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On July 11, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved its fiscal year (FY) 2014 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-H) appropriations bill, 16-14. National Skills Coalition and the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW), which NSC co-convenes, recently wrote to members of the Appropriations committee expressing support for the workforce development provisions of the Labor-H bill. CIAW also joined the Coalition for Health Funding (CHF) and the Committee for Education Funding (CEF) in expressing support for the Labor-H bill.
Importantly, the Senate Labor-H bill replaces the damaging sequester, and instead adopts funding levels consistent with the levels established as a part of the January fiscal cliff agreement, the American Taxpayer Relief Act. It is also consistent with levels established by the FY 2014 Senate budget resolution. The Senate Labor-H bill is in stark contrast to the House Labor-H allocation that is 18.6 percent below the final FY 2013 sequester level and 22.2 percent below the FY 2013 pre-sequester Continuing Resolution level.
In particular, the Senate bill makes a number of critical new investments in federal workforce development programs. The bill:
Although the Senate Labor-H bill does make many new investments in workforce development programs, it failed to include language to reinstate the Ability to Benefit (ATB) provisions under the Pell grant program. The ATB provisions—which allowed students who have demonstrated college readiness but lack a high school diploma or equivalent to access federal financial aid—were previously eliminated as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of FY 2012. Earlier this year, Senator Harkin offered an amendment to the FY 2013 continuing resolution that would have partially reinstated the ATB provisions for individuals enrolled in Career Pathways programs; however, that amendment failed to secure enough votes for adoption.
Although the Senate Labor-H bill was successfully reported out of committee, it is unlikely that it will be taken up by the full Senate. The House has given no indication that it will consider an FY 2014 Labor-H bill even at the subcommittee level, so lawmakers will soon begin focusing on developing a continuing resolution (CR) for FY 2014, rather than moving individual appropriations bills.
It will likely be quite difficult for that process to move forward, because the House topline allocation for FY 2014 assumes sequestration will remain in effect—making even deeper cuts to non-defense discretionary programs like workforce development in order to replace the defense sequester—and the Senate allocation does not. Additionally, while the House and Senate seem to agree that the sequester should be replaced, they sharply disagree on how to do so; while the Senate continues to insist on an alternative that includes revenue increases (in addition to spending cuts), the House insists that revenue increases are a non-starter and has argued for deep cuts to entitlement programs like SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) and Medicaid. Both sides seem to be digging in their heels for now, and it is not currently clear how the debate will proceed (failure to pass at least a short-term CR by September 30 will result in a government shutdown).
It is important to continue to help policymakers understand the impact of funding cuts on the ability of jobseekers to obtain the skills they need to succeed in the labor market and for employers to find the skilled workforce they need to compete in the global economy. National Skills Coalition will continue to provide updates on the appropriations process as information becomes available.