On Tuesday, President Obama signed into law legislation that revamps federal training programs to help workers develop the skills they need to compete in the global economy.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, which will eliminate duplicate programs and address the “skills gap,” received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House, with a 415-6 vote, and the Senate, with a 95-3 vote.
While the U.S. faces a 6.1 percent unemployment rate, 4.6 million job openings are not being filled because businesses cannot find qualified applicants, particularly in skills-based jobs.
The act addresses this gap by including the following provisions:
Streamlines job training by eliminating 15 duplicate or infeffective programs
Applies unifor performance indicators for all federal workforce programs
Maintains state-level funding and eliminates the "sequence of services" to allow flexibility in addressing local needs
Focus programs to address skills needed for industries with high worker demand
The House voted Tuesday to provide funding for highway and transit projects through approximately May 2015 in response to a looming shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. Without action, many transportation construction projects around the country would come to a halt beginning August 1 because federal funding for the states to pay workers and purchase supplies will be cut by nearly a third.
The bill received bipartisan approval, with a vote of 367 to 55. Backers included 186 Democrats and 181 Republicans, while 10 Democrats and 45 Republicans opposed it. The bill, which President Obama has indicated he will sign if passed by Congress, now moves to the Senate for consideration.
The Highway Trust Fund is the main source of federal funding for repair and construction of roads, bridges, and mass transit. Current projections indicate that the fund will be become insolvent by the end of next month. The bill provides additional funds to sustain HTF spending, which would otherwise be cut by 28 percent on August 1, threatening up to 700,000 jobs.
The bill approves a $10.8 billion transfer to the Highway Trust Fund, to be paid for using customs fees, pension smoothing, and excess money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks.
While the bill passed this week averts the immediate transportation funding crisis, long-term funding for federal transportation projects remains in jeopardy. Adding to the uncertainty, Congress has failed to pass the standard surface transportation spending authorization legislation in recent years, and since 2009, has instead passed nine short-term bills. The uncertainty has caused many states to delay the start of new projects.
The House plan averts an immediate crisis, but business and community leaders from around the country continue to urge federal officials to develop a long-term funding plan that gives states and localities the certainty they need to make longer-term investments.
Business Forward will continue to keep you informed with new developments on this issue. Learn more about the crisis in transportation funding here.
Three of America’s most influential business leaders, Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates may disagree on politics, but they do agree on one thing: immigration reform is vital for the growth and competitiveness of the U.S. economy.
The three businessmen argue in the New York Times that Congress must pass immigration legislation that advances America’s humanity and self-interest, including our economic interests.
“People willing to invest in America and create jobs deserve the opportunity to do so.”
They broadly propose legislation that removes limits on the number of visas given to legal immigrants with a graduate degree in a STEM field, and allows illegal residents to obtain citizenship, after they’ve earned it.
Gates, Buffet and Sheldon believe that partisan politics should not hinder needed reforms that will stimulate the U.S. economy:
"The current stalemate – in which greater pride is attached to thwarting the opposition than to advancing the nation’s interests – is depressing to most Americans and virtually all of its business managers. The impasse certainly depresses the three of us."
Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx met with business leaders yesterday to gather input on how investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure would affect their companies. The meetings were part of an all-day briefing hosted by the White House Business Council and Business Forward.
“Transportation used to have bipartisan support, but now we’re busy having philosophical discussions about government spending,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The business community will have a critical role in standing together to support smart public investments in infrastructure projects.”
More than 40 business leaders, including executives from large manufacturing and shipping companies, expressed concerns that the United States is falling behind other industrialized countries that are investing heavily in transportation infrastructure. While China spends around nine percent of its GDP on infrastructure, the United States only spends around two percent.
“Infrastructure investment is critically important to our economy's ability to compete successfully in the global marketplace—it is literally the foundation on which the nation's economy functions,” said Leif Wathne, vice president of highways and federal affairs for the American Concrete Pavement Association.
During the discussion, business leaders explained how uncertainty surrounding funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for highway construction and repair projects, harms their ability to begin new projects and hire new workers.
One business leader described how many of his contractors who build bridges and roads find that the starts and stops of public funding add enormous, wasteful costs to projects. He said that some may think that this is business as normal, but it doesn’t have to be. Successful companies don’t work like that.
The reserves in the Highway Trust Fund could fall to critical levels as early as August 1 if Congress doesn’t act, which could dramatically disrupt the movement of goods across the country, increase congestion, stall 100,000 construction projects, and put up to 700,000 jobs at risk.