House Education & Workforce Committee
Guthrie Statement: Hearing on “Empowering Students and Families to Make Informed Decisions on Higher Education”
Many people in this country grow up dreaming about the college experience — leaving home and starting off on their own in the world — hoping to obtain the education and skills they need to be successful in life. With more than 7,000 postsecondary institutions in the U.S. to choose from, selecting the best school and finding the best way to pay for it can be a daunting task.
In fact, just this morning, some key details of a new report — set to be fully unveiled early next month — were publicly released, and they provide some fresh insights into how prospective students make important decisions that affect their long-term academic and professional futures.
According to the preliminary findings of a national survey conducted by Gallup in partnership with the Strada Education Network, most people rely on a family member or relative when deciding which major or field to choose. And as we all know, this decision, often impacts which college or university a person decides to attend.
Fortunately, there are those who are relying on trusted high school counselors or college advisors. Very few turn to online resources, including websites maintained by schools. But it is also troubling to learn that more than 20 percent of individuals with some college experience never sought the advice of anyone or used any other available resources as they made these important decisions.
Without objection, I would like submit for the record a letter from Strada highlighting some of the key findings of this national survey. Hearing no objections, the letter will be made a part of the record.
In 2008, Congress took steps to improve transparency in higher education. Because of those reforms, colleges and universities are making information about price, financial aid, demographics, and graduation rates more readily available to the public. Many of these initiatives provide helpful resources to students and their families, but clearly there is more work to be done.
First, much of the information currently available is about first-time, full-time students — despite the fact that only 21 percent of undergraduate students are attending postsecondary education full-time and for the first-time. Today’s college students come from a variety of backgrounds that no longer neatly fits into the traditional full-time student schedule, which is why they need information that properly reflects the unique circumstances they face.
Secondly, we want to be sure that institutions are not overburdened with red tape. Collecting this information can be time-consuming. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, also known as IPEDS, currently requires institutions to complete 12 separate surveys capturing hundreds of pages of data taking nearly one million combined hours each year to complete. The time and money universities and colleges spend on data collection requirements can lead to higher costs that inevitably affect the students who attend.
Third, it’s important that we as policymakers can properly evaluate the success of the federal student aid system and ensure taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly. Unfortunately, in many ways, that’s just not the case today.
\Much of the information surrounding students defaulting on their loans is unknown. We don’t know how much they’ve paid back before defaulting on the loan. We also don’t know the type of repayment plans they are using when they default. We also don’t know how much the various income-driven repayment programs are really costing taxpayers or how many students who receive a Pell grant are actually graduating.
Quite frankly, we don’t really know what’s working and what’s not. As policymakers, we need to be better equipped to conduct proper oversight of how taxpayer dollars are being spent.
Lastly, but most importantly, we must balance the need for transparency and accountability with the need to protect student privacy and maintain a limited federal role. Striking that balance is never easy. However, the need to provide students and policymakers with more information — no matter how valuable that information may be — should never come at the expense of student privacy.
At the end of the day, the college experience should be a joyous occasion for students and their families. That’s why it’s important for the federal student aid system to be efficient and effective. And that’s why it is important to do everything we can to provide better transparency so students are able to make informed decisions.
As we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, empowering students and families and improving accountability will be leading priorities. I’m looking forward to hearing the testimonies of this panel of witness who will have great insight into how we can do just that. Thank you, again, for your attendance.
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Byrne Statement: Hearing on “The Need for More Responsible Regulatory and Enforcement Policies at the EEOC”
Every American deserves an equal chance to earn success. No one should be denied an opportunity because of unlawful discrimination. The vast majority of employers treat their employees equally and foster an environment free of discrimination. But we live in a world where prejudice and bigotry still exist, and bad actors must be held accountable.
That is why there are important protections under federal law to prevent workplace discrimination, including the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Equal Pay Act, among others. Republicans and Democrats agree our nation’s non-discrimination laws must be properly enforced, and the EEOC should play a critical role in doing just that.
We wouldn’t be doing our job here in Congress if we didn’t hold the EEOC accountable when it has fallen short of its important responsibilities. That is why, under the Obama administration, we repeatedly raised concerns over the agency’s misplaced priorities. The EEOC consistently took its eye off the ball and pursued flawed enforcement policies at the expense of workers.
Take for example the agency’s backlog of unsettled charges. At the end of 2016, the EEOC had more than 73,000 unresolved cases. Thousands of individuals were still waiting for answers on the discrimination charges they filed. This is completely unacceptable. These are men and women who turned to the federal government for help and got lost in an inefficient bureaucracy.
The EEOC’s backlog hasn’t always been this high. In fact, the average annual number of unresolved cases was roughly 90 percent higher under the Obama administration than the Bush administration. 90 percent. And that’s not all. The Obama EEOC pursued 50 percent fewer cases on behalf of individual workers.
With this type of track record, one may wonder what exactly the EEOC has been doing all these years. Part of the answer lies in the agency’s misguided focus on fishing expeditions. Instead of using its resources to address actual claims of alleged wrongdoing, the EEOC has been on a nationwide search for “systemic” cases of discrimination that may or may not exist.
The result? A long list of frivolous lawsuits and the needs of many individual workers unmet. One U.S. District Court judge described the agency’s backwards strategy as “sue first, ask questions later.” And unanimous rebukes by the Supreme Court led the Wall Street Journal editorial board to name the EEOC the “government’s most abusive agency.”
