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Unemployment Extension Will Provide Much-Needed Help for Out of Work Americans

By Chairman George Miller on 11-20-2008, 05:12 PM

The U.S. Senate passed legislation today to extend the amount of time out of work Americans can receive unemployment insurance benefits. The House overwhelmingly passed the bill in October; the measure now goes to the president for his signature. The Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2008 (H.R.6867) provides workers with an additional seven weeks of unemployment benefits for workers who have exhausted their regular unemployment and an additional 13 weeks of benefits for workers in states with the highest unemployment.

In light of today’s devastating economic news that new jobless claims rose to their highest level in more than 16 years, the Senate did the right thing for millions of out-of-work Americans. Unemployment benefits for more than a million Americans are set to expire by the end of the year. This extension will provide much-needed help for these families who still have to put food on the table, pay their home and heating bills, and look for a job.

With our nation’s financial wounds deepening by the day, we can’t allow the rug to get pulled out from under workers looking for a new job. Extending unemployment benefits is a no-brainer – it’s one of the most effective things we can do to help workers and stimulate our economy. With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s time for the President to give workers and families a helping hand by immediately signing this bill.

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Committee Will Work to Rebuild and Strengthen America's Middle Class

By Chairman George Miller on 11-20-2008, 04:38 PM

Today, the Democratic Caucus officially re-elected Rep. George Miller to chair the House Education and Labor Committee for the 111th Congress.

It is an honor and a privilege to continue to chair the Education and Labor Committee in the next Congress, and I thank my colleagues for their support.

If anything, this historic election reminded us that Americans from all regions, backgrounds and political stripes are united in our shared hopes and aspirations: A quality, affordable education for our children; a good-paying job with decent benefits; and a secure retirement after a lifetime of hard work. In a nation as great as ours, these dreams can – and must – be achieved.

I look forward to working with all members of this committee, the next Congress, and the new administration on a Main Street recovery plan that will revitalize our economy, and toward our larger goal of rebuilding and strengthening America’s middle class. Like President-Elect Obama, I’m confident we can reach this goal by working in a bipartisan way that transcends the politics of the past, and by making sure that our government is open, accountable and engages the public. Moving forward, our committee will also build on our efforts to use innovative strategies to make sure that the voices of Americans around the country are heard here in Washington.

I also know that no one is more excited about the opportunities before us than Senator Ted Kennedy. No one has fought harder for our children, workers and families than Ted, and no one could ask for a better partner in these challenging times. I am thrilled that he has returned to the Senate, and look forward to continuing to work closely with him on the important tasks that lie ahead.

More information on Chairman Miller's priorities for the committee in the 111th Congress »

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Chairman Miller Unveils Principles to Preserve and Strengthen 401(k)s in the 111th Congress

By Chairman George Miller on 11-14-2008, 04:42 PM

Today, a Wall Street Journal editorial further perpetuated an active campaign that is blatantly misrepresenting Democratic efforts to preserve and strengthen Americans’ retirement security. In light of these ongoing distortions, Chairman George Miller reiterated the committee’s legislative priorities in preparation for the next Congress’ efforts to help Americans enjoy a secure retirement.

The Wall Street Journal is needlessly creating fear among Americans rightly worried about their retirement security by misrepresenting my efforts to strengthen workers’ retirement savings – attacks that have no basis in fact.  I do not support ‘abolishing’ 401(k)s, moving these plans, or changing their tax status, plain and simple.  The truth is that Democrats in Congress are working to preserve and strengthen 401(k)s.

Last year, our Committee worked with the employer and investment community to pass legislation to increase transparency and protect workers’ hard-earned retirement savings from excessive and hidden fees that could cut deeply into their accounts. In addition to providing workers with better information about the fees they’re paying, we know other steps must be taken to make sure our retirement system is as strong as it can be for our nation’s workers and retirees. These principles will help guide the next Congress as we work to ensure that every American can enjoy a safe and secure retirement.

***************

Recent hearings held by the committee have shown the devastating toll the economic downturn has leveled on Americans’ retirement savings, including the loss of over $4 trillion in pension benefits.

