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Advocacy & Policy Update -February 8, 2021

House Passes National Apprenticeship Act

WASHINGTON UPDATE

COVID-19 Relief Legislation

On Friday, February 5, the Senate approved a budget resolution on a vote of 51-50 (with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking vote), to speed up the passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation, which was passed by the House on Wednesday, February 3. Friday morning, President Biden and Vice President Harris met with House Democratic leaders and the chairs of House committees working on the coronavirus relief package to discuss passage of the President’s expansive relief bill and pushing it through the Senate without Republican votes.

Once the House approves the Senate’s revised bill, a total of 25 committees in both chambers will work on drafting the legislation to enact Biden’s plan. The bill calls for a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans, boosts the weekly federal unemployment benefit to $400 through September, more than doubles the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and provides billions of dollars in aid to states and local governments.

The Senate adopted an amendment from Senator Joni Ernst (IA) that would ban the $15 minimum wage boost during the pandemic. Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (VT) supported the amendment, stressing that his plan would increase the minimum wage over five years, rather than immediately during the current health crisis. Despite the partisan back-and-forth and marathon voting, the session showed many instances of bipartisan work, including passage of amendments focused on ensuring undocumented immigrants don’t receive stimulus checks; in addition to measures aimed at helping restaurants during the pandemic, raising public awareness about vaccine administration, helping rural hospitals, and not hiking taxes on small businesses during the health crisis. Amid all the partisan debating, there is optimism that the two parties might be able to come together on the broader aid package.


National Apprenticeship Act

On Friday, February 5, the House voted 247-173 to pass the National Apprenticeship Act, which would expand registered apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. The legislation would codify the Employment and Training Administration's Office of Apprenticeships, direct the office to expand apprenticeships into new sectors, create a dedicated funding stream for states and increase cash flow to the system, among other things.The bill has garnered more bipartisan support than it did in the last Congress, despite its continued exclusion of Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, which many Republicans wanted in the legislation. Several GOP lawmakers still do not support the legislation, claiming it would direct funds only to Registered Apprenticeship Programs and not the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs. If passed, the legislation would “create almost 1 million apprenticeship opportunities beyond the expected growth of the system over the next five years,” per House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (VA). The bill now heads to the Senate.

Click here to read the fact sheet on the bill.

Confirmation Hearing On Thursday, February 4, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a confirmation hearing for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to become the next Secretary of Labor. During the hearing, Walsh didn’t explicitly endorse issuing a mandatory coronavirus workplace safety standard and he talked about the need to fix the unemployment insurance system and make further government investments in technology. Walsh also said that job training will be one of his top priorities. Despite his pro-union agenda, Walsh has seen broad support from the business community, including from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation. The Senate HELP Committee will vote on Walsh’s nomination, as well as that of Miguel Cardona as Secretary of Education, on Thursday, February 11.

Department of Labor

Next week, President Joe Biden is expected to make the announcement that he has chosen Secretary of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency Julie Su for the position of Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor. She is expected to accept the position. Su is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and an advocate for low-wage workers. If nominated, Su will likely face questions in her confirmation hearing regarding the massive unemployment fraud in California. If confirmed, Su would assist the Secretary in overseeing unemployment insurance, worker safety, job training, and other aspects of the economic recovery — as well as the implementation of Biden’s pro-labor agenda, which would increase workplace requirements and make it easier for workers to organize.

House Education and Labor Committee

On Thursday, February 4, the House passed a resolution to remove controversial GOP Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees, which included the House Education and Labor Committee. The full list of new Republican members who were selected by the Republican Steering Committee to serve on the Education and Labor Committee in the 117th Congress includes: Congressmen/women Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA); Burgess Owens (UT); Bob Good (VA); Lisa McClain (MI); Diana Harshbarger (TN); Mary Miller (IL); Victoria Spartz (IN); Scott Fitzgerald (WI); Madison Cawthorn (NC); and Michelle Steel (CA).

Click here to access a graphic of all committee members.

House Appropriations Committee

On Monday, January 25, House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT) named leaders for all 12 subcommittees, in addition to the Democrats who will serve on each spending panel. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN) will chair the Defense subcommittee; Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME) will lead the Interior-Environment subcommittee; Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) will chair the subcommittee that oversees funding for the State Department and other foreign aid programs; Congressman Matt Cartwright (PA) will led the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee; and DeLauro will continue to oversee the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee. Also keeping their positions are Congressman Sanford Bishop (GA) on Agriculture-FDA; Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH) on Energy-Water; Congressman Mike Quigley (IL) on Financial Services; Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA) on Homeland Security; Congressman Tim Ryan (OH) on Legislative Branch; Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL) on Military Construction-VA and Congressman David Price (NC) on Transportation-HUD. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI) has been selected to serve as vice chair of the full committee.

Click here to access a graphic of all committee members.

Department of Education

On Wednesday, February 3, the Biden Administration released the names of political appointees nominated to fill senior roles at the U.S. Department of Education. This list included Michelle Asha Cooper, who is serving as acting Assistant Secretary, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education. Cooper has worked with the Institute for Higher Education Policy, the Education Department's one-time Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, the Council of Independent Colleges, Association of American Colleges and Universities and King’s College.

Senate HELP Committee On Wednesday, February 3, the Senate passed an organizing resolution, which establishes how to share power in a Senate split 50-50, officially transferring control of the committee to Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) spent two weeks arguing over how to structure Senate rules, technically leaving Republicans in control of committees. This means that Senator Patty Murray (WA) is officially the Chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee with Senator Richard Burr (NC) as ranking member. Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) has left the HELP Committee and freshmen senators John Hickenlooper (CO) and Ben Ray Lujan (NM) have joined. Unemployment Rate The labor force participation dipped lower to 61.4% last week, and 406,000 workers left the labor force. However, a more encompassing measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time positions for economic reasons also fell, dropping to 11.1% from 11.7% in December. While the unemployment rate fell, a main reason for that is because more Americans left the labor force. While the return of some jobs and lower unemployment rate are good news, the report shows the labor market remains stymied and just over 10 million people remain unemployed, 4.3 million more than a year ago. The report seems to indicate progress has significantly slowed since summer and economists say we likely will not see strong gains until the economy fully reopens. Vaccines offer a glimmer of hope that the economy can run at full speed in the second half of the year.

Click here to access the full report.

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