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Lawmakers Restart Appropriations Work

Washington Update


There are just four months left in the fiscal year. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has already indicated there will be ‘hard work and incredible cooperation’ as both parties try to finalize a dozen annual spending bills. Top Republican Appropriator Senator Susan Collins (ME) said she expects FY24 markups to begin before the July 4th holiday. There is also talk of a possible emergency supplemental spending bill, something Collins has expressed support for, to boost defense funding beyond the caps set under the debt limit package. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT) said she doesn’t intend to pass an emergency spending bill that goes beyond the FY24 caps set in the debt limit package. Senator Chris Coons (DE), who chairs the State-Foreign Operations spending panel, noted that emergency spending packages for wars and natural disasters are the norm, not the exception.

The House is now resuming markups for FY24 spending bills after House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger (TX) had postponed them late last month in order to give Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy time to finalize the debt ceiling agreement.

Debt Ceiling

On Friday, June 2, President Joe Biden addressed the nation following the bipartisan agreement to raise the debt ceiling - commending leaders from both parties and warning what could have occurred had a deal not been reached. Under the agreement, there is a two-year suspension of the debt ceiling, which caps the total amount of money the government is allowed to borrow. Suspending that cap, which is now set at $31.4 trillion, allows the government to keep borrowing and pay its bills on time. Top Republicans from both chambers have expressed aggravation over the topline defense funding - saying it is insufficient, and they have already talked about an emergency supplemental package to increase aid to Ukraine and bolster U.S. defenses to counter threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Also, as part of the deal, President Biden agreed to new work requirements for certain recipients of food stamps and the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program. Even with the debt limit deal signed, partisan fighting over Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) continues. Last week, the House Agriculture Committee held its first nutrition farm bill hearing where many conservatives pushed for even stricter work requirements than included in the debt ceiling package, while Democrats have been clear they are finished discussing additional restrictions on federal food aid.

The debt ceiling deal also rescinds $1 billion of the Biden Administration’s $2 billion initiative to revamp state unemployment insurance systems. This leaves about $500 million in the program, after accounting for money already issued. Many GOP lawmakers are skeptical of the program’s goal of addressing inequities in the UI system. The Department of Labor has been actively working to disseminate the $2 billion — releasing a $653 round of grants last week — however, the clawback now puts those grants into question.

Su Hearing

On Wednesday, June 7, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a DOL oversight hearing with acting Department of Labor Secretary Julie Su. During the hearing, GOP committee members clashed with Su on issues from child labor to her own schedule. The House has no formal role in the confirmation process, but GOP members took the opportunity to confront Su and accuse her of trying to schedule the appearance as late as possible. Republicans also addressed issues they have with Department operations, asking about independent contractors, rules, timelines and more. Ahead of the hearing, the AFL-CIO sent a letter to senators urging them to confirm Su. On Wednesday, more than 70 House Democrats signed a statement calling for the Senate to act ‘without delay.’

In his final weeks as secretary, Marty Walsh met with at least a half-dozen GOP House members on Su’s nomination, and acting Secretary Su has met with several senators from both parties in the months since her nomination - including a phone call with Senator Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) and a meeting with Jon Tester (MT), two key moderates who could decide her fate.

Click here to access the letter from House Democrats.

H-2B Visas

On Thursday, June 8, Senate Republicans sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su about the length of time it takes to process applications for H-2B work visas. Senators Bill Cassidy (LA), ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee Susan Collins (ME), and Shelley Moore Capito (WV) raised concerns to Su after reports that the agency failed to process H-2B guest worker visas on time and in accordance with its own regulations. The letter includes a list of questions to DOL about the program - including whether work-from-home policies are a contributing factor. Earlier this year, Senate Democrats raised the same issue as well as House Republicans about the H-2A program, which is reserved for agricultural workers.

Click here to read the full letter.

