Education & the Workforce Committee

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Updated: 2 hours 5 min ago

Opening Statement of Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), Chairman, Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions

23 hours 19 min ago

Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I would like to thank members of the subcommittee and our witnesses for being here today as we examine important and timely topics – current trends in the U.S. labor market, their benefits for American workers, and a review of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) labor market economic information and methodologies.

On the first of June, BLS released its May 2018 Employment Situation Report, which detailed the most recent data on U.S. employment. The report found numerous encouraging developments in the American economy and workforce, including improvements to rates of unemployment, job growth, and wage growth.

According to the report, unemployment is down to 3.8 percent — the lowest rate of unemployment in nearly two decades. Since May 2017, the total number of unemployed workers has dropped by 772,000 to 6.1 million people, and there has been a 28.6 percent drop in individuals experiencing long-term unemployment.

As unemployment has fallen, the number of new jobs available across the country has risen. Since February 2017, the month after President Trump was sworn into office, the U.S. economy has added nearly 3 million jobs nationwide. In particular, health care, construction, manufacturing, retail trade, and mining having all experienced particularly robust job growth.

This job upsurge has contributed to one of the most astounding developments yet: for the very first time in BLS reporting history, the number of job seekers – 6.3 million Americans – has been eclipsed by the number of available jobs – 6.7 million job openings nationwide.

We know that in addition to a strong job market, wage growth can help families achieve financial independence and security. According to the report, the workforce has experienced a rise in wages, with average hourly earnings increasing by 71 cents over the last 12-month period. Much of this growth can be attributed to tax reform, as well as efforts by Congress and President Trump to rein in regulatory burdens.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which House Republicans delivered last year and President Trump signed into law in December 2017, has lowered taxes for millions of Americans. Ninety percent of workers are seeing more of their take-home pay thanks to tax reform, and the law has helped to spur powerful economic growth across the country. Strengthening the workforce and adding more jobs to the U.S. economy have been top priorities for House Republicans and the Trump administration, and tax reform has delivered bigger paychecks and greater opportunities to more Americans.

Today’s hearing presents an opportunity to delve into BLS’s most recent information on the U.S. labor market, its recently published data on workers engaging in contingent and alternative forms of work, and to gain a better a understanding of BLS  products and data to ensure we, as policymakers, and the public at-large can best utilize this information.

I look forward to hearing from our panel of witnesses and from other members of the subcommittee today as we talk about these developments and ways to promote even greater growth for more American employers and workers.

To view the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Chairman,

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 12:00am

Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing on occupational licensing. I would like to thank members of the subcommittee and our witnesses for being here today as we discuss licensing and ways that we can encourage states to lift barriers to economic mobility and growth.

Occupational licensing plays an important role in protecting consumers and ensuring high-quality service. In many cases, it makes sense that a professional would be credentialed to operate, like in the case of a doctor performing surgery or a pilot flying a commercial plane. But in other instances, the need for a license is more of a stretch. For instance, if you aspire to be a barber or an interior decorator, there seems to be less of an urgent need for the government to play a role in regulating your career, and yet some government entities have disagreed.

The number of jobs requiring a license has grown dramatically over the last several decades. In the 1950s, only 5 percent of workers were licensed. Since then, an economic shift to the service industry and concerns for consumer protection have led to a steady increase in professions requiring a license to operate. As a result, licensed workers today comprise about quarter of the entire workforce – a five-fold increase.

Because states are responsible for imposing most licensing requirements, the burden of obtaining a license varies widely from state to state. For example, it requires 233 days in New York to obtain a cosmetology license, while it requires 490 days in Iowa. These kinds of delays and inconsistencies have resulted in a confusing and anticompetitive patchwork of regulations, which present a challenge to credentialed workers considering a move across state lines.

Studies show that worker mobility is critical for economic stimulation and wage growth, yet licensed workers are less likely to pursue an opportunity in a different state than their unlicensed counterparts. After factoring in the need to complete new education, undergo state-sanctioned testing, and pay new licensing fees despite their presently-held credentials, many licensed workers ultimately forgo opportunities in different states because the entire regulatory process is just too complicated.

