House Education & Workforce Committee

Reforms Needed to Improve Workers Comp for Federal Employees

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 4:30pm
The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), today held a hearing to examine ways to reform the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act  (FECA). Members discussed the need to improve the program in order to better serve taxpayers and federal employees.
 

“When you’re talking about a program of this size and cost, making sure that it is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible is imperative,” Chairman Walbergnoted. “Concerns have been raised that FECA benefits are too generous and can discourage an employee’s return to work. So we are here today to explore how Congress can modernize the FECA program, to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used in a smart and responsible way, and to make certain this program is serving federal employees as intended.”

Witnesses agreed on the need to reform the FECA program, which has not been meaningfully updated in 40 years. They discussed a specific proposal included in the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget blueprint for the Department of Labor. The administration’s proposed reforms are intended to, among other changes, improve return-to-work procedures, streamline claims processing, and update benefits levels.

“The federal workforce comprises dedicated, hard-working women and men who are committed to serving the public,” said Leonard Howie III, director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). Howie noted his office is “fully committed to seeing that all injured workers receive the medical care and compensation they deserve, as well as the assistance needed to return to work when able to do so. FECA reform will enable OWCP to achieve those goals more effectively.”

Scott Dahl, Inspector General of the Department of Labor, echoed these concerns, stating, “The department must ensure that FECA benefits are provided in a timely manner to eligible workers, but it must also strive to ensure that compensation benefits are only paid to those who are truly injured and unable to work, and medical benefits are paid for necessary services that were actually provided. We believe that the legislative recommendations we have proposed … would contribute to greater program integrity.”

Hearing participants acknowledged the need to carefully consider the impacts of proposed changes on current and future beneficiaries. “FECA continues to play a vital role in providing compensation to federal employees who are unable to work because of injuries sustained while performing their federal duties,” argued Andrew Sherrill, director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security at the Government Accountability Office. “As policymakers assess proposed changes to FECA benefit levels, they will implicitly be making decisions about what constitutes an adequate level of benefits for FECA beneficiaries before and after they reach retirement age.”

“Throughout this process,” Chairman Walberg concluded, “it’s important that we keep in mind both our responsibility to taxpayers and our commitment to the men and women who make up our federal workforce … I am hopeful that the insights and analysis of those here today will help us better understand the department’s proposal and continue to build on past bipartisan efforts to better meet the needs of a 21st century workforce and more effectively use taxpayer dollars.”

To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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Walberg Statement: Hearing on "Reforming the Workers’ Compensation Program for Federal Employees"

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 10:00am

Since 1916, the FECA program has acted as a critical resource for federal employees who have suffered an injury or illness because of a work-related activity. Today, the program covers approximately three million workers and, last year alone, paid out nearly $3 billion in benefits. Despite the significance of the FECA program, it has been nearly 40 years since the law was meaningfully updated.

When you’re talking about a program of this size and cost, making sure that it is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible is imperative. Concerns have been raised that FECA benefits are too generous and can discourage an employee’s return to work. So we are here today to explore how Congress can modernize the FECA program, to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used in a smart and responsible way, and to make certain this program is serving federal employees as intended.

Fortunately, we’re not starting from scratch. Reforming the FECA program is something members in Congress and those in the administration have been working on in recent years. During the 112th Congress, Chairman Kline and I, along with our former Democratic colleagues George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, introduced the Federal Workers’ Compensation Modernization and Improvement Act to begin addressing reforms proposed by the administration. That bill passed the House by a voice vote in 2011 and was accompanied by a request to GAO to examine the potential impacts of certain reforms.

Unfortunately, the bill was never considered in the Senate, but since then, we’ve continued to examine reforms the Department of Labor has put forward. Strengthening the law remains a priority for this committee, and today, we will hear from the department, GAO, and others to see what the path to reform looks like now and how the administration’s proposals would affect the program and its beneficiaries. By fully understanding the options and impacts related to reform, we will be better positioned to modernize the FECA program, improve its integrity, and enhance its efficiency.

As with any reform process, updating the FECA program will require some tough choices, but I think we can agree that something needs to be done. Our challenge will be reforming the program in a way that will use taxpayer dollars more wisely while ensuring the programs continues to support those it was set up to assist. Throughout this process, it’s important that we keep in mind both our responsibility to taxpayers and our commitment to the men and women who make up our federal workforce. Striking a balance between the two is not easy, but I believe it can be done.

I am hopeful that the insights and analysis of those here today will help us better understand the department’s proposal and continue to build on past bipartisan efforts to better meet the needs of a 21st century workforce and more effectively use taxpayer dollars. With that, I will now recognize the senior Democratic member of the subcommittee, Representative Frederica Wilson, for her opening remarks.