However, the EEOC has been busy in more ways than fishing expeditions. The agency has also spent its time and resources concocting overreaching and convoluted regulatory schemes. Most recently, we’ve seen expansive changes to the employer information report, the EEO-1.
Under federal law, employers have long been required to file employment data categorized by race, gender, ethnicity, and job category. This year, employers will fill out a form with 128 data points. But beginning next year, employers — including many small employers — will face a form with a whopping 3,360 data cells. That’s 26 times the amount of information employers currently provide to the federal government. Can you imagine making sense of this massive, confusing reporting regime as a small business owner?
This new mandate is estimated to cost American job creators $1.3 billion and more than 8 million hours of paperwork each year — resources that could go toward raising wages and hiring new workers. And for what? We don’t even know how the EEOC intends to use all of this new data and whether or not it can help combat pay discrimination in the first place. There are also serious privacy concerns since the agency has failed to demonstrate how it plans to safeguard this enormous amount of new information.
What the EEOC should be focused on is improving enforcement of existing worker protections. And that’s exactly why we are here today: to hold the agency accountable and demand better. With a new Congress and new administration, we have an opportunity to move the EEOC in a new direction, and that’s precisely what America’s workers need.
Today’s discussion is an important step in our efforts to encourage the EEOC to adopt more responsible regulatory and enforcement policies. It is my hope we can have a thoughtful dialogue on how we can ensure the strong worker protections that exist in the law are properly enforced.
Walberg Statement: Hearing on “Regulatory Barriers Facing Workers and Families Saving for Retirement”
Those policies should include strong protections for workers. I was proud to champion a resolution to close a regulatory loophole that would have resulted in countless individuals losing the retirement protections they have long been afforded under federal law. This loophole was put in place by the Obama administration to allow states to force workers into government-run IRAs.
The answer to our nation’s retirement challenges isn’t more government. Part of the answer is getting the economy to grow faster. The sluggish economic growth, weak job creation, and stagnant wages we’ve seen in recent years certainly haven’t made it easy for people to save for retirement. After all, the most important step toward a strong and secure retirement is a good-paying job.
Working families are also in desperate need of health care relief. With health insurance premiums increasing faster than wages, something has to give. For many individuals, that means saving less for the future. That’s why the committee has advanced free-market health care reforms that lower costs. We’ve also played an important role in delivering regulatory relief to help create jobs and grow the economy.
I say all this because truly tackling the issue of retirement security is going to require a holistic approach. We can start by removing regulatory barriers facing retirement savers.
For years, this committee has led the fight against the flawed fiduciary rule. According to one report, this rule was the most expensive regulatory action of 2016 and will impose more than $46 billion in costs on retirement savers. Let me repeat that. $46 billion. Now, we all agree that investment professionals should act in the best interests of their clients. In fact, this committee advanced bipartisan legislation increasing protections for retirement savers.
However, the last thing working families need is to lose access to their trusted financial advisors. Unfortunately, that may be the case for low- and middle-income families if the flawed fiduciary rule takes effect. Already, we are seeing the types of services those with fewer savings depend on begin to diminish. As this trend continues, many individuals will no longer be able to afford retirement advice. They’ll be left with robo-advisors or forced to fend for themselves.
It should come as no surprise that the robo-advice industry has come out in full force in defense of the fiduciary rule. An executive of one of the industry’s largest firms recently told the press, “An expansion of the fiduciary rule would be nice for our business.” Another robo-adviser said they “are sad that it looks like … the rule might go away.” There was even a national ad campaign urging the Trump administration to keep this flawed rule in place.
We have nothing against robo-advisers. People should have choices and access to retirement advice in all forms. However, many individuals prefer to choose personal financial advice. But as we’ve warned all along, that choice may soon be out of reach for those who can no longer afford it.
We’ve also warned of the impact on small businesses. Many rely on financial advisors as they set up retirement plans for their employees. But as one Indiana small business owner testified before the committee, this rule “puts all of that in jeopardy.”
What we should be doing is making it easier for small businesses to offer retirement plans to their employees. According to a recent survey, 37 percent of small businesses cite “set up expenses” as the key reason for not offering retirement benefits. One way small businesses could provide retirement plans to workers at a more affordable cost is through multiple employer plans, or MEPs.
Unfortunately, these plans are currently restricted by the federal government. With roughly 58 million American small business employees, it’s time to change that. We should empower small businesses to band together through MEPs — an idea that has received bipartisan support over the years.
Additionally, we need to reduce red tape. We can file taxes online and students can receive information about their federal student loans online. Yet the federal government limits the ability of workers and retirees to receive information about their retirement accounts in anything but a hardcopy. Simply allowing employers to provide information about retirement benefits electronically would reduce the cost of administering retirement plans by an estimated 36 percent.
All of the solutions I outlined have one thing in common. They would all empower workers and families to save more for retirement. Many in this room likely have other ideas as well, and that’s exactly why we’re here — to have a thoughtful dialogue on how we can strengthen retirement security for all Americans.
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Thompson Statement: Markup of H.R. 2353, "Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act"
As a father, I can say there’s nothing parents want more for their kids than a life that is better than their own. However, only half of all Americans today expect their children to have a brighter future than they did. As co-chair of the Career and Technical Education Caucus, I’m happy to say the bill before us today will help move us in a more positive direction.