What is more, lower-income workers and consumers bear a disproportionate share of this regulatory burden. Because occupational licenses cost a substantial amount of money up front, many cash-strapped workers may be prevented from entering a field, contributing to the estimated 2.85 million fewer jobs due to these requirements. Licensing can also lead to higher prices for consumers. It’s believed that $203 billion in licensing costs are passed on to consumers each year, which especially impacts lower-income individuals.

When House Republicans delivered on tax reform late last year, it was to give American workers and families more jobs, bigger paychecks, fairer taxes, and greater opportunities. So far, 90 percent of Americans have seen more take-home pay and the U.S. economy is experiencing strong gains as a direct result of tax reform. But some overly burdensome licensing requirements are putting a drag on these outcomes and slowing forward economic momentum.

States should work to strike the right balance of placing licensing safeguards where they are needed, and removing barriers and restrictions wherever appropriate. This has been a bipartisan issue in the past, with the Obama administration issuing best practices to states to minimize the burden of these regulations back in 2015. Hopefully we can continue this bipartisan cooperation to ease the regulatory burden for more working Americans.

I look forward to hearing from our panel of witnesses and from other members of the subcommittee today as we discuss ways to reform our occupational licensing systems to spur economic mobility and growth.

To view the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman, Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on “The Power of Charter Schools: Promoting Opportunity for America’s Students”

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 12:00am

All students, regardless of zip code, deserve access to a high-quality education. That means giving students the opportunity to thrive in the learning environment that best suits their unique educational needs.

Every student is different, and families should be empowered to choose whatever school best suits their child’s strengths, rather than being forced into a one-size-fits-all approach. For many, charter schools are the best option for their student to hone his or her individual abilities and build a successful life.

Though they are still relatively new on the scene, with the first having opened just over 25 years ago, charter schools have proven an immensely popular option. These institutions currently serve over three million students nationwide, while surveys show another five million students would enroll in a charter school if given the chance.

In an effort to meet this growing demand, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) maintained and improved the important charter school program. The new law included reforms not only to support the development of high-quality new schools, but also to allow for the expansion and replication of high-quality charter schools already found around the country.  These reforms included requirements to help these schools improve recruitment and retention of students, as well as to support better authorizing practices, and reforms to help charter schools access facilities financing.

Charter schools also face rigorous accountability. These schools not only have to comply with the same accountability requirements as all other public schools, including the accountability requirements under ESSA, but they also face a rigorous approval process just to open their doors, and have to meet the expectations of the parents sending their children to the school.

Too often, students in underserved areas suffer from a lack of access to educational opportunities, and by default remain trapped in the failing status quo. When there is a community need for high-quality primary and secondary education, and the traditional public schools in the area are struggling to produce strong student outcomes, charter schools can offer students a lifeline.

In fact, charter schools can be the difference between a student dropping out of high school, and going on to pursue postsecondary education. Data reported by The 74 Million shows that charter school students from high-performing charter school networks graduate from college at three to five times the national average for children from low-income families.

I have had the immense privilege of hearing from countless charter school students and their parents, and they consistently tell me the same thing: that their local charter school provided them with new hope and opportunity when the traditional public schools in their area failed to pass muster.

Over the weekend, I saw that positive impact firsthand. I had the honor of speaking at the commencement ceremony for Millennium Charter Academy in my district – a school I’ve seen grow from the ground up into a thriving, exciting, and inspiring place. It is because of schools like Millennium Charter that more students in my district have a shot at building a prosperous life.

Today’s hearing presents an opportunity to examine the myriad ways that charter schools are changing lives. It also presents an opportunity to recommit to what matters most – giving more students the opportunity to receive an excellent education that inspires a lifelong love of learning.

