House Appropriations Committee passes FY2017 Labor-HHS bill

July 15, 2016

On July 14, the House Appropriations Committee passed the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 by a 31-19 vote.

Unlike the bipartisan Senate bill marked up last month, the House bill funds Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I Adult and Youth programming at current FY2016 levels; the Senate bill cut those programs by $33.5 million and $35.4 million respectively. The House version would also increase the state dislocated worker formula grant by $20 million relative to current funding levels, but makes cuts of nearly $90 million to the dislocated worker national reserve.

The Committee Report explains that this reduction of funding for the Dislocated Worker National Reserve is in part because DOL had used this fund in past years to support the Job-Driven Training and Sector Partnership grant programs. The Report criticizes the use of these funds to support these grant programs,  since the Administration had included funding for the programs in budget request and Congress had explicitly not funded those items. Even if the final FY2017 appropriations bill does not include this cut, the Committee Report language signals that we may see additional Congressional scrutiny for DOL discretionary grants, perhaps even H-1B grants, moving forward.

The House bill also leaves out funding for apprenticeship included in the FY2016 bill at $90 million and in the FY2017 Senate Labor-HHS bill at $100 million. Committee Report language criticizes the Employment and Training Administration for not releasing more programmatic data about the use of their FY2016 funds. While this lack of data is in part because ETA has only released the bulk of these funds within the past few months, this criticism is further evidence of Congressional scrutiny of Administrative grant programs. While the Senate does not seem to have the same concerns voiced by the House Committee, Senators Murray and Hatch have introduced the Effective Apprenticeships to Rebuild National Skills (EARNS) Act, which would address the lack of data about which the House raises concerns. Under the EARNS Act,  DOL would be required to engage an outside entity to evaluate the effectiveness of apprenticeship programs and the success DOL has had in meeting the goals of each of the provisions in the bill, including increasing employment, the number of workers attaining postsecondary credentials, the return on investment of all funding mechanisms, and longitudinal outcomes for participants.

The House Labor-HHS bill, like the Senate version, would fund Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants at FY2016 levels.

Adult education state grants under WIOA Title II and career and technical education state grants under the Perkins Act are level-funded. However, the House bill does not include the restoration of “year-round Pell” that was included in the Senate bill, and makes a cut of approximately $1.3 billion in funding to the overall Pell program, which is not expected to impact maximum grant levels for the coming academic year but would reduce the amount of overall funding available for Pell in future years. At the subcommittee and full committee markups, Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced an amendment that would reinstate year-round Pell, consistent with the Senate’s Labor-HHS bill. The Subcommittee and full committee voted against including the amendment, on party lines, though Subcommittee Chairman Cole (R-OK) acknowledged this issue would likely resurface during bicameral negotiations later in the appropriations process.

National Skills Coalition appreciates the committee’s efforts to maintain WIOA formula funding at current year levels, especially as states and local areas continue with implementation of the law, though we do not support the proposed cuts to the national reserve. We are deeply disappointed by the committee’s cuts to apprenticeship grants, and we believe the committee has missed a significant opportunity to expand access to postsecondary skills and credentials by failing to adopt the Senate’s proposal to restore year-round Pell.  

The House and Senate are will recess July 15 through Labor Day, September 5, for the National Conventions and summer recess.  FY 2017 begins October 1, 2016, so Congress must pass legislation to fund the government by September 30.  Given the relatively limited time left on the legislative calendar, it is unlikely that Congress will be able to complete work on a final Labor-HHS bill, and so it is likely that lawmakers will need to pass at least a short-term continuing resolution (CR) in order to continue federal government operations until after the November elections. The House Freedom Caucus has proposed a six month CR that would extend funding at FY 2016 levels until March 2017, which would allow final FY 2017 funding decisions to be made by the next administration and Congress. House appropriators and leadership have been cool to this approach. There are some reports, however, that Senate Republicans may support such a move as well. While extending funding through a long-term CR would likely avoid any significant funding cuts for education and workforce programs in the short term, it would add to the uncertainty around future funding levels and in particular make it difficult for states and local areas to implement key workforce strategies outlined in their WIOA state plans. 

Advocates should weigh in with their members of Congress to educate them on the importance of skills investments, and urge them to push for full funding of key education and workforce programs as part of the final FY 2017 appropriations package. National Skills Coalition will continue to monitor the process and provide updates to the field as new information becomes available.