To help preserve and strengthen 401(k)-style and other retirement plans, Chairman Miller today released the following principles:

•    Expose excess fees that Wall Street middle men take from workers accounts. Currently, millions of Americans are paying excessive 401(k) fees at the hands of Wall Street middle men who refuse to fully disclose and detail extra fees and charges paid by employees. This is wrong, especially in light of the dramatic losses faced by millions of Americans in their 401(k) plans this year. According to the GAO, even a difference of just 1 percentage point in hidden fees can drastically eat into a worker’s 401(k) account balance – by as much as 20 percent or more over a career. This 1 percentage point difference could cost a worker with a $20,000 account balance more than $12,000 in reduced savings over this time period.

•    Bring young and low-wage workers into the system at a higher rate through automatic enrollment for employers already offering 401(k)s. Unless employers more quickly automatically enroll new workers, nearly 40 percent of workers born in 1990 will have no 401(k)-style savings at all when they retire, according to the GAO. Current law allows employers to automatically enroll their workers in their companies’ 401(k)s but employers have been slow to enroll employees. Studies show that automatic enrollment can increase participation by as much as 35 percentage points. And even after 3-4 years, the vast majority of those automatically enrolled are still participating.

•    Ensure that retirement accounts have diversified investment options with low fees. Many 401(k) plans have inadequate, and all too often, expensive investment options. Workers should have access to simple investment options, including low-cost index funds.

•    Ensure workers have access to reliable independent investment advice. Too often, workers are given self-interested advice from financial advisors or money managers – advice that may not always lead to the best retirement investment. All plan participants should have access to objective advice and investment information to help them better manage their savings.

•    Reduce vesting periods and improve portability of 401(k) accounts. Workers are leaving millions of dollars on the table because of employers’ rules that take away their savings when they change jobs. In many cases workers are required to work at a firm for three years or more before they can fully access their retirement savings. In addition, the GAO says that by automatically rolling over accounts into a new retirement plan when workers leave a job, Americans’ retirement savings would increase by a projected 11 percent on average, with the biggest percentage increases for low-income workers.

In April, the committee passed the 401(k) Fair Disclosure for Retirement Security Act (H.R. 3185), which would help workers shop around for the best retirement investment options by providing complete information on how much in fees is taken from their retirement accounts. The legislation was supported by the AFL-CIO, the AARP, the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries, the Council of Independent 401(k) Recordkeepers, and the Pension Rights Center.

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Job Losses Prove We Need to Help American Families Quickly

By Chairman George Miller on 11-07-2008, 10:52 AM

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced today that the unemployment rate jumped to 6.5 percent after 240,000 jobs were lost in October, the highest unemployment rate since March 1994.

Today’s announcement that our economy lost almost a quarter million jobs in October proves that we need to move quickly to help American families deal with a rapidly failing economy. The 1.2 million Americans who lost their jobs this year are desperate for real solutions to get our nation back to work and our economy moving forward again.

We must get started right away by passing a Main Street recovery plan that will get Americans back to work by making real investments in energy independence and infrastructure improvements, and providing immediate relief to families and workers struggling with long-term unemployment.

More than a million out of work Americans stand to lose their extended unemployment benefits by the end of the year. With potentially millions more joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed, any economic recovery package must extend the amount of time that a worker can receive unemployment insurance benefits while they look for another job.

As we build a more resilient and robust economy, we must also ensure that workers are able to benefit as growth returns. Workers must be able to earn a fair wage, decent benefits and have the ability to enjoy a secure retirement. I look forward to working with the new Congress and the Obama administration to enact additional policies that will further strengthen our economy and its backbone – American workers and middle-class families.

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Committee Will Work with Obama-Biden Administration to Rebuild and Strengthen the Middle Class

By Chairman George Miller on 11-05-2008, 12:14 PM

Yesterday's historic election of Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden as our next President and Vice President was a true victory for every child, student, worker and family in America. I congratulate Senators Obama and Biden, and I look forward to working closely with them to change the direction of our country and get our economy moving forward again.

During the past two years, the Education and Labor Committee has focused on strengthening our nation's middle class – a priority that Senators Obama and Biden clearly share, as demonstrated by their careers and the focus of their historic campaign.

With our country facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and our global leadership at risk, this mission is more important than ever.

In the next Congress, this committee will be dedicated to working with the new Obama-Biden administration and members of both parties of Congress to rescue our economy by rebuilding and strengthening America's middle class. We must get started right away by passing a Main Street recovery plan that will get Americans back to work and provide immediate relief to families and workers struggling with long-term unemployment and depleted state budgets.

We will dedicate ourselves to improving our nation's schools and continue our efforts to make college more affordable and accessible, so that every student has the opportunity to succeed. We are committed to rebuilding our country's roads, bridges and schools, and to green retrofitting and other modern energy programs that will create millions of good-paying jobs and reestablish America's technological leadership.

