From our Capital Thinking blog, our public policy colleague Stacy Swanson shares the latest federal employment law developments in in the legislative and executive branches during the week of May 31, 2021.
This is a weekly post spotlighting labor topics in focus by the US legislative and executive branches during the previous week. In this issue, we cover:
- May Jobs Report Released
- Half of U.S. States Curb Federal Pandemic-Related Unemployment Benefits
- The President’s FY 2022 Budget Request
- Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates
- Labor Department OIG Report on UI Released
- EEOC Issues New Guidance for Employers
- Democrats’ Paid Leave/Child Care Bill
- Homeless Veterans Employment Grants
Both chambers of the U.S. Congress were in recess this week, in observance of Memorial Day. Lawmakers will return to Washington next week.
May Jobs Report Released. On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor released the job report for the month of May that reflected 559,000 new jobs were added. The increase, however, fell short of expectations from economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, which had forecast 671,000 new jobs. Businesses that suffered the biggest declines in employment during the pandemic, such as restaurants, hotels, museums and entertainment venues, created the bulk of the new jobs in May. Some believe early retirements, a lack of child-care options and generous unemployment benefits explain why more people have not returned to work. The unemployment rate also decreased to 5.8 percent from 6.1 percent, with economists saying the rate likely understates the true level of unemployment by two to three percentage points. Meanwhile, the number of new jobs created in April was revised up to 278,000 from 266,000.
U.S. President Joe Biden addressed the May jobs report later that morning, citing the steady growth in jobs and decline in unemployment as evidence his economic plan is working. He also indicated that he supports allowing enhanced unemployment insurance to end in September, when it is set to expire.
House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) issued a statement critical of the May jobs report:
Even with dumbed down jobs expectations based on April’s disastrous report, here is another jobs report falling well short of expectations. Long-term unemployment is higher than when the pandemic started, and labor force participation mirrors the stagnant 1970s. It’s time for President Biden to abandon his attack on American jobs, his tax increases, his anti-growth regulations and his obsession with more emergency spending and endless government checks.”
Half of U.S. States Curb Federal Pandemic-Related Unemployment Benefits. Of the 27 Republican controlled States, 25 States have now said they will curb federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits this summer, with Maryland joining this week.
- Maryland: On Tuesday, Governor Larry Hogan (R) announced the state would no longer participate in the following programs, effective July 3:
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides an additional $300 per week;
- Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC);
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); and
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
- New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu (R) also announced in mid-May that the state would wind down the FPUC, MEUC, PEUC and PUA benefits, effective June 19.
The President’s FY 2022 Budget Request. On May 28, the White House released President Biden’s full Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Budget Request, after releasing an outline of the Budget in April. The $6 trillion proposal incorporates the President’s American Jobs Plan ($2.25 trillion) and American Families Plan ($1.8 trillion). The Labor Department spotlighted and justified the following proposed Budget provisions in a statement released last Friday:
- Expand Registered Apprenticeship Opportunities. The Budget proposes $285 million for Registered Apprenticeships, an increase of $100 million from the 2021 enacted level, to expand access to this proven model for historically underrepresented groups and to diversify the industry sectors involved. The American Jobs Plan would build on this investment with $10 billion over 10 years to create one to two million new Registered Apprenticeship slots and to strengthen the pipeline for more women and people of color to access these opportunities.
- Help Workers Find Pathways to Good-Paying Jobs. The Budget proposes an increase of $203 million to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act state grants to make employment services and training available to more dislocated workers, low-income adults and disadvantaged youth who have been hurt by the economic fallout from the pandemic. The Budget also includes increased investments in programs that serve disadvantaged workers and job seekers, including justice-involved individuals, at-risk youth and American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian individuals. The American Jobs Plan would further ensure workers are able to acquire the skills they need to succeed with investments in proven workforce development models, such as sector-based training programs, comprehensive supports for dislocated workers, and expanded access to intensive, staff-assisted career services.
