Senate Appropriations Labor HHS Subcommittee DOL Hearing
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Examining Proposed Budget Estimates and Justification for FY23 For the Department of Labor
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
- Senator Braun touched on the independent contractor issue, in the context of employment classification of small business owners.
- Questions covered a wide range of topics including inflation, the gig economy, childcare, service contracts, youth career pathways, manufacturing, mining, and worker visas.
Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
In her opening statement, Murray stressed the importance of protecting workers and their rights, raising wages, ensuring decent and safe working conditions, and making high quality workforce opportunities more available. She noted that increased funding will help provide resources for the unemployment insurance system which needs to be a reliable lifeline for Americans. She said that increased resources for the Bureau of International Labor will protect workers at home when foreign companies do not play by the rules. She highlighted that the proposed budget seeks to continue a legacy of making meaningful bipartisan investments and that these investments will provide accountability to businesses and put money back in workers pockets where it belongs. She committed to working towards lowering inflation and bringing down costs for everyday essentials such as groceries and gasoline and seeking to level the playing field for all workers.
Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
In his opening statement, Blunt expressed concern with inflation in relation to wages, insisting that prudence is necessary now to prioritize only the most important programs within the Department of Labor (DOL). In relation, Blunt expressed surprise that the Department was doubling down on new program funding previously denied in the Fiscal Year 2022 hearing. He used the $100 million Power Plus Initiative as an example.
The Honorable Martin J. Walsh, Secretary, Department of Labor
In his testimony, Walsh outlined the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities for the DOL’s fiscal year 2023 budget. He stated that this budget plan builds on investments and renews the pledge to serve all workers, job seekers, and retirees across America. He declared his commitment to equity for America’s most vulnerable workers and noted the progress made by Congress’ Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. He highlighted that the budget fully funds and updates the state funding formula for unemployment insurance which would be the first comprehensive update in decades. He concluded by saying that the Biden Administration did not cause inflation but is not backing away from the challenge of combatting this problem and continuing to empower workers in America.
Question & Answer
Sen. Braun (R-Ind.) asked why gig workers should be viewed differently from blue-collar workers. Walsh acknowledged the integral part gig workers play in the economy and proceeded to express his concerns that people may be under the understanding they are hired as an employee and then are presented with a 1099 suggesting otherwise. Walsh continued to say this can lead to lost wages. Braun additionally stated that individual business owners are concerned they might be drawn into the independent contractor issue because they are not the same as employees. Walsh stated that he has talked to pro and anti-gig groups, however, his department has not taken any action as of now. Braun followed saying its crucial main street business owners aren’t swept into a category they are not a part of. Walsh appreciated the statement and offered to discuss the matter at a different time.
DOL’s Online Presence
Schatz asked if there is a way to turn the DOL’s website into a real resource for workers and help them figure out career readiness pathways? Walsh said in ten years the DOL will be able to expand American Job Centers that are responsible for this work. He added that it is about tying the worker to the job and tying the job to the worker and noted that if there is a worker looking to make a career change, they should be able to click a few buttons on the website that directs them to their state or their city and creates a pathway for finding a job and the resources necessary to do so.
Responsibility and Accountability of the DOL
Murray asked if Walsh could talk about how the requested increase in wage an hour will allow the DOL to improve insight on employers denying their workers pay that they have earned. Walsh said that with this additional revenue, the DOL can protect more American workers that were undercut and ensure that they are paid fairly. Baldwin asked if Walsh would commit to making an examination into potential causes of racial and ethnic disparities, if he had any insights at this point. Walsh stated that the DOL is focused on fixing short- and long-term issues with the unemployment system and that the Department has bipartisan states active with them in reform. He also said that he feels confident about where the DOL is right now in that process.
Sen. Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) asked how inflation can be overcome when employment levels are so low. Walsh responded that inflation is a global issue and that President Biden is committed to reducing costs and the deficit.
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