Chair DeLauro Statement at the FY 2022 Budget Request for the Department of Labor Hearing

2021-04-28 11:39

House Appropriations Committee Chair and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) delivered the following remarks at the subcommittee's hearing on the FY 2022 Budget Request for the Department of Labor:

Today, April 28, in addition to being Tom Cole’s birthday, is Worker’s Memorial Day, a day to honor the over 5 thousand working people who die on the job in the U.S. each year. Today is also the 50th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has helped to transform America’s workplaces and significantly reduced workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. I am especially grateful that today we have Secretary Walsh with us to discuss how the Biden administration is helping to keep our nations’ workers healthy and safe.

Secretary Walsh, I especially appreciate how your experiences as the son of Irish immigrants who has faced his fair share of hardships qualifies you as a particularly powerful voice in this discussion.

Like you, I also have an immigrant heritage. I often tell the story of how my Italian-American mother worked in the old sweatshops and how my friend’s mother was one of the 15 people who died in the Franklin Street Fire, a fire just down the street from my house when I was barely a teenager. It is impossible to be an eyewitness to events like that, to witness the struggle of hard-working families, and not be touched by the gravity of our responsibility to one another. That is why I have long dedicated myself to fighting for worker’s rights and workplace safety laws so that every American can achieve the American Dream. 

But, while our Irish and Italian American communities have now largely worked their way into the middle class, many communities today still face continuing obstacles, such as racial inequities and discrimination, that make the path to the middle class more difficult. That is why I look forward to working together with you to help open the American Dream to all Americans.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our economy and workforce, Americans across the country are struggling to make ends meet. In April 2020 last year, the unemployment rate in this country peaked at 14.8 percent, the highest since the Department of Labor began collecting this data in 1948. Meanwhile the long-term unemployment rate – the percentage of people who continue to remain unemployed for 27 weeks or more – has increased almost fourfold: from 1.2 million in March 2020, to 4.2 million in March 2021. And while we have seen a considerable decrease in overall unemployment over the past year, over 143,000 Connecticut residents are still without jobs. as I have said before, we know that women and people of color have been disproportionately affected. For example, there are about 3.7 million fewer women working now than in February last year. And to be clear, these women are not opting out of the workforce, but are being pushed out by inadequate policies.

Challenges like access to childcare and workplace flexibility are still making it much more difficult for women to reclaim the jobs they lost. Many have been forced to consider new careers because the jobs they had prior to the pandemic no longer exist.

That is why I am so encouraged that you and President Biden have made it a priority to invest in American jobs. And that means investing in workforce development, including sector-based training, apprenticeship programs, partnerships between institutions of higher education and employers. As you know, this subcommittee was instrumental in creating the Apprenticeship Grants program in Fiscal Year 2016 and has continued to fund this program with $185 million in Fiscal Year 2021.

I am pleased that the President’s American Rescue Plan and American Jobs Plan include so many critical investments for our nation’s workers and working families.

The American Rescue Plan extended emergency unemployment benefits to millions of families, a critical lifeline for American workers who are temporarily out of a job.

The American Jobs Plan will invest in American workers by providing $100 billion over 10 years to strengthen our workforce protect workers against wage theft and workplace discrimination. The American Jobs Plan also includes the Protecting the Right to Organize, the (PRO) Act, which ensures all workers have a free and fair choice to join a union and strengthens bargaining rights for public service workers. And it includes a new subsidized jobs program to tackle long-term unemployment and underemployment.   

I’m glad that President Biden’s discretionary funding request builds on the American Rescue Plan and American Jobs Plans by proposing $14.2 billion in fiscal year 2022 for the Department of Labor, and that’s an increase of $1.7 billion.

The request includes $285 million for Apprenticeship Grants, to expand access for women, for people of color and historically underrepresented groups, as well as expand apprenticeships to new industries.

I’m encouraged that this request increases funding for State Grants under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and Wagner-Peyser, and for worker protection agencies to protect workers to combat wage theft and enhance worker health and safety. As you also explain further in your testimony, Mr. Secretary, this pandemic revealed many longstanding problems in the Unemployment Insurance system, which disproportionately affect workers of color. I am pleased that this budget request seeks to rectify these continuing inequities.  

The investments are vital.

Shining a light on these challenges, this subcommittee has already held hearings on community colleges and workplace health and safety. Two years ago, we also held a hearing on combatting wage theft, which the Economic Policy Institute estimates amounts to as much as $50 billion stolen from workers’ paychecks every year. The previous administration exacerbated this problem, but the Biden administration wisely has proposed to rescind and withdraw the Trump administration’s Joint Employment and Independent Contractor rules, which were poorly drafted end-runs around worker wage theft protections included in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

I believe the Biden administration can quickly build on that progress by ensuring that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) quickly issues an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers from COVID-19, which continues to infect thousands of Americans each day. Establishing enforceable, comprehensive requirements from OSHA is the only way to guarantee that all workers receive protections from the coronavirus that will help to keep them safe.

And witnesses at our recent hearing highlighted the importance of including requirements to limit airborne transmissions in the meat and poultry plants and robust protections for agricultural workers. We stand ready, I stand ready to support you and the administration’s work to release a strong, enforceable standard as soon as possible.

Mr. Secretary, there are a lot of promising proposals and we have made a lot of progress in recent months. But there is still much more work to be done. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his classic meditation on the American Dream, the Great Gatsby, we must beat on, boats against the current, resisting the inclination to be born back ceaselessly into the past.

So, I look forward to working with you as we build the architecture of the future and allow more people more opportunities to achieve the American Dream.

117th Congress