Biden Signs Short-Term Funding Bill Averting Government Shutdown
On Friday, February 18, President Joe Biden officially signed the stopgap funding measure passed by the Senate Thursday night on a vote of 65-27 into law, averting a government shutdown and funding the government through March 11. Appropriations leaders on both sides of the aisle expressed optimism this short-term funding bill is the last patch Congress will need to pass before enacting a broad bipartisan package to hike federal funding through September. The three-week stopgap is the third funding punt lawmakers have taken up since the fiscal year started in October 1. On Tuesday, February 15, Senator Marsha Blackburn (TN) had lifted her hold on the short-term spending bill after Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote her a letter addressing her concern that his agency would spend government money to fund crack pipes.
The new spending bills will be bipartisan compromises but will let President Biden and Democrats controlling Congress put more of a stamp on spending priorities. They also are expected to provide the defense increases the GOP wants.
Senate HELP Hearing
On Tuesday, February 15, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held the hearing “Supporting Quality Workforce Development opportunities and Innovation to Address Barriers to Employment,” focused on breaking down the systemic barriers that stand between people and the training and opportunities they need to gain new skills, get better jobs and support their families.
At the hearing senators indicated increased funding for workforce development programs such as apprenticeships was critical to help people facing discrimination in the job market or struggling to access high-paying jobs. Senators on both sides of the aisle stressed the importance of career pathway programs, with Senator Tim Kaine (VA) touting his JOBS Act that would extend Pell Grant eligibility for specific short-term technical education programs. Hearing witnesses included USCM Workforce Development Council (WDC) Board member Nicole Sherard-Freeman, Group Executive for Jobs, Economy & Detroit at Work for the City of Detroit, who discussed how her program has helped individuals who can’t access the skills needed for the “knowledge economy,” and identified how child care costs more than rent in the city and why transportation was not effective for low-income communities.
Click here to access a video of the hearing.
The Biden Administration is close to getting $52 billion in funding from Congress for the semiconductor industry that administration officials and labor leaders feel would be a powerful tool to provide new opportunities for minorities and women in the sector, which is currently dominated by white and Asian male workers. The Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America (CHIPS) Act, which provides funding for the semiconductor subsidy package, was passed in both the House and Senate as part of the broader legislation to increase U.S. competitiveness with China. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said that both Biden and her department are "deeply and seriously committed" to using money allocated by Congress to promote diversity in semiconductor industry employment.
The House approved an amendment offered by Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (OH), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, to create an Office of Opportunity and Inclusion within the CHIPS program office and encourage semiconductor companies building new facilities to work with business owners from disadvantaged communities. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to examine how trade affects American workers, based on differences in their skills, gender, race and ethnicity, among other factors. The ITC will hold a series of roundtables in March on those topics, with the aim of delivering a final report to Tai by October. The CHIPS Act is expected to create about 42,000 new jobs once fully implemented. The legislation would funnel tens of billions of dollars of subsidies into a sector that saw its share of global semiconductor production capacity fall to 12 percent, from 37 percent in 1990, as China, Taiwan and South Korea expanded output.
Click here to access a factsheet on the America Competes Act.
EDA ARPA Good Jobs Challenge Application Reviewers
The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is seeking reviewers for its Good Jobs Challenge applications. As laid out in the Good Jobs Challenge Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), the EDA will utilize a merit review process to assess the quality of applications received for this competition. To facilitate this process, EDA will engage a diverse group of workforce development experts with at least three years of experience to participate as merit reviewers. Good Jobs Challenge awardees will be announced in Summer 2022. In addition to contracted reviewers, this group of workforce experts will participate in training and subsequently evaluate and score applications using EDA’s published merit criteria for the Good Jobs Challenge program. Non-Federal reviewers will receive reasonable compensation for successful completion of this process.
Participation as a reviewer is a serious commitment and responsibility. To be considered, please send a resume (maximum 3 pages) to Reviewers@eda.gov. EDA will contact potential participants by no later than February 25, 2022. Requests to participate as a reviewer will be reviewed on a rolling basis. If contacted for participation, individuals must indicate availability and must comply with conflict of interest and confidentiality certification prior to selection. Selected reviewers must make a commitment to be available between 4-5 weeks for approximately 15 hours/week (depending on application volume) during mid-March to April 2022. Reviewers will not be required to travel to Washington, D.C. but will be required to participate in meetings virtually. You are not eligible to be a reviewer if you or an affiliated organization are applying to this competition, if you will be involved in the preparation of a grant application for this competition, or if you would stand to benefit from an application that receives funding through this competition.
Click here to learn more about this opportunity.
Free Community College
Earlier this month, First Lady Jill Biden addressed a community college summit where she acknowledged the Biden Administration’s push to make two years of higher education free for all has been stalled. Despite the federal halt on free higher education, however, several states are introducing legislation or using pandemic relief aid to make two years of community college free for their residents. The governors of Maine and New Mexico called for free college programs in their recent state of the state addresses and last week, lawmakers in New Mexico passed legislation that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is poised to sign. The legislation will include adults returning to college and students who want to enroll part time. Maine Governor Janet Mills has proposed making community college free for high school students from the graduating classes of 2020 through 2023. The program will help connect students with good-paying jobs and help solve Maine’s long standing workforce shortage. There has been increased activity at the local level because states have grown impatient at the lack of federal movement and many have surpluses and are worried about the decline in community college enrollment since the start of the pandemic. Local officials are hoping free tuition will help reverse that trend. Michigan and Minnesota used federal pandemic relief aid to create free college programs. Michigan’s Futures for Frontliners program covers tuition for essential workers who helped keep the state afloat during the pandemic. Minnesota’s Future Together Grants support students who seek degrees in high-need areas like health care, business and education. As of last fall, 32 states and the District of Columbia had statewide “college promise” programs that offer funding and other aid to help students who complete two or more years of postsecondary education. One of the nation’s oldest programs is Tennessee Promise, which allows residents who graduate or get a GED before turning 19 to enroll full time at any of the state’s community colleges as well as select public and independent universities.
Initial Jobless Claims
In the week ending February 12, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 248,000, an increase of 23,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 2,000 from 223,000 to 225,000. The 4-week moving average was 243,250, a decrease of 10,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 500 from 253,250 to 253,750. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.2 percent for the week ending February 5, unchanged from the previous week's unrevised rate.
Click here to access the report.