The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act aims to help more Americans — particularly younger Americans — obtain the knowledge and skills they need to break the cycle of poverty and achieve a lifetime of success. A big part of that goal is ensuring federal policies accurately reflect the challenges and realities facing today’s students, workers, and employers.
It’s been more than a decade since the federal investment in our nation’s CTE programs has been modernized, and so much about our society has changed since then. A study conducted by the Brookings Institute found that in the next decade, 3 million workers will be needed in the infrastructure industry alone — this includes careers in transportation, housing, and telecommunications. By considering this legislation today and increasing access to high-quality CTE, we come closer to ensuring that these jobs can be filled by a skilled and well-trained American workforce.
Additionally, we want state and local leaders to be able to focus their time and resources on preparing students for successful careers. H.R. 2353 helps with this goal by simplifying the application process for receiving federal funds and providing states and local leaders with the flexibility needed to design CTE programs that best meet the needs of their local communities.
The bill also increases transparency and accountability. We want states and local leaders to be held directly accountable to those in their communities. By empowering parents, students, and key stakeholders to set performance goals and evaluate the effectiveness of the program, we ensure CTE programs deliver results.
By reining in the secretary of education’s authority, limiting federal intervention, and preventing political favoritism, H.R. 2353 also ensures a proper federal role. Perhaps most importantly, this bill makes improvements on alignment with in-demand jobs by supporting innovative learning opportunities and encouraging stronger engagement with employers. The bill promotes work-based learning — a technique that allows potential employers to give students hands-on experience. This is a win-win for both employers and students. Successful CTE programs depend heavily on the input and involvement of local businesses, and those are the kinds of partnerships we want to support.
The substitute amendment I am offering makes a number of changes including delaying the implementation of this act by six months to ensure the enactment doesn’t interfere with the school year. Other changes include clarifying that, in addition to secondary teachers, postsecondary faculty are included as stakeholders when it comes to improving local CTE programs. This amendment also requires an analysis of the extent to which efforts supported by the bill are based on evidence-based research.
In closing, I’d like to thank Representative Krishnamoorthi and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their support and for working together to move this bill forward. I urge all my colleagues to support this important bipartisan legislation and yield back the balance of my time.
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Foxx Statement: Markup of H.R. 2353, "Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act"
I’d like to begin by acknowledging that today is the 63rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision. This historic decision forever changed our nation for the better. It declared that the opportunity of an education is “a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
Our committee plays an important role in upholding the letter and spirit of that decision and ensuring opportunity is within reach for every American. Today, we will consider positive reforms aimed at extending the promise of a high-quality education to more men and women. Introduced by Representatives Glenn Thompson and Raja Krishnamoorthi, this bipartisan legislation will empower more individuals to find their path to success through career and technical education.
There is a common misconception that the path to success begins on the campus of our nation’s baccalaureate colleges and universities. This simply isn’t true. For many Americans, studying for a bachelor’s degree isn’t the right fit. Career and technical education, or CTE, has helped countless men and women gain the knowledge, skills, and real-world experience they need to succeed in the workforce. These valuable programs — conceived and operated at the state and local level — can pave the way to fulfilling careers in a wide range of fields, including health care, manufacturing, computer science, engineering, and more.
However, it’s been more than a decade since the federal law that supports state and local CTE programs was last updated. As we all know, our nation’s economy has changed quite a bit since then. Workers and employers have endured the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
At the same time, educational institutions haven’t caught up with advancements in technology. One result is a skills gap. Many employers can’t find the talent and high-tech skills they’re looking for while many workers struggle to land good-paying jobs. In fact, several members of the committee traveled to California last week to meet with leaders in the technology industry. We heard firsthand about the difficulties employers face in their search for skilled and educated workers.
As our economy continues to recover, one way we can help more Americans get ahead is by strengthening career and technical education. The bill before us today is largely the same as the legislation that passed the House last year with overwhelming bipartisan support. It reflects the same principles for reform that have guided our efforts for more than a year.
First, this legislation will empower state and local leaders to tailor programs to meet the unique needs of students in their communities. By providing more flexibility and simplifying the application process for receiving taxpayer dollars, local leaders will be better equipped to respond to changing education and economic needs.
Second, this bill increases transparency and accountability. By streamlining performance measures and encouraging input from parents, students, and community and business leaders, we can ensure programs are delivering results and taxpayer dollars are well spent.
Third, these reforms support a limited federal role. State and local leaders know better than bureaucrats in Washington how to develop CTE programs for their communities. That’s why this legislation restricts the secretary of education’s authority and limits the federal government’s ability to intervene in state and local decisions.
Finally, H.R. 2353 supports innovative learning opportunities and strong community partnerships. We want CTE students to gain real-world experience that will be valuable once they enter the workforce. By encouraging local employers and education leaders to work together in this effort, we can help more Americans obtain good-paying jobs and succeed in their careers.
I want to thank my colleagues, especially Representative Thompson for his leadership on this issue. As the Co-Chairman of the CTE Caucus, our distinguished colleague has spent years championing this issue. I also want to thank Representative Krishnamoorthi, as well as all committee members for the bipartisan work that’s reflected in this bill.
We don’t always agree on everything. But we can all be proud of our efforts to help address the nation’s skills gap, break the cycle of poverty, and expand opportunity by reforming career and technical education.