To view the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman, Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services”

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 12:00am

Good morning, and welcome to today’s hearing. We’re pleased to welcome the Honorable Alex Azar, Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, to his first hearing with the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

I’m especially pleased to note that this hearing comes just after Secretary Azar has celebrated his three month anniversary in his new position. Mr. Secretary, we can’t find another cabinet secretary in recent memory that has made an oversight hearing with this committee such an early priority. Thank you.

This Committee’s dedication to oversight and building working relationships with the various administrative departments are well-known and well documented. So far in this Congress, we’ve been pleased to hear from Secretary Acosta and Secretary DeVos about their priorities for the management of those departments. The members of this Committee are responsible for a wide legislative jurisdiction that means that the work we do can impact Americans in all stages and walks of life. In many cases, the Department of Health and Human Services is tasked with carrying out some of the laws that have their origins right here in this room, and that is why it’s important we hear from Secretary Azar.

Programs such as Head Start, the Child Care Development Block Grant, and Preschool Development Grants, laws like the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the Older Americans Act, and many antipoverty initiatives require a productive and accountable relationship between this Committee and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In recent years, that relationship has become even more crucial as millions of Americans have suffered under the mounting failures of Obamacare. Dwindling coverage options and soaring health care costs have left American employers and the families that rely on them with few choices and hard decisions. It’s estimated that Obamacare’s costs and mandates have resulted in roughly $19 billion in lost wages for small business employees.

That’s why this committee made H.R. 1101, the Small Business Health Fairness Act, one of our first orders of business in this Congress. This bill, offered by our own Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee chair Tim Walberg and Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, allows small businesses greater freedom in banding together to offer association health plans.

In October, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury to use their regulatory authority to expand access to affordable health care options. Those options include association health plans, short-term limited duration plans, and health reimbursement arrangements.

As the Small Business Health Fairness Act continues to await long-overdue action by the Senate, we hope Secretary Azar can provide some update today on the status of his Department’s efforts to reverse the damage of Obamacare and improve access to healthcare for millions of working families.

Just before and again shortly after Secretary Azar assumed leadership of the Department, this Committee held hearings about how the opioid epidemic is affecting communities and workplaces. To date, more than 11 million Americans have been impacted by the opioid epidemic, which has justifiably been classified as a public health emergency. While we know we didn’t arrive at this problem overnight and we can’t solve it all overnight, members of this Committee have worked together to find bipartisan legislative solutions that we all hope can bring some stability, health, and healing to our communities.

Secretary Azar, we know you are on the front lines of this fight, and we hope you have some positive developments to share with us.

I want to say at the outset that I’ve heard from some members, especially our Ranking Member, Mr. Scott, that some congressional inquiries to your office have gone unanswered. I hope if you see any of those members who have written to you here today, you can acknowledge those inquiries and provide some forecast as to when members can expect a response. We all know what a high volume of mail looks like. Responding to constituent letters has kept me here many, many late nights over the years, but it’s one of the most important parts of this job. I’m sure you would agree the same is true for you.

Secretary Azar, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to the Education and Workforce Committee. Thank you, again, for making this hearing a priority. I understand that after this hearing was scheduled, President Trump let you know that he had plans for you today as well. Every Member of Congress knows how it feels to have to be in two, sometimes three places at once, so we’re going to try to make the most of our time together.

I’ll now yield to Ranking Member Scott for his opening remarks.

To view the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Byrne (R-AL), Chairman, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections Hearing on “Regulatory Reform: Unleashing Economic Opportunity for Workers and Employers”

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 12:00am

Despite the significant improvements to the economy thanks to regulatory reform and Republican-led tax reform efforts, more work is needed to build on this success. We still have 6.3 million Americans out of work, and we cannot afford to stop looking for ways to improve economic conditions and support American workers.

Burdensome federal regulations on businesses of all sizes are one major obstacle that hurt the efforts and slow the ability of businesses to grow and hire talented employees.

Small business owners alone are spending at least $12,000 every year complying with regulations.

Additionally, in 2013, businesses both large and small devoted $94.8 billion to hiring full-time personnel to achieve regulatory compliance.