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Witnesses Highlight Need for Stronger Oversight of Child Nutrition Programs

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 05/19/2015 - 4:30pm
The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), today held a hearing to examine waste, fraud, and abuse in federal child nutrition programs. Members and witnesses discussed ways to strengthen the management and oversight of these programs to ensure they are effectively and efficiently serving those most in need.

“The federal government has long invested taxpayer dollars in programs that provide healthy meals and snacks to low-income students and families,” said Chairman Rokita. “Congress has a responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are well-spent. That’s why we are here today. Recent reports from independent government watchdogs raise concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse in the administration of these programs. These concerns should be shared by every member of the committee.”

Witnesses identified examples of misused taxpayer dollars in three of the largest federal child nutrition programs: the Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); the National School Lunch Program (NSLP); and the School Breakfast Program (SBP).

In WIC, for example, there have been incidents of recipients and vendors fraudulently selling federal benefits to other individuals. Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Kay Brown, stressed the negative consequences of this practice, noting, “Improper use of WIC benefits undermines the integrity of the program and its ability to provide key nutrition assistance and services to vulnerable populations.”

Ms. Brown recognized the lack of information about how much fraud occurs in WIC and recommended “[the Department of Agriculture] collect more information to assess the national extent of attempted online sales of WIC formula benefits and determine cost-effective techniques states can use to monitor them.”

Her colleague, Acting Director for the Forensic Audits and Investigative Service, Jessica Lucas-Judy, expressed similar concerns about the school lunch and breakfast programs, both of which have been designated as “high-error” programs by the Office of Management and Budget. In a survey conducted by GAO, nearly half “of the households that self-reported household income data and size information were not eligible for the free or reduced-price-meal benefits they were receiving because their income exceeded eligibility guidelines,” she stated.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) under the Department of Agriculture has “taken several steps to implement or enhance controls to identify and prevent ineligible beneficiaries from receiving school-meals benefits,” she acknowledged.

However, each witness concluded more work must be done. Assistant Inspector General at the Department of Agriculture, Gil Harden, said, “Overall, our audit work has shown that FNS has many opportunities to improve how it oversees NSLP, SBP, and WIC. In some cases, it needs to strengthen its own controls directly. In other cases, it needs to improve how it communicates requirements to local authorities that operate the program.”

“We need to get limited funds to those children who need it the most,” Chairman Rokita concluded. “That’s our goal here, and that should be the goal of all of government. Please help us … so we can get these funds to the kids who desperately need them.”

 

To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

 

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Kline Praises Passage of Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Support for Victims of Youth Sex Trafficking

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 05/19/2015 - 2:00pm
The House of Representatives today passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178) by a vote of 420 to 3. The bipartisan legislation will better target sex traffickers and support victims of sexual abuse. Earlier this year, the House advanced a number of proposals championed by the Education and the Workforce Committee that would strengthen protections for youth victims of sex trafficking. These proposals are embodied in S. 178, including reforms that will:

 

  • Strengthen support provided specifically to runaway and homeless youth who are victims of trafficking, which was introduced in the Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims of Youth Trafficking Act of 2015 by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), along with Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI).
  • Improve practices within state child welfare systems to identify, assess, and document sex trafficking victims, which was introduced in the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2015 by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), along with Chairman Kline.   

    Chairman Kline praised the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act:

    Congress has responded to a national crisis with new tools to fight a heinous crime that affects millions of innocent individuals each year, including hundreds of thousands of youth. I applaud my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for recognizing the seriousness of this crime, reaffirming our commitment to the victims and their families, and sending this critical piece of legislation to the president’s desk.

    To learn more about the committee’s efforts to support victims of youth sex trafficking, click here.

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    Rokita Statement: Hearing on "Addressing Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Federal Child Nutrition Programs"

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 05/19/2015 - 10:00am

    Last month, the Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to discuss the importance of federal child nutrition programs, many of which need to be reauthorized by Congress later this year. Members engaged in a robust discussion about these programs, and we understand the role healthy food plays in a child’s physical, mental, and emotional development. However, tackling waste, fraud, and abuse must be a priority as we work to ensure eligible students who are most in need have access to nutrition programs.

    The federal government has long invested taxpayer dollars in programs that provide healthy meals and snacks to low-income students and families. Through the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act, it is estimated Congress will spend over $21 billion this fiscal year on a number of programs that include the Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC, the National School Lunch Program, and the School Breakfast Program.

    Congress has a responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are well-spent. That’s why we are here today. Recent reports from independent government watchdogs raise concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse in the administration of these programs. These concerns should be shared by every member of the committee for two important reasons.