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Choice, fairness in workplace flexibility
By Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL)
While there are many hot topics currently in the forefront of American politics, one priority from last year’s campaign continues to warrant Congress’ attention: improving flexibility in the workplace. It may not get the same fanfare as other issues that dominate the news cycle, but work-life balance is a real issue affecting millions of hardworking moms and dads.
Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever, especially as it concerns working parents. More than 70 percent of mothers today work outside the home. Fifty years ago, that number was less than 30 percent. As a working mom myself, I understand all too well how challenging it can be to balance career and family. Ask any working parent and they’ll tell you how valuable time flexibility in the workplace can be.
The workforce has changed tremendously, but our laws and policies that govern the workplace haven’t. Congress cannot legislate another hour into the day, but we can update our laws to allow more choice and fairness in how employees use their time.
That’s why I’ve introduced H.R. 1180, the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would provide greater choice and flexibility in the workplace by removing an outdated and unnecessary federal restriction on the use of compensatory time, or “comp time,” in the private sector. Here’s how it works: an hourly-wage employee would be able to voluntarily enter into an agreement with their employer to put all or some of their accrued overtime toward paid time off instead of cash wages. A working dad could use the “time and a half” overtime he has earned to take a paid hour and a half off work.
No employee could ever be forced to take paid time off, just like no business would be forced to offer this benefit. The same worker protections that have been part of labor law for decades would remain, but for some workers and some businesses this can be a valuable option to include in a benefits package.
Think about the parents of young children, those caring for elderly parents, or military families with one of the parents deployed. They need more time to be able to take care of personal responsibilities, and a comp time agreement could provide it.
If you work in the public sector, you’re probably familiar with this comp time system because it is a legal and widely used benefit for government employees.
Some background: Since 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has dictated how the workplace operates, including how wages are paid. That law mandates that all overtime be paid in cash wages.
In 1985, Congress enacted a revision to the FLSA that allows public sector employers to offer comp time for overtime, meaning if you work for the government you are free to enter into a comp time arrangement and use your overtime how you want. Offering this flexible benefit still remains illegal in the private sector.
Why should the rules be different? Why shouldn’t private sector employees have access to the same comp time benefits that government employees enjoy? The Working Families Flexibility Act fixes this disparity by allowing for greater choice and fairness over how workers use their time.
Earlier this year, the committee met to examine some of the challenges facing America’s higher education system. Costs are rising at private and public institutions. Far too many individuals are failing to complete their education in a timely manner. Misguided rules are stifling innovation on campuses and creating new burdens on institutions across the country.
At that same hearing we discussed opportunities to help address these challenges — opportunities like empowering students to make informed decisions; simplifying student aid; and promoting innovation, access, and completion.
Today, we continue our work to strengthen higher education by taking a closer look at another one of the key principles guiding our efforts — providing strong accountability for students and taxpayers.
In higher education, one way we ensure accountability is the accreditation process. Accrediting agencies are voluntary private organizations made up of members from accredited colleges and universities. These agencies work with their member institutions to develop standards and criteria to determine what constitutes a high-quality higher education institution. Then, through a non-governmental system of peer review, the agencies decide if an institution meets those standards.
By giving their stamp of approval, accreditation agencies provide students and parents with an assurance that an institution meets certain standards when it comes to delivering a high-quality education. Families rely on accreditors to hold schools accountable for the education they provide and to ensure those schools are producing results for their students.
Congress also relies on accreditors. Accreditation helps determine which schools are permitted to participate in federal student aid programs. These important programs allow students at eligible schools to receive federal funds, and we need to know those hard-earned taxpayer dollars are only going to institutions that are serving students well.
The accreditation process is critical to providing accountability in the higher education system. However, like many aspects of higher education, accreditation is in need of improvement.
It has never been and should never be the federal government’s role to judge the quality of a school’s education programs. Entrusting independent accrediting agencies with that responsibility protects academic freedom and student choice. However, in recent years, accreditors have been forced to focus on compliance rather than promoting academic integrity, undermining the process and its purpose. It’s time for a better approach.
We need to refocus federal accreditation requirements on academic quality and student learning. We need to ensure federal rules are clear and easy to follow. We need to improve — or do away with — regulations that discourage or prevent innovation in higher education. And we need to make sure the administration — whether Democrat or Republican — does not have the power to recklessly second-guess the tough decisions accreditation agencies make.
These are all things Congress can do to improve the accreditation process, but if we are going to see real change, accreditors have a job to do as well.
It’s not enough to refocus federal rules. Accreditors must also embrace a commitment to high-quality and improved outcomes. Students need an honest and accurate assessment when it comes to the quality of education a school provides. An accreditation agency’s stamp of approval means something to those students, or at least it should mean something.
Accreditors also need to be open to innovation and the opportunities it can create in higher education. If we are going to roll back rigid federal requirements, it’s up to accrediting agencies to take the flexibility we are working to provide and do something meaningful with it.
By working together — Congress and accreditors — we can improve the accreditation system, ensuring a balance between flexibility for institutions and accountability for students and taxpayers.
We are here today to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing the accreditation system, as well as how we can tackle those challenges. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and advancing solutions that will provide greater accountability in higher education and ensure the accreditation process serves the best interests of students, families, and taxpayers.
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This bill is about empowering workers and families. It’s about giving moms and dads more flexibility to meet the demands of work and raising a family. And it’s about taking power out of Washington and putting it into the hands of individuals.
