Education & the Workforce Committee
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.
To read online, click here.
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.
This hearing is about one basic principle: The sovereign rights of Native Americans must be protected.
This core principle is woven deep into the fabric of our shared history. It is part of who we are as a society and has long defined the unique government-to-government relationship that exists between the United States and independent, tribal nations.
What does tribal sovereignty mean? It means that Native American tribes have a fundamental right to self-govern. They have a right to self-determination. And they have the freedom to advance their own economic policies in the pursuit of prosperity for tribal members.
Bipartisan support for tribal sovereignty has been reaffirmed time and time again by Congress. And for more than 180 years, the Supreme Court has held that tribes possess a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government.
Unfortunately, the National Labor Relations Board has taken a number of alarming steps in the past decade that have created widespread concern in the Native American community and threatened tribal sovereignty as we know it.
For nearly 70 years, the board respected Native American sovereignty and did not apply its jurisdiction under the National Labor Relations Act over tribes. The reason was simple. While the NLRA provides important protections for workers, it is a private sector labor law that specifically excludes state, local, and federal government employers.
Congress recognized the differences between public and private sector employment, so it afforded every level of government the freedom to determine its own labor policies. But that all changed in 2004. With its San Manuel Bingo & Casino decision, the board suddenly reversed course. It abandoned long-standing precedent and began using an arbitrary test to determine when and where to exert its jurisdiction over Native American tribes.
The board’s move understandably sparked outrage within the Native American community. In fact, the Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Nation testified before this very committee, saying the board’s decision was “an affront to Indian Country.” He added that it “suggests that Indian tribes are incapable of developing laws and institutions that protect the rights of employees.”
We also heard from the Lieutenant Governor for the Chickasaw Nation — one of the largest tribes in the country. He testified that tribal sovereignty is a “profound issue of national importance that cannot be left in the hands of an admittedly inexpert federal agency.” I couldn’t agree more. The NLRB has no expertise in Indian law and has no business meddling in the affairs of tribal nations.
But the aggressive approach we’ve seen from unelected bureaucrats at the NLRB has only grown worse. A series of inconsistent and misguided decisions have created significant legal confusion for Native Americans and tribal-owned businesses.
In order to prevent future NLRB overreach, Congress must pass the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. The legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act to clarify that the law does not apply to businesses owned and operated by Native American tribes and located on tribal land. This will ensure that tribes receive the same treatment as states and local governments when it comes to policies impacting their workforce.
I want to thank our colleague Todd Rokita for championing this legislation. And I’d like to point out that this legislation is not about union workers versus non-union workers. What this legislation is about is very simple. It is about the fundamental principle that tribal governments are sovereign and are free to self-govern. Congress now has an opportunity to reaffirm this principle and follow through on our promise to the Native American community.
Guthrie Statement: Hearing on "Examining the Corporation for National and Community Service and Its Failed Oversight of Taxpayer Dollars”
One of the most important responsibilities given to Congress by the Constitution is oversight of the federal bureaucracy. As members of this committee, we share in that responsibility by conducting oversight of the departments, agencies, commissions, and government corporations in our jurisdiction. It is our duty to hold the executive branch accountable both for the way it administers the law and how it spends taxpayer dollars. And that’s why we are here today — to hold the Corporation for National and Community Service accountable.
Commonly known as CNCS, the corporation is an independent federal agency, created in 1993 to oversee a range of federal community service programs and grants, including AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps programs. Today, it receives more than $1 billion dollars a year to support 11 different initiatives and issues $750 million in grants annually. In fact, at any given time, CNCS is responsible for overseeing more than 2,000 active grants — ranging in size from $40,000 to $10 million.
That’s a significant amount of money, making the corporation’s oversight of those funds significantly important. CNCS has a responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent in full compliance with the law. However, time and time again, the corporation has fallen short of that goal.
Just last year, this subcommittee held a hearing after learning about a particularly egregious misuse of taxpayer dollars under the corporation’s watch. As the corporation’s Inspector General reported, one AmeriCorps grantee allowed members to participate in illegal activity by providing support services during abortion procedures — all while continuing to receive taxpayer funds. Incidents like this one are simply unacceptable.
CNCS has a history of failing to prevent the unlawful use of taxpayer dollars. According to the corporation’s own Inspector General, AmeriCorps misspent at least $14.5 million in 2015. I say “at least” because the information used to determine the extent of that misspending was not “statistically valid, complete, or accurate” — meaning the actual amount may have been even higher. Due to poor planning, CNCS could not even determine the amount misspent in 2016.