We will fight to restore workers' rights, so that every American can benefit from economic opportunity. And we will make the preservation and strengthening of retirement savings a priority, so that all Americans can enjoy a secure retirement after a lifetime of hard work.

Today marks a new beginning. Together, we can rescue our economy, restore the promise of the American Dream, and ensure that, in a nation as great as ours, the interests of students, workers, families and retirees are at the heart of our nation's priorities.

More information on recent hearings on the economy and the committee's work over the past two years.

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Pell Grants Helping More Students Pay for College

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-29-2008, 12:30 PM

More students than ever before are receiving Pell Grants to help pay for college and that number is on the rise, according to a new report released today by the College Board. The study also shows that, with college costs rising, students are continuing to access the federal student loans for which they are eligible. Over the past year, the average tuition and fees for in-state students at four-year public colleges and universities increased by 6.4 percent to $6,585 for the 2008-2009 school year.

"With college costs still rising and families facing growing uncertainty in today's economy, federal student aid is more important than ever," Chairman George Miller said.  "Over the past two years, the Democratic Congress has made college affordability a top priority -- providing historic investments in federal student aid and safeguarding federal student loans from the turbulence in the nation's financial markets. This study reinforces that these efforts are critically needed to help make college more affordable and accessible for students and their families.

"This report also shows that the Pell Grant scholarship -- which Congress has significantly boosted in the past two years --  is playing an increasingly important role in expanding college access, especially for low- and middle-income students. As we work to get our economy back on the road to recovery, it is vital to make sure that students are aware of all their student aid options and are fully maximizing their federal student loans before turning to more expensive private loans."

According to the report, the number of students receiving almost all federal grants and loans have increased over the last ten years and the number of students receiving Pell Grant scholarships has increased from 3.7 million in 1997-98 to 5.4 million in 2007-2008.

Last year, Congress enacted the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which provides the largest increase in student financial aid since the GI bill. The law increases the maximum Pell Grant scholarship by more than $1,000, cuts interest rates on need-based student loans in half, creates income based repayment programs for students graduating with college debt and gives loan forgiveness incentive programs for public service workers.

Congress also recently enacted the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act to ensure that students and families can continue to have access to all the federal college loans they are eligible for.

In August, Congress enacted the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the first reauthorization of the nation's primary higher education laws in a decade. The law addresses rising college tuition prices, makes textbook costs more manageable, simplifies the federal student aid application process, makes the Pell Grant scholarship available year-round for the first time, provides new consumer protections for federal and private student loan borrowers, and much more.

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New Regulations on No Child Left Behind Aren't Enough

By Chairman George Miller on 10-29-2008, 12:18 PM

The U.S. Department of Education recently released new regulations for the No Child Left Behind Act.

Some of these regulations are steps in the right direction; but others will do little to change the criticism facing NCLB .  It is troubling that the Bush administration has waited until the last possible minute to address some of the serious concerns with No Child Left Behind, in particular the lack of uniformity across the states when calculating their high school graduation rates.  No Child Left Behind law is in need of significant and fundamental improvements -- so that every child has the opportunity to get a world class public education. I look forward to working with the next administration to make the law more fair, more flexible and better funded.

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U.S. Pension Agency Lost Almost $5 Billion in Stocks in FY 2008

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-24-2008, 01:48 PM

The U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s investment losses now total almost $5 billion in fiscal year 2008, according to information released at a Committee hearing today.

Earlier this week, the PBGC reported a $3.1 billion loss in equity investment in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2008. The September loss of $1.7 billion in stocks increased PBGC’s total losses for the fiscal year to $4.8 billion.

The dramatic loss comes at a time when the PBGC is beginning to implement a new controversial investment policy approved in February. The new policy would significantly shift PBGC assets from fixed-income securities, such as U.S. Treasuries, into more risky securities like real estate, emerging market debt, junk bonds and venture equities.

“With the current market turmoil, we have to ask the question whether it is wise to invest our nation’s pension backstop in volatile equities,” Chairman George Miller said.

The head of the PBGC, Charles Millard, appeared before the Committee today regarding the agency's financial problems that may threaten the retirement security of millions of Americans. The PBGC is a government agency that insures traditional private-sector pension plans, manages failed pension plans and pays benefits to workers of those plans.

