FindLaw Opinion Summaries - Family Law
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What GAO Found GAO’s review of nine surveys and academic studies, and interviews with retirement experts, suggest that many individuals do not fully understand key details of Social Security rules that can potentially affect their retirement benefits. For example, while some people understand that delaying claiming leads to higher monthly benefits, many are unclear about the actual amount that benefits increase with claiming age. The studies and surveys also found widespread misunderstanding about whether spousal benefits are available, how monthly benefits are determined, and how the retirement earnings test works. Understanding these rules and other information, such as life expectancy and longevity risk, could be central to people making well-informed decisions about when to claim benefits. By having this understanding of retirement benefits, people would also be in a better position to balance other factors that influence when they should claim benefits, including financial need, poor health, and psychological factors. The Social Security Administration (SSA) makes comprehensive information on key rules and other considerations related to claiming retirement benefits available through its publications, website, personalized benefits statements, and online calculators. However, GAO observed 30 in-person claims at SSA field offices and found that claimants were not consistently provided key information that people may need to make well-informed decisions. For example, in 8 of 26 claims interviews in which the claimant could have received higher monthly benefits by waiting until a later age, the claims specialist did not discuss the advantages and disadvantages of delaying claiming. Further, only 7 of the 18 claimants for whom the retirement earnings test could potentially apply were given complete information about how the test worked. SSA’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS) states that claims specialists should explain the advantages and disadvantages of filing an application so that the individual can make an informed filing decision. The problems we observed during the claims interviews occurred in part because the questions included in the claims process did not specifically cover some key information. Online applicants have more access to key information on the screen or through tabs and pop-up boxes as they complete an application. However, similar to in-person interviews, the online application process does not inform claimants that benefits are based on the highest 35 years of earnings or that life expectancy is an important consideration in deciding when to claim. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO’s September 2016 report, entitled Social Security: Improvements to Claims Process Could Help People Make Better Informed Decisions about Retirement Benefits (GAO-16-786). For more information, contact Charles Jeszeck at (202) 512-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 6, 2016 OSHA requests comments, schedules meeting on standard toprevent workplace violence in healthcare, social assistance WASHINGTON – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration tod
OSHA News Release
What GAO Found Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has taken steps to safeguard the seven systems GAO reviewed, a significant number of security control weaknesses jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of its information and systems. The agency did not fully or consistently implement access controls, which are intended to prevent, limit, and detect unauthorized access to computing resources. Specifically, FDA did not always (1) adequately protect the boundaries of its network, (2) consistently identify and authenticate system users, (3) limit users’ access to only what was required to perform their duties, (4) encrypt sensitive data, (5) consistently audit and monitor system activity, and (6) conduct physical security reviews of its facilities. FDA conducted background investigations for personnel in sensitive positions, but weaknesses existed in other controls, such as those intended to manage the configurations of security features on and control changes to hardware and software; plan for contingencies, including systems disruptions and their recovery; and protect media such as tapes, disks, and hard drives to ensure information on them was “sanitized” and could not be retrieved after they are disposed of. The table below shows the number of GAO-identified weaknesses and associated recommendations, by control area. Number of GAO-Identified Information Security Weaknesses at the Food and Drug Administration and Associated Recommendations, by Control Area Control area Number of weaknesses identified Number of recommendations Access controls 58 122 Configuration management 23 37 Contingency planning 5 6 Media protection 1 1 Total 87 166 Source: GAO. | GAO-16-513 These control weaknesses existed, in part, because FDA had not fully implemented an agency-wide information security program, as required under the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 and the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002. For example, FDA did not ensure risk assessments for reviewed systems were comprehensive and addressed system threats, review or update security policies and procedures in a timely manner, complete system security plans for all reviewed systems or review them to ensure that the appropriate controls were selected, ensure that personnel with significant security responsibilities received training or that such training was effectively tracked, always test security controls effectively and at least annually, always ensure that identified security weaknesses were addressed in a timely manner, and fully implement procedures for responding to security incidents. Until FDA rectifies these weaknesses, the public health and proprietary business information it maintains in these seven systems will remain at an elevated and unnecessary risk of unauthorized access, use, disclosure, alteration, and loss. Why GAO Did This Study FDA has a demanding responsibility of ensuring the safety, effectiveness, and quality of food, drugs, and other consumer products. In carrying out its mission, FDA relies extensively on information technology systems to receive, process, and maintain sensitive industry