Additionally, it is estimated that Senior Corps programs misspent $47 million dollars in 2016. Let me repeat that: $47 million. That’s 30 percent of Senior Corps’ total spending.
Of course, while misspending is a serious problem, the corporation’s oversight failures extend beyond funding.
Under federal law, CNCS grantees are required to perform criminal history checks on their participants and staff to ensure the safety of the individuals and communities they serve. However, the corporation’s Chief Risk Officer found that an alarming number of grantees failed to properly do so last year. In fact, 40 percent of participants or staff in the Senior Companion Program and 41 percent in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program didn’t undergo the required background checks. These are just two examples, but the percentages are shocking. We are talking about individuals who are working closely with our seniors and some of the most vulnerable members of our local communities. Yet, we know nothing or very little about their background or criminal histories. That’s not just an issue of mismanaged or misspent money. It’s an issue of safety and security.
It is clear CNCS is not fulfilling its responsibilities to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent in accordance with the law. We, the members of this committee, have a responsibility to demand better.
Save Small Business from Obamacare
By Reps. Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Tim Walberg (R-MI)
Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini warned last month that the Affordable Care Act is in a “death spiral.” Because ObamaCare is failing, we are debating how best to repeal and replace it. But amid this debate, it’s important to remember the people ObamaCare is hurting.
Here is what Kathy, who owns a company in Missouri, told the House Ways and Means Committee: “As a small business owner, I recall the days before the ACA when we would receive a 2-inch notebook that contained multiple quotes from different health insurance companies. Now, our options are listed on a single legal sized sheet of paper. We only received three quotes for 2017, and just two of them were adequate for our region. In 2013, our insurance cost $180,000 for 92 lives with a $2,000 deductible. In 2016, we paid $252,000 for just 61 lives who face a $5,000 deductible.”
Her story, unfortunately, is not unique. Under ObamaCare’s costly regulations, many business owners must make hard choices between cutting back employees’ hours, laying off staff, or dropping health-care coverage (and then paying a penalty for doing so if the firm has more than 50 workers). Among businesses with fewer than 10 employees, 35.6% offered health insurance in 2008. That figure had fallen by 2015 to 22.7%, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
Even worse, a January report from the American Action Forum found that since ObamaCare became law, “among small businesses, the rise in premiums has been associated with $19 billion in lost wages, 10,130 fewer business establishments, and nearly 300,000 lost jobs.” That’s a big problem for American families, particularly since small businesses are responsible for 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs.
Repealing ObamaCare is necessary and would certainly help small businesses grow and hire new workers. But Congress should also help these job-creators provide affordable health-care options to their employees. That’s why we introduced the Small Business Health Fairness Act, which the House is scheduled to vote on this week.
The legislation is built on a basic rule of insurance: The bigger the risk pool, the lower the premium. That’s why large corporations and unions have an advantage in providing health insurance to their employees and members. Our bill would allow small businesses to band together through association health plans, or AHPs, to provide good policies for workers and their families at a lower cost.
AHPs could function in one of two ways: They could work directly with an insurer to negotiate better rates. Or they could self-fund, just as many large corporations and unions already do. Self-funded plans would also be exempted from many costly state and federal requirements, just as many corporate and union plans are.
To ensure the success and fairness of AHPs, our bill includes requirements that would provide accountability, stability, and consistency across the country. Any active marketing by an AHP sponsor would have to be directed at all its members, regardless of their claims history or health status. AHPs would be restricted from setting premiums in a way that might raise costs for higher-claims companies compared with similarly situated employers in the plan.
As House Republicans work to repeal ObamaCare and alleviate the burden it places on Americans across the country, we hope that AHPs can be a central part of the effort. Passing our bill is a common-sense way to give small-businesses the same economies of scale in health insurance that Fortune 500 companies enjoy—with the result being more affordable coverage for workers and their families.
To read online, click here.
Today’s hearing is part of our committee’s broader effort to strengthen higher education. We all know and have seen the significant opportunities provided by a postsecondary education. Unfortunately, as we have also seen, realizing the dream of a higher education is becoming increasingly difficult for many individuals across the country.
As Chairwoman Foxx pointed out at a hearing earlier this year, college costs are rising at a rapid rate. In fact, since 2006, average tuition and fees have increased by more than 40 percent at four-year public institutions and by almost 27 percent at four-year private nonprofit institutions. Meanwhile, for a variety of reasons, students aren’t completing their education. It is estimated that among students who started college in the fall of 2010, only 55 percent had earned a degree or certificate by 2016. That’s not even four years. It’s six years — with nothing to show for it at the end.
