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ADVOCACY & POLICY UPDATE - January 31st, 2022

Negotiations Ongoing on Omnibus Spending Package


Washington Update

Appropriations

The February 18 deadline for congressional negotiators to pass an omnibus spending package of the annual appropriations for FY22 is fast approaching and a deal has still not been struck. Although a shutdown is unlikely, Senate Appropriations Committee members in both parties have warned negotiators that if they miss the mid-February deadline it increases the likelihood that President Biden will have to settle for a yearlong stopgap funding measure to keep the government open. The parties still disagree over how much to increase domestic nondefense social program funding compared to defense spending as well as policy riders, particularly the Hyde amendment that bans federal funding for abortion. Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Leahy (VT) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (AL) have been in talks and exchanging offers but nothing conclusive has been reached yet.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (CT) has remained close to President Biden’s requests - a 16 percent funding increase for domestic non defense programs and a 1.7 percent increase for the military - but Senate Appropriators have agreed to reduce the increase in domestic programs to 13 percent and boost the military funding by 5 percent. Republicans seem reluctant to any significant funding increase for domestic programs when there’s still a possibility of Democrats passing parts of Biden’s Build Back Better Act.

Good Jobs Initiative

On Friday, January 21, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced his agency’s Good Jobs Initiative – an effort to help improve workers’ access to quality jobs across the country by addressing discrimination and growing union membership, among other things — in a speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 90th Winter Meeting. The initiative will focus on collective bargaining; workforce development; discrimination; prevailing wages; harassment; and more in order to coordinate work already accomplished under one umbrella to promote good quality jobs. The Good Jobs Initiative focuses on empowering working people by:

  • Providing workers with easily accessible information about their rights, including the right to bargain collectively and form a union.

  • Engaging employer stakeholders as partners to improve job quality and workforce pathways to good jobs. 

  • Supporting partnerships across federal agencies, and providing technical assistance on grants, contracts and other investments intended to improve job quality. 

Another priority is to partner with the White House to aid implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law by advising on how investments can create good quality jobs.

In his speech, Secretary Walsh also discussed the so-called Great Resignation, efforts to expand entrepreneurship opportunities for low-wage workers, and labor dynamics – including explaining the underlying factors driving workers across the country to seek out better work opportunities.

Click here to watch Secretary Walsh’s speech.

Click here to learn more about the Good Jobs Initiative.

Department of Education

On Thursday, January 27, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona indicated that a priority for his agency is to develop a “strong” new regulation to make sure for-profit colleges and other career college programs don’t burden students with unaffordable debt. In a major address at the Department of Education, Secretary Cardona outlined his plans for the second year of the Biden administration, Cardona said “we need to make sure schools that focus on career programs aren’t leaving students with mountains of debt and without good job opportunities.”

Last month, the Biden administration started the process of reviving the Obama-era ‘gainful employment’ rule that sought to cut off federal funding to low-performing career college programs. The rule was eliminated by the Trump administration which argued that it unfairly targeted for-profit colleges. The Department has not yet released exact details on how it wants to rewrite the new rule but a negotiated rulemaking panel will meet next month for another discussion about how to craft the policy, which is opposed by many Republicans and the for-profit college industry.

Click here to read a transcript of the Secretary’s address.

Climate Resilience Workforce Act

On Tuesday, January 25, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA) introduced the Climate Resilience Workforce Act to protect workers who rebuild communities recovering from climate disasters. The legislation invests in building a skilled workforce that is capable of preparing for and responding to climate change while creating millions of good-paying, union jobs, and centering the communities that are disproportionately affected by the worsening climate crisis. It would create these jobs through grants to local governments, labor organizations, and community-based nonprofits and would fund existing workforce development programs through grants to train workers for employment in climate resilience sectors. The bill would also fund the development of regional, state and local action plans centered around frontline communities, and create climate resilience groups within the government. In addition, it would remove barriers that workers could face based on their immigration status or criminal history by providing a roadmap to citizenship, and prohibiting employers from inquiring about criminal history before an offer has been made.

Click here to read the press release on the bill.

H-2B Visas

On Thursday, January 27, the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor announced the availability of 20,000 H-2B visas for temporary, non-agricultural workers for the first half of FY 2022. The visas will be for employers “facing irreparable harm” and hoping to hire workers before March 31, 2022. This is the first time DHS has raised the cap in the first part of the fiscal year and follows an initial administration announcement in December that it would be taking the step. Most of the visas will only be available to workers who received H-2Bs in the last three fiscal years, but 6,500 will be reserved for nationals from Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The action is part of the Biden administration’s efforts to address ongoing labor shortages, which have been exacerbated by delays in visa processing since before the pandemic. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, almost 1.5 million applications for employment authorizations were still pending at the end of fiscal 2021. The visa expansion was applauded by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, as the hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit by the labor shortage.

Click here to read the press release.

Initial Jobless Claims

In the week ending January 22, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 260,000, a decrease of 30,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 4,000 from 286,000 to 290,000. The 4-week moving average was 247,000, an increase of 15,000 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 1,000 from 231,000 to 232,000. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.2 percent for the week ending January 15, unchanged from the previous week's unrevised rate.

Click here to access the full report.

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