and public health data, including proprietary business information such as industry drug submissions and reports of adverse reactions. Accordingly, effective information security controls are essential to ensure that the agency’s systems and information are adequately protected from inadvertent or deliberate misuse, improper modification, unauthorized disclosure, or destruction. GAO was asked to examine security controls over key FDA information systems. GAO assessed the extent to which FDA had effectively implemented information security controls to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of its information on seven information systems selected for review. To do this, GAO reviewed security policies, procedures, reports, and other documents; examined the agency’s network infrastructure; tested controls for the seven systems; and interviewed FDA personnel. What GAO Recommends GAO is making 15 recommendations to FDA to fully implement its agency-wide information security program. In a separate report with limited distribution, GAO is recommending that FDA take 166 specific actions to resolve weaknesses in information security controls. HHS stated in comments on a draft of this report that FDA concurred with GAO’s recommendations and has begun implementing several of them. For more information, contact Gregory C. Wilshusen at (202) 512-6244 or email@example.com or Dr. Nabajyoti Barkakati at (202) 512-4499 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) does not have accurate and complete data on the extent to which its medical centers comply with environment of care standards for women veterans. VHA policy requires its medical facilities, including VA medical centers, to meet environment of care standards related to the privacy, safety, and dignity of women veterans. VHA Central Office relies on medical centers to conduct regular inspections and to report instances of noncompliance, which are compiled in a VHA database. However, almost all the noncompliance GAO identified through inspections at six VA medical centers it visited had not been reported or recorded in the VHA database, and compliance rates ranged from 65 percent to 81 percent. For example, GAO found a lack of auditory privacy at check-in clerk stations and a lack of privacy curtains in examination rooms, as required by VHA policy. GAO also found weaknesses in VHA’s oversight of the environment of care for women, including a lack of thorough inspections and limited verification of facility-reported data which results in inaccurate and incomplete data. As a result, the privacy, safety, and dignity of women veterans may not be guaranteed when they receive care at VA facilities. Federal internal control standards for monitoring call for management to establish activities to monitor the quality of performance over time and promptly resolve any identified issues. GAO’s analysis of VHA data shows that nationally the number of VHA full-time-employee equivalent gynecologists and the number of women’s health primary care providers—VHA primary care providers specially trained in women’s health care services, such as breast exams—increased by 3 percent and 15 percent respectively, from fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2015, and those percentages exceeded the 1 percent growth in women veteran enrollment during the same period. However, about 27 percent of VA medical centers and health care systems lacked an onsite gynecologist and about 18 percent of VA facilities providing primary care lacked a women’s health primary care provider, according to VHA data. VHA officials said not all facilities require onsite gynecologists and facilities may authorize gynecological services from non-VA providers. They acknowledged a shortage of at least 675 women’s health primary care providers and have a plan to train at least 535 providers by the end of fiscal year 2016. The Veterans Choice Program (Choice) is a primary option for veterans to receive care from non-VA providers in the community if care cannot be provided at VA facilities. While the number of obstetricians and gynecologists under Choice has increased, some areas lack these providers, according to a VHA analysis. While VHA monitors access-related Choice performance measures (such as timely appointment scheduling) for all veterans, it does not have such measures for women veterans’ sex-specific care, such as mammography, maternity care, or gynecology. VHA’s data show poor performance on access-related performance measures for all veterans, and GAO found cases where women veterans’ maternity care was significantly delayed, suggesting that veterans, including women, face challenges receiving timely access to care. Federal internal control standards for monitoring call for management to establish activities to monitor the quality of performance over time and promptly resolve any identified issues. Why GAO Did This Study In 2010, GAO found a number of weaknesses related to care for women veterans at VA medical facilities. GAO was asked to update that study. This report examines (1) the extent that VA medical centers complied with requirements related to the environment of care for women veterans and VHA’s oversight of that compliance; (2) what is known about the availability of VHA medical providers who can provide sex-specific care for women veterans at VA facilities; and (3) VHA’s efforts to provide and monitor access to sex-specific care for women veterans through Choice. To do this work, GAO reviewed VHA data on environment of care deficiencies; the number, location, and availability of VHA and Choice medical providers; women veteran enrollment; and Choice access-related performance measures. In addition, GAO inspected the environment of care for compliance with VHA policy at a nongeneralizable sample of six VA medical centers, which were selected to achieve variation in different care models, the size of the women veterans’ population, and geographical locations. GAO also interviewed VHA Central Office and VA medical center officials. What GAO Recommends GAO recommends that VA (1) strengthen the policies and guidance for its environment of care inspection process and (2) monitor women veterans’ access to sex-specific care under current and future community care contracts. VA concurred with GAO’s recommendations. For more information, contact Randall B. Williamson at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.
