House Education & Workforce Committee

Guthrie Statement: Markup of H.R. 3179

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 06/22/2016 - 11:15am
I’m happy to be here today to help address several challenges facing Americans pursuing a higher education. One of those challenges is understanding the federal financial aid process.

Students and parents face a number of difficult questions when considering their higher education opportunities. Deciding how to responsibly finance and pay for their education is an important part of that process.

Unfortunately, the policies in place to promote the financial literacy of aid recipients are seriously lacking. In fact, in a survey of current students and recent graduates who are carrying a high level of student loan debt, more than 40 percent couldn’t remember ever receiving financial counseling—even though it was required before receiving their first loan.

The current system is ineffective and failing to help students make the best financial decisions for their future. Without the information and assistance they need, applicants could make a choice about financial aid that will have detrimental consequences not only in the near-term but for years to come. 

That’s why I worked with Representatives Allen and Bonamici to introduce H.R. 3179, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act. This bill will help Americans make smart decisions when it comes to financing their higher education by improving the timing and frequency of loan counseling. First, it will require individuals to receive their counseling before signing on the dotted line, helping students understand the responsibilities they are taking on and keeping them well-informed every step of the way.

Additionally, the legislation will bolster exit counseling to help borrowers make smart financial decisions as they leave school. It’s not enough to be aware of financial options and commitments before and during school. We need to empower students to make smart financial decisions as they begin to repay their college loan commitments, as well.

H.R. 3179 will also enhance the content of financial aid counseling, ensuring it is tailored to a borrower’s unique needs and individual circumstances, and it will require the secretary of education to maintain a consumer-tested, online counseling tool for institutions to use in providing required financial counseling.

In today’s anemic economy—as college costs continue to rise—students and their families cannot afford the cost of making poor financial decisions in pursuit of a higher education. The Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act will help students receive the information they need to understand their options and make financially responsible decisions as they work to achieve their goals.

The substitute amendment I am offering makes noncontroversial technical changes. I urge my colleagues to support the amendment and the underlying legislation.

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Heck Statement: Markup of H.R. 5528

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 06/22/2016 - 11:00am
Early last year, I held a roundtable on higher education in my district to help better understand the issues facing students, teachers, and higher ed administrators in Nevada. Nearly everyone in attendance raised the issue of the overly complicated student aid application process, and specifically, problems with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA.

Like many aspects of the student aid system, the application for aid can be confusing and too complex for many students and families to complete. The FAFSA includes 108 questions requesting information on everything from the net worth of investments to complicated tax information. Many of these questions rely on data that students do not yet have or are so complicated they deter applicants from even completing the form.

As the chairman noted earlier, it’s critically important that students have the information they need to make timely, informed decisions about higher education. That includes information on what aid might be available to help them pursue a college degree and the responsibilities that come with accepting assistance. If the current process deters them from even completing the application for aid, how can students possibly get the help they need? That is why, based on the recommendation of higher ed leaders in Nevada, I began working with some of my colleagues on the committee to reform the FAFSA and improve the student aid application process.

The Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act—which I am proud to sponsor with Dr. Roe and Representatives Polis and Pocan—is the fruit of that labor and does exactly what the title suggests. It will streamline and improve the application process through a number of commonsense measures, all of which will help students and parents access the financial aid information they need in a timely manner to better understand their higher education payment options.

First, it will allow students to use income data from two years prior to the date of application. Traditionally, the FAFSA has relied on income tax data from the previous year, but that data is not readily available when students should begin filling out their applications. While the Department of Education currently has the authority to allow students to use “prior-prior year” data, the department only recently began taking advantage of this authority.

This bill will ensure students are able to use prior-prior year data in the future. This will allow them to complete the FAFSA earlier and receive information about their aid options sooner. It will also provide aid administrators more time to verify the income of applicants, both strengthening the integrity of the federal student aid system and enabling administrators to provide students with accurate aid information as soon as possible.