PBGC investment documents »

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Economy May Slip Into Deep Recession Without Immediate Action, Witnesses Say

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-24-2008, 12:33 PM

The American economy could slip into a deeper recession unless immediate action is taken to stem the tide of rising unemployment and falling family incomes, witnesses told the Committee in a hearing today.

Economists predicted that, based on past recession trends unemployment could soon reach eight percent or higher, and middle-class families’ incomes could drop by more than $2,000 this year.

“It is urgent that we prepare now to take the next steps to rescue the economy by creating jobs, providing immediate relief to the states and small businesses, and by making real investments in energy, technology and education,” Chairman George Miller said. “We must have a plan that speaks directly to the needs of American families and workers today.”

The number of out-of-work Americans has increased by 2.2 million in the last year. They join more than 2 million workers who have been unemployed longer than 27 months. In October, many workers began exhausting their unemployment insurance benefits.  By the end of this month, an estimated 775,000 workers will be left without a safety net, and a total of 1.1 million workers will be in the same straits by the end of the year.

In a letter to Chairman Miller released at the hearing, economist Alan Blinder of Princeton University predicted that “unemployment will top out in the 8-8.5 percent range” if the coming recession is as severe as the recessions of 1981-82 and 1973-75.  “My worry,” wrote Blinder, “is that we may be heading in that direction.”

“We are clearly in the early stages of a potentially very serious recession that will likely be as deep as anything we have experienced in a generation,” said Ron Blackwell, chief economist of the AFL-CIO. “Just how deep and protracted this recession will be depends on a timely, aggressive and well-focused economic recovery package.”

To help families make ends meet while they look for a new job, the Democratic Congress voted to extend unemployment benefits in early October. Unfortunately, that effort was blocked by Senate Republicans. The Bush administration threatened to veto the extension claiming it would encourage out of work Americans not to find a new job.

“There is nothing enjoyable about being up at night worrying about how you are going to make ends meet,” said Dana Stevens, an unemployed worker from Thorofare, NJ. “For anyone to suggest that receiving unemployment is like getting a free vacation is insulting and degrading to the millions like myself who are desperately trying to get back to work.”

Millions of workers not only lose their jobs during a recession, but household incomes for those with a job also decline on an average of four percent. Jared Bernstein, director of the Living Standards Program at the Economic Policy Institute, said that if past trends repeat themselves this time around, middle-class families’ who earn around $60,000 will see their income fall about $2,500 this year.

“Due to factors regarding job loss, fewer hours, and the slower wage growth driven by the weaker job market, incomes usually fall in recessions,” said Bernstein.

In September, the House of Representatives also approved an economic rescue and job creation package to help head off a deeper recession. It would have created good-paying jobs by investing in new energy technology and infrastructure.  The bill would have also provided access to job training and helped working families with grocery and health care bills. Senate Republicans and the Bush administration also opposed this effort.

Many economists say that making infrastructure investments are some of the most effective uses of federal dollars that create jobs in both the short-term and the long-term.

Robert Pollin, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said a $150 billion job creation program will create 2.9 million jobs in the short-term alone.

“In the midst of the severe financial crisis and deepening recession, it is imperative that the federal government take action as soon as possible to counteract the downturn,” said Pollin.

Pollin’s latest research also reveals that infrastructure investment produces a second wave of private sector job creation within two years, pushing the 2.9 million new jobs up to 3.3 million new jobs in a two-year time frame.

To encourage long-term job creation, investments are needed to build the nation’s technological backbone that will help foster growth in the emerging high-tech industry and green economy.

“Advanced networks will allow increased opportunities for the creation of even more highly skilled technology jobs to invent new products and improve existing ones in the vital areas of energy, health care, education, public safety and services,” said Christopher Hansen, president and CEO of AeA. “These are the jobs of the future.”

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Hearing Tomorrow: Building an Economic Recovery Package

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-23-2008, 01:26 PM

On Friday, October 24 at 10:00 a.m., the Committee will hold a hearing examining strategies – including investments in rebuilding crumbling infrastructure – to create good-paying jobs in order to put the nation’s stalled economy on the road to recovery. More than 2.2 million American workers have lost their jobs in the past 12 months and millions more are still looking for permanent employment.

“Building an Economic Recovery Package: Creating and Preserving Jobs in America”
Scheduled on October 24, 2008 at 10 a.m. in room 2175 Rayburn H.O.B.