The costs associated with regulatory compliance are creating a major barrier to a business’ ability to not only hire more workers, but is hampering its ability to grow the business as a whole.

To make matters worse, despite the pleas from businesses owners around the country, the Obama administration continued to issue new, complicated, and onerous regulations that slowed economic progress during a time when the economy was focused on recovering from the 2008 financial crisis.

Republicans actually listened to the needs of businesses large and small, and that is why Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration have made regulatory reform  a priority.

During this Congress alone, House Republicans have led the charge in delivering regulatory relief by advancing 15 resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to eliminate some of the most costly, redundant, and unnecessary regulations.

I’m proud to say that five of the 15 CRA resolutions that were signed into law by President Trump came from the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Since the passage of the initial 15 CRA resolutions, we have already started to see a reversal in the truly negative effects of Obama-era regulations.

According to the American Action Forum—which our witness Dr. Douglas Holtz-Eakin is president of — overturning these 15 regulations achieved approximately $4 billion in total cost savings to businesses.

Additionally, the Committee on Education and the Workforce has held twenty-two oversight hearings on federal rules and regulations, and I am proud to say eight of those hearings were conducted by this subcommittee. This record is proof members of this committee, as well as the staff, remain committed to taking a hard look at regulations and how they impact employees and employers.

After eight years of lost opportunity under the Obama administration, this Committee and the Congress are now able to work constructively with the Trump administration to improve the regulatory environment. For example, early in his administration, the President issued executive orders to reduce the number of regulations and control regulatory costs.

Employers are taking notice of Congress and the Administration’s actions to remove regulatory burdens. A survey conducted by Littler Mendelson stated that “a little over a year into the new administration, employers are cautiously anticipating less impact from key regulatory issues on their workplaces over the next 12 months.” As the Trump Administration continues to reform the regulatory process, employers anticipate additional economic growth.

Not all regulations are bad, but today’s hearing will explore the benefits of responsible regulatory reform, how regulatory costs can be controlled to allow for the continued growth of the nation’s economy, and the importance of Congress and the administration continuing to collaborate on a regulatory reform agenda.

Our panel of witnesses today are well-suited to discuss this subject, and I look forward to hearing their thoughts, as well as their ideas about where this committee should look for future reform efforts.

To view the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Chairwoman, Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education.”

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 12:00am

Just a few days ago, we experienced yet another tragedy, this time at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Madam Secretary, I hope we’ll hear from you today about the work of the Commission on School Safety. I know state and local school districts are struggling with how to address this issue, and I know parents and students are concerned and even scared. I hope today will be an opportunity for all of us to learn more about how the Commission is developing recommendations for keeping our schools safe

As members are aware, this hearing was originally scheduled for December of last year, but had to be postponed due to changes in the House schedule. I want to thank Secretary DeVos for her flexibility and for working with the committee to make today’s hearing possible.

Given that Secretary DeVos’s primary responsibility is to faithfully carry out the laws enacted by Congress, having this dialogue about the Department’s priorities and activities is critical.

While the Constitution is clear about our roles, it’s less clear about what we must do in terms of policy. As I have reminded members of this committee on more than one occasion, there are 4,543 words in the Constitution. Not one of them is the word “education,” or a synonym for it.

Our country was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It has been my experience that education, in whatever form it may take, is the key to all of those pursuits. I believe on that point, we can all agree.

I also believe most of the members of this committee would agree that our constituents have strong feelings about the role of the federal government in education policy. They often tell us: the less from Washington, the better. Local control isn’t just a matter of philosophy, it’s a matter of practicality.

We’ve seen that firsthand through the work we have done on workforce development. Two examples that come to mind are the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. These pieces of legislation reflect the simple fact that local control and input make all the difference in ensuring that educational pursuits yield real results for Americans who just want to live successful lives.

This committee took a similar approach to K-12 education with the Every Students Succeeds Act. We firmly believe that states and school districts have an obligation to provide all students an excellent education and hold schools accountable for the performance of all students. But effective accountability must have buy-in from parents, teachers, and other state and local leaders. I applaud states and school districts for stepping up to this challenge under ESSA and the Department for enforcing the law as written. 