Additionally, the legislation will require the Department of Education to allow more applicants to easily import their available income data through the IRS, helping them automatically populate answers to many FAFSA questions with information from their tax returns, making it easier on students and parents to accurately complete the form. The bill will also require the FAFSA be available on a mobile app and require the online and paper versions to be consumer-tested. Both of these measures will make the application process easier and more user-friendly.

By improving the application for student aid, we can help more students make smart decisions about college and realize that a college degree is within reach.

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Heck Statement: Markup of H.R. 5529

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 06/22/2016 - 10:45am
Like many states, Nevada has a severe doctor shortage. While the number of patients is steadily increasing, there continues to be too few qualified health care providers to meet this growing demand for care. Additionally, while the Hispanic population is growing throughout the country, especially in Nevada, there continues to be a disproportionately low percentage of Hispanic physicians. In fact, according to the National Hispanic Medical Association, while the Hispanic population has increased to 17 percent of our total population, the number of physicians that identify as Hispanic is only five percent.

In an effort to help close this diversity gap and address our nation’s doctor’s shortage, last year I joined with Dr. Ruiz from California to introduce H.R. 2927. That bill allowed Hispanic Serving Institutions to utilize existing grant funds to create programs that support, encourage, and mentor prospective physicians as they navigate the necessary requirements to be accepted into medical school.

Congress originally created the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program in 1992. This program helps promote education opportunities for Hispanic students and allows the institutions serving them to make improvements that increase the quality of the education they offer.

Today, there are more than 400 HSIs across the country, and many other institutions are on the verge of becoming HSIs. In my state, the College of Southern Nevada, UNLV, and Nevada State College, are among many other schools that either are or are on the verge of becoming an HSI. Additionally, the number of young Hispanic undergraduates enrolled full-time at a two- or four-year college has more than tripled in the past 23 years.

It is clear Hispanic students have greater access to education opportunities than they did before the Developing HSIs Program was created. Still, as I mentioned before, the Hispanic population remains underrepresented in various parts of the workforce, particularly in health care.

After meeting with local health care and education leaders in Nevada, and working with the chairman and other members of the committee to address this issue, I am happy to offer H.R. 5529, the Accessing Higher Education Opportunities Act, with Congressman Hinijosa and Dr. Ruiz.

H.R. 5529, expands on the bipartisan work of H.R. 2927 by allowing HSIs to use funds to support students preparing for all health care-related doctoral programs. Additionally, I want to thank Congressman Hinojosa for joining with me and Dr. Ruiz on this bill and adding an important provision that allows HSIs to work with local school districts to start or enhance dual enrollment opportunities and early college programs at high schools.

These programs not only help students get into college, but they also enable students to earn college credits earlier in their academic career. As a strong supporter of dual enrollment programs I want to thank Congressman Hinojosa for strengthening the bill with this important provision.

Ultimately, this bill will help us address a growing doctor’s shortage and close the diversity gap among physicians by helping students at HSIs achieve the dream of higher education.

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Kline Statement: Markup of Higher Education Legislation

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 06/22/2016 - 10:40am
Today, the committee will consider a number of bipartisan bills. Each bill has a different focus, but all share a common goal: strengthening America’s higher education system.

Our country’s higher education system offers students from all walks of life opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to achieve a lifetime of success. It has helped countless individuals pursue rewarding careers, accomplish personal goals, and earn a living to provide for their families.

Unfortunately, too many Americans are struggling to realize the dream of a higher education or believe the dream of a college degree could never become a reality for them. That’s because, as I have noted before, our current system is too costly, too bureaucratic, and outdated.

Since 2005, average tuition and fees have increased by 40 percent at four-year public institutions and by more than 25 percent at four-year private nonprofit institutions. Meanwhile, a dizzying maze of student aid programs discourages students from pursuing a degree, and complex federal rules impede innovation and prevent state and institutional leaders from deciding what’s best for their students.

In the end, many students are either unable to complete college, or they graduate saddled with debt and lacking the skills they need to compete in the workforce. It shouldn’t be this difficult to earn a degree, and students and families deserve better.

That’s why reforming and improving the Higher Education Act remains a leading priority for this committee, and we’ve made significant progress in achieving that goal. While there is a lot of work still to be done to complete the reauthorization process, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps now to deliver important reforms students, parents, and taxpayers need.

