Chairwoman DeLauro Statement at Hearing on FY 2020 Labor Department Budget Request

2019-04-03 09:07

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Department of Labor:

Good afternoon, Secretary Acosta. Welcome back to our Subcommittee. This is our fourth budget hearing this year. Today, we are examining the President’s FY 2020 budget request for the Department of Labor.

We must acknowledge that you come before this committee under a cloud of controversy regarding the Epstein case and questions around the adequacy of your position as a cabinet official.  But you are still the Secretary of Labor who must answer for the proposed budget, and as such that is where I intend to keep my attention today.

I want to highlight some facts about your budget and agency, where the country looks for worker protection and opportunity.

Past administrations filled nearly 80 percent of senior positions, but the Trump administration: 54 percent. But, at the bottom of the list, is the Department of Labor (along with Interior and Justice), which filled only 43 percent.

  • You have limited corporate liability when franchisees, contractors, subcontractors, staffing agencies, and the like commit wage theft hurting working people;
  • You have allowed child labor in health professions, putting teenagers at risk of injury;
  • You have blocked electronic reporting, preventing the public from knowing detailed workplace injury information;
  • You have short-changed three million American workers from getting their overtime;

You have shuttered the Department of Labor.

  • You have weakened protections for construction and shipyard workers from beryllium exposure;
  • You have allowed contractors who cheat their workers to continue with, quote, “business as usual”;
  • And mine safety. A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found that black lung cases are at a 25-year high in Appalachian coal mining states. That is why the Department’s Office of the Inspector General cited mine operator compliance with the Respirable Coal Dust rule in its 2018 Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing DOL. (So, in light of your Department’s other rollbacks, it alarms me that you would put the Coal Dust rule up for public comment given the IG’s report.)

So, my question is, have you shuttered the Department of Labor? Is the Department of Labor no longer functioning? Are you just there for industry to do whatever it wants?

And, that is before we get to this budget. The president’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposes to cut:

  • $703 million from Job Corps that would shutter centers across the country;
  • $15 million from Reentry Employment Opportunities that provide employment and training services to youth and adults with criminal records;
  • $68 million from the International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB), the agency that investigates labor violations in trade agreements with our trading partners and reports on products that are made with child or forced labor;
  • $11 million from the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which would hurt Americans with disabilities;

The following are eliminated entirely…

  • ($400 million) the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which hurt our seniors;
  • ($89 million) Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers job training, which hurt vulnerable working people and their families, often people of color;
  • ($11 million) Susan Harwood Training Grants that provide training and education on safety and health hazards in the workplace; hurting working people.

I provide this information so we all understand the context of what is occurring in your department.

Now, let me remind you and everyone of the mission of the Department of Labor. Its mission is to, quote, “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”

Since its inception, this department offered so much promise for working people. Yet, you are seeking to shutter it for the people who rely on the agency to protect them and offer them opportunity.

You are taking the agency away from enforcement, away from weeding out bad actors, away from being a tough cop on the beat to being an ally of industry.

That is true of the president’s proposed budget cuts to the Department of Labor, a 10 percent cut amounting to $1.2 billion dollars.

I cited a number of those cuts earlier. Many are recycled proposals, which we handily rejected last year. I expect we will again.

But, and my colleagues have heard me say this, I believe this budget is cruel and reckless. This is an agency that has been historically underfunded. And now we are looking at a 10% cut. And, you say we can do more with less. But, it would appear that we are doing less with less. A lot less with less.

The result is that I believe the Department of Labor has become a shell of an agency you have hollowed out for the benefit of industry.

It is a pattern for this administration. This is our last budget hearing. Looking across the different purviews of this subcommittee, we have seen this play out with for-profit colleges and loan servicers. Unregulated, unaccountable, corporate giveaways that hurt the young and the old.

Let me look at registered apprenticeships, where you would expect much more from the Department of Labor and this budget.

First, what you are proposing is not in league with what is happening in Europe, in Switzerland and Germany where as many as half of students go through strong, accountable apprenticeship programs.

It is not in line with that in size or scope or accountability. This administration prefers unregulated and unaccountable programs and priorities.

A former staffer at the Department of Labor and Department of Education who is now with New America wrote an excellent piece [in Inside Higher Ed] on the risks of the Trump administrations’ plans to deregulate apprenticeship. She said, quote, “rather than focus its efforts on growing our small but high-performing system of registered apprenticeship, the administration has opted for building an entirely new system of industry-recognized apprenticeship programs, or IRAPs.”

These IRAPs have little to no accountability, much like with predatory for-profit colleges. Ms. McCarthy makes that point in her piece. Quote, “the administration is copying the system used to ensure quality in the lowest-performing and most fraud-ridden sector of higher education—a system that has repeatedly failed to protect student and taxpayers— for its new approach to apprenticeship…and once federal dollars are on the line, the risks – and scale of potential harm – increase exponentially.”

It is not just favoring IRAPs. The administration is undermining the Women in Apprenticeship program and the Workforce Data Quality Initiative, which is supporting, quote, “evaluation and research on the effectiveness of workforce and education programs.”

Instead, the administration is pushing unregulated and unaccountable programs and policies. In every area, you are shutting the Department of Labor.

So, too with the Department’s push to expand association health plans. These junk health insurance plans can circumvent accountability and patient protections like the essential health benefits, to the detriment of patients. On a macro level, they will lead to higher premiums in the individual and small group markets. On the micro level, they will mean higher costs for Americans who expect their plan to cover basic services like maternity, but may not.

It is bad for patients and for families. And, it is just another salvo in the administration’s political campaign to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

I am not alone in being critical of these plans. The federal courts have stopped key provisions of your rule to expand junk plans. On March 28th, a federal judge appointed by President Bush said the Department’s interpretation of the law [the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974] is quote “absurd” and that the rule authorizing these association junk plans quote “does violence” to the law.

“Does violence.” I believe you are doing violence to the agency and its mission, writ large.

I want to quote one of my heroes and the longest serving Labor Secretary in our nation’s history: Frances Perkins. She said, quote: “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.” That is how I view the mission of this department. Unfortunately, I think this budget request, and the litany of rollbacks you have undertaken, fail miserably in fulfilling that mission.

Instead, you are hollowing out of the Department of Labor. It is a fundamental failure to govern.

We will continue to oppose the cuts you have made, which would hurt the young and the old. We will continue to oppose the rollbacks you are pushing, which would take the cop off the beat and abandon working people to bad-acting corporations. And, we will continue to oppose your attacks on this storied agency.

Now, let me turn it over to my colleague, the Ranking Member from Oklahoma, Tom Cole for any comments he wishes to make. Mr. Cole?

116th Congress