    First, taxpayer dollars are being misdirected toward individuals who do not need, or are eligible for, federal assistance. The Government Accountability Office has uncovered several troubling examples of fraud and abuse in the WIC program. Reports have also found WIC recipients and vendors reselling supplemental foods to non-WIC eligible individuals, defrauding the federally funded program for millions of dollars.

    Unfortunately, the misuse of taxpayer dollars does not stop there. In the first review of payment errors since 2007, the Department of Agriculture found that in just one school year it made $2.7 billion of improper payments under the school lunch and breakfast programs. According to the Wall Street Journal, the majority of improper payments stemmed from individuals who received benefits for which they did not qualify. American taxpayers deserve better management and oversight, especially at a time when the national debt continues to reach new heights.
    This brings me to the second reason why we are here today, and it is just as important. Each and every dollar spent on a federal program should have a direct, meaningful, and lasting impact on those it is intended to serve – not those looking to cheat the system. We must ensure federal nutrition programs effectively and efficiently serve the low-income children and families who desperately need this assistance. As a witness from last month’s child nutrition hearing so aptly put it, “When we aren’t able to give our children the nutrition they need, we fail them.”

    Again, it is Congress’ responsibility to ensure this multi-billion dollar investment in child nutrition is in fact reaching the students who need it most. This committee is committed to that goal as it works to reauthorize these important programs. We look forward to learning from our witnesses about how to improve the fiscal integrity of federal child nutrition programs in order to serve our nation’s mothers, infants, children, and students that are most in need.

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    ***MEDIA ADVISORY*** Subcommittee to Discuss Reforms to Federal Employees’ Compensation Act

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 12:00am
     On Wednesday, May 20 at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), will hold a hearing entitled, “Reforming the Workers’ Compensation Program for Federal Employees.” The hearing will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

    Enacted in 1916, the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) provides workers’ compensation benefits to federal employees who become injured or ill through work-related activity. The program covers approximately three million civilian federal workers and paid out nearly $3 billion in benefits in 2014. The law has not been meaningfully updated since 1974, and there are concerns that current, outdated benefit policies may be too generous and discourage employees’ return to work. The Department of Labor, in its Fiscal Year 2016 budget request, has proposed a series of reforms intended to improve the program.

    Wednesday’s hearing will provide committee members with an opportunity to further evaluate the administration’s proposed reforms, as well as other possible legislative changes to reform the law. To learn more about the hearing, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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    WITNESS LIST

    Mr. Leonard Howie
    Director of Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
    Department of Labor
    Washington, D.C.

    Mr. Ron Watson
    Director of Retired Members
    National Association of Letter Carriers
    Washington, D.C.

    Dr. Andrew Sherrill
    Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security
    Government Accountability Office
    Washington, D.C.

    The Honorable Scott Dahl
    Inspector General
    Department of Labor
    Washington, D.C.

    ***MEDIA ADVISORY*** Subcommittee to Examine Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Child Nutrition Programs

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 1:00pm

    On Tuesday, May 19 at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), will hold a hearing entitled, “Addressing Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Federal Child Nutrition Programs.” The hearing will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

    In Fiscal Years 2015, it is estimated the federal government will invest approximately $21 billion in child nutrition programs that are intended to provide low-income students and families access to healthy meals. Recent reports from the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Agriculture and the Government Accountability Office examined waste, fraud, and abuse in the administration of these programs, raising concerns about whether the programs are effectively serving those most in need.

    As Congress works to strengthen these programs, Tuesday’s hearing will give members an opportunity to examine possible solutions for preventing waste, fraud, and abuse in federal child nutrition programs. To learn more about this hearing, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings

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    WITNESS LIST

    Mr. Gil H. Harden
    Assistant Inspector General for Audit
    Office of Inspector General
    Department of Agriculture
    Washington, D.C.

    Ms. Zoë Neuberger
    Senior Policy Analyst
    Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
    Washington, D.C.

    Ms. Kay Brown
    Director
    Education, Workforce, and Income Security
    Government Accountability Office
    Washington, D.C.

    Ms. Jessica Lucas-Judy
    Acting Director
    Forensic Audits and Investigative Service
    Government Accountability Office
    Washington, D.C.

    Kline Statment: Hearing on "Examining the Federal Government's Mismanagement of Native American Schools"

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 10:30am

    I’d like to begin by thanking Dr. Roessel and Mr. Mendoza for participating in this hearing. We are disappointed that Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, declined an invitation to join us this morning. Mr. Washburn would bring an important perspective to this discussion, and it is unfortunate the public and members of the committee will not hear from him today. However, we are pleased to have a distinguished panel of witnesses and look forward to your testimonies.