- Make Improvements to the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system. The Budget takes initial steps to address deficiency in the UI system by providing the first comprehensive update in decades to the formula that funds states’ UI administration, helping to better equip states to handle higher volumes of claims and to be better prepared for future crises. It also requests $100 million to support the development and deployment of IT solutions in states to ensure timely and equitable delivery of UI benefits.
- Rebuild Capacity to Protect Workers’ Rights, Benefits and Safety. The Budget includes increases totaling nearly $300 million in the worker protection agencies, including $73 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, $67 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, $35 million for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and $37 million for the Employee Benefits Security Administration. The American Jobs Plan further bolsters the Department’s worker protection agencies with an additional investment of $7.5 billion over 10 years. These increases would rebuild enforcement capacity, expand whistleblower protection programs and increase outreach and compliance assistance.
- Protect Workers’ Paychecks. The Budget proposes an increase of more than $30 million for the Wage and Hour Division. This increase would allow the Division to combat worker misclassification and fully enforce the other areas under its purview, including prevailing wages and family and medical leave.
House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) welcomed the President’s Budget, characterizing it as a “blueprint for expanding opportunity and strengthening” the U.S. economy. He spotlighted proposed investments in expanding workers’ access to paid leave and cracking down on companies that commit wage theft. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Washington) spotlighted the historic investments in child care, adding:
But we can’t stop there—we need to reform our child care system and finally establish a child care infrastructure in this country, and that means passing my Child Care for Working Families Act. If we are going to rebuild from this crisis stronger, and fairer—if we are going to build an economy that truly works for everyone—we need to ensure access to high-quality, affordable child care for every family who needs it and improve wages for child care workers.”
House Education & Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) criticized the President’s Budget, stating:
Fiscally responsible policies, a dynamic and growing workforce, and unparalleled opportunities in education are what the American people demand right now. Unfortunately, President Biden believes that hamstringing hardworking taxpayers and families is a more viable approach. His budget is nothing more than a costly sham that will bankrupt the country even further. The American people deserve more than this egregious abdication of leadership.”
On June 9, the House Education & Labor Committee is set to hold a hearing titled, “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Labor.” U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh is scheduled to testify on the President’s Budget proposal for the Department.
Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates. On May 28, President Biden announced his intent to nominate Mr. Larry Turner to serve as Inspector General at the Labor Department. Mr. Turner was sworn in as the Deputy Inspector General of the Labor Department on September 8, 2014; since June 22, 2020, he has served as Acting Inspector General.
On 3 June, President Biden announced his intent to nominate Mr. David Weil to serve as Wage and Hour Administrator at the Department of Labor. Mr. Weil currently serves as Dean and professor at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Prior to joining the Heller School in August 2017, he served as Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the United States Department of Labor under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017.
Labor Department OIG Report on UI Released. On May 28, the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a 41-page report titled, “COVID-19: States Struggled to Implement CARES Act Unemployment Insurance Programs.” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) issued a statement on June 2 on the IG report:
It’s no secret that states struggled mightily to get enhanced jobless benefits out the door during the COVID-19 economic crisis. These challenges were the result of inadequate state benefits and 53 separate state systems, many of which were neglected for decades and running on 60-year-old technology. A complete overhaul of unemployment administration is critical here, and my legislation would set new standards and move us toward one website, instead of 53.”
EEOC Issues New Guidance for Employers. On May 28, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced U.S. companies can mandate that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, as long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws.
Democrats’ Paid Leave/Child Care Bill. After last week’s House Ways & Means Committee hearing on universal paid leave and guaranteed access to child care, Ways and Means Democrats released a video this week highlighting the Building an Economy for Families Act, their legislative proposal to provide universal paid family and medical leave, guaranteed access to child care, and permanent extensions of the American Rescue Plan’s expansions of the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC).
Homeless Veterans Employment Grants. On June 1, the Labor Department announced it had awarded more than $52 million in grants to help homeless veterans return to employment. The Department awarded 119 continuation grants totaling more than $40 million and 36 new three-year grant awards totaling more than $12 million to provide a wide range of services to veterans currently homeless or at risk of homelessness.