Witnesses:

Panel 1:

Hon. Charles E. F. Millard
Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation

Panel 2:

Jared Bernstein
Director of the Living Standards Program
Economic Policy Institute

Ron Blackwell
Chief Economist
AFL-CIO

Christopher Hansen
President and CEO
AeA (formerly the American Electronics Association)

Robert Pollin
Professor of Economics
Founding Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute
University of  Massachusetts at Amherst

Dana Stevens
Unemployed Worker
Thorofare, New Jersey

William W. Beach
Director
Center for Data Analysis
The Heritage Foundation

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Retirees Are Facing a 401(k) Savings Crisis

By Chairman George Miller on 10-22-2008, 03:11 PM

Today, I chaired a U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor hearing in San Francisco where we examined how the current financial crisis is affecting retirement savings.  Witnesses told us that after a lifetime of planning and saving, a growing number of retirees are facing shrinking 401(k)s and increasing insecurity as a result of the ongoing financial crisis.  While this crisis may have started on Wall Street, it's Main Street that stands to suffer the most. More than ever before, there is an urgent need to help Americans strengthen their retirement savings.

We also learned today that U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation lost at least $3 billion in stock investments during the last fiscal year through August, and invested a significant portion of its funds in mortgage-backed securities. The head of the PBGC, Charles Millard, will testify before the committee on Friday in Washington regarding the agency's financial problems.

Taxpayers subsidize 401(k) plans by $80 billion dollars annually. For a taxpayer investment of this size, we must ensure that the structure of 401(k)s adequately protects the nest eggs of participating workers.

At a minimum, we know that much greater transparency and disclosures in 401(k) investment policies are needed, to protect workers from “hidden” fees that could be eating deeply into their retirement accounts.

And with seniors poised to suffer the most from the current economic turmoil, we must suspend an unfair tax penalty for seniors who don’t take a minimum withdrawal from their depleted retirement accounts, like 401(k)s.  We’ll push to enact legislation based on a bill Rep. Rob Andrews recently introduced, so that seniors who have seen their retirement savings evaporate don’t get penalized for trying to build those savings back up.

At the hearing today, we heard from Roberta Quan, a retired school teacher from San Pablo, CA, who is also caring for her husband who has Alzheimer’s:  "The recent unstable financial crisis is having a devastating effect on my life.  A lifetime of savings in catastrophic decline is demoralizing. The bottom line is that I am retired and unable to re-earn lost funds."

Steve Carroll, a retired writer from Petaluma, CA, told us: "Our monthly budget has been severely depleted for life.  We still have our IRAs. But, as they are in mutual stock funds they are so far down in value that selling any of them right now, as the law requires of [my partner] Chuck, the loss would be an enormous percentage of the investment."

Current regulations require account holders of 401(k)-type account to withdraw a minimum amount of money every year after they reach 70 ½ years old. If seniors do not take out a minimum amount based on an Internal Revenue Service formula, they are subject to a 50 percent penalty. For instance, if an individual fails to withdraw $4,000, they would be assessed a $2,000 tax the next year.

Registered investment advisor Mark Davis told us that a temporary repeal of minimum required distribution rules could help some retirees.  On October 10, Rep. Andrews and I called on U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to suspend the tax penalty for retirees who are forced to make withdrawals but want to have additional time to rebuild their retirement savings.

Other witnesses spoke about problems with the current retirement security system where individually directed 401(k)-type plans have become a worker's main retirement savings vehicle. Where investment decisions were once made by professionals managing a traditional pension portfolio on behalf of workers, the responsibility of picking the right investments and implementing retirement savings strategies are left up to an individual account holder.

The Education and Labor Committee passed legislation earlier in the year that would help workers shop around for the best retirement investment options by providing complete information on the fees taken from their retirement accounts. According to the Government Accountability Office, a 1 percentage point difference in fees can reduce retirement benefits by nearly 20 percent.

We started this investigation last week, as part of a series of hearings the House is conducting to investigate the causes of the financial crisis, and what additional steps are needed to protect homeowners, workers, and families.

Last week, Peter Orszag, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, told us that American workers have lost more than $2 trillion in retirement savings over the last fifteen months – an astonishing loss that could lead workers to delay their retirement.

Several experts also told us that workers closest to retirement could suffer the most from this financial tsunami.  But while the housing and financial crises are intensifying retirement insecurity, we also know that workers’ retirement savings have been declining for quite some time.  Rising unemployment, stagnating wages and benefits, and a shift away from more traditional defined-benefit pension plans have been making it much harder for workers to save for retirement while juggling other expenses.