    Today’s hearing is part of an effort to begin addressing the challenges facing Native American schools. In recent months, the nation has learned a great deal about the deplorable conditions affecting Native American schools. A crisis has been festering for decades, and thanks in large part to the investigative work of the Minnesota Star Tribune and others, it is finally receiving the national attention it deserves.

    The details we have learned are shocking: falling ceilings; broken water heaters; electrical hazards; rotten floors; and rodent-infested classrooms. At a school I visited earlier this year, blankets hang over the doors in a desperate attempt to keep out the cold air. In fact, thin metal walls are all that separate students from harsh winters in states like Minnesota and South Dakota. Meanwhile, classrooms lack the most basic school supplies, such as desks, chairs, and textbooks.

    At a recent oversight hearing, we also learned that a bungling bureaucracy is undermining the health and safety of these Native American students, as well as their education. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office notes that a disorganized bureaucracy and poor communication make it difficult – if not impossible – for schools to receive the services and support they need, and GAO warns that if these issues are not addressed, “it will be difficult for Indian Affairs to ensure the long-term success of a generation of students.”

    More than a century ago, the federal government promised to provide Native American students a quality education in a manner that preserves their heritage, and we are failing to keep that promise. If these were our loved ones going to these schools, there is little doubt we would march down Pennsylvania Avenue to demand real change.

    Jill Burcum, an editorial writer for the Star Tribune, said this at last month’s hearing: “As a mom, I thought many times that I would not be comfortable sending my children to school in these buildings … unfortunately, mothers of BIE students don’t have a choice, which is why action is required.”

    The purpose of today’s hearing is not to assign blame. There is plenty of blame to go around. Instead, the purpose of this hearing is to understand the root causes of these persistent challenges and to demand better results. That is why we are pleased to have representatives from the Departments of Interior and Education. We are especially pleased to hear from you, Dr. Roessel, since you and your staff are on the front lines.

    We understand the department plans to implement a number of internal changes intended to fix the system. We welcome that effort and are interested to learn more about it. Questions have been raised about whether this effort will address the fundamental problems facing the system or simply rearrange the chairs at the department. Questions have also been raised about whether this reorganization is taking place in a timely manner or being delayed by the same bureaucratic wrangling that has plagued these schools for decades.

    The administration has a responsibility to answer these and other important questions, and to assure this committee, Congress, and the country that we are finally moving in a new direction. These vulnerable children and their families deserve no less.

    In closing, I would note that there are tough challenges facing Native American students outside the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior, challenges that demand our attention as well. That is one reason why the Student Success Act provides greater flexibility to all public schools, so they can more effectively serve their unique student populations, including Native American students. Policies in place today assume every school faces the same set of challenges, but we know that’s not the case, and the Student Success Act would ensure federal policies reflect that reality.

    Replacing No Child Left Behind continues to be a top priority and one that I am hopeful we will finish before the end of the year. However, the challenges facing these particular Native American students have been neglected for far too long and by members on both sides of the aisle. I encourage my colleagues to avoid political distractions that would merely shift the focus away from these unique, vulnerable children – they have waited long enough for the federal government to live up to its promises.

    Every child in every school should receive an excellent education. That is the goal we are all working toward, and today’s hearing is an important part of that effort. With that, I will now recognize Ranking Member Scott for his opening remarks.

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    ***MEDIA ADVISORY*** Department of Interior Official to Testify on Native American Schools

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 12:00am

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, May 14 at 10:30 a.m., the Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), will hold a hearing entitled, “Examining the Federal Government’s Mismanagement of Native American Schools.” The hearing will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

    There are 185 Native American schools serving more than 40,000 students across the country. Three separate divisions under the Department of Interior – the Bureau of Indian Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management – and the Department of Education are responsible for ensuring Native American students receive an education comparable to their peers by providing schools with funding, academic support and operational support, as well as overseeing personnel, transportation, and financial management.

    At a recent oversight hearing, members of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education learned about the deplorable conditions of Native American schools, including falling ceilings, broken water heaters, and ventilation problems. Witnesses cited layers of federal bureaucracy for failing to provide Native American students safe and healthy schools. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office reports the federal government’s efforts to restructure this ineffective system have not been implemented.

    Thursday’s hearing provides members an opportunity to learn about how and when the Department of Interior and the Department of Education will implement reforms to improve Native American schools.

    To learn more about the hearing, visit http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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    WITNESS LIST

    Dr. Charles M. Roessel
    Director
    Bureau of Indian Education
    U.S. Department of Interior
    Washington, D.C.