These are just two statistics that help illustrate the challenges individuals face when they consider whether or not they should or can pursue a higher education. They’re also two of the reasons we are working to make higher education more accessible and affordable. One of the ways we can accomplish that goal is by simplifying and improving federal student aid.
Over the years, the federal student aid system has become too complex. Students and their families are forced to navigate six different types of federal student loans, nine different repayment plans, eight different forgiveness programs, and 32 deferment and forbearance options — each with its own rules and requirements. Sounds complicated, right?
Now, imagine you are a student with no background or experience in navigating such financial options and responsibilities. Faced with all of these choices and decisions, some individuals don’t even know where to begin. Others simply give up.
We need to get rid of the complexity. We need to eliminate the confusion students face. And there a number of ways we can do both.
Just yesterday, I introduced a bill — the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act — that would improve the timing, frequency, and content of financial aid counseling. These changes to current policy would help students and their families better understand their options and responsibilities when it comes to paying for college. It’s an idea that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the past, and I’m hopeful it will be part of the discussion as we move forward with efforts to strengthen higher education.
Another idea is streamlining federal aid into one grant program, one loan program, and one work study program — “streamlining” being the operative word there. It’s not about cutting. It’s about cleaning things up — making it easier for individuals to explore their options, find the right school, figure out how to pay for their education, and determine the best way to repay their loans.
These ideas are just two of many solutions that have been proposed. Each makes different reforms, but they all have the same goal: Make the system more efficient and more responsive to the needs of students.
Simplifying federal student aid is one principle in a comprehensive framework that will guide our work to strengthen higher education, but it’s a critical one. Doing so will provide students and their families with a more timely and a clearer picture of the financial assistance they are eligible to receive. It will ensure taxpayer dollars are supporting those students who need help the most. And, perhaps most importantly, it will help more Americans realize that the dream of a higher education is within reach.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and learning more about their ideas for simplifying and improving student aid. I know this discussion will help guide the work ahead as we continue our efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
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Foxx Statement: Hearing on “Honoring Our Commitment to Recover and Protect Missing and Exploited Children”
So much of the work we do on this committee is about creating opportunities for individuals to learn, grow, and achieve success in their lives. Unfortunately, statistics and the nightly news continue to act as shocking reminders that too many children in this country aren’t thinking about the future. They’re thinking about their survival. Last year alone, there were more than 465,000 reports of missing children.
No child should live in fear of being taken from his or her family. No child should live in fear of abuse or exploitation. No child should live in fear of becoming the victim of a heinous crime.
No child should live in fear. Period.
That’s why protecting our most vulnerable children has long been a national priority. In 1984, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, was created to play a role in that important effort.
Since that time, NCMEC has coordinated and supported state and local efforts to recover children who are missing and support youth who are victims of violent crimes. The organization works with law enforcement, families, schools, community leaders, and nonprofit organizations with a shared goal — providing help to children who are in desperate need of protection.
Through a number of initiatives and programs, NCMEC operates a 24-hour hotline and a CyberTipline; maintains a nationwide database on cases of missing children; and provides technical assistance to other recovery and prevention efforts. The organization also coordinates resources to victims, their families, and the professionals who help them; and it engages in public-private partnerships to assist state, local leaders, and community partners in their efforts.
As President Ronald Reagan said when opening NCMEC in 1984:
“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.”
Today, NCMEC continues the mission articulated by President Reagan more than 30 years ago. In 2016, the center assisted with approximately 21,000 cases of missing children. Of those cases, 90 percent were endangered runaways, and roughly one in six of those children was a likely victim of child sex trafficking.
Over the years, Congress has worked closely with NCMEC to ensure it has the tools it needs to do its job effectively. We have also worked to ensure taxpayer dollars being used to support the center’s efforts are spent responsibly. And that’s the purpose of this hearing — for an update from the organization itself. Today, we have with us John Clark, president and chief executive officer of NCMEC.
Mr. Clark, we are pleased to hear from you about the work NCMEC is doing to help vulnerable children across the country, as well as the challenges you face and improvements that can be made to help NCMEC continue its work. As I stated earlier, your efforts play a critical role in a national commitment to help our most vulnerable children.
In the words of President Reagan, “Together, we can turn the tide on these hateful crimes.” I look forward to continuing to work with you — and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle — to do just that.