Now, the number of investors taking loans on their 401(k) accounts is increasing. And hardship withdrawals are also increasing. T. Rowe Price estimates a 14 percent increase in hardship withdrawals just in the first eight months of 2008. And, all the signs point to an increased frequency of 401(k) loans and hardship withdrawals in the coming year.

As other committees’ hearings have revealed, many of the Wall Street titans responsible for this crisis have still escaped with their plush perks, lavish spa trips and golden parachutes intact. This is an outrage. For too long, the Bush administration anything goes economic policy allowed Wall Street to go unchecked.

As we look at how we can rebuild workers’ retirement savings and our nation’s economy, the Democratic Congress will continue to conduct this much-needed oversight on behalf of the American people.

Being able to save for retirement after a lifetime of hard work has always been a core tenet of the American Dream. We can’t allow the promise of a secure retirement for workers to become a casualty of the financial crisis.

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U.S. Pension Agency Has Lost $3 Billion in Stock Investments

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-22-2008, 03:01 PM

Chairman George Miller announced at a hearing today in San Francisco that the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation lost at least $3 billion in stock investments during the last fiscal year through August, and invested a significant portion of its funds in mortgage-backed securities. The losses were only partially offset by modest gains in other investment classes. It is likely that losses will be substantially worse after September results are reported.

The PBGC is a government agency that insures private-sector pension plans, manages failed pension plans and pays benefits to workers of those plans.

The head of the PBGC, Charles Millard, will testify before the House Education and Labor Committee on Friday regarding the agency's financial problems that may threaten the retirement security of millions of Americans.

"At a time when Americans' anxiety about their economic future is escalating, Millard's testimony is vital to better understand the financial situation of the nation's pension guarantor," said Chairman Miller. "Now is the time to gather all the information we need in order to rescue the economy and help workers and retirees."

According to a document obtained by the Education and Labor Committee and based on preliminary unaudited figures, the PBGC lost more than $3.1 billion in its trust fund related to the agency's stock investments for the first 11 months of its 2008 fiscal year. The PBGC trust fund invests pension assets in order to pay out benefits to workers whose pension plans were turned over to the agency.

The recent dramatic loss also comes in light of a new controversial investment policy the agency recently approved. The new policy would significantly shift PBGC assets from fixed-income securities, such as U.S. Treasuries, into more risky securities like real estate.

Millard recently testified before Congress recently that the new investment policy would not add any additional risk to the long-term stability of the trust fund.

The invitation to answer questions from Congress comes after the Millard rebuffed a committee subpoena in July that demanded the agency turn over documents regarding a report into the agency's mismanagement and lax governance practices.

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Emergency Funds Will Help Working Families and Seniors Heat Their Homes

By Chairman George Miller on 10-17-2008, 05:12 PM

$5.1 billion in emergency funds was released yesterday to help seniors and families pay their heating bills this winter. Congress passed the funding for LIHEAP, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, last month as part of a larger appropriations package.

With the financial crisis making hard economic times even worse for many families, we must make sure that Americans have the help they need to heat their homes this winter. This emergency relief will help the millions of seniors and low-income families who all too often are forced to choose between paying their heating bills and putting food on the table. In my home state of California alone, these funds will provide nearly $250 million in much-needed help for families and seniors. With the burdensome cost of high energy prices, this aid will give a critical helping hand to millions of families struggling to make ends meet.

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Upcoming Field Hearing: Impact of Financial Crisis on Retirement Security

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-17-2008, 02:03 PM

On Wednesday, October 22, the Committee will hold a field hearing in San Francisco, California to further examine how the current financial crisis is impacting Americans’ retirement security, including pension funds and workers’ directed retirement accounts like 401(k) plans.   The Committee held a hearing on this topic on October 7 as part of a series of hearings House Democrats are conducting to look at the causes of the financial crisis and appropriate responses to it.

"
The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Workers’ Retirement Security"
Scheduled on at 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Legislative Chamber, Room 250, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA.  Chairman George Miller will lead the hearing.

Witnesses:

Shlomo Benartzi, Ph.D.
Professor
UCLA Anderson School of Management
Los Angeles, CA

Mark Davis
Partner
Kravitz Davis Sansone
Encino, CA

Jacob S. Hacker, Ph.D.
Professor
University of California at Berkeley

Additional witnesses to be announced.