    William Mendoza
    Executive Director
    White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education
    U.S. Department of Education
    Washington, D.C.

    Senate, House Committee Leaders Urge Passage of Legislation to End NLRB’s Ambush Elections

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 05/06/2015 - 2:00pm

    After Senate Democrats yesterday blocked a simple up or down vote to override President Obama’s veto of a Congressional Review Act resolution that would stop the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) ambush election rule, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Senate labor committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), House Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN), and Senate Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) urged passage of their legislation to ensure fair union elections by ending the board’s damaging rule.

    “The board’s ambush election rule will stifle employer free speech, cripple employee free choice, and threaten the privacy of workers and their families," said Chairman Kline."The American people deserve better, and that is precisely why this fight isn’t over. The legislative response we have proposed will ensure workers and employers have access to the fair union election process they deserve. It is time Washington Democrats stopped looking out for Big Labor’s interests and started focusing on what’s best for America’s hardworking men and women.”

    “Republicans have not finished the fight against the NLRB’s ambush election rule, which can force a union election in as little as 11 days—before an employer and many employees even have a chance to figure out what is going on,” said Chairman Alexander. “It’s unfortunate that Senate Democrats have obstructed an opportunity to overturn this damaging rule, which sacrifices every employer’s right to free speech and every worker’s right to privacy—but I intend to continuing working in Congress to restore fairness to American workplaces.”

    “While I am disappointed the Senate failed to override President Obama’s veto, I remain committed to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to protect American workers from the NLRB’s overreach, " said Rep. Roe."Workers and employers deserve better, and it’s a shame the president and his political appointees continue to put the interests of labor bosses above the rights of hardworking Americans.”

    “The National Labor Relations Board continues to skew the playing field between management and labor, and I am disappointed Senate Democrats are condoning that by blocking this vote,” said Sen. Isakson. “I have been fighting against these unfair rulings by the NLRB since President Obama took office. I will continue to fight to restore a level playing field, protect free speech and ensure that workers are afforded the opportunity to make informed decisions about their right to organize, while safeguarding their personal information and privacy.”

    A Senate majority voted to stop the rule on March 4. A House majority voted to stop the rule on March 19. The president vetoed the resolution on March 31, but Democrats have objected today to a simple up or down vote to override this veto.  

    The NLRB’s rule – which went into effect on April 14 – can shortens the length of time in which a labor union certification election is held to as little as 11 days. In 2014, more than 95 percent of union certification elections occurred within 56 days. Additionally, the median number of days from petition to election was 38 days. These numbers surpass the performance goals set by the NLRB itself. The rule gives employers essentially no time to communicate with their employees before a union election and undermines the ability of workers to make an informed decision. In addition, it forces employers to provide employees’ personal information to union organizers without employees’ consent.

    The legislative response introduced following the president’s veto by Reps. Kline and Roe and Sens. Alexander and Isakson would:

    • Ensure workers have enough time to make an informed decision in a union election by prohibiting any election from taking place in less than 35 days.
                
    • Provide employers at least 14 days to prepare their case to present before a NLRB election officer and protect the right to raise additional concerns throughout the pre-election hearing.
                   
    • Reassert the board’s responsibility to address critical issues before certifying a union, including voter eligibility and the appropriate unit of employees that will form the union.
                    
    • Empower workers to control their personal information by allowing each employee to determine the personal contact information that is provided to union organizers.

    To learn more about the legislation introduced in the House, click here.

    To learn more about the legislation introduced in the Senate, click here.

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    Subcommittee Explores Ways to Improve Support for Disadvantaged College Students

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 04/30/2015 - 4:30pm

    The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), today held a hearing to learn about efforts to improve higher education access and completion for low-income and first-generation students. Members discussed possible reforms to existing federal programs and how efforts at the institutional level can positively affect educational outcomes for disadvantaged students.

    “This is a very personal issue for me. As someone who grew up in extreme poverty, I know firsthand what it takes to earn a degree in difficult circumstances as well as what that degree means for one’s opportunity for advancement,” Chairwoman Foxx said. “For many students, however, the idea of graduating feels like a distant dream. Higher costs, a confusing financial aid system, and insufficient academic preparation disproportionately deter low-income and first-generation students from accessing and completing a higher education.”

    Addressing the challenges facing these disadvantaged students “requires a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach and commitment from multiple players,” advised Laura Perna, Director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Annually, the federal government invests more than one billion dollars in access and completion programs for low-income and first-generation students. Perna continued, “to maximize the return on investment in [these] programs, we need to know more about what components and services work, for which groups of students, in which context.”