The bills under consideration today will help us do just that. They are all bipartisan reforms that adhere to the principles we laid out last Congress—reforms that will empower students and families to make informed decisions; simplify and improve student aid; promote innovation, access, and completion; and ensure strong accountability with a limited federal role.

These proposals will help students and parents better understand their higher education options. Choosing where to go to school and how to pay for it can be a daunting task, but having the right information—and having it early—can help students make smarter, more timely decisions. These are decisions that will have a significant impact on their lives for years to come, and it’s critically important for students and families to get them right.

The bills will also enhance existing support for institutions serving minority students and hold those institutions accountable for how they are using that support. These reforms will help more students access a postsecondary education and ensure taxpayer dollars are being well spent.

Together, they will help more Americans acquire the knowledge and skills they need to compete and succeed in the workforce. Yes, they are only part of a broader solution, but they will make a real difference and provide the help students and parents need now.

I want to thank my Republican and Democrat colleagues for their work in developing these proposals. By working together, we are delivering the kind of positive, commonsense reforms that will strengthen our higher education system, and more importantly, help make a postsecondary education not just a dream but a reality for more Americans.

I look forward to advancing these reforms and to the work we have ahead of us to further strengthen higher education for students, families, and taxpayers.

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Roe Statement: Debate on H.R. 5447, the Small Business Health Care Relief Act

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 06/21/2016 - 12:00am

I want to thank my colleagues, Representatives Boustany and Thompson, for their leadership on this important issue. It’s not very often that we have bipartisan legislation that will make a real difference in lowering health care costs for working families, and I’m pleased to see this bill come to the floor today.

This legislation is a no-brainer. As a physician with more than 30 years of experience, I’ve personally seen the need for commonsense reforms that will remove barriers to lower health care costs and give Americans more control over their health care decisions.

Because of ObamaCare, I constantly hear from families who are paying higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs for less coverage and lower-quality of care. I hear from small business owners who desperately want to help their employees acquire health insurance, but face costly regulations that make it harder, if not impossible, for them to do so.

Employers of all sizes are implementing innovative solutions to address rising health care costs, and we should do everything we can to support those efforts. Unfortunately, misguided federal rules too often stand in the way.

Regulatory guidance issued by the IRS that penalizes small businesses who offer stand-alone Health Reimbursement Arrangements is the perfect example. HRAs are popular among both workers and employers. Employers offer HRAs to help their employees pay for health care. In return, families are provided greater flexibility and the opportunity to set aside pretax income for medical expenses.  

It simply doesn’t make sense for the federal government to restrict a positive tool aimed at expanding access to affordable health care coverage. It’s unconscionable that ObamaCare is penalizing small businesses for trying to do the right thing and alleviate the financial burden on working families.

That’s why this bill is so important. We need to encourage policies that empower every American with affordable coverage, provide more choice, and promote a healthy workforce. And I hope we can all agree that we should eliminate misguided rules that only make it harder for families and small businesses to obtain the health care coverage they need. 

I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation, which will restore the ability of small businesses to offer HRAs.

Editorial: Will senators finally face up to the hard truth about pensions?

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 06/21/2016 - 12:00am
Any politician can make a career promising tax cuts, pay increases or other goodies — and many do. It takes leadership, however, to address realistically situations with no pleasing solutions. Just such a situation is presented by the large and growing funding shortfalls of multi-employer pension funds covering more than 10 million truckers, grocery store employees and other blue-collar workers, active and retired. This red-ink tsunami threatens to swamp the agency responsible for backstopping the plans, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC).

Believe it or not, responsible leadership did emerge two years ago, in the form of Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.), who pushed through bipartisan legislation that would preserve benefits for everyone over the long-term by enabling pension plans to trim benefits for some over the short-term.