Secretary DeVos has made it clear that she is also a believer in local solutions for  education challenges. It’s parents and the local school leaders they know and trust who are best equipped to make the decisions that will help improve education for all students. Most of the time, it should be our job at the federal level to stay out of their way. Sometimes there’s a need for legislation. Other times, it’s up to the Department to take a step back and let state and local officials respond to the needs of their communities.

For example, under the Bush administration, the Department issued seven economically significant rules. Rules carry this designation when they would have an annual impact on the economy of $100 million or more or would have any material adverse effect on "the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or State, local or tribal governments or communities." President Obama’s administration issued as many such rules in a single year, and 27 in the Department alone over the length of the administration. That was a nearly 300 percent increase in the regulatory burden on education alone.

That’s why it’s crucial that we, the committee of jurisdiction, have a strong and productive relationship with the Secretary of Education. I expect today’s hearing to be an important chapter in that relationship.

Madam Secretary, it’s been a pleasure getting to know you over the course of your time at the Department. I know what drives you to show up to work every day is the same thing that drives each one of us – ensuring all students have access to an excellent education. I applaud your willingness to take on this work in the face of the unprecedented vitriol you face.  We look forward to hearing about what you’ve done so far to restore the Department’s authority to its rightful place, and the creative ways you’ve found to help open doors for Americans looking for more opportunities in education.

Again, it’s a pleasure to welcome you here today. I thank you for being here, and I now yield to Ranking Member Scott for his opening remarks.

To view the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Chairwoman, Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on “Protecting Privacy, Promoting Data Security: Exploring How Schools and States Keep Data Safe”

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 12:00am

Over the past several decades, there has been a significant leap in the ways that technology can be used to strengthen classroom instruction and improve student outcomes. Companies specializing in education technology have provided teachers, school districts, and states with the cutting-edge software and tools needed to create a modern learning environment that inspires student success.

The use of this technology can greatly enrich the student experience and help teachers adjust instruction according to the needs of their students. However, questions of privacy will always accompany any discussion of student data collection, as well they should.

Concerns have been raised that information such as attendance records, school performance, and other aspects of students’ personally identifiable information may be shared, sold, or mined by the companies that collect it.

In an effort to provide parents with confidence and peace of mind, several companies have signed a “Student Privacy Pledge” that holds service providers accountable to a list of stipulations, including not selling student information, providing comprehensive security, and being transparent about the collection and use of data.

While this commitment from the technology community is encouraging, it is only half of the equation. More must be done to ensure that student data remains confidential, and updating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a crucial step to ensure better protections. This law is intended to protect student privacy and stipulates who may access student education records and the ways those records may be shared, both with and without parental consent.

More than 40 years have passed since FERPA’s enactment in 1974. In those decades, which have seen breathtaking innovation and technological advances, FERPA has been amended just a handful of times to address changing circumstances under which a student’s personally identifiable information may be released.

Times have changed and the law is in need of a more substantial reform to better reflect the current realities of data collection in schools and classrooms. We need to clarify what data is a part of the record, we need to ensure access to the information is limited to those who truly need access to the data, and we need to ensure that anyone who accesses that information is known and knows the rules of using that data.

In January, this committee held a hearing on evidence-based education policymaking and the importance of strengthening education research while protecting student privacy. Today we are focused on what schools and states actually to do protect that data, through limiting what is collected and providing better security over the data that is collected. Given their unique areas of expertise, I’m looking forward to hearing our witnesses give members an on-the-ground look into what states and educators are doing to keep students’ personally identifiable information safe.

I look forward to the discussion today as this committee works to ensure the continued protection of student privacy.

To view the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), Chairman, Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Hearing on “Enhancing Retirement Security: Examining Proposals to Simplify and Modernize Retirement Plan Administration”

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 12:00am

In 1974, Congress enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which governs and sets minimum standards for employee benefit plans. This landmark law has helped millions of Americans to save for retirement and to retire from work with financial stability and peace of mind.

