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Biden Aims to Boost DOL Funding for Enforcement, Virus Response

April 9, 2021, 3:00 PM

President Joe Biden proposed spending $14.2 billion on the U.S. Labor Department for the 2022 fiscal year, a 14% increase in the agency’s current annual budget.

The administration’s opening bid for higher DOL funding was aimed at several areas of pandemic workforce recovery. The request, which represents $1.7 billion above the prior-year level, was part of the White House’s preliminary “skinny budget” that was released Friday and outlined topline spending goals for Cabinet agencies.

While the ultimate spending decisions will rest with Congress, the Biden administration wants to spread a funding increase between its workplace enforcement agencies to overcome staffing reductions. It also envisions devoting more resources toward registered apprenticeships and other workforce training programs; support for states in processing unemployment insurance claims; and paying for a new initiative to retrain workers in Appalachian communities and reemploy them in clean energy jobs.

DOL is operating on a $12.5 billion budget for fiscal 2021, which is just $122 million more than it received in the prior year and $1.4 billion higher than what former President Donald Trump had proposed.

The Biden administration’s opening vision sets the stage for spending negotiations in Congress, where Democrats’ slim majority in both chambers are likely to create challenges. The White House is expected to later release a more detailed budget request featuring specific funding requests for individual subagencies, such as the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The preliminary proposal was silent on what funding the administration would like for two primary independent federal agencies that dictate workplace policy—the National Labor Relations Board and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Worker Protection

The White House is calling for $2.1 billion for DOL worker protection agencies, which would amount to a 17% surge, or $304 million more, from what Congress enacted for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

These agencies, which include WHD and OSHA, have lost about “14 percent of their staff, limiting DOL’s ability to perform inspections and conduct investigations,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said.

More specifically, the requested funding would boost efforts to investigate misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees, and restore “resources to oversee and enforce the equal employment obligations of Federal contractors.”

Apprenticeships and Training

A request of $285 million is being sought for registered apprenticeships, which would be $100 million more than the current annual level for such programs. The rise would be aimed at expanding these earn-as-you-learn vocational training opportunities for underrepresented groups, such as women and people of color, and to spread the programs into a broader range of economic sectors.

A 6% bump was requested for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act state grants directed at employment services and job training for a variety of groups in need, including dislocated workers, low-income adults, and disadvantaged youths struggling amid the pandemic.

Unemployment

Jobless benefits spending is needed to improve “access and equity” in the federal-state unemployment system, the White House said, without specifying a funding number.

Biden wants to award DOL funds to help states better handle the volume of claims after delays in processing benefits claims hit workers of color particularly hard throughout the past year. There would also be $100 million for information technology to help states improve their systems for processing claims.

Appalachia

Another $100 million request is sought to finance DOL’s participation in a new multi-agency project called “Power+ Initiative” intended to help Appalachian communities “transition away from fossil fuel production.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Travis Tritten at ttritten@bgov.com

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