Alas, this law is being undermined before it has had a chance to work. Last year, the Central States Pension Fund , which supports retired Teamsters, asked the Treasury Department to approve a Kline-Miller solvency plan that would have reduced payments by an average of 28 percent for about 115,000 current retirees. The alternative, Central States argued, was bankruptcy within a decade. But last month a special master designated by Treasury rejected the plan, asserting that it didn’t really assure long-term solvency because its assumptions about future returns on investments were too rosy. The remedy to that, of course, would be to propose even greater benefit cuts, something Central States has said it cannot conscientiously do. And so the financial death spiral continues.

Critics of Treasury’s decision smelled an election-year evasion; an unsurprising hunch given the fact that 46 senators, mostly Democrats, signed a letter in April urging rejection of the Central States plan, and that Democratic presidential insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been campaigning on a proposal to bail out the multi-employer pensions with federal funds. Mr. Miller, now retired from Congress, told Politico the Treasury ruling “was a calculated response to sort of stop the discussion in this political year.”

Treasury insists that is untrue; we take the department at its word. Still, if Central States says it has no alternative to a proposal Treasury says isn’t adequate, exactly what is supposed to happen next? If Central States collapses and the PBGC takes over, retirees would, by law, get even less than they would under the just-rejected proposal. And if the PBGC itself is insolvent — an alarmingly real possibility — retirees might get almost nothing.

Mr. Sanders, characteristically, advocates federal rescue, without explaining why this is more feasible politically than it was in 2010, when a Democratic Congress declined to act on a similar proposal. Nor is it clear why defined-benefit pensioners should have a higher claim on taxpayer resources than the many people who do not have such pensions — and, indeed, often make less money than union members.

Not for a minute do we underestimate the plight of pensioners facing a major financial hit that they were told, long ago, they would never have to face. What we do dispute is that there’s a cost-free way out of their predicament. The sooner politicians level with them about that, the better.

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Kline Statement: Hearing on "The Administration's Overtime Rule and its Consequences for Workers, Students, Nonprofits, and Small Businesses"

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 06/09/2016 - 12:00am
In July 2011, Chairman Walberg held a subcommittee hearing to examine whether the Fair Labor Standards Act was meeting the needs of the twenty-first century workplace. The answer was a resounding ‘no.’ We learned the rules implementing the law are too complex, bureaucratic, and outdated. Trial lawyers profit while workers are denied their fair share under a broken regulatory system.

That is precisely why this committee—more specifically, Republicans on this committee— have repeatedly called for a responsible effort to streamline and modernize federal overtime rules. Workplaces are more dynamic and innovative than they have ever been, and the needs of today’s workers are much different than for those who worked when the law was written more than 75 years ago. Workers and employers have a better shot to succeed when federal policies reflect the changing realities of our economy.

The Department of Labor had an opportunity to build consensus around a set of responsible reforms that would have garnered broad, bipartisan support. Yet the department chose once again to take an extreme, partisan approach that will hurt the very people they claim they want to help. This rule will disrupt the lives of countless individuals and do nothing to remove the regulatory landmines that are harmful to workers and employers.

That’s what small business owners, college and university administrators, state and local officials, and heads of nonprofit organizations have warned about. But these warnings were ignored. That’s right—the department ignored the voices of those who must implement this rule in their workplaces, on their campuses, and as they serve the needs of people in their communities.

Instead, the department listened to the same progressive voices who have been wrong for so long about how to address the challenges facing working families. The same voices who claimed a trillion dollar “stimulus” bill would create jobs and deliver a strong economy. It didn’t. The same voices who claimed a government takeover of health care would lower costs and protect the health care people liked. It hasn’t. Those same voices now claim this overtime rule will provide a pay raise for millions of Americans. It won’t.  

The regulatory onslaught under this administration is unprecedented. The president and his liberal allies have advanced new rules governing retirement advice, health and safety, energy, union organizing, federal contracting, financial markets, health care, and wages. Still there are those who can’t understand why the economy is anemic, or why job growth is sluggish, or why wages are largely stagnant. 

Now we have an overtime rule that will do more harm than good, particularly for lower-income workers and younger Americans. Chairman Walberg has led our efforts in this area for years, and I would like to yield to him to explain in more detail the costly consequences of this final rule.

