It’s a critical time for Infrastructure Negotiations and Investments in Skills – here’s the scoop on what’s happening

By Katie Spiker, July 14, 2021

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening in Washington, you’ve heard about infrastructure and the role its poised to play in our country’s recovery from the pandemic. Making sure people have high-quality skills training and supports necessary to access jobs created by an infrastructure package, and making sure that businesses can meet demand and develop a pipeline of skilled workers, are pillars of our Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery framework. We’ve been keeping a sharp eye on the infrastructure debate. And we’ve been working with you to make sure investments in skills are part of any infrastructure package. Together, we’ve had a lot of influence. But there’s a long way to go in our efforts to drive an inclusive recovery.

Our coalition’s advocacy has led to White House & bi-partisan proposals to drive inclusive recovery

Earlier this year, NSC led a coalition of 70 organizations to call on President Biden to invest $100 billion for workforce development in his recovery proposal. We urged policymakers to focus on workers most impacted by the pandemic, including workers of color, immigrants, and women.

Soon after, the White House released the American Jobs Plan (AJP). It’s an ambitious job creation package based on rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. The plan includes investments in roads and bridges, the care economy, clean energy infrastructure, and manufacturing. Next, the Administration released the American Families Plan (AFP). That proposal would invest in education, childcare and other supports workers and students need to succeed in jobs created under AJP.

We heard all the right things from Congress and the administration.

  • The AJP included the $100 billion commitment to training we asked for;
  • The American Families Plan included investments in childcare, transportation, and education pathways consistent with proposals in NSC’s Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery;
  • The Secretaries of Commerce and Labor weighed in on the importance of training to our nation’s comeback and the President touted job growth and apprenticeships in his announcement speech on the plans; and
  • Members of Congress introduced bipartisan proposals to target these training investments effectively and equitably.

These proposals weren’t an accident; they were clear signals that Congress and the administration heard NSC’s call to action.

  • We hosted a virtual fly-in with 130 business with Business Leaders United.
  • Our coalition held more than 180 meetings on Capitol Hill during our Virtual Skills Summit.
  • We coordinated 100 virtual Hill meetings in a series of virtual advocacy dedicated to infrastructure.
  • Members of our Industry Recovery Panels are still meeting with administration officials and Congress.
  • When proposals emerged that didn’t reflect our priorities, we reupped the importance of skills for an inclusive economic recovery with the White House and Congressional leaders.

The results of our collective advocacy are clear:

  • Senators Kaine (D-VAO and Portman (R-OH), along with Congressman Levin (D-MI) and Gonzalez (R-OH) introduced the bipartisan JOBS Act. It’s legislation to expand federal financing to high-quality, short-term programs that help workers rapidly reskill. The bill would also ensure businesses have access to a pipeline of skilled workers. More than 1/3 of the Senate – evenly split between Democrats and Republicans – have signed on to this legislation, marking it as a priority for both sides of the aisle.
  • Senators Kaine and Portman and Congresswoman Bonamici (D-OR) and Congressman Thompson (R-PA) reintroduced the bipartisan BUILDS Act. That bill would support local, industry-led partnerships and invest in sector-focused training and supports for workers. Language modeled on the BUILDS Act was included in House Democrats’ comprehensive infrastructure package.
  • Senators Murray (D-WA) and Portman introduced the bipartisan Digital Equity Act (DEA). If passed, DEA would support state and local capacity to help workers access broadband and develop the digital skills necessary to use devices. The bill would also allow local areas to support workers’ digital reskilling and upskilling necessary to succeed in jobs that are evolving as businesses reopen and expand during our economic recovery. DEA’s broad support from members on both sides of the aisle make it a possible component of the narrow infrastructure bill.
  • Senators Kaine and Young (R-IN) introduced the bipartisan ACCESS Act. The bill would support partnerships between community and technical colleges, industry and community organizations. These partnerships ensure students have access to training that leads to in-demand jobs. Language consistent with the ACCESS Act has been included in House Democrats’ recovery proposals, the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act. It is also consistent with a proposal introduced by House Ways and Means Chairman Neal (D-MA) to modernize and reinvest in the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program.

Now, an inclusive recovery is being negotiated away

As critical bipartisan support builds in Congress for our shared legislative priorities, the path forward for infrastructure and economic recovery legislation has evolved into a two-step effort.