For decades, Congress has tried to provide private-sector workers with the same flexible benefits enjoyed by public-sector workers. And as Chairwoman Foxx mentioned, even former President Bill Clinton supported an effort to allow private-sector workers to choose between paid time off and cash wages as compensation for overtime.
The first proposal was introduced in the 1990s, but it has gone through significant changes since then. Democrats and labor unions raised concerns that private-sector workers needed stronger protections than public-sector workers. Republicans listened, and ample changes have been made over the years to enhance safeguards for workers.
The bill would ensure the decision to receive comp time is completely voluntary. For example, the bill requires a written agreement between each worker and their employer — a provision backed by then-President Clinton. If the employee changes his or her mind, they can switch to receiving cash wages whenever they choose.
Workers have control over when to use their comp time. Employees can use their paid time off as long as reasonable notice is given and the request doesn’t unduly disrupt the workplace. This is the same commonsense standard used in the public sector. It’s the same standard used under the Family and Medical Leave Act. And I imagine it’s the same standard used in each of our congressional offices.
In the past, Democrats expressed concerns that workers would accrue too much comp time. Once again, Republicans listened and set the maximum accrual at 160 hours, which is less than what’s allowed in the public sector. Additionally, employees have the right to cash out their comp time at any time for any reason. If they have any unused hours at the end of the year, they would receive a cash payment.
Democrats have also voiced the need to protect collective-bargaining agreements, which is why this bill requires both the employer and the union to agree on comp time.
Some feared workers would be forced to accept comp time instead of cash wages. But this bill explicitly prohibits intimidation, threats, or coercion in any form. Employers who take advantage of their employees would face the same penalties as they would for other wage violations.
Employers found in violation of the law would be liable for double damages and any attorney fees incurred by the employee. As is the case with any overtime violations, employees also have the right to file a charge through the Department of Labor at no cost. As a labor attorney who has worked with employers on these issues for years, I can say that no sensible employer would take advantage of an employee and risk double damages, exorbitant attorney fees, and a legal battle with the federal government.
This is a very thoughtful proposal that is carefully drafted to protect the rights of workers. It strikes an important balance between putting workers in control and ensuring employers can successfully offer more flexibility to their employees.
To members who are still skeptical, please know this legislation reflects President Clinton’s recommendation to include a sunset provision. Five years from now, Congress would have to pass this legislation again. Before the sunset, Members would receive a report from the Government Accountability Office on the impact of comp time. We will have the opportunity to review the real-world effect of this legislation and make any changes if needed.
All we are trying to do here is give workers a choice. Policies written in the 1930s that are out of step with the needs of the 21st century workforce shouldn’t stand in the way of flexibility for workers and their families. Neither should so-called progressives who have had their concerns answered and addressed.
The substitute amendment I am offering makes technical changes to the underlying bill. I urge all of my colleagues to support the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, and I yield back the balance of my time.
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This proposal is about time and flexibility. Across the country, there are many working parents struggling to find enough time to spend with their children; students doing their best to juggle a full-time job and earn a college degree; and employees in need of more time to care for an aging relative or fulfill other personal responsibilities.
There are only so many hours in the day, and rigid 9 to 5 work schedules can make it difficult for many Americans to keep up with their personal and professional lives. Unfortunately, an outdated labor law isn’t helping. Workers today are stuck under federal rules that restrict flexibility in the workplace.
Recognizing a change to the Fair Labor Standards Act was needed, Republicans and Democrats came together more than 30 years ago to amend the law and empower workers with more flexibility. But there’s a catch. The change applied only to workers in the public sector.
Congress gave state and local government employers the option of offering employees entitled to overtime pay the choice between paid time off and cash wages. However, the federal government still prohibits private-sector workers from receiving the same choice.
This double standard isn’t fair. Private-sector workers should have the same freedom and flexibility provided to workers in the public sector.
Unfortunately, our Democrat colleagues and liberal special interests have defended this double standard for years. To the busy parents who want more time to attend their kid’s soccer games; to the students who need a break from work to study for finals; and to the single mom who wants more time and flexibility to spend with a newborn — the message of our colleagues is this: Government knows best.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 85 percent of employees say workplace flexibility is important when considering a new job. Yet there are some in Washington who think the government should serve as a barrier to the type of flexible job so many Americans are looking for.
“It may seem odd that Democrats oppose a sensible idea that most workers say they want.” Those aren’t my words. Surprisingly, those are the words from a New York Times editorial published in 1997.
The Democrats’ logic simply doesn’t make sense. Why are so-called progressives clinging to a policy from the 1930s that prohibits private-sector workers from exercising the same choices available to government workers?
The answer is Big Labor. If powerful union bosses believe workers should be denied this choice, so too do Democrats in Congress.
They haven’t always taken such an extreme approach. During his nomination acceptance speech, former President Bill Clinton said we should pass a law that “allows employees to take their overtime pay in money, or in time off, depending on what’s better for their family.” And speaking from the Oval Office as he addressed the nation, President Clinton said comp time legislation would “be good for workers, good for business, good for our economy, and strong in the building of our families.”
But today, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle believe Washington knows what’s best for families. They believe the federal government should have control over people’s time and work schedules. They will not stand up to special interest groups. So in the name of “worker protection,” they’re doing everything they can to deny Americans more opportunities to balance work and family.
