Members left Washington last night for a long Memorial Day Break.
House Republicans advanced a measure Tuesday that would set dramatically lower spending limits than the president’s fiscal 2014 request. During the meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, Democrats criticized Republicans for adhering to the sequestration caps in domestic programs but not for defense. The House Appropriations Committee approved, by voice vote, an amended GOP spending plan that would abide by the overall $967 billion spending cap set by sequestration but would exceed the individual suballocation for defense and cut funding for domestic programs to a greater degree. The so-called 302(b) allocations would provide $522 billion for defense-related programs despite a $498 billion discretionary budget cap for those same programs set by recent budget laws. In approving the measure, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said, “It is my sincere hope that there will soon be a budget compromise that will undo the damaging sequestration law and give us a single, common top-line allocation with the Senate.” Democrats argued that the committee should delay approving allocations until the House and Senate had reconciled their respective budget resolutions. (Some Senate Republicans continue to hold up appointing conferees to work out differences with the House. The tension among Republican senators on this issue was in full view this week as Senators McCain and Collins squared off with Senators Cruz and Lee.)
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and other Republicans are looking for Democratic allies to drive proposals that would give agencies more flexibility in handling cuts under sequestration before both chambers complete fiscal 2014 spending bills. Collins said she believes urgency is growing in both parties to reshape the automatic spending cuts before Congress completes work on next year’s appropriations. Collins and Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado on Wednesday called for an expanded version of the bipartisan patch passed in April that allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to reverse furloughs of air traffic controllers. Their new proposal (S 465) would give agencies more flexibility to move, or reprogram, funds in order to manage cuts under the two-year-old debt agreement. It was the latest in a series of efforts by lawmakers to reconfigure, terminate or replace the sequester, with lawmakers showing renewed attention to the issue as the work on the upcoming fiscal year’s appropriations bills starts to show the depth of the cutbacks. Meanwhile, Roy Blunt of Missouri, vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, has been pushing a bipartisan proposal (S 724) to give agencies across federal departments more room to maintain essential employees and exempt them from furloughs. Appropriations Chairman Mikulski (D-MD) is pushing back, however, against proposals to give agencies more leeway to reframe cuts. She called instead for an agreement to eliminate or replace the cuts.
On Wednesday, Mikulski also announced that the Military Construction-VA spending bill will be the first measure the panel considers this year. Appropriators will consider the bill the week of June 17. Mikulski has said that she will act as if the sequester will be repealed and will mark up her bills under a cap of $1.058 trillion. That puts her at odds with House Appropriations Chairman Rogers who has been sticking with the $967 billion limit that reflects the cuts demanded by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The Senate farm bill survived its first major hurdle Tuesday, as supporters beat back dueling proposals to modify the nation’s largest domestic food aid program. Senators defeated, 40-58, an amendment to the bill (S 954) from Kansas Republican Pat Roberts that would reduce spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by limiting the types of low-income benefits that would automatically qualify recipients for the food program. Moments later, the chamber rejected, 26-70, an amendment from New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand that would undo $4 billion in proposed cuts to SNAP written in the bill by limiting certain reimbursements to crop insurance providers. Tuesday’s amendments are likely just the start of a prolonged battle over the shape of the food program. Funding for SNAP remains the largest difference with the House version of the bill, which would reduce benefits by more than $20 billion.
Prominent House conservatives are insisting that any increase in the debt limit be tied to cuts or changes in entitlement programs and mandatory spending, rather than just a tax overhaul, potentially complicating GOP leadership efforts to work out an agreement with Democrats to avoid a default. It is reported that the number of lawmakers targeting mandatory spending has grown since a GOP conference to discuss the debt limit last week. Although House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has continued to say that any increase in the debt limit be matched by spending cuts or budget reforms, party leaders have been focusing more intently on a tax overhaul as a major demand for raising the debt limit. Some conservatives say that is only half the debate, however.