The Administration has worked with a bipartisan group of Senators to negotiate the top lines of an infrastructure deal that group believes could pass Congress. That package does not include many of the priorities the administration championed in AJP and AFP. At the same time, the Administration and Congressional Democrats are working on a separate $3.5 trillion economic recovery package that would include many of the provisions excluded from the bipartisan, narrow infrastructure deal.

But, workforce is missing or at risk of being negotiated away. The infrastructure compromise excludes the $100 billion in workforce development funding promised in the AJP. It also leaves out critical investments to support job creation in healthcare and manufacturing industries.

That means this bipartisan framework leaves out workers. It leaves out investments in training necessary to ensure that people of color, women, and immigrants have access to infrastructure jobs from which they have historically been left out. It leaves out support for small and mid-size companies and contractors who hire most workers in our country and are struggling to return to full capacity after the crisis. It leaves out partnerships that help educators prepare people – efficiently and effectively – for good jobs that will be created. And it leaves out tuition assistance for people who have lost their jobs to rapidly retrain for something new.

That won’t work: Investments in our nation’s infrastructure without investments in the people who will rebuild it will only perpetuate inequity and slow recovery.

The Democrat’s $3.5 trillion broader package is intended to supplement the infrastructure deal and invest in priorities not included there. But even at $3.5 trillion, the topline won’t support the costs associated with all of the proposals in AJP and AFP. That means the $100 billion investment proposed in AJP is at risk of being cut or eliminated without our collective advocacy.

Where do we (and policymakers) go from here?

Congress and the Administration are piecing together this problematically narrow infrastructure deal. That process could move quickly through the Senate and House if negotiators are able to reach bipartisan agreement on how to pay for new investments. Members, optimistically, want to see an agreement before Congress heads home for August recess in a few weeks.

Democrats want to use a process called Reconciliation, that only requires support from their members without needing bipartisan support, to pass a $3.5 trillion comprehensive economic recovery package. The first step to do that is to pass a Budget Resolution that commits to that $3.5 trillion investment. Democrats want to move this resolution contemporaneous with passage of any infrastructure deal, reaching this milestone prior to August recess, as well.

These packages, taken together, would be historic investments with spending committed over the next decade. While a path forward prior to August recess, or even later this Fall, seems possible, the passage of both a narrow infrastructure deal and a broader economic recovery package is still a long way from certain.

It’s not too late to fight for an inclusive recovery

This uncertainty around timeline and content for these packages means there is still an opportunity to influence what is included in these two packages.

It’s not too late to influence the narrow infrastructure deal

  • Policymakers need to know that investments in workers and skills are a critical component of any infrastructure deal.
  • Investments in broadband should support workers’ access to digital skills as part of investments proposed in digital equity.
  • Expanding Pell grants to high-quality, short-term programs would improve access to infrastructure jobs for workers of color who have historically been excluded from those jobs. And, it would ensure workers have access to community and technical college programs on which train people for new jobs.

It’s not too late to influence the broader reconciliation package

There is a real concern that Democrats could negotiate away a good portion of the $100 billion proposed in the AJP without a full court press advocacy effort by NSC and our networks. This means advocacy focused on supporting sector-based training programs under BUILDS Act, on industry partnerships consistent with ACCESS and TAACCCT grants, and on the digital equity and short-term Pell provisions we’ll be focusing on in hard infrastructure as well.

Our commitment to our networks – action and information

Over the next few months, we’ll be providing opportunities for you to help make sure Congress and the administration know that investments in skills training and supports for workers and small and mid-size businesses are critical to an inclusive economic recovery. In fact, right now, you can urge your Members in Congress to support a people-centered infrastructure plan.

We’ll also be giving you real time, regular information about what’s happening in these negotiations so that you can be the most effective advocate possible. Stay tuned for that.

Here’s what we know: The businesses and workers most impacted by the pandemic– women, people of color, immigrants, and their families –need Congress to invest in training and supports that are essential components of any job creation efforts. So our work is not over. While there is no easy road to recovery, there are concrete steps we must take to make sure that we are empowering workers and small businesses most impacted by the pandemic to drive and thrive in an equitable recovery.