    Associate Vice Provost for Student Diversity at the University of California, Los Angeles, Charles Alexander, who oversees the university’s Academic Advancement Program (AAP), discussed his efforts to improve educational outcomes, urging institutions to build community partnerships and share best practices. Largely because of AAP’s ongoing efforts, Alexander testified, “African Americans and Latinos graduate at the highest rate ever … many AAP graduates continue their education by going into Ph.D. programs or professional degree programs … and a large number of AAP graduates focus their work on serving the poor and under-served.”

    Chancellor of the Dallas County Community Colleges District (DCCCD) Joe May agreed with witnesses. Institutions should pursue “partnerships with other community organizations that are supporting the needs of similar populations,” he said. For example, the DCCCD’s efforts to share best practices within a state-wide organization, Texas Completes, “have led to an increase of 42 percent in certificates and an increase of 33 percent in associate degrees” since 2010.

    “We have a responsibility to students, families, and taxpayers to ensure all of our investments in higher education deliver the intended results,” Chairwoman Foxx concluded. “As we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we want to … study the effectiveness of existing strategies so that more disadvantaged students can achieve the dream of a higher education.”

    To learn more about the Education and the Workforce Committee’s efforts to strengthen higher education, visit http://edworkforce.house.gov/highered/.

    To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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    Foxx Statement: Hearing on “Improving College Access and Completion for Low-Income and First-Generation Students”

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 04/30/2015 - 10:00am

    I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us to discuss strategies for improving postsecondary access and completion for low-income and first-generation students. We appreciate the opportunity to learn from you as Congress works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

    This is a very personal issue for me. As someone who grew up in extreme poverty, I know firsthand what it takes to earn a degree in difficult circumstances as well as what that degree means for one’s opportunity for advancement. Some of the most rewarding experiences I have had as an educator involved helping disadvantaged students overcome obstacles to reach their goals and achieve success.

    The Education and the Workforce Committee has held more than a dozen hearings about how to strengthen America’s higher education system for all those who choose to pursue a degree or credential – regardless of age, background, or circumstances.

    Research shows students who attain advanced levels of education are more likely to succeed in today’s economy. For example, students who earn an associate’s degree are expected to earn 27 percent more than their peers with a high school diploma over the course of a lifetime.

    For many students, however, the idea of graduating feels like a distant dream. Higher costs, a confusing financial aid system, and insufficient academic preparation disproportionately deter low-income and first-generation students from accessing and completing a higher education.

    Recognizing the challenges facing these students, the federal government invests in numerous programs geared toward identifying and supporting disadvantaged students and the institutions that serve them. In addition to providing students need-based financial assistance, such as Pell Grants, the federal government also provides early outreach and support services to help students progress from middle school through college.

    Programs such as GEAR UP and Upward Bound receive more than one billion of taxpayer dollars to support tutoring, family financial counseling, internships, research opportunities, and other preparatory and motivational services – all with the goal of improving access for low-income and first-generation students.

    And our efforts don’t stop there. Because improving the educational outcomes for disadvantaged students is an important priority, the federal government directly supports institutions that focus on serving underrepresented students in an effort to help them complete a higher education.

    While these efforts are well intentioned, there is a growing concern they are not reaching their goals. For example, according to a study published earlier this year by one of our witnesses, Dr. Laura Perna, the percentage of low-income students who have attained a bachelor’s degree has increased by just 3 percent since 1970. By comparison, the percentage of the wealthiest students who attained a bachelor’s degree has increased by 40 percent.

    In other words, despite the federal government’s growing investment in access and completion programs over the last five decades, graduation rates for the most disadvantaged students have barely budged.

    We have a responsibility to students, families, and taxpayers to ensure all of our investments in higher education deliver the intended results. Understanding how to strengthen these efforts for low-income and first-generation students is why our witnesses are here today. As we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we want to learn about your efforts to pioneer new strategies and study the effectiveness of existing strategies so that more disadvantaged students can achieve the dream of a higher education.  

    # # #

    Time to Modernize Multiemployer Pension System

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 04/29/2015 - 5:30pm

    The Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), today held a hearing to discuss ways to further strengthen the multiemployer pension system. The hearing, entitled, “Examining Reforms to Modernize the Multiemployer Pension System," follows a bipartisan proposal enacted into law last year that includes policies to shore up the federal backstop for multiemployer plans and provide the trustees of these plans new tools to avoid insolvency.

    “Today’s hearing represents the next step in a long process to strengthen the retirement security of America’s workers,” remarked Chairman Roe. “This effort began more than three years ago for a simple reason: A pension crisis threatened the well-being of countless workers, employers, and retirees, as well as American taxpayers ... Through our continued oversight, it has become abundantly clear that workers need new options to help plan for their retirement.”