The U.S. Department of Labor is suing an Illinois home health care provider alleging that the company, the profit-sharing plan and two of its trustees improperly authorized distributions of $ 1,601,908 in profit-sharing plan assets, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
2015 EBSA News Releases
What GAO Found While limitations in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) data make an accurate assessment difficult, GAO estimates that roughly half of the 7,229 Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly (Section 202) properties have HUD-funded service coordinators—staff who link residents to supportive services such as transportation assistance or meals. HUD’s data indicate that 38 percent of Section 202 properties have a HUD-funded service coordinator, but these data likely underestimate the true number. GAO surveyed a generalizable sample of Section 202 properties not identifiable in HUD’s data as having a service coordinator and, on this basis, estimates that an additional 12 percent of Section 202 properties actually had one—bringing the actual total of Section 202 properties with service coordinators to about 50 percent. Federal internal control standards note that it is important for management to obtain relevant data from reliable sources. Properties with service coordinators are subject to additional monitoring, but without accurate information, HUD risks not taking steps to monitor Section 202 properties with service coordinators to help ensure they are connecting residents to supportive services. Properties without service coordinators connect residents to services in a variety of ways—for example, property managers may serve this function themselves, or they may utilize other local organizations. Several stakeholders told GAO that property managers are well-positioned to know their residents, and have some insight into their needs. Others noted that property managers generally lack the time and expertise to effectively manage this responsibility, and that the manager’s role can conflict with that of the service coordinator. Through GAO’s survey and site visits, managers of Section 202 properties without service coordinators cited a variety of reasons for not employing them, including lack of funding and having too few units to justify hiring someone to focus on supportive services for the elderly residents. HUD requires its staff to monitor Section 202 properties’ adherence to program requirements. However, HUD lacks written policies and procedures that describe how its staff should monitor the requirement for Section 202 property managers to coordinate the provision of supportive services. Available guidance describes general monitoring procedures for multifamily properties but does not address Section 202 specifically. HUD officials told GAO they plan to develop guidance on monitoring Section 202 properties with service coordinator grants by December 2016. Federal internal control standards note the importance of documenting responsibilities through policies. Without written policies and procedures, HUD cannot be assured that elderly residents are receiving assistance obtaining services. In addition, HUD collects performance data, such as the number of services provided, from Section 202 properties that have service coordinators but does not have policies or procedures in place to verify the accuracy of the data or for analyzing the data collected. Federal internal control standards also note the importance of evaluating data for reliability and processing data into quality information to evaluate performance. Until HUD takes steps to assess service coordinator performance data for reliability and analyze the data reported, its ability to use that information to monitor whether service coordinators are performing effectively and helping to fulfill the goals of the Section 202 program will likely be limited. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. population of persons age 65 and older is expected to grow to 73 million by 2030. With age, people are increasingly likely to face physical and cognitive limitations. HUD’s Section 202 program funds supportive rental housing for very low-income elderly households. Section 202 property owners are expected to coordinate the provision of services to help residents live independently and age in place. GAO was asked to review how Section 202 properties connect residents to services and HUD’s related monitoring efforts. This report examines (1) the extent to which Section 202 properties have service coordinators, (2) how properties without coordinators connect residents with services and why they may not use coordinators and (3) HUD’s monitoring of Section 202 properties’ efforts to connect residents with supportive services, among other objectives. GAO analyzed HUD’s fiscal year 2014 data (the latest available) on Section 202 properties and service coordinators; surveyed a generalizable sample of Section 202 properties not identifiable in HUD data as having service coordinators; reviewed monitoring policies, program descriptions, and agency notices; and interviewed HUD officials from each of HUD’s five Multifamily Housing regions and stakeholders. What GAO Recommends GAO recommends that HUD (1) improve the accuracy of its data on Section 202 properties with service coordinators, (2) develop written guidance on assessing compliance with supportive services requirements, and (3) develop procedures for verifying and analyzing performance data. HUD concurred with GAO’s recommendations. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What GAO Found The U.S. Census Bureau’s (Bureau) 2020 Decennial Census program is heavily dependent upon the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCAP) program to deliver the key systems needed to support the 2020 redesign. CEDCAP is a complex modernization program intended to deliver a system-of-systems for the Bureau’s survey data collection and processing functions. In August 2016, GAO reported that while the two programs had taken steps to coordinate their schedules, risks, and requirements, they lacked effective processes for managing interdependencies. Officials acknowledged weaknesses in managing interdependencies and reported that they were taking steps to address them. Until these interdependencies are managed more effectively, the Bureau will be limited in its ability to meet milestones, mitigate major risks, and ensure that requirements are appropriately identified. While the large-scale technological changes for the 2020 Decennial Census introduce great potential for efficiency and effectiveness gains, they also introduce many information security challenges. For example, the introduction of an option for households to respond using the Internet puts respondents more at risk for phishing attacks (requests for information from authentic-looking, but fake, e-mails and websites). The Bureau had begun efforts to address a number of these challenges; as it begins implementing this decennial census’ design, continued focus on these considerable security challenges will be critical. Looking forward, there is uncertainty as to whether the Census Bureau will be ready for the 2018 end-to-end test, set to begin in August 2017. GAO has ongoing work for this committee that is evaluating the significant challenges the Bureau faces in developing, testing, integrating, and securing systems prior to the 2018 test. For example, of the 50 systems to be included in the end-to-end test, half of them are to be delivered after the start of the test or lack a firm delivery date (see figure). In addition, key dates for the integration of the systems have not yet been defined. Given the short window of time before the test is to begin, it is important that the Bureau continue to focus its attention on implementing and securing the data collection systems that are to collect and store the personal information of millions of American people. Figure: Status of Systems to be used for the 2018 End-to-End Test Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. Census Bureau (a component of the Department of Commerce) plans to significantly change the methods and technology it uses to count the population with the 2020 Decennial Census, such as by offering an option for households to respond to the survey via the Internet. The Bureau’s redesign of the Census program relies on the acquisition and development of many new and modified systems. Several of the key systems are to be provided by an enterprise-wide initiative called CEDCAP. This statement summarizes the report GAO issued in August 2016 on the challenges the Bureau faces in managing the interdependencies between the 2020 Census and CEDCAP programs, as well as challenges it faces in ensuring the security and integrity of Bureau systems and data. GAO also updated key information based on its ongoing work for this committee by, among other things, reviewing the updated 2020 Operational Plan and systems lists provided by the Bureau, and by interviewing agency officials. What GAO Recommends In its August report, GAO made eight recommendations to the Department of Commerce. The recommendations addressed, among other things, deficiencies in the Bureau’s management of interdependencies related to schedule, risk, and requirements. The department agreed with all eight recommendations and indicated that it would be taking actions to address them. For more information, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or email@example.com.
Testimony of Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez Before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, United House of Representatives, March 17, 2015
Chairman Cole, Ranking Member DeLauro and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the invitation to testify today. I appear before you today with a great sense of optimism about the direction of our economy and the role that the Labor Department can play in sustaining and further accelerating this recovery. I’m confident we can construct a stairway to shared prosperity in which everyone has the chance to live their highest and best dreams, and that’s what I want to discuss with you today.
The President’s FY 2016 Budget proposes investments in programs that build on what works and support an economy that works for everyone. The request for the Labor Department creates opportunities for workers to strengthen their skills, support their families, and protect their hard-earned retirement savings. The United States has experienced 60 consecutive months of net private sector job growth, extending the longest streak on record. There are now more than 5 million job openings, the most since January 2001. At the end of the Great Recession, there were nearly 7 jobseekers for every available position; today the ratio is less than 2-to-1.
Under President Obama, the deficit has fallen by about two thirds, measured as a share of the economy. The last time the deficit fell this quickly was at the end of World War II. Consumer confidence is near a seven-year high. Workers on manufacturing assembly lines are now averaging 42 hours per week, and auto sales are at prerecession levels.
Yet in this recovery, there are many families who are not yet experiencing the benefits of this strengthening economy. Their jobs are not paying a living wage, forcing parents to work two or three jobs to make ends meet or choosing between staying home with a sick child and earning a paycheck. If enacted, the President’s Budget for the Department of Labor would help change this reality by supporting working families, creating pathways to high-growth jobs, and protecting workers’ health and safety, wages, and retirement security. This Budget is an investment in the future of our country and an affirmation of an economy we all want an economy where hard work is rewarded, where workers get a fair shake and fair treatment at work, where workers have a chance to develop skills that lead them to family-sustaining jobs, and where workers have security to return home from work safely to their families and build for their future.
These investments, and continued economic growth, will only be possible if we reverse sequestration, as the President’s Budget would do. At the end of 2013, policymakers came together on a bipartisan basis to partially reverse sequestration and to pay for higher discretionary funding levels with long-term reforms. We have seen the positive consequences of that bipartisan agreement for our ability to invest in areas ranging from research and manufacturing to strengthening our military. The Budget builds on this progress by reversing sequestration, paid for with a balanced mix of common-sense spending cuts and closing tax loopholes, while also proposing additional deficit reduction that would put debt on a downward path as a share of the economy.