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Committee Will Continue Work to Strengthen America's Middle Class

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-16-2008, 02:23 PM

In December 2006, Rep. George Miller, the new Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, announced that the Committee would be dedicated to the mission of strengthening America’s middle class. And over the past two years, the Committee has delivered on its promise. America's students, workers, and families need help more than ever during the current financial crisis, and the Committee will continue its work to strengthen the middle class. Below is an overview of the Committee’s legislative milestones in the 110th Congress.

 Affordable colleges »
The Committee has enacted three laws that together will make college more affordable and accessible for middle class students, create a more efficient, consumer-friendly, and fair American higher education system, and protect federal student loans from turmoil in the economy.

High quality education »
The Committee enacted legislation to strengthen the nation’s premiere early childhood program, giving more young children the skills they need to succeed in school and in life. The Committee also helped enact emergency aid to help Gulf Coast schools and colleges still working to recover from Katrina and Rita. In addition, the Committee took a key step toward improving learning conditions for schoolchildren by passing legislation to help schools modernize their facilities and become more energy-efficient.

A competitive workforce »
The Committee has enacted legislation that builds on the principles Democrats first laid out in their “Innovation Agenda – A Commitment to Competitiveness to Keep America Number One.” These new laws will help prepare more Americans for jobs in emerging, high-tech industries that will keep our nation more competitive and create more good-paying jobs here at home.

Fairness in the workplace »
During the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress, the House passed the first increase in the minimum wage in ten years. Since then, Committee has passed a series of key measures to strengthen workers’ rights, improve workplace safety, end discriminatory practices that have unfairly eroded workers’ pay and other benefits, and help workers balance demands of work and family.

Retirement security »
While roughly 50 million American workers now have 401(k) style retirement plans, studies show that the vast majority of these workers don’t know how much they are paying in fees to the companies that service their 401(k) plans – fees that could be eating away at their retirement savings. The Committee passed legislation to help workers better understand these hidden fees and strengthen their retirement security.

Safe children and youth »
The Committee enacted laws to protect America's children and youth, including runaway, homeless and missing children, and to increase penalties when employers violate child labor laws. The House also passed legislation to protect teens in public and private residential programs.

Accountability and responsibility »
The Committee conducted oversight over government agencies in its jurisdiction, shining a light on the Bush administration’s failures to safeguard taxpayer dollars used to fund education programs and its efforts to weaken protections for workers. In some cases, the Committee’s investigations paved the way for legislation and spurred the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue a criminal investigation.

By the numbers...»
The Committee has held 113 hearings and heard from 683 witnesses in its efforts to grow and strengthen the nation’s middle class. In the next Congress, the Committee will continue to build on this record by working to improve the lives of children, students, workers and families.

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Chairman Miller Urges Secretary Chao Not To Roll Back Worker Protections

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-15-2008, 01:47 PM

Last week, Chairman George Miller asked Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to withdraw two proposals that would roll back worker protections contained in the nation’s H-2A and H-2B guest worker programs. This is in light of an Office of Inspector General investigation critical of the Department’s oversight of the permanent worker program -- the same oversight system Labor proposes to use in the temporary and seasonal guest worker programs.  

Though the Department is required to conduct audits of applications submitted to ensure against fraud, the OIG found that the Department actually discontinued some types of audits nearly three years ago. Additionally, the OIG found that the Department did not even audit many applications which had been selected for either random or targeted audits.

The OIG concluded:
“The effect of [the DOL] not auditing applications selected for audit is that fraudulent or non-meritorious applications may have been certified. Certifying non-eligible foreign workers could negatively affect the U.S. workforce by reducing the amount of jobs available for U.S. workers.”

Chairman Miller's letter to Secretary Chao states:
“The OIG report demonstrates that your Department has failed to properly implement the Program Electronic Review Management (PERM), a program that is similar to one you propose in the H-2A and H-2B regulations. Thus, we worry that the Bush Administration scheme for the H-2A and H-2B programs could lead to more fraudulent or non-meritorious requests for temporary foreign guest workers, at the expense of U.S. workers, with little risk of detection.”

Note: Sensitive information has been redacted from the OIG report.

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Chairman Miller Announces Hearing on Unemployment and Job Creation

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-14-2008, 10:45 AM

Following an urgent meeting held by Democratic leaders and top economists in Washington on October 13, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that House Democrats will begin laying the groundwork for a comprehensive economic recovery and job creation program, including a hearing to be held by the House Education and Labor Committee. Chairman George Miller said the hearing will focus on the nation’s severe unemployment outlook and strategies to spur job growth.