    “We need new tools in our toolbox to address the challenges which were not contemplated when multiemployer pension rules were initially put in place,” said Andrew Scoggin, Vice President of Albertson’s LLC. “Congress needs to equip employers and employees with the regulatory flexibility necessary to make changes to benefits programs that do not run afoul of beneficiaries, their employers, or the system as a whole.”

    To help accomplish this goal, in 2013, the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP) released a proposal that would allow for the creation of so-called “composite” plans. These innovative plans would combine aspects of both defined benefit and defined contribution plans to deliver annuitized, lifetime income without the drawbacks associated with traditional multiemployer plans.

    Randy DeFrehn, Executive Director of the NCCMP, described the composite plan model as the “next logical step in the evolution” of multiemployer plans. DeFrehn added, “The composite plan provides the best of both worlds. If enacted, the structure and safeguards will provide greater long-term retirement security by creating a path for contributing employers to remain in and new employers to enter the multiemployer system without presenting existential risks, while providing the greatest possible benefit for covered participants.”
     
    Speaking in support of NCCMP’s proposal, Steve Sandherr of the Associated General Contractors of America testified, “We think Congress should allow collective bargaining parties or plan trustees the option to decide whether to adopt the composite plan model, which more equally distributes some of the risks associated with retirement plans so employers don’t have to shoulder the entire burden … the new plan design is essential to the shared goal of protecting both those who earn benefits and those employers that contribute retirement benefits to them.”

    Mark McManus, General Secretary-Treasurer of United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, echoed this sentiment: “From the perspective of the United Association, the most important feature is that these plans provide for the accumulation of benefits and provide a life time benefit in a manner similar to traditional defined benefit plans.” McManus continued, “The opportunity for creative solutions to our retirement income dilemma is within our grasp. We strongly encourage Congress to take advantage of it …”

    Chairman Roe and other members noted their intention to do just that. “It is easy to find areas of disagreement on this subcommittee,” concluded Chairman Roe, “especially as we address policies so central to the well-being of the American people. But I have always appreciated the bipartisan approach the committee has taken on this important issue, and I pledge to do my part to continue that tradition in the work that lies ahead.”

    To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

    # # #

    Roe Statement: Hearing on "Protecting America’s Workers: An Enforcement Update from the Mine Safety and Health Administration"

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 04/29/2015 - 12:00am

    Today’s hearing represents the next step in a long process to strengthen the retirement security of America’s workers by reforming the multiemployer pension system. This effort began more than three years ago for a simple reason: A pension crisis threatened the well-being of countless workers, employers, and retirees, as well as American taxpayers.

    Without congressional action, this crisis would have forced businesses to close their doors and lay off workers, retirees would have had their benefits cut, if not wiped out entirely, and taxpayers would have been on the hook for a multi-billion dollar bailout of a bankrupt pension system. As a nation, and more specifically, as elected policymakers, we had a responsibility to act.

    That is why this subcommittee convened numerous hearings and called more than a dozen witnesses – including employers, union leaders, administration officials, and retiree advocates – in order to thoroughly examine the challenges facing the system and discuss possible solutions.

    As part of this effort, in the spring of 2014, Chairman Kline discussed four key principles necessary for any serious, responsible reform of the system. Those principles included protecting taxpayers, encouraging greater employer participation, and providing trustees new tools to restore troubled plans back to financial health.

    At the time of the chairman’s remarks, only one proposal embodied all four principles, and that was the proposal crafted by the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans or NCCMP. A coalition of management and labor representatives organized by NCCMP spent months crafting a consensus proposal that would give trustees the best shot they had to save dying pension plans without a taxpayer bailout. No one else came forward with a credible plan to responsibly reform the system.

    The NCCMP proposal became the framework for a bipartisan legislative solution the president signed into law last December. This new law extended funding rules put in place almost a decade ago, raised premiums to improve the financial outlook of the federal backstop for multiemployer pension plans, and allowed trustees to adjust benefits as a last resort to rescue a plan from insolvency.

    This was not an easy thing to do, but doing nothing would have been far worse. Regardless of whether we did or didn’t act, retirees in badly failing plans were going to have their benefits cut. That’s the harsh reality we were forced to confront, and the choice we faced was to either watch the federal government inflict maximum pain on the maximum number of individuals, or provide more flexibility to save these plans and ensure retirees are better off.

    George Miller, former congressman from California and senior Democrat of our committee, described these bipartisan reforms this way: “The approach we have put forward, which is backed by business and labor leaders, will secure the multiemployer pension systems for millions of current and future retirees.”