Meanwhile, the President has made clear that he will not accept a budget that reverses our progress by locking in sequestration going forward. Locking in sequestration would bring real defense and non-defense funding to the lowest levels in a decade. As the Joint Chiefs and others have outlined, that would damage our national security, ultimately resulting in a military that is too small and equipment that is too old to fully implement the defense strategy. It would also damage our economy, preventing us from making pro-growth investments in areas ranging from basic research to early childhood education to severely reducing the number of people who can receive training through our workforce training programs. As the President has stated, he will not accept a budget that severs the vital link between our national and economic security, both of which are important to the Nation’s safety, international standing, and long-term prosperity.
CREATING PATHWAYS TO HIGH GROWTH JOBS
Last year both parties came together to pass the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which provides a vital opportunity for reform of our nation’s job training system so workers are prepared for 21st Century jobs and employers have the skilled workers they need. The Budget request supports robust implementation of that law and its reforms.
Successful WIOA implementation means enabling and assisting states to develop comprehensive and cross-program state plans to best serve individuals and businesses, and to have the infrastructure in place to measure outcomes and report on performance as required under the law. The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) plans to employ flexibilities to allow states to use existing funds to transition to the new law. The Budget also requests additional staff and technical assistance funding, which will allow ETA to be responsive to the needs of the workforce system and assist states and localities in the second year of WIOA implementation. These staff would be located throughout the regions and in the national office, providing guidance and support to states in their efforts to fully implement the changes required by the law.
A key goal of the statute is to provide stronger accountability for, and transparency of, the outcomes of federal investments. For that reason, the Budget includes a significant increase for the Workforce Data Quality Initiative, from $ 4.0 million appropriated for FY 2015 to $ 37.0 million requested for FY 2016, to help states expand and enhance their information technology infrastructures to connect state workforce and education databases and to build the public-facing performance reports required by WIOA. $ 30.0 million of this request will help states build integrated or bridged data systems to facilitate WIOA implementation. These grants also will support building state-based wage data matching infrastructure to enable and/or streamline WIOA performance reporting, including eligible training provider performance reporting.
The Budget builds on WIOA with investments to expand the capacity of the core programs to reach more individuals who need help finding or training for a new or better job. The Budget includes a $ 2.7 billion discretionary investment (an $ 85.7 million increase above the 2015 enacted level) in the Adult, Youth, and Dislocated Worker State grants. The WIOA formula programs provide job placement, career counseling, skills training, credential attainment, and access to state job boards for disadvantaged, low-skilled, and underemployed adult workers; low-income and out-of-school youth; and dislocated workers. The Budget maintains the 2015 funding level for the Governors’ set aside while providing increased funding for direct services at the local level. The Budget also provides additional dedicated funding for those who need training to find a new job. Current resource limitations mean that only a small portion of the people who walk through the doors of American Job Centers are able to receive training through the workforce system. The Budget includes $ 16.0 billion for a 10-year mandatory High-Growth Sector Training legislative proposal that would double the number of workers who receive training though the workforce development system. This training will equip workers with the skills and credentials to get jobs in high-growth industries, such as health care, energy, advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, and information technology.
DOL continues to work to meet the President’s goal of doubling the number of Registered Apprenticeships over the next five years and to work with bipartisan supporters to promote expanding apprenticeship–a proven strategy that allows people to earn while they learn. DOL data indicate that people who complete registered apprenticeships have median salaries exceeding $ 50,000, and over 90 percent of people are employed within three months after completion of the program. The Budget will invest $ 2.0 billion in grants to states and regions to bring more employers to the table in providing high-quality apprenticeship and equip states and regions with the expertise to assist employers in creating or expanding the apprenticeship model. In addition, we propose an annual discretionary request before this committee of $ 100.0 million within the ETA for apprenticeship grants for states, industry, and community based organizations to support sustainability and build capacity across the national apprenticeship system and to meet additional demand by employers and others beyond what can be funded under the American Apprenticeship grants we will award later this year.
Industry-recognized credentials help employers, jobseekers, and educators by communicating the skills and training that are needed for a particular occupation. The Budget includes a proposal for mandatory funding of $ 500.0 million for competitive Industry Credentialing and Assessment Grants to speed the development and adoption of credentials and assessments with real labor market value and more effectively match job seekers to employment opportunities. Of this proposal, $ 300.0 million would be targeted toward in-demand information technology jobs. While industry recognized, portable credentials improve labor mobility, a patchwork of State licensing laws can sometimes hinder that mobility. Different states often have a wide variety of licensing rules for the same occupation, requiring people to participate in unnecessary training or pay high licensing fees to obtain work for which they already have the skills. Our Budget requests $ 15.0 million for grants to States to identify and address areas where occupational licensing requirements are creating an unnecessary barrier to labor market entry or labor mobility. This will be particularly useful to transitioning service members, military spouses, and dislocated workers.