Over the years, Republicans have engaged in a good faith effort to address concerns about the proposal. The bill before us today has very strong worker protections — even stronger than those that exist in the public sector. For example, an employee can cash out unused comp time at any time for any reason. This bill puts workers in control over their earned time off, and they can switch back to receiving cash wages for overtime hours whenever they choose.
In no way does this proposal undermine existing protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Workers would accrue comp time at the long-standing overtime rate of time-and-a-half.
My colleague Bradley Byrne will explain the worker protections the bill provides in greater detail. But the point is that progressives and the far-left are running out of excuses not to support this commonsense legislation.
I want to thank Representative Martha Roby for championing this proposal. It represents a positive step to improve the quality of life of hardworking Americans. I hope Democrats and Republicans can come together and finally provide workers with the choice, flexibility, and freedom they deserve.
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Preserving Employee Wellness Programs
By Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
From the start of the new Congress and new administration, reining in the regulatory state has been a leading priority — and for good reason.
In recent years, the American people have endured an unprecedented regulatory onslaught. Determined to advance an extreme liberal agenda, unelected bureaucrats of the Obama administration came up with new regulatory schemes impacting virtually every aspect of American life.
They sure were busy. During President Obama’s final year in office, there were 18 new rules and regulations for every law Congress passed. The 2016 issue of the Federal Register included 97,110 pages of new regulations — the highest in the register’s 80-year history.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration often failed to do its due diligence and ensure new rules passed a basic test of common sense. At times, federal agencies even issued regulations that directly contradicted others already on the books.
Case in point: inconsistent rules surrounding voluntary employee wellness plans.
Employee wellness plans have been around for decades and have typically received bipartisan support. In fact, buried in Obamacare’s hundreds of pages of mandates and failed policies is a free-market provision giving private-sector workers more opportunities to participate in these voluntary plans.
It was one of the few things Democrats got right in an otherwise bad law. Three federal agencies then issued rules implementing the law’s wellness policies. But then, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission got involved and issued its own set of rules that conflicted with the others.
Now, when employers are implementing wellness policies in their workplaces, they eventually reach a confusing fork in the road. It’s like coming to a stop sign while driving and finding two contradictory signs. One sign reads, “right turn only,” while the other sign reads, “left turn only.” Although both turns seem permitted, no matter which decision drivers make, they could still be punished.
That’s not fair to employers or workers. That is why I introduced the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act to reaffirm the wellness policies Congress enacted in 2010 and provide legal certainty.
The word “preserving” is critical. Voluntary wellness plans are currently available to tens of millions of workers and their family members. A 2011 report by the Office of the Surgeon General highlights that every dollar spent on a workplace wellness plan can result in $3.27 in lower medical costs.
Many have seized the opportunity to improve their quality of life and reduce their health insurance premiums. Many others have not. Each individual should be free to choose what is best for his or her family. Nothing under the legislation undermines this fundamental right.
Still, various organizations are spreading fear and misinformation about the bill because they oppose wellness plans altogether. They were silent while this issue was addressed under Mr. Obama’s watch, yet now they seem opposed to workers having this option.
Perhaps the most blatant falsehood is that the bill will force employees to turn over genetic information to their employers. Some have called this a “genetic testing” bill, though the words are nowhere in the legislation.
It may be surprising to learn that the federal law protecting genetic information — the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) — has always allowed requests for this information as part of voluntary wellness plans. When Republicans and Democrats passed the law in 2008, we trusted workers to decide what’s best for their families.
Genetic information is extremely sensitive, and no one should be forced or coerced into disclosing this information. I supported GINA then and now because it provides strong protections against employment discrimination and imposes robust confidentiality requirements on the use of genetic information. These policies will continue to protect workers under the bill I propose.
If concerned citizens have ideas for improving these protections, please know that I am listening. Unfortunately, the loudest voices today are the so-called experts and special interests who always want to control decisions that are best left to individuals and families. They could care less about the conflicting regulations this bill seeks to address because they don’t like wellness plans and want to deny access to them.
But at the end of the day, this bill was never about the merits of employee wellness plans. That debate already passed when Democrats encouraged employers to expand the use of these plans in the so-called Affordable Care Act.With millions of Americans already enrolled in a voluntary wellness plan, it’s important that employers have clear and consistent rules to follow. Passing legislation to correct the Obama administration’s regulatory incompetency is a common-sense step.
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As I said at our first subcommittee hearing of the 115th Congress, “the rules and regulations surrounding the Fair Labor Standards Act are simply outdated.” We live in the 21st century, yet many of the rules governing America’s workplaces were designed by those who lived during the Great Depression.
It goes without saying that a lot has changed since then. Millennials now represent the majority of the workforce. In nearly half of two-parent households, both mom and dad work full time. That’s up from roughly 30 percent in 1970. Meanwhile, technological advances continue to rapidly change the very nature of how we work and stay connected to work.
As a result, men and women today face a different set of challenges when it comes to balancing the demands of their professional lives and personal lives. “There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.” It’s something I hear often as I talk to neighbors and families in my district. As our colleague, Representative Martha Roby, once put it, “We can’t legislate another hour in the day.” That’s true, but we can do our part to ensure the federal government isn’t making life more difficult for workers and their families.
That’s why Representative Roby introduced the Working Families Flexibility Act. This commonsense proposal would improve the quality of life of many hardworking men and women by removing outdated federal restrictions imposed solely on the private sector.
