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Pelosi Pushed to Seek Another $15 Billion for Worker Training

April 9, 2020, 4:24 PM

A group of House Democrats is mounting an effort to pressure chamber leadership to include more than $15 billion for workforce development and retraining efforts in the next large-scale coronavirus-relief bill.

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act (Public Law 116-136) provided $345 million for a national grant program to aid workers who have been laid off amid the public health crisis, in addition to expanding unemployment insurance and other worker-focused provisions. But Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) and Andy Levin (D-Mich.) argue that a much larger investment is needed to meet the growing demand for job-training and re-skilling programs.

“We need to invest billions, not millions in our workers and workforce system,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to House Democrats. Another 49 members have signed on to the letter, which Bonamici and Levin plan to submit to House leadership Thursday.

Additional investments to help communities respond to massive layoffs that help job seekers and employers who are impacted by the economic uncertainty are under consideration for inclusion in the next package, a representative for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office said. It’s unclear whether those additional investments will track with Bonamici and Levin’s proposal.

The duo said in the letter that a major expansion of funding for workforce development would support economic recovery by helping to return laid-off workers to jobs more quickly. The economic freefall triggered by the pandemic produced some 10 million new unemployment claims over the last two weeks of March alone and brought an 11-year bull market to an abrupt halt. The chance of a recession now stands at 100%, according to a recent Bloomberg Economics report.

Bonamici and Levin’s call to expand Congress’s commitment to workforce development mirrors a request that the National Skills Coalition, a group that promotes workforce education, and 38 other job-training and education organizations sent to House leadership last week. The groups said there’s precedent for spending roughly $15 billion on workforce development, and pointed out the U.S. invests 25% less in these programs today than it did before the Great Recession.

“During that downturn, the workforce system experienced a more than 200 percent increase in the number of Americans seeking reemployment and training services,” the workforce groups wrote.

“At that time, Congress responded with a 40 percent increase in funding for employment and training assistance through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act—enabling the nation’s workforce system to serve more than 8 million people in 2009. Today’s crisis is even more acute and necessitates a more drastic investment to meet current and future need.”

More Grants

Bonamici, Levin, and the workforce groups said a $15 billion investment would fund additional phases of the national grant program for laid-off workers included in the CARES Act. It also would support employment and training activities to support employers’ employee-retention strategies, along with reemployment services, and programs for migrant and seasonal farmworkers and American Indians.

Previously, Republicans and Democrats have found common ground in pushing for greater investment in workforce training and development. Before the pandemic, members of both parties were negotiating to reboot federal job training programs, but talks halted after the virus outbreak. Republican members also supported inclusion of $345 million in the CARES Act, calling it a highlight of the bill.

A representative for Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, declined to comment on Bonamici and Levin’s push.

Lawmakers are negotiating an interim emergency coronavirus package as well as another big-ticket bill that’s being dubbed the “CARES 2 Act.” Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that Democrats’ priorities for the emergency legislation, which lawmakers hope to pass this week, include more assistance for small businesses, health centers, and local governments.

After Congress passes interim emergency legislation, lawmakers will seek consensus on CARES 2 Act, Pelosi and Schumer said. Timing on when that effort could be finalized isn’t clear.

Pelosi has said she wants the House to pass that bill this month, but Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), want to evaluate the rollout of the CARES Act before taking action beyond the interim bill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jdiaz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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