Despite the progress that has been made in recent years, there are still many young people lacking economic opportunities. The Department’s Budget expands programs to reach more of those youth and help them find meaningful employment. Now in its 50th year, Job Corps has provided education and career technical training for 3 million disadvantaged youth in a residential setting, and the Department is committed to taking all necessary steps including closure, as appropriate to reform the program to ensure Job Corps continues to effectively serve millions more young people in the future. The Budget request for Job Corps includes an increase of $ 17.0 million to implement WIOA-related changes, upgrade equipment to meet industry standards, and refine training to provide skills that are in high demand by employers. A portion of the increase will be used to pilot ways to better serve younger students, for whom the traditional Job Corps model has been less effective. Our Budget also seeks increases to strengthen oversight of the Job Corps program, as the Department moves toward a more risk-based approach for program oversight.
In addition to Job Corps enhancements, the Departments of Justice and Labor are proposing to pilot a program with $ 5 million in grants to community partnerships that provide youth with the opportunity to explore in-demand careers in law enforcement services, which will provide at-risk youth with tangible work experience and positive law enforcement exposure. Our Budget also includes a Connecting for Opportunity legislative proposal to create job opportunities for disadvantaged youth, which seeks $ 3.0 billion of mandatory funding over four years. This includes $ 1.5 billion in formula grants to expand year-round and summer job opportunities and $ 1.5 billion to create educational and workforce pathways to help youth earn high school diplomas, pursue further education, and make connections with the job market.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grants provided nearly $ 2.0 billion in mandatory funding over four years, with the last round of grants awarded in FY 2014. This investment brought together education, labor, business, and community leaders, ensuring that community colleges were offering curricula aligned with industry’s needs. To build on the infrastructure and lessons learned from the TAACCCT grants and to continue expanding the role of community colleges in job training, the Administration is proposing a $ 200.0 million increase for an American Technical Training Fund that will be housed in the Career and Technical Education office at the Department of Education and jointly administered by the Departments of Education and Labor. These grants will support the development of new job training programs within current community colleges or other innovative, non-traditional training providers and will help scale existing models with evidence of effectiveness which could include past performance on graduation rates, job placement rates, and wages earned by graduates.
The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) helps veterans and separating servicemembers transition from the service to a meaningful career, starting with a robust and revitalized three day workshop that is required for every separating servicemember. These workshops are part of a comprehensive veteran employment support program anchored in our American Job Centers across the country. The Administration has been focused on improving the effectiveness of VETS, including in terms of ensuring that it is integrated with other employment and training programs, and its funding has increased 13 percent since FY 2009. The FY 2016 request maintains the funding increase for the largest VETS program the Jobs for Veterans State Grants which funds specialists who provide veterans with the employment services needed to overcome significant barriers to work. The FY 2016 Budget also maintains funding for the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration program. I remain troubled that men and women who risk their lives for us struggle when they return to the United States, with far too many experiencing homelessness. I share the President’s commitment to end homelessness among veterans; we will continue to work with other Federal agencies to achieve this goal.
I also urge Congress to reauthorize the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, as it provides critical training, income support, wage subsidies, employment and case management services, and job search and relocation allowances to workers whose employment has been adversely affected by foreign trade. Last year, TAA provided benefits and services to over 62,700 workers seeking new jobs and opportunities. And 83 percent of those who completed training received a degree or industry recognized credential. Nearly 77 percent of those TAA participants who exited the program found employment within six months, and, of those, 90 percent were still employed six months later.
The process known as PERM is ten years old. This is what we use to certify that an employer seeking to obtain a Green Card for an immigrant worker meets the statutory test requiring that there be an insufficient supply of United States workers and no adverse effect on wage and working conditions of United States workers. We are considering options to modernize the PERM program to be more responsive to changes in the national workforce. One of our most critical Budget proposals would authorize legislation to allow the Department of Labor to charge fees for new applications filed under the PERM program to improve the speed and quality of certification processing. The Department has heard from businesses across the country that are in favor of a filing fee. Not being able to charge a fee to support more efficient application processing and program administration is hurting businesses, workers, and our economy. The Budget also includes a one-time increase of $ 13 million and 17 temporary staff to reduce the escalating backlog of PERM cases.