To date, there are nearly 700,000 private pension plans covering almost 135 million participants, with approximately 92.5 million American workers actively participating in and contributing to their plans.

Private retirement and pension plans are an important benefit that employers can offer to recruit and retain employees for good-paying jobs and help workers to successfully save for retirement, but the regulations that govern retirement plan administration are beginning to show their age.

Many ERISA provisions related to retirement plan administration are in desperate need of updating, with some having last been revised over two decades ago.

Red tape and unnecessary federal restrictions stand in the way of lower costs for small businesses and have contributed to compliance uncertainty, making it harder for employers to provide their employees with retirement savings programs.

These are not the most encouraging things to hear as more Americans are retiring, and studies show that Americans should be saving more for retirement.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents are projected to be age 65 or older by 2030. As an entire generation moves closer to the cusp of retirement, and as the retirement needs of all workers continue to change, employers must be equipped with up-to-date rules and guidance that make it easier to offer their employees retirement plans, not more difficult.

At today’s hearing, we will examine four bipartisan proposals to address the need to update the administration of the nation’s retirement plans:

H.R. 4604, the Increasing Access to a Secure Retirement Act of 2017;

H.R. 4158, the Retirement Plan Modernization Act;

H.R. 854, the Retirement Security for American Workers Act; and

H.R. 4610, the Receiving Electronic Statements to Improve Retiree Earnings Act.

The first proposal we will examine today, H.R. 4604, will reduce the compliance uncertainty that companies face by amending ERISA to clarify existing rules that provide a fiduciary safe harbor when selecting an annuity provider.

The second, H.R. 4158, will increase the automatic cash-out limit for retirement plans from $5,000 to $7,600, and defray some of the costs of retirement plan administration for small employers.

The third piece of legislation we will look at, H.R. 854, will eliminate two burdensome requirements affecting multiple employer plans: the “common nexus” requirement that prevents adoption of open multiple-employer plans (MEPS), in which unrelated employers may collectively satisfy plan administration requirements, and the “one bad apple” rule that punishes all employers in a plan for the failure of one employer to meet the plan’s requirements.

The final bill, H.R. 4610, authorizes the electronic disclosure of retirement plan information so that plan participants may access their plan information online.

These are just a few of the bipartisan solutions that our members are working on to simplify and modernize retirement plan administration, and benefit both employees and businesses large and small.

I look forward to hearing from our panel of witnesses and from other members of the subcommittee today as we explore these proposals to make it easier for employers to give their employees the tools they need to save for retirement.

To view the PDF, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Chairman, Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development Hearing on “Closing the Skills Gap: Private Sector Solutions for America’s Workforce.”

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 12:00am

Since the Great Recession 10 years ago, the American workforce has experienced a growing shortage of skilled workers with the current deficit clocking in at over six million workers. Businesses and industries are struggling to hire qualified candidates for job openings in a phenomenon known as the skills gap. In a 2015 survey of over 40,000 employers worldwide, participants reported that the top three reasons they have difficulty filling open jobs are a lack of available applicants, lack of technical competencies, and lack of experience.

This shortage of skilled employees can be seen in our own job market data. On the face of the Department of Labor’s April jobs report, the outlook appears rosy. Unemployment is all the way down to 3.9 percent and the economy is adding thousands of new jobs each month. But when you dig a little deeper, the numbers reveal that the labor force participation rate remains low with only 63 percent of working-age Americans participating in the workforce. In other words, there are plenty of in-demand jobs available, but individuals with the skills and qualifications needed to fill them are scarce.

Faced with these challenges, private sector businesses and industries have taken matters into their own hands and are devising creative approaches to bridge the skills gap.

Many companies are establishing partnerships with schools to develop programs that strengthen employees’ proficiencies and align their skills with industry needs. In a 2014 survey of U.S. executives involved in workforce development, 77 percent of executives reported that their business was affiliated with a four-year college or university, 32 percent were partnered with a community college, and 31 percent with a technical or workforce development program.

