Is Biden’s first budget request the bold action we need for an inclusive economic recovery?

By Caroline Treschitta, May 13, 2021

President Joe Biden released the outline of his request for fiscal year (FY) 2022 discretionary funding earlier this month. This “skinny budget” request came just days after the administration released the American Jobs Plan, which included a proposed $100 billion investment in workforce consistent with National Skills Coalition advocacy.

The budget request proposes slight increases to funding for workforce programs to align with past authorized levels under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Increases are certainly critical. And the budget is intended to address only the next fiscal year need, compared to the investment in the American Jobs and Families Plans that are intended to continue over 10 years. That said, NSC encourages the administration to go bolder even in its FY 2022 budget request.

As the proposal notes, this year’s appropriations process arrives during one of the most difficult periods in the nation’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken millions of lives across the globe, exacerbated racial inequalities, and brought historic unemployment. The administration has promised to advance racial equity and prioritize getting people back to work. These efforts to combat the crisis and historic inequities are consistent with NSC’s Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery.

It is crucial for the workers, businesses, community and technical colleges, labor unions, and workforce boards that NSC represents that the Biden administration maintains these promises through proposed targeted increases to workforce funding. America’s workers need additional resources, including training, supports, career and technical education, adult education, and digital literacy. Without them, workers and businesses across the country will not be able to recover from COVID-19.

Key takeaways from the “skinny budget”

President Biden’s outline included incremental proposed increases in Department of Labor and Education programs. The proposed budget would increase investments to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) by 6%. It also included a $100 million increase in registered apprenticeship opportunities and a $400 increase to the maximum Pell Grant.

While these are positive proposed investments, it is still short of what is necessary to combat the economic crisis.

What makes it “skinny”

The outline released last month is the foundation on which the President will release his full budget request. It didn’t include funding levels for several programs critical to workers’ ability to access good jobs or business’ ability to hire skilled workers.

These investments are a strong start – but they’re just that; a start. America was dismally behind in workforce funding before the pandemic. Given the scope of the current crisis, the administration needs to make bold, generation-defining investments across the board.

Additionally, the budget outline noted a proposed 41% increase in Department of Education funding, overall. But this “blueprint” did not include specifics on funding levels for either Adult Education or Career and Technical Education programs.

It also included a 14% increase in programs under the Department of Agriculture. Missing were funding numbers proposed for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The President will release his full budget later this Spring. At the same time, first the House and then the Senate appropriations committees will begin their appropriations process. While the President’s budget is always just a request to Congress, Democrats hold control of both the House and Senate. Congressional Democrats are likely to take cues and priorities from Biden’s skinny budget, given party alignment with the White House.

The budget by department

Department of Labor

The administration proposed $14.2 billion, a 14% increase from 2021, for the Department of Labor. Workforce programs, however, only received a 6% percent increase over FY 2021 levels. Though important, the investment falls short of the amount necessary to prepare our workforce to recover from the pandemic.

The budget did include significant proposed increases – $285 million (35% increase) to expand registered apprenticeship opportunities. This includes increasing access for people of color and women and diversifying the industry sectors involved. The apprenticeship program is long due for modernization, and investments are a key element of this.

There is also $3.7 billion (6% increase) for WIOA state grants. This funding willadvance the goal of developing pathways for diverse workers to access training and career opportunities.” Justice-involved individuals, at-risk youth, and low-income veterans are specifically noted here. This centering of equity and marginalized communities is crucial for an inclusive economic recovery from COVID-19, and for dismantling systemic racism within the workforce.

The outline did not include proposed funding for workforce data through Workforce Data Quality grants, but these investments are critical. Understanding who is accessing good paying jobs and wage outcomes is essential to an inclusive economic recovery.

Department of Education

The budget request includes a proposed 41% increase in Department of Education programs. However, it did not include detailed funding requests for Career and Technical Education or Adult Education programs.

The President’s budget request would increase Pell Grants federal financial aid – by $400, the largest increase since 2009. This investment is one piece of a more comprehensive proposal promised by the administration to double the maximum Pell Grant.

The administration is also proposing a bold expansion of Pell to include young immigrants who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Today, there are roughly 600,000 individuals with DACA status. Ensuring they have the same opportunity for Pell Grants as their US-born peers would be a significant step toward equity.

In addition to who, expanding what programs are eligible for Pell is crucial to meeting the needs of non-traditional students and helping businesses hire skilled workers. That means expanding Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality, short-term programs. We challenge the administration and Congress to pass these Pell measures and go further by passing the bipartisan JOBS Act.

Tell your member of Congress to pass the JOBS Act now

Department of Commerce

The budget proposal includes clear call outs to ensuring that workers have multiple pathways to high-quality, good-paying jobs. In particular, the budget request calls for expanding the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). This supports small and midsized manufacturers, boosts competitiveness, and strengthens domestic supply chains. The budget provides MEP with $275 million, a 45% increase over the 2021 enacted level.

NSC applauds investing in a proven model that brings together multiple employers to train workers to meet changing needs. However, federal officials could reach more workers. We suggest expanding the MEP model to other industries via a new 21st Century Extension Partnerships initiative. This action is outlined in NSC’s Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery agenda.

Department of Agriculture

A critical proposal in the budget aims to increase investments for nutrition programs, including Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs. These funding levels would combat rising food insecurity, which has disproportionately harmed families of color.

The budget also includes proposed funding for water infrastructure, particularly in rural, poor, and minority communities. These resources would create good-paying jobs, but any job creation plan must include investments in job training. Job training investments would ensure workers displaced by COVID-19 can access training needed to fill jobs in their communities.

Finally, NSC hopes to see additional allocations for SNAP Education & Training programs in future budget proposals. This supportive service is vital to many workers, non-traditional students, and job training centers.

What’s next?

Currently, the President’s proposed budget is now in the hands of appropriators in Congress. The House has already held hearings on the proposed budget in each of the 12 appropriation subcommittees. The House and Senate must agree to FY 2022 spending prior to September 30th, when FY 2021 spending ends.

Combined with the $100 billion in proposed workforce funding in the American Jobs Plan and the free community college and Pell expansion in the American Families Plan, the Biden administration’s budget request and economic recovery packages have the potential to be a step toward transformational change that America’s workers, businesses, and economy needs. That’s why we must fight to make sure these proposals become realities.

National Skills Coalition has multiple ways to get involved and ensure that workforce continues to be a priority for this administration. Sign up for our mailing list for future actions.

For more questions on specific components of the budget not covered in this blog please reach out to Caroline Treschitta at