declaration and can document drought-impacted job losses will have the option to apply for similar Dislocated Worker Grants. The program in California will also support youth in drought-impacted households as well as the long-term unemployed.