House Votes to Include Short-Term Pell, College Transparency Act in America Competes Act
America Competes Act
On Friday, February 4, the House voted 220-210 to pass the America Competes Act (HR 4521), which is intended to boost American competitiveness with China via federal support for scientific research and the semiconductor industry. The bill now heads to the Senate where changes will be required to secure the GOP votes necessary for passage, as some Republicans feel the House legislation is not tough enough on China and includes too many unrelated provisions. The Senate passed its own legislation, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S 1260), last year. Both bills expand federal scrutiny of universities’ foreign funding and target Confucius Institutes, but the House bill additionally includes an overhaul of federal apprenticeship policy, extends Pell Grant eligibility to short-term training programs, provides $9 billion over seven years for job training at community colleges and directs the federal government to create a database of college student outcomes.
House Democrats’ bill included the National Apprenticeship Act (HR 447 (117)), which would expand registered apprenticeship programs and create nearly 1 million additional apprenticeship opportunities over the next five years. The legislation also included a bipartisan amendment, modeled after The College Transparency Act and the JOBS Act, that would allow students to use Pell Grants for short-term programs and provide them with more details on higher education outcomes. The College Transparency Act would overturn the ban on student-level data collection in the Higher Education Act and create a student-level data network within the National Center for Education Statistics. Additionally, it would report on student outcomes, including enrollment, completion and post-college success across colleges and programs, and provide information disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender to identify inequities in students’ success. The amendment, which includes language similar to the JOBS Act, would allow students enrolled in career training programs as short as eight-weeks long to be eligible for Pell Grants. It is currently generally limited to programs that run for at least 15 weeks.
Other provisions in the bill would create new grant programs to expand access to postsecondary STEM pathways; expand access to elementary and secondary computer science education; and prepare graduates of HBCUs and similar institutions for jobs in the telecommunications workforce. Democrats added requirements that projects funded by the bill pay workers the prevailing wage so that jobs created by the bill will pay a decent wage. Republicans have already expressed their displeasure with these provisions.
The House is set to vote early this week on a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government past February 18 as talks between Congressional negotiators have stalled. With only two weeks left to reach a bipartisan omnibus spending deal to keep the government funded through FY22, appropriators have still not reached agreement on overall topline numbers for the package with both sides pointing fingers on who is to blame. Democrats claim Republicans are holding up progress on topline FY22 numbers while Republicans are calling on Democrats to drop ‘poison pill’ policies and meet their demands for defense spending. Agreement between defense and nondefense spending has been a major sticking point in negotiations, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has pressed for equal levels of growth on defense and nondefense spending.
Build Back Better Act
After months of failed negotiations, Congressional Democrats are becoming increasingly willing to accept whatever pieces of the Build Back Better Act Senator Joe Manchin (WV) will support in order to secure a deal. Senator Manchin has declared the package ‘dead’ and said no formal talks are in place, but has expressed willingness to use the Senate’s partisan reconciliation package to ‘fix the tax code,’ increase clean energy sources and ramp up Affordable Care Act and Medicaid programs, which suggests a potential path forward.
On Monday, January 31, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke at a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress and North America’s Building Trades Unions where he focused remarks on ensuring that workers from marginalized communities aren’t left behind as the bipartisan infrastructure package passed in November takes effect. He also touched on the Department’s Good Jobs Initiative, which a DOL effort intended to build job quality standards - such increasing wages, paid leave, registered apprenticeships, and pre-apprenticeships - into government contracting and grant making. Also on the panel was U.S. Conference of Mayors Jobs, Education, and the Workforce Committee Vice Chair Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, and President of North America’s Building Trades Unions Sean McGarvey. All panelists advocated for companies to proactively recruit from underserved communities and then to maintain strong protections for these hires. Mayor Woodfin discussed apprenticeships as an easier path forward to competitive trade industry jobs and referred to white flight in Birmingham, which has pushed high-paying jobs further away from the city as an example of factors working against underrepresented communities.
Click here to access a video of the panel.
On Wednesday, February 2, the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held the hearing “Securing High-Demand Jobs for Veterans.” The panel included Department of Veterans Affairs Education Service Program Integration Officer Ricardo Da Silva; Code Platoon Chief Development and Operations Officer Alicia Boddy; The American Legion Director of Veterans Education and Employment Joseph Sharpe; and Galvanize Executive Vice President Bill Blackstone.
Click here to access the video of the hearing.
Earlier this year, President Biden announced $1 billion in funding to support small and local meat processors, $100 million of which is available in grants aimed for colleges, universities and other educational institutions to build facilities and buy equipment used to train meat processors and butchers. The meatpacking sector heavily relies on foreign labor, mainly through H-2B visas, with nearly 40 percent of the animal slaughtering and processing workforce in the U.S. being foreign born and 70 percent non-citizens. Some universities and higher education institutions promote managerial jobs, STEM and marketing to their agriculture students while others still teach students the basics of meat sciences. Many agriculture education advocates contend it's also critical to encourage this discipline in middle and high schools through initiatives like 4H and FFA, but an agriculture teacher shortage, low teacher salaries and lack of interest in urban areas are just some of the impediments to helping students see career possibilities in the field. Some are even arguing that USDA should create a program to subsidize agriculture teacher salaries. Black women in particular showed improvement with the unemployment rate falling to 5.8% from 6.2%.
On Friday, February 4, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the January unemployment report, which showed the U.S. economy added 467,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.0%. The January report shows some signs of optimism for U.S. labor recovery, particularly for Black workers - the Black unemployment rate dipped to 6.9% from 7.1% and Black labor force participation rate rose to 62% in January - the same as white workers.
Click here to access the report.
Click here to read Secretary Walsh’s statement on the report.