Posted by Matt Unrath on May 24, 2013
House appropriators began sharing proposed allocations for appropriations bills for fiscal 2014 on Thursday, with plans to seek committee approval next week. With overall base discretionary spending held to $967 billion, the allocations include $513 billion for defense and $73 billion for military construction and veterans affairs. War spending and mandatory funds would bring the defense total to $599 billion. The allocations, known as 302(b)s, provide a broad overview of spending by department without offering details, but the figures reflect prospective steep cuts in domestic discretionary programs. The Labor, Health and Human Services and Education allocations, for instance, would be reduced from the House request of $150 billion in the current fiscal year to $122 billion in the next fiscal year. Stepping back just a few years, that would be $42 billion — or 26 percent below what was enacted in fiscal 2010 for programs under the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rogers (R, Ky.) said he hoped the House and Senate “can come together on a sustainable budget compromise to replace sequestration and establish a responsible, single House and Senate top line discretionary budget number.”
Read the full post »
Posted by Matt Unrath on May 17, 2013
After a week of intensifying Senate Republican opposition to Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez, it’s unclear if Democrats can pick up the handful of GOP votes they likely will need to derail a possible filibuster. Several Republicans said Thursday that they would either oppose invoking cloture on Perez’s nomination or are still in the process of making that decision, implying they have not ruled out a filibuster entirely. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said last month that he will demand a 60-vote threshold on Perez. In October 2009, when Perez was confirmed 72-22 as the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, he received the votes of 17 Republicans, nine of whom are still in the Senate, including Alexander, Collins, Corker, Cornyn, Graham, Grassley, Hatch, Johanns and Murkowski. After two previous postponements, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is set to vote May 16 on the Perez nomination, the last step before it is sent to the Senate floor. Republicans have leveled multiple charges against Perez involving his role at the Justice Department and in prior positions. Read the full post »
Posted by Matt Unrath on May 10, 2013
This Sunday, as the country celebrates Mother’s Day, we are reminded of the challenges that so many working families face in balancing work and family responsibilities. In 2012, 80% of women workers reported difficulty managing work and family obligations according to a survey conducted by the National Partnership for Women and Families. And WOW research has demonstrated that large segments of the U.S. labor force—particularly low‐wage workers in various occupations and industries—continue to have limited access to flexible workplace options. Because women, people of color, and individuals with disabilities are more likely than white males to work in low‐wage occupations, they are less likely to work for an employer who provides workplace flexibility. This leaves the millions of women struggling to work and take care of their families in precarious situation.
Sadly, this past Wednesday, this struggle took a step closer to become even more untenable. The House passed the Workplace Family Flexibility Act (HR 1406) by a vote of 223-204 along party lines. The Workplace Family Flexibility Act, despite its name, actually aggravates workers’ family and work struggles by offering them a false choice between earned wages and paid time off. Instead of providing employees the compensation to which they are entitled for overtime work, the bill gives employers the advantage of pressuring employees to accept future time. In doing so, it undermines protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which have supported American workers for over 75 years. Read the full post »
Posted by marygatta on May 10, 2013
Both the House and Senate are in recess this week so it has been relatively quiet in Washington. Before leaving last week, both chambers passed legislation allowing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to shift funds to end the furloughs of air traffic controllers and end the delays that had been experienced when the furloughs went into effect. That prompted protest from Democrats who argued that Congress should not just mitigate the sequester’s effect on one area, and leave other even more important programs to face funding cuts. Some Democrats suggested they would seek the same treatment for social programs impacted by the sequester. But this week, House Democratic leadership said they will stick with a strategy of pressing for a full repeal of the sequester and won’t seek for domestic social programs the kind of special law that eased the impact of spending cuts on air traffic controllers. There is no expectation that serious discussions about the sequester and a broader fiscal deal will begin until lawmakers are faced with a deadline of sorts, whether it is the need to clear new appropriations to fund the federal government in September or to raise the limit on federal borrowing, which may not arise for months.