For decades, public-sector employers have been able to offer workers the choice between paid time off and cash wages for working overtime. That’s because in 1985, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to give public-sector employees greater flexibility. In fact, in a report filed by this very committee more than 30 years ago, our Democrat colleagues wrote that this change in the law recognized the “mutual benefits” of comp time for state and local governments and their employees. The Democrat committee report even refers to the “freedom and flexibility” comp time would offer public-sector workers.
But under federal law, it is still illegal to extend the same benefits to private-sector employees who are eligible for overtime pay. This isn’t right, and it isn’t fair. Private-sector workers should be afforded the same freedom to do what’s best for themselves and their families. For many Americans working paycheck to paycheck, earning some additional income is the choice that’s best for them. But the federal government shouldn’t assume that’s the best choice for everyone.
Many individuals would welcome the opportunity to put in a few extra hours, if it meant having more paid time off to catch a child’s baseball game or dance recital. Others are in desperate need of greater flexibility to care for an aging relative, juggle work and parenting while a spouse is deployed overseas, or complete another semester of college while working full-time.
Every worker has a different story. But they all deserve the choice between more time and more money in the bank. They all deserve to choose the best option that meets their personal needs.
Unfortunately, union leaders and special interest groups have tried desperately over the years to deny workers the freedom to make that choice. They’ve used no shortage of false and misleading rhetoric in the process, so allow me to briefly explain what this bill actually does.
This bill preserves the 40-hour work week and existing overtime protections. For workers who elect to receive paid time off, their leave would accrue at the same rate—time-and-a-half—as wages.
The bill includes strong protections to ensure the use of comp time is completely voluntary. Workers can switch back to receiving cash wages whenever they choose, and they are allowed to cash out their comp time for any reason at any time.
Additionally, it is up to the employee to decide when to use his or her time off, so long as reasonable notice is provided and the request is not overly disruptive. This is the same commonsense standard that exists in the public sector, and I suspect it’s the same standard that is applied in most of our congressional offices.
This bill also includes important protections to prevent employers from intimidating or coercing employees into receiving paid leave in lieu of cash wages, and the Department of Labor would have full authority to enforce those protections.
This legislation is ultimately about freedom, choice, and fairness. An antiquated federal law shouldn’t limit the ability of private-sector employees to better balance work and family. Democrats and Republicans came together more than 30 years ago to amend the law to provide more choices for public-sector workers, and it’s time we did the same for workers in the private sector. This isn’t a new or radical idea either. In fact, President Bill Clinton had his own comp time proposal during his presidency.
I want to thank Representative Roby for leading this effort. Improving workplace flexibility is one step we can take to make a positive difference in the lives of American families — and it doesn’t require another government program, a federal mandate, or onerous regulations that burden small businesses. That is why I support the Working Families Flexibility Act, and I urge all of my colleagues to do the same.
As someone who has been interested in the wider field of criminal justice reform for many years, it’s a privilege to be able to make some common-sense reforms to strengthen our juvenile justice system and help get our children on the right track.
Ensuring young people grow into productive members of society is essential to building a strong and prosperous nation. But the reality is that all across America there are young people experiencing grim and challenging circumstances. Some are growing up in broken or abusive homes. Others have loving parents who are struggling to make ends meet. As a result, some kids fall into the wrong crowd or make a bad decision that drastically changes their lives.
There are more than 1 million kids currently involved in the juvenile justice system — an experience that can have devastating consequences for their futures. In fact, kids who have been incarcerated are 26 percent less likely to graduate from high school and up to 26 percent more likely to return to jail as adults.
In 1974, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was signed into law with the goal of helping state and local leaders improve their juvenile justice systems. These systems play an important role in helping young people develop the life skills they need to be successful. However, not all efforts have produced the same results, and the consequences can have negative effects on at-risk youth, their families, and the communities they live in.
We don’t live in a perfect society; and sometimes mistakes are made. But regardless of the circumstances surrounding a bad decision, every kid deserves the opportunity of a better path forward. Yet it’s been 15 years since the law to support these programs has been reformed. It’s long past time for Congress to update the law and ensure state and local leaders have the tools they need to develop effective juvenile justice programs.
That’s why I, along with my colleague and our Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), introduced the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017. This bipartisan legislation sets kids up for long-term success by providing state and local leaders the flexibility they need to help at-risk youth and improve public safety.
We want to help state and local leaders as they develop ways to enhance community engagement and keep kids out of the system. This bill does that by improving support for prevention services and requiring the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to prioritize what works — using evidence-based strategies and current, reliable data to help reduce juvenile delinquency.
H.R. 1809 also improves oversight and accountability — requiring the OJJDP to provide Congress with an accurate and transparent account of juvenile justice efforts going on across the nation. To help limit waste and fraud in the system, the bill requires the Department of Justice to assess whether or not juvenile justice programs are complying with the law, and enhances oversight of taxpayer dollars to ensure they are being used responsibly.
Making sure kids who find themselves in difficult life circumstances avoid a life of crime is a collaborative effort. It requires parents, teachers, and state and local leaders who are engaged in their communities and targeting support to the kids who need help the most. We must do everything we can to help them in this effort — ensuring more kids have the resources and acquire the skills they need to turn their lives around and grow into productive, successful members of society.
The substitute amendment I am offering makes minor technical changes to the underlying bill. I urge my colleagues to support the substitute, as well as the underlying legislation.