Walberg Statement: Hearing on "The Administration's Overtime Rule and its Consequences for Workers, Students, Nonprofits, and Small Businesses"

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 06/09/2016 - 12:00am
Because of this rule, many Americans will soon realize they have fewer jobs prospects, less flexibility in the workplace, and fewer opportunities to climb the economic ladder. Thousands of salaried workers will be demoted to hourly status. These workers will feel as though they’ve taken a step back in their careers when they’re forced to clock their hours, and they’ll no longer have flexible schedules to balance work and family.

With this shift, workers will have fewer opportunities for on-the-job-training and career advancement. Last year, we heard from Eric Williams, who started his career working on the line at a fast-food restaurant and then climbed the ranks to become an industry executive. He testified how the department’s action will limit the ability of hardworking men and women to achieve the same success.

Younger Americans in particular will be hurt. At a time when rising college costs and student debt are a national concern, the administration is pushing a rule that will make matters even worse. Colleges and universities nationwide—including the University of Michigan in my home state—have warned this rule will force them to raise tuition or reduce services. This rule will make it harder for young people to pursue their education, and adding insult to injury, it will be even harder for them to begin their careers.

Nonprofit organizations with tight budgets face similar challenges. Every day, in each of our districts, these organizations are making a difference in countless lives, whether helping underprivileged youth, building good homes for low-income families, or serving the needs of individuals with disabilities. We should do everything we can to support and encourage these crucial services, but as one of our witnesses will testify today, this rule will do the exact opposite.

Finally, as is often the case with the administration, this rule creates new hurdles for startups and small businesses. Many won’t be able to afford this mandate, even if they wanted to. Some will have no choice but to hold back on hiring, lay off workers, or cut back hours. To make matters worse, they’ll continue to confront a confusing regulatory maze that encourages costly litigation.

The bottom line is that this rule hurts the very individuals the administration claims it will help. That’s why I introduced legislation earlier this year, along with Senator Tim Scott, to protect workers, students, nonprofits, and small businesses from the rule’s harmful consequences. Today’s hearing is the next step in our efforts.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL): A Better Way to Fight Poverty

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 06/08/2016 - 5:00pm

“The answer to the welfare crisis is work, jobs, self-sufficiency, and family integrity; not a massive new extension of welfare.” Those aren’t the words of a southern, conservative Republican in 2016. Instead, those are the words of liberal, former New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

Far too often when someone proposes strategies to combat poverty, they get labeled as cold-heartened or cruel. But that could not be further from the truth. Reforming our welfare programs and combatting poverty is actually about lifting people up and helping our friends and neighbors.

What is cruel is to continue the same poverty fighting strategies that have failed over the last fifty years. In 1966, the poverty rate was 14.7% percent. In 2014, after spending billions of dollars a year on a myriad of poverty programs, the poverty rate sat at 14.8%. We keep throwing more and more money at the problem but get the same results.

You see, for far too long we have treated poverty as a chronic disease that cannot be cured. We focus on ways to help people cope with poverty instead of guiding them toward a better life. In many ways, our country’s welfare programs disincentivize work and actually punish Americans who find work by immediately halting many of their benefits.

Given these challenges, I joined House Speaker Paul Ryan and some of my House colleagues in crafting a “Better Way” agenda that directly addresses poverty in the United States. This agenda attempts to get at the heart of what causes poverty and offers real policy solutions to make a difference.

My focus during the discussion was on education and helping Americans obtain the skills they need to obtain high-paying jobs they want. Education has always been the great equalizer, and it is one of the best tools we have to fight poverty.

Before coming to Congress, I was chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system. In this role, I saw firsthand the remarkable success that can be achieved through our two-year colleges and technical schools.

There is probably no better example of how powerful job training programs are than looking at what we accomplished in our prison system. These are difficult students who face a range of challenges, but 100% of the inmates who completed our training program got a job. Even more, the recidivism rate was less than 3%. Skills training makes all the difference.

So that is at the heart of our plan: giving people the tools they need to live the lives they want to live instead of just giving them another government program.

To read more, click here.


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