In coming months, Democrats intend to continue highlighting what they call “draconian” reductions demanded by the recent budget control laws. They may get some help from the House Appropriations Committee, since committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) will need to stick with the current spending cap of about $967 billion, while his Senate counterpart, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is seeking to use the pre-sequester figure of $1.058 trillion. Lawmakers have criticized the across-the-board cuts mandated for fiscal 2013, but Democrats on House Appropriations are not expected to vote for the deeper cuts, leaving GOP lawmakers to make decisions to scale back and even eliminate some federal programs to meet the fiscal 2014 caps. Some Democrats believe this may make the Republicans more willing to consider a larger budget deal that would ease the effect of the sequester.
Posted by Matt Unrath on May 3, 2013
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and senior committee Republicans, signaling unease with spending bills set at a sharply low level dictated by sequester, said Thursday that GOP lawmakers will face tough choices with measures that will have a “severe” impact on federal programs. Rogers is proceeding with appropriations bills under a discretionary spending level scaled by $91 billion under sequester. The recent budget-control laws would cap the federal government’s regular operating expenses at about $967 billion. That’s even less than the current level of about $984 billion. Rogers opposes the sequester and expects the cuts in spending to be replaced in a broader fiscal deal sometime later this year. Read the full post »
Posted by Matt Unrath on April 26, 2013
The DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a comprehensive report on the ‘working poor’ last week. Of the 46 million Americans who live below their respective federal poverty level, 10 million workers are defined as ‘working poor,’ meaning they worked for more than half the year but their incomes were still below the poverty line. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog breaks down the numbers, citing low wages, part-time work and low education as causes of the large number of ‘working poor.’ The analysis also points to the racial disparity and the large number of children in ‘working poor’ households. A similar report came out in January from the Working Poor Families Project, which asserted that a third of American working families qualified as working poor–or families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line (FPL).
This research certainly has some benefit and exploring the foundational issue of deteriorating job quality is critical. But let’s be honest, all of this research is built on a very weak methodological and philosophical foundation: the federal poverty line. The income thresholds are based on family food budgets in the 1950s, and have only been updated for inflation. The FPL does not account for variance in living costs across the country or family types.
Despite these significant limitations, the use of the FPL for determining program eligibility, benefit adequacy, and for this type of research is nearly ubiquitous. And it is critical to ask why, and how much it limits our understanding of the proportion and number of American families who are struggling to get by. Why not compare their incomes to the cost of living? Or the cost of raising kids and the cost of rent? Or to a certain percentage of median income in their local area?
Of course, WOW would submit that our Basic Economic Security Tables Index would well meet this need. But there are a lot of options! Our partners at the Insight Center released a report last week that reviews all of the different measures of family economic security, produced by various organizations across the country. Employing any of these measures paints a much direr picture of economic insecurity than the research which relies on the federal poverty level. Indeed, WOW’s analysis finds that nearly half of American households lack incomes that meet their basic needs, as opposed to the one-third or three percent cited in analyses by the Working Poor Families Project and Bureau of Labor Statistics, respectively.
Before the poverty line’s invention in the 1960s, policymakers and advocates advanced greater definitions of good jobs with moral arguments about how much a job should return and ensure for a family. Indeed, in 1922, Republican President Harding argued:
The wage earner’s lowest wages must be enough for comfort, enough to make his house a home, enough to insure that the struggle for existence shall not crowd out the things truly worth living for. There must be a provision for education; for recreation and a margin for saving.
We have lost this type of vocabulary and vision. The BLS report does not classify the working poor by their inability to care for their families, or save, or enjoy even a bit of recreation, and our politicians rarely affirm that workers have a right to be some compensated. It seems possible that we’ve lost this vision, at least in part, by investing far too much meaning in an archaic statistical benchmark. Relying on the federal poverty level limits any conversation of what is just compensation for American workers, and confines our sense of what is right and wrong. Its inadequacies limit our moral dialogue, our understanding of the American economy, and our ability to build political will and construct policies that respond to the major challenges the American worker faces.
Posted by Matt Unrath on April 24, 2013
Lifeline is a federal program that aims to improve telephone access for low-income Americans by providing monthly discounts on telephone service for qualifying individuals and families. This service operates to“ensure they (low income families and individuals) have the opportunities and security that telephone service affords, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and 911 services.” For survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, access to a telephone can play a key role in leaving an abuser, achieving independence and gaining economic security.