Some businesses have put an emphasis on approaches that combine on-the-job learning and classroom-based instruction like apprenticeships, while others are relying more heavily on industry-recognized certifications and credentialing to build their workforce and hire candidates with applicable skills.

These are just a handful of initiatives that private sector companies are taking to equip workers with the skills they need to succeed in high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand fields.

The skills gap phenomenon is an issue that this committee has paid close attention to over the past several years, and members have already taken steps to advance policies to complement workforce development initiatives already taking place in the private sector.

Last year, this committee favorably reported and the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 2353, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act to improve career and technical education to equip students with the skills they need for in-demand jobs while providing working Americans with a path to success.

In December 2017, this committee also favorably reported H.R. 4508, the PROSPER Act – higher education reform legislation. The PROSPER Act will expand student access to and participation in industry-led earn-and-learn programs and apprenticeships, and it will bolster partnerships between businesses and institutions of higher education.

These legislative initiatives will be instrumental in closing the skills gap, but members of this committee will greatly benefit from hearing more about the solutions emanating out of the private sector to strengthen our national workforce and fill good-paying jobs.

I look forward to hearing from our panel of witnesses and from other members of the subcommittee today as we explore industry-led solutions to close the skills gap.

To view the PDF, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Byrne (R-AL), Chairman, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections Hearing on “The Opioid Epidemic: Implications for the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act”

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 12:00am

Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I would like to thank our panel of witnesses and our members for joining today’s important discussion about the opioid epidemic and its implications for the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) program.

Across the country, prescription opioids account for an alarming 40 percent of opioid fatalities. The national opioid epidemic, which late last year was classified as a public health emergency by President Trump, is devastating communities, workplaces, and the lives of working Americans across the country – including federal workers. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, 70 percent of Americans misusing drugs, including opioids, are currently employed – a fact that has a significant impact on workplace health and vitality.

This public health emergency is not only impacting employees and employers in the private sector, but also has serious implications for the Department of Labor’s FECA program, which is responsible for workers’ compensation coverage for nearly 3 million federal employees nationwide.

FECA provides public sector employees with workers’ compensation benefits in the event of an illness or injury sustained in the performance of duty. FECA benefits include wage-replacement, reasonable and necessary medical treatment related to the injury, vocational rehabilitation and job placement assistance for disabled workers, and compensation for any impairment that results from the injury.

For years, the go-to treatment for many employees injured in the line of work was an opioid prescription. However, as prescribing practices have changed in the health sector, change has been slower in workers’ compensation programs. In 2016, the U.S. opioid prescribing rate was 61 prescriptions per 100 persons. However, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, injured workers who were given at least one prescription in 2017 received three times as many opioid prescriptions as the U.S. prescribing rate. 

Additionally, local prescribing practices vary widely from state to state, and those practices may play a significant role in whether an injured federal worker receives an opioid prescription through the FECA program for an on-the-job injury.

In May 2017, the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) announced changes to the FECA program to limit opioid prescribing practices and combat opioid abuse within the program. We applaud OWCP for these efforts, which are good first steps to limit the spread of unnecessary opioid prescriptions where a non-addictive alternative would be just as effective.  However, challenges still remain.

Due to the broad geographical reach of federal employees and the discrepancies in state-by-state prescribing practices, it is important for members of the subcommittee to understand how opioids are prescribed to federal workers through the FECA program, and learn what steps can be taken to ensure the opioid epidemic is not being perpetuated through the use of federal government resources.

Today, we will be hearing from experts who are familiar with the Department of Labor’s programs and initiatives, and the inner workings of both federal and state workers’ compensation programs. Their testimony will provide members with invaluable insight into the opioid public health emergency, and its implications for the FECA program.

I look forward to hearing from our panel of witnesses and from other members of the subcommittee today as we examine the relationship between the federal workers’ compensation program and the national opioid epidemic.

To view the PDF, click here.

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