Pre-K and Child Care Caucus

Representatives Joaquin Castro (TX), Suzanne Bonamici (OR), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), and Ashley Hinson (IA) are co-chairing the newly relaunched bipartisan Pre-K and Child Care Caucus. Long thought of as a bipartisan issue, early childhood education is an issue Hinson said lawmakers should continue to support to find innovative solutions for, such as cost-sharing programs that split the cost of child care among public dollars, employers and employees. Additionally, Hinson and Bonamici are sponsoring a bicameral bill, the After-Hours Child Care Act, that would expand the use of the Child Care and Development Block Grant to include child care for nontraditional work hours. The bill also authorizes a grant program to establish or expand workplace child care sites and support child care staffing. Grantees would match 25 percent of the federal share.

On Wednesday, May 31, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held the hearing “Solving the Child Care Crisis: Meeting the Needs of Working Families and Child Care Workers” to discuss this pressing issue.

Click here to read the full press release on the caucus.

Click here to read the full press release on the After Hours Child Care Act.

Click here to access a video of the Senate HELP hearing.

House Committee Hearing

On Wednesday, June 14, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development will hold the hearing “Postsecondary Innovation: Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow's Opportunities.” Hearing witnesses include: Dr. Tim Renick, Executive Director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University; Keith Shoates, Chief Operating Officer at the Student Freedom Initiative; Dr. Lori Carrell, Chancellor of the University of Minnesota Rochester and Co-Director of the College-in-3 Initiative; and Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon, President of Virginia Peninsula Community College.

Click here to learn more about the hearing.

Department of Education Grant Opportunities

On Thursday, June 8, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced the availability of more than $368 million in new grant opportunities through the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program and the Teacher and School Leader (TSL) Incentive program that advance investments in teacher recruitment and retention. These investments particularly prioritize promoting educator diversity and career advancement and leadership opportunities for effective educators tied to increased compensation. As part of the Department’s Raise the Bar efforts, it is working to eliminate the educator shortage at every public school, and support the educator workforce. The grant opportunities are part of that effort and specifically invest in teacher leadership and career advancement, improved compensation, and teacher diversity—three key strategies the Department is utilizing to eliminate educator shortages.

Click here to learn more about the grants.

EDA Build to Scale Program

On Thursday, June 1, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced it is now accepting applications for its $50 million Build to Scale (B2S) program to support projects that strengthen equitable ecosystems and increase access to capital for innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups. The program builds regional economies by supporting scalable startup ecosystems through entrepreneurial support organizations, as well as helps communities and regions grow technology-driven businesses; create high-skill, high-wage jobs; and build the industries of the future. The deadline to apply is July 28, 2023. The FY 2023 Build to Scale program is comprised of two competitions – the Venture Challenge and the Capital Challenge. The Venture Challenge supports programs that enable high-growth technology entrepreneurship and foster inclusive access to proven entrepreneurship support models. The Capital Challenge increases access to capital in communities where risk capital is in short supply by providing operational support for early-stage investment funds, networks, and training programs that focus on both traditional and hybrid equity-based financing.

Click here to learn more about the B2S programs and grants.

Workforce Development Tour

On Friday, June 9, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to North Carolina to discuss career and workforce training programs for students in Rocky Mount Community College. The Bidens also delivered remarks on supporting military and veteran families and caregivers at Fort Liberty.

Click here to access video of the remarks.

Unemployment Rate

On Friday, June 2, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the May unemployment report, which showed the U.S. economy added 339,000 jobs last month - topping prior estimates of 195,000. This is the 14th-straight month that job creation came in about what economists anticipated and the largest monthly increase since January. Despite the higher-than-expected number, the unemployment rate jumped from 3.4% last month to 3.7% and the average work week declined to a three-year low - some signs the labor market might be softening. This mixed messaging is a conundrum for the Federal Reserve, which is wrestling with the decision to pause its interest rate increases this month or continue to hike rates to cool the economy and inflation.

Click here to access the report.

Click here to read the Department of Labor statement on the May report.

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