SUPPORTING WORKING FAMILIES
Despite the improvement in the economy, the number of individuals who have been unemployed for six months or longer the long-term unemployed is unacceptably high. People who are out of work for a longer period of time have more trouble finding a job. To address and prevent long-term unemployment, the Budget includes a total of $ 180.9 million, an increase of $ 100.9 million, for the combined Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment and Reemployment Services program, a cost effective strategy with proven success. The combined services will be offered to all veterans who receive unemployment compensation through the Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Servicemembers UCX program, as well as the top third of unemployment insurance (UI) claimants who are most likely to become long-term unemployed. People who receive these combined services are less likely to exhaust their UI benefits, have shorter UI durations, and return to work more quickly with higher wages and job retention rates. This $ 180.9 million investment will yield an estimated $ 287.0 million in benefits savings in FY 2016. In addition, the Budget includes a $ 400.0 million discretionary increase in the Employment Service, enabling states to provide cost-effective in-person reemployment services to an additional 2 million displaced workers, including the long-term unemployed and our veterans, to connect them with jobs or the training or services they need to prepare for meaningful employment.
There are also people with full-time jobs who cannot make ends meet. They are diligent and resilient. They take responsibility for themselves and their families. But no matter how hard they work, they fall further and further behind. Many of them need SNAP or other forms of public assistance to sustain their families. Often, they are one setback away from complete desperation. For you or me, car trouble and a trip to the repair shop are inconvenient; for many others, it’s a financial catastrophe.
Current public opinion is clearly and convincingly in favor of increasing the minimum wage. Grass roots energy and momentum nationwide have moved states, counties and local governments to take action where Congress so far has not. Over the last two years, 17 states plus the District of Columbia have raised their own minimum wages. On Election Day last November, Nebraska, South Dakota, Alaska and Arkansas passed ballot measures, by landslide margins, to increase their state’s minimum wage. The legislatures in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, West Virginia and the District of Columbia enacted increases during the 2014 session. While we applaud progress at the State, local, and employer level, we must raise the Federal minimum wage so workers across the country can benefit.
The United States is also the only developed country that does not guarantee paid maternity leave to our workers. Because of this, people are forced to choose between caring for their families and earning a paycheck that they desperately need. To respond to this, the Department’s Budget includes two paid leave proposals. The first is a mandatory legislative proposal for $ 2.2 billion to assist up to five states that wish to launch paid leave programs, following the example of California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. If enacted, grants would help states with administrative costs and half of benefits for three years. The second is a discretionary proposal for $ 35.0 million that would provide technical assistance and support to states that are still building the infrastructure they need to launch paid leave programs in the future.
PROTECTING WORKERS, WAGES, AND RETIREMENT SECURITY
The notion that we can either rebuild our economy or we can pay workers fairly and be vigilant about worker safety is a false choice. At the Labor Department, we’re being more strategic about cracking down on wage violations, working to ensure workplace safety, and protecting the retirement savings of your constituents who have worked their whole lives to save. Worker protection programs are crucial to protecting of American workers. The Budget includes $ 1.9 billion for the Department’s worker protection agencies, enabling them to meet their responsibilities of safeguarding the health, safety, wages, working conditions, and retirement security of American workers.
The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for the administration and enforcement of a wide range of laws, which collectively cover 135 million workers in more than 7.3 million establishments through the United States and territories. The request for WHD includes an increase of nearly $ 31.7 million to focus on industries that employ vulnerable workers and are most likely to break worker protection laws enforced by WHD, including the laws that provide for a minimum wage, overtime, and the right of workers to take leave to care for their own or their families’ medical needs.
The Occupational Safety and Health and Mine Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA and MSHA) work to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women. Across the two agencies, the Budget includes nearly $ 990.0 million to bolster OSHA’s ability to enforce safety and health standards as well as more than 20 whistleblower laws that protect workers from discrimination and retaliation when reporting unsafe and unscrupulous practices. The Budget will also allow OSHA to enhance safety and security at chemical facilities, and provide MSHA with the resources it needs to enforce and promote mine safety and health laws while conducting statutorily required mine inspections.
Although the vast majority of employers treat their employees well, there are still those who disregard their responsibility to their workers. Many of the laws that are enforced by the worker protection agencies lack strong civil penalties. The Budget proposes to strengthen several of the civil monetary penalties collected by the Department. This is not intended as an additional penalty against employers who are striving to follow the laws and protect their workers. This is intended to strengthen the deterrent against those few who flout the law to save a few pennies while risking their employees’ lives and health.
About half of the workforce has no retirement plan through their work. About 15 percent without work-based plans have a personal retirement account. Social Security is an important benefit, but too many Americans have nothing else to supplement their Social Security benefits. Our nation needs to help more people save for their golden years. The Budget includes several proposals to help Americans with their retirement planning and savings. The request for the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) includes an increase of $ 6.5 million to pilot different approaches to increasing retirement plan coverage in states. The Budget request for EBSA also includes an increase of $ 7.6 million to advance the agency’s investigative tools to enhance health and retirement benefits analysis and targeting.
