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ADVOCACY & POLICY UPDATE - June 7, 2021.

Unemployment Rate Falls to 5.8%


WASHINGTON UPDATE


American Jobs Plan


On Friday, June 4, House Democrats released a $547 billion surface transportation bill that would allocate funding for roads, bridges, transit and railways over the next five years. The bill is considered a critical building block for President Biden’s overall infrastructure plan —the American Jobs Plan — and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will debate and vote on it on June 9. Biden endorsed the proposal on Friday.


The legislation would authorize $343 billion for roads, bridges and transportation safety, including $32 billion for bridge funding and $4 billion in electric vehicle charging infrastructure; $109 billion for public transit; and $95 billion for passenger and freight rail. It also sets aside $14.7 billion for earmarks in local communities.


Also on Friday, President Biden met with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (WV), the lead Senate Republican negotiator on the American Jobs Plan, for another round of talks about the two party’s differing proposals. Capito offered a $50 billion increase to the GOP's latest $928 billion proposal, but Biden said the offer did not do enough to provide the kind of investment in the nation's infrastructure that he believes is necessary. The president will meet with Capito again today to continue talks.


Click here for a fact sheet on the bill.

Appropriations


With the release of President Biden’s full budget request, Congressional leaders are starting to write their 12 annual funding bills, with less than four months left until the start of FY 2022.


House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT) has said her panel will start marking up its FY 2022 measures this month, with floor passage of at least some of those bills to follow in July. The process is moving more slowly in the Senate, where Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (VT) is still determining how to handle the revival of earmarks. He has said he will split earmark funding equally among the two parties if Republican lawmakers “want in.” Only six Republican senators have indicated they’re interested, however, and the Senate Republican conference’s unenforceable ban still stands.


Democrats also plan to start work this month on approval of a joint budget resolution for FY22 — the key to harnessing budget reconciliation again to pass major legislation in the Senate on a 51-vote margin.

America Works Initiative


On Tuesday, June 1, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the America Works Initiative, which aims to address employers’ reports of a labor shortage and help solve the country’s workforce challenges. The initiative includes an expansion of the Chamber Foundation’s workforce programs as well as policy recommendations - such as doubling the cap on employment-based visas, increasing federal investment in employer-led education and training programs, and expanding access to child care. Along with the announcement of the new initiative, the Chamber also released a data analysis that found there are now half as many available workers for every open job across the country (1.4 available workers per opening) as there have been on average over the past 20 years (2.8). Ninety-one percent of state and local chambers of commerce say worker shortages are holding back their economies.


Click here to learn more about the America Works Initiative.


Click here to access the data analysis.

Unemployment Benefits


Two dozen GOP governors plan to cut federally supplemented unemployment benefits amid reports of a labor shortage — eliminating the additional $300 a week in direct aid to jobless workers and extended benefits to independent contractors. They are also dispensing with the lengthened period of time residents can receive state benefits. DOL has indicated it likely lacks the practical and legal ability to do anything about it. Nevertheless, DOL officials are meeting with lawmakers and advocacy groups who oppose the cutoffs to see what options may be available.


Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (OR) has said he will “change the law” if necessary to give the Labor Department legal authority to intervene, but any effort to overturn the states’ decisions is likely to be met with numerous lawsuits. There is also a time crunch, seeing as the benefits are slated to end in September. Meanwhile, the reduction in income leads to a reduction in spending and a recent Joint Economic Committee analysis has estimated that local economies could lose as much as $12 million.

Department of Labor


On Friday, June 4, President Joe Biden formally nominated former Wage and Hour Division Administrator David Weil, currently a professor at Brandeis University, to lead the agency again. Weil worked in the Department of Labor under President Obama from 2014 to 2017 and co-founded the Transparency Policy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Unemployment Rate


On Friday, June 4, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the May jobs report, which indicated the U.S. economy added 559,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate fell to 5.8% from 6.1% - the lowest rate since the start of the pandemic. While the May report falls below economists’ hopeful predictions of 670,000 new jobs, the increase was a healthy amount and much faster than the anemic growth seen in April. The report shows optimism as the economy continues to expand and businesses resume their normal activity amid a nationwide decline of COVID-19 infections and increases in vaccinations. Leisure and hospitality led the pickup in hiring, with 292,000 new jobs gained. Two-thirds of those gains happened at food and drinking places, despite widespread complaints of worker shortages. Pandemic-related unemployment fell sharply - with the number of people who said their employer was closed or lost business because of the pandemic fell by 1.5 million, down to 7.9 million.


There are still 7.6 million fewer people employed than there were pre-pandemic and, at the current rate, that gap isn’t estimated to close for another 13 months.


Click here to access the full report.


Click here to read Secretary Walsh’s statement on the report.


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