Senate Appropriations DOL Budget Request
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies
The President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Labor
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
In her opening statement, Murray stressed the importance that people have a safe workplace and this issue is even more dire because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Murray mentioned that Black and Latino workplace deaths have disproportionally spiked for the past decade. She also added that the economic cost of these work-related deaths accounts for almost $250 billion a year. Murray said that President Biden’s budget proposal will increase Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) funding by $73 million as well as expand funding for the wage theft investigation department. She added that the budget will provide funding to help workers, especially workers of color and female workers who are disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Murray concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic showed us how inadequate the current labor system is, saying the budget will help modernize the system including the unemployment system to ensure timely monetary aid to families struggling from job losses while preventing unemployment insurance fraud. She added that to build a stronger economy we need to provide workers with adequate protections, fair pay, the right to form unions, and address inequality for minority workers.
Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
In his opening statement, Blunt said that unemployment was at its lowest point in decades just prior to the pandemic, saying that means that the labor market was healthy and adequate. Blunt expressed concerns about the additional $300 pandemic unemployment assistance which he said has unintentionally incentivized unemployed workers to remain unemployed. Blunt said that companies have struggled to find workers even with higher wages and sign-up bonuses. He emphasized that the budget lacked funding focused on engaging workers and getting them back to work. Blunt proposed that instead of focusing on flexible workforce training to address the differences in states’ labor market needs, the Biden administration is focusing on exclusively training for green jobs. He said that it is important to focus on investing in the workforce of the future, but it is impossible for the federal government alone to figure out what that will look like, and that we need input from local governments and communities. Blunt said he supports the increased funding for apprenticeship programs which have helped workers land higher paying jobs in high demand fields. Blunt stressed the importance of vaccination to help the U.S. economy get back on its feet.
Martin J. Walsh, Secretary, Department of Labor (DOL)
In his testimony, Walsh stated that the pandemic has pushed working people to a breaking point, saying that we need to invest more into the labor market so our economy can become more inclusive and more competitive on the global stage. Walsh said that the bipartisan infrastructure bill will rebuild communities and provide millions of jobs nationwide while the “Build Back Better” agenda will make historic investments for working people through trainings, paid family and sick leave, and worker protections. Walsh noted that the budget proposed for FY22 is a 14 percent increase from FY21 and will include investments in creating more good paying jobs, apprenticeship programs, and the modernization of the unemployment insurance system to prevent fraud. Walsh stressed that the pandemic showed us that a labor system that failed some workers will ultimately fail the whole U.S. economy, therefore we need to create an economy that incorporates all workers. Walsh concluded that we need to work together as a whole to modernize the labor system and help workers that are struggling because of the pandemic.
Question & Answer
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Murray asked how American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds will be used to hire necessary OSHA staff, and for an explanation of why they need additional funds beyond what is already allotted for in the ARP. Walsh said OSHA was severely understaffed during the pandemic and they are currently in the process of hiring more staff. He said he wants OSHA to get to a proactive point in their work, rather than reactive, but believes they are not quite there yet. He said additional funds will allow them to expand the office, whereas solely relying on the ARP will just get OSHA back to its normal pre-pandemic state. He said they plan to double the number of inspectors by the end of the administration, noting that the current 360 inspectors in the country is not enough to quickly respond to workers and the DOL in general is down about 3,000 employees compared to three years ago.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) noted the request for a $350 million increase in enforcement funding and asked if it is related to an uptick in OSHA related cases, and if so whether that warrants such an increase. Walsh said there has been an increase for OSHA with new cases, but a decrease in inspectors. He said he wants OSHA to shift away from being a “gotcha” organization and do more collaboration and proactive work.
Braun asked whether the DOL differentiates between how it looks at enforcement among big versus small businesses and if there is a distinction in how they carry out those functions. Walsh said he will get back to them with specific information, and acknowledged that “small business” does not just refer to “mom and pop” stores, but companies with under 500 employees.
Blunt asked what can be done to expand apprenticeship opportunities to include new fields like healthcare, cybersecurity, and finance. Walsh said they are looking at ways to open doors to more industries for apprenticeships.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) mentioned her plans to introduce apprenticeship legislation to be titled the Partners Act, which she said will be a collaboration between smaller businesses, technical colleges, and workforce boards to create novel apprenticeships and assist small businesses in standing up apprenticeship programs. Baldwin asked how Walsh plans to attract more diverse individuals to these programs. Walsh said those who typically want access to these programs tend to be people of color, and the Department needs to be intentional in reaching out to these communities and keep equity at the core of every effort.
Short Term Compensation Program
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked Walsh to explain how he will continue to support the work sharing program and extend it to every state in the union. Walsh said work sharing is an important and innovative tool and he wants to see it across all states. He said it is important that they continue to explore that and the Department is committed to promoting widespread state adaptation of this program.
General Budget Increase
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) asked why it is more beneficial for Americans to invest a $1.7 billion increase into DOL than into infrastructure. Walsh said he considers the budget increase to be an infrastructure investment as well as it invests in the American worker. Kennedy asked about the difference between an investment and an expenditure, to which Walsh said an investment is in the future of workers and an expenditure is building a bridge. Kennedy said spending all that money on infrastructure would create union jobs. Walsh said it would create jobs, but they will not be able to properly educate the workforce and help people be trained and retrained to do well in the future.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked about the importance of Job Corps. Walsh said Job Corps has unbelievable potential for young workers and should be a mainstay for economic development and job growth, and added that he has asked for a budget increase for Job Corps. Shaheen added that we need to address the workforce shortage by getting older individuals back into the workforce.
Baldwin asked for information on proposed changes to the formula relating to unemployment insurance. Walsh said they will be working with the states and using funds in the ARP to tackle the most acute problems the system has been facing. He highlighted four main objectives to their plan: send teams to states to provide technical assistance, create a focus on identity verification, modernize technology as states are running on incredibly integrated systems, and give a direct grant to states.
Murray asked about the low federal minimum wage and how the Wage and Hour Division will use the requested $30 million increase to address wage theft for vulnerable workers. Walsh thanked the Committee for funds in the ARP, saying it helped the Division build their forces up again, and added that the budget increase, they hope, will create more opportunities for people being shortchanged and provide the Division with the proper resources for additional investigations.
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