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Guthrie Statement: Markup of H.R. 1808, the Improving Support for Missing and Exploited Children Act of 2017
I have three children, and my wife and I work very hard to ensure they are safe and taken care of. Their wellbeing has always been our top concern, and I can only imagine what a nightmare it must be to have your child taken from you or to learn that they have been abused, exploited, or taken advantage of. Sadly, last year alone, there were more than 465,000 reports of missing children. And those were just the cases that were actually reported.
Fortunately, as a country, we have long made looking out for these children a priority — coming together at the local, state, and federal level to provide support for children in need. That’s exactly what Congress did in 1984 when it established the Missing and Exploited Children’s program. The program helps coordinate various state and local efforts to recover children who are missing and protect and support kids who are the victims of abuse and exploitation.
As part of the program, we provide a grant that supports the work of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC. For more than 30 years, NCMEC has worked with parents, law enforcement, non-profits, and various public and private entities to provide the help and support many children across the country desperately need.
In fact, NCMEC assisted with approximately 21,000 of the 465,000 reports of missing children last year. Of the cases NCMEC assisted with, 90 percent were endangered runaways, and roughly one in six of those children were likely victims of child sex trafficking. It’s horrible to think that there is a need for this kind of assistance in our country — but there is, and NCMEC continues to play an important role in a critical national effort.
Today, NCMEC operates a number of initiatives to recover, protect, and support missing and exploited children. The organization operates a 24-hour call center and a CyberTipline — both of which provide a way for individuals to report and respond to cases of missing children. NCMEC also manages a nationwide database for cases of missing children and offers technical assistance to law enforcement, criminal and juvenile justice professionals, as well as healthcare experts to get missing and abused children the care they need. The organization is also involved in a wide range of other state and local efforts — both public and private — that help vulnerable children in various ways.
This is important work, and we are here today to ensure it continues. The bill before us will update and streamline the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, making changes that will enable NCMEC to strengthen its efforts.
That includes encouraging and increasing public awareness of new and innovative ways to recover and protect missing and exploited children, as well as efforts to better protect the growing number of children who go missing from state care and those who are victims of sex trafficking.
The legislation will also help NCMEC improve the assistance it provides in identifying and locating abductors, criminal offenders, and missing children. It will help prevent children from becoming the victims of exploitation online, and it will provide transparency surrounding recovery and prevention efforts.
I cannot imagine any of my children ever being put in harm’s way. Sadly, it’s a harsh reality facing many families and children today. With this bipartisan proposal, we can help ensure missing and exploited children and their families have the help they need.
I’d like to thank Representative Courtney and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their help in delivering these important reforms.
The substitute amendment I am offering makes technical and clarifying changes to the underlying bill. I urge all of my colleagues to support the substitute, as well as the underlying legislation.
Today, we will consider two pieces of legislation: the Improving Support for Missing and Exploited Children Act and the Juvenile Justice Reform Act. These bipartisan bills are different in policy but share a similar purpose.
One streamlines a law that provides support for missing and exploited children. The other makes reforms to assist at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. But both renew a commitment we have made to help and protect our most vulnerable children.
Over the years, much has been done to make good on that commitment. Families, law enforcement, teachers, community leaders, and policymakers have worked together to protect children from harm and promote safe communities where they can grow into productive members of society.
The amount of time, effort, resources, and passion these men and women devote to helping others is inspiring. They are making a real difference in the lives of countless children, young adults, parents, and families across the country. Still, no organization or individual can do it alone. That’s where we come in.
For years, the federal government has played an important role in helping state and local leaders help and support vulnerable children. However, more can be done to strengthen and improve those efforts.
In 1974, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to coordinate the federal government’s efforts to improve state juvenile justice systems, help state and local leaders serve at-risk youth, and promote safe communities — all with a focus on education and rehabilitation. Every child deserves the opportunity to achieve success in life, and sometimes that involves a second chance to pursue a better path. Thanks in large part to this law, many young men and women have been given that second chance and have turned their lives around.
Another law, the Missing Children’s Assistance Act, has helped a different group of vulnerable youth. Passed by Congress and signed by President Reagan in 1984, this law created the Missing and Exploited Children’s program. The program includes a grant to aid in efforts to find children who are missing and protect youth who are the victims of sexual exploitation. For more than 30 years, that grant has helped support the work of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCMEC — as it’s commonly known — is a unique public-private partnership that works with families, law enforcement, schools, community leaders, and nonprofits to build a national response to crises and crimes affecting vulnerable children across the country.
At a committee hearing just a few weeks ago, I read from remarks President Ronald Reagan made at the opening of NCMEC. I think it’s worth restating that quote today. Not only does it perfectly sum up the importance of the collaborative nature of NCMEC’s work, but I think the idea also holds true for juvenile justice efforts as well.
As President Reagan said:
“No single sector of our nation can solve the problem of missing and exploited children alone. But by working together, pooling our resources, and building on our strengths, we can accomplish great things … Together, we can turn the tide on these hateful crimes.”
We are here today because we worked together — Republicans and Democrats — to put forward bipartisan solutions that will help honor and improve upon our commitment to help at-risk youth, juvenile offenders, and missing and exploited children.
I want to thank Ranking Member Scott — as well as Representatives Lewis, Guthrie, and Courtney — for their leadership in delivering these bipartisan reforms. Because of their work, we have two proposals before us today that together will help promote safe communities, protect some of our nation’s most vulnerable, and help ensure all children have opportunities to succeed.