Services like Lifeline can be a crucial link for survivors to gain the support and assistance they need. Survivors in rural areas in particular can face extreme isolation, both geographically and socially. While isolation is a tactic used by some abusers to gain power and control over a survivor, geographical isolation is also a strong barrier to a survivor’s ability to seek medical attention or report an instance of abuse to law enforcement. Isolation can be an even larger barrier if survivors do not have access to a car, telephone, internet, or other methods of contacting law enforcement and support services for help. Once rural survivors leave an abuser, they face unique obstacles on their path to independence, which can become even greater without access to a telephone. For example, a telephone can be crucial to a survivor’s success when applying for jobs, as it provides the means to make inquiries about open positions and participate in phone interviews.
In spite of the increased opportunities and security that programs such as Lifeline provide, Congress has recently questioned this program and is now debating severe cutbacks to it. While Congress is discussing cutting many different federally funded assistance programs, the rhetoric surrounding the possible cutbacks to Lifeline feels different. Many have begun calling the program, which has been in existence since the Reagan administration, “Obama Phone” and implying that the program was heavily used as a tactic to mobilize low-income voters during the 2012 election.
Partisan debates should not prevent the continuation of the 28-year old Lifeline program. Cuts to this program could place telephone access out of reach to low-income Americans. For low-income survivors, especially those living in rural areas, cuts to this program can add another obstacle in their path towards achieving physical and economic security.
Posted by hbryant2013 on April 22, 2013
At our two-day Peer Learning Conference in Philadelphia, PA last week, WOW and Jobs for the Future (JFF) brought together more than 100 employers, workforce developers, federal agency leaders, and Green Jobs Innovation Fund grantees to engage in interactive discussions on ways to support and initiate workforce diversity in green industries.
The Conference began with a panel of industry leaders, who discussed the benefits of building a highly skilled and competitive workforce that reflects the diversity of their community. Our opening panel on the second day featured federal agency leaders who offered practical solutions and strategies for strengthening workforce development system collaboration around diversity goals and regulations.
Over the course of two days, conference participants had the option of attending over ten different workshop sessions that covered a wide array of topics from how to expand collaborations with women’s organizations to adding a gender and diversity lens to program practices. We also rolled out a new initiative: hands-on learning labs! These labs were opportunities to experience first-hand some of the aspects of becoming an apprentice within a green industry, and tips for program developers on appealing to diverse populations. Some of the labs included quizzes on construction terminology, applied measuring for carpentry and poster design kits.
Some of the takeaways from the Peer Learning Conference include:
- A diverse workforce begins with inclusive recruitment, retention, and placement strategies. This is most often achieved by adding a gender and diversity lens to internships, on-the-job training curricula, and other workplace opportunities for hands-on learning.
- Story banking and story marketing are some of the ways to see what works in training and how different learning methods can be leveraged to support program expansion and partnership building.
- Workforce program designs at all levels can increase the participation of women by focusing on both outcomes and approaches that are targeted to women. See our Pink to Green Toolkit for some of the techniques, which can be used to do this!
Posted by edadmercier on April 19, 2013
Between Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon and its ensuing investigation, the interception of letters containing poison addressed to the President and members of Congress, as well as the threat of suspicious packages on Capitol Hill, the highly charged gun issue being considered on the Senate floor, and finally a devastating explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant, this was a tragic, tension filled week for the nation. The week’s other high-profile legislative development was the unveiling of a comprehensive immigration reform proposal by the Senate’s bipartisan ‘Gang of 8’ on Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on the legislation on Friday and another hearing on Monday, although the over 800-page piece of legislation will not be considered by the Committee until May. The group of senators and their staffs worked over several months with outside groups to hammer out a proposal that would allow a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. Under the agreement, the border would have to be secured first through a series of triggers. There also will be considerable changes to visa laws for both low- and high-skill workers, as well as farm workers. Read the full post »
Posted by Matt Unrath on April 19, 2013