    Congressman Miller urged his colleagues to “trust these workers enough to give them this opportunity and this responsibility to make these decisions about their retirement.” That is precisely what we did, and as difficult as it was, it was the right thing to do.

    Now, it is time to complete this important effort. One principle I neglected to mention earlier in is the subject of today’s hearing: Modernizing the multiemployer pension system. Through our continued oversight, it has become abundantly clear that workers need new options to help plan for their retirement.

    As part of its work, NCCMP devised a new “composite” pension plan design, combining aspects of both defined benefit and defined contribution plans. The goal of the proposal was to deliver annuitized, lifetime income without the drawbacks associated with traditional multiemployer defined benefit plans.

    For example, many plans face unfunded liabilities that threaten the retirement security of their participants. Current rules discourages employers from agreeing to participate in the system and poses a financial burden for those who do. Finally, despite improvements resulting from the new law, the federal backstop for these plans continues to face fiscal challenges in meeting its modest benefit guarantees.

    Our witnesses today will describe these and other shortcomings. They will also explain how the composite plan design could address these concerns while providing robust, well-funded retirement benefits for America’s working families.

    I look forward to our discussion, and more importantly, to finishing this important effort. It is easy to find areas of disagreement on this subcommittee, especially as we address policies so central to the well-being of the American people. But I have always appreciated the bipartisan approach the committee has taken on this important issue, and I pledge to do my part to continue that tradition in the work that lies ahead.

    # # #
     

    ***MEDIA ADVISORY*** Subcommittee to Discuss Efforts to Improve Support for Disadvantaged College Students

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 04/28/2015 - 12:00am
    On Thursday, April 30 at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), will hold a hearing entitled, “Improving College Access and Completion for Low-Income and First-Generation Students.” The hearing will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
           
    The federal government invests in numerous programs intended to improve college access and completion for low-income and first-generation students. A number of states and institutions also provide enhanced support services for these disadvantaged students. Some schools have implemented additional counseling programs to help students manage their coursework and degree costs. Others try to assess students’ needs and provide any necessary tutoring or curricula adjustments.
           
    As the committee continues working to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, Thursday’s hearing will provide members an opportunity to explore institutional efforts to better serve low-income and first-generation students and discuss possible policy changes to strengthen federal programs geared toward helping these students obtain a postsecondary education.
             
    To learn more about the hearing, visit http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings

     

    # # # 

    WITNESS LIST

    Dr. Laura Perna
    James S. Riepe Professor
    Executive Director for the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy
    University of Pennsylvania
    Philadelphia, PA

    Dr. Charles J. Alexander
    Associate Vice Provost for Student Diversity
    Director for the Academic Advancement Program
    University of California, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, CA

    Dr. Joe May
    Chancellor
    Dallas County Community College District
    Dallas, TX

    Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper
    President
    Institute for Higher Education Policy
    Washington, D.C.

    ***MEDIA ADVISORY*** Subcommittee to Discuss Reforms to Modernize the Multiemployer Pension System

    Education & the Workforce Committee - Mon, 04/27/2015 - 12:00am

    On Wednesday, April 29 at 2:00 p.m., the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), will hold a hearing on ways to strengthen the retirement security of America’s workers. The hearing, entitled, “Examining Reforms to Modernize the Multiemployer Pension System,” will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

    In 2013, a coalition of labor unions and employers organized by the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP) issued a report with numerous policy recommendations to address the significant challenges facing the multiemployer pension system. As part of its report, NCCMP devised a new “composite” pension plan design, combining aspects of both defined benefit and defined contribution plans. The goal of the proposal was to deliver annuitized, lifetime income without the drawbacks associated with traditional multiemployer defined benefit plans. Proponents argue the creation and adoption of composite plans would stop the exodus of employers from the multiemployer pension system and create a more sustainable retirement option for today’s workforce.

    Wednesday’s hearing will provide members an opportunity to examine the challenges facing the multiemployer pension system and ways to improve the system on behalf of workers, employers, retirees, and taxpayers.

    To learn more about the hearing, visit http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings

    # # #

    WITNESS LIST

    Randy G. DeFrehn
    Executive Director
    National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans
    Washington, DC

    Mark McManus
    General Secretary-Treasurer
    United Association
    Annapolis, MD

    Steve Sandherr
    Chief Executive Officer
    Associated General Contractors of America
    Arlington, VA

    Andrew Scoggin
    Executive Vice President
    Human Resources, Labor Relations, Public Relations & Government Affairs
    Albertsons LLC
    Boise, ID

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