PROGRAM REFORM, IMPROVING DATA-DRIVEN DECISION-MAKING, AND INCREASING FEDERAL PRODUCTIVITY
In recent years, the Department has been striving to increase the productivity and efficiency of its workforce. The Budget includes a number of investments to improve the Department’s ability to serve the public, increase workers’ effectiveness, streamline processes, and enhance agencies’ ability to target enforcement to those areas where violations are most likely to occur.
The Department’s Budget includes a large investment in the IT infrastructure. Over the past six years, the Department has been working to streamline the nine separate IT infrastructure components into one consolidated system. Within this consolidated system, the Department is proposing to implement a Digital Government Integrated Platform, which will be used by agencies to support information sharing and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Department’s workforce, thereby transforming the way the Department provides services to the American public. This will improve compliance with the laws the Department administers by focusing strategies and resources through in-depth data analysis made possible by managing digital information. It will also allow for agencies to better train employers and workers on how to be safe in the workplace by enabling the Department to share videos that demonstrate safe workplace practices and tailor this information for non-English speaking employees. Several of the agency budgets, including the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), and the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), include proposals to upgrade their case management systems. These systems will improve the agencies’ ability to target enforcement efforts, enabling them to change the types of behaviors that drive non-compliance. Within the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), there is a proposal to improve the claims processing systems. The 20-year old Longshore and Black Lung claims processing systems are out of date, and the FECA claims system is approaching the end of its life. OWCP is looking to move toward a unified claims-based system that would facilitate more effective delivery of benefits to claimants across the four programs OWCP administers and also yield savings in future years.
The FY 2015 Omnibus provided additional resources for the Adjudicatory Boards to address the backlog of Black Lung cases. The Budget continues this funding and the Department remains committed to eliminating the case backlog.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the principal Federal statistical agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy. The request for BLS is $ 632.7 million and includes an increase of $ 6.5 million to expand the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). JOLTS provides critical information about the health of the labor market by tracking the number of job openings, hires, layoffs and quits in the economy. This is useful because weaknesses in some of these underlying sources, such as openings, are leading indicators of recessions. Earlier warning about recessions allows policymakers more time to respond. Similarly, increases in some of these underlying sources, such as quits, provide important signals as to the growing strength of the labor market. The expansion would allow JOLTS data to be released at the same time as the monthly unemployment numbers, thereby improving the analysis of both pieces of information, and also would add greater industry detail and State level information. In addition, the request includes an increase of $ 4.7 million for the International Price Program (IPP) export price indexes, which are used in the calculation of real Gross Domestic Product. These indexes are used to help understand trends in U.S. real trade balances, competitiveness, and issues such as the impact of exchange rate movements. In the past few years, BLS has taken a series of temporary measures to maintain this and other key economic programs, but these measures cannot be sustained permanently and the levels in the Budget are necessary if programs are to be maintained.
The Department has long been a leader in using data to make decisions. I am proposing to increase the Chief Evaluation Office’s funding while also continuing to transfer resources from the agencies to the CEO for evaluation of those programs.
The Budget proposes several reforms for ETA and OWCP programs, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). The reforms to the UI program will improve the solvency of State programs, strengthen the program’s connection to work, and make the UI program more targeted and responsive to economic downturns. The Budget again proposes reforms to the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) to act on longstanding recommendations from the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Department’s Inspector General to update and improve the program. If enacted, these changes will yield government-wide savings of more than $ 360.0 million over 10 years. Within PBGC, the Budget includes a proposal to raise the premiums that plans pay to PBGC, taking into account the risks that different sponsors pose. This proposal will save about $ 19.0 billion over the next 10 years.
Promoting the welfare of American workers, job-seekers, and retirees is the fundamental mission of the Labor Department, and it is critical to the Nation’s continued economic recovery and long-term competitiveness. The Budget calls for investments and significant reforms to help workers gain new skills in growing sectors, supports a middle class economy, and builds upon our previous success.
These proposals are evidence-based, and our efforts will help get Americans onto career pathways that promote opportunity and a hopeful future, helps workers support their families, and improves the effectiveness of the federal employees at the Department.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me today. I am happy to respond to any questions that you may have.
In the week ending November 26, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 268,000, an increase of 17,000 from the previous week’s unrevised level of 251,000. The 4-week moving average was 251,500, an increase of 500 from the previous week’s unrevised average of 251,000.
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