“The credit crisis and stock market crash is making an already dire unemployment situation worse,” Chairman Miller said.  “The top economists who have briefed the Democratic leadership today and over the last few weeks all agree that unemployment is going to continue to rise.  We are going to examine the best ways to get Americans back to work and put our economy on the road to recovery.

“The emergency financial bill we approved late last month was one important step toward rescuing the economy, but we knew then that additional, comprehensive measures would be needed to help stabilize and heal our broken economy.  We need a longer-term economic recovery plan that will create jobs, grow the economy, and protect Main Street. These hearings will be vital to our efforts to develop a plan that rebuilds our economy while protecting taxpayers and helping workers and their families seize the opportunities that our 21st century economy presents.”

The hearing is expected to take place late next week.  The exact date and location will be announced later.  Last week, Chairman Miller announced a second hearing on how the financial crisis is impacting workers’ retirement savings, on Wednesday, October 22 in San Francisco.  He held a hearing on this topic last Tuesday as part of a series of hearings House Democrats are conducting to look at the causes of the financial crisis and appropriate responses to it.

Please check the Committee's schedule page for updates »

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Financial Crisis Deepening Retirement Insecurity, Witnesses Say

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-07-2008, 03:57 PM

American workers have lost as much as $2 trillion in retirement savings over the last year – highlighting the devastating toll that the nation’s financial crisis is taking on their retirement plans, witnesses told the Committee today. Today’s hearing was one of several that House Democrats scheduled to investigate the causes of the financial crisis and what additional steps should be taken to protect taxpayers, homeowners, workers, and families.

“Unlike Wall Street executives, American families don’t have a golden parachute to fall back on,” said Chairman George Miller. “It’s clear that Americans’ retirement security may be one of the greatest casualties of this financial crisis.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, this multi-trillion dollar loss in workers’ retirement wealth could further slow the ailing economy. 

“To the extent households view balances in defined-contribution plans as part of their overall portfolio of wealth, a decline in those balances could lead people to reduce or delay purchases of goods and services,” said Peter Orszag, director of the CBO. “It could also lead some workers to delay their retirement.”

According to a survey released today by the AARP, in the last year 20 percent of baby boomers stopped contributing to their retirement plans because they have had trouble making ends meet. As several witnesses explained, workers closest to retirement may suffer the biggest hit from the financial meltdown. 

“The current financial crisis has certainly highlighted the fact that 401(k) participants—whose 401(k) account represent their sole retirement savings—bear all the investment risk,” said Jerry Bramlett, president and CEO of BenefitStreet, Inc., an independent retirement plan administration firm. “The pain is particularly acute for those participants closer to retirement whose retirement income expectations have been significantly impaired possibly resulting in the need to postpone retirement.”

The AARP also found that a third of workers surveyed are considering delaying retirement as a result of the financial and housing crises.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve been confronted with older worker and retirees’ lives being turned upside down; their panic tops-off an already existing state of chronic anxiety about retirement futures,” said Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at The New School for Social Research.

Witnesses also said that while the current financial crisis is reducing workers' savings today, retirement insecurity had been steadily growing over the past decade.

 “While the events that have taken place over the past several weeks have shone a spotlight on how affected Americans’ retirement plans can be by such volatility in the financial markets, it is important to keep in mind that Americans’ retirement security has been in distress for much longer than the past few weeks,” said Christian Weller, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress  “In fact, retirement security has been a growing concern for Americans for many years due to limited retirement plan coverage, little retirement wealth, and increasing risk exposure of the individual.”

Chairman Miller said that greater transparency in retirement plans and the fees workers pay is needed, especially when workers are losing money and looking for the best deal.

“401(k) holders lack critical information about how their money is managed and what fees they pay. I’m here to say right now, those days are over,” said Chairman Miller. “We must have more transparency in 401(k) investment practices. The Wall Street veil of secrecy must end.”

Earlier this year, the Committee passed a bill introduced by Chairman Miller that would require workers to receive clear and complete information about fees that – in some cases – are cutting deeply into their 401(k)-style retirement savings.

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Impact of the Financial Crisis on Retirement Security

By Chairman George Miller on 10-07-2008, 01:13 PM

This statement was made today by Chairman George Miller at the House Education and Labor Committee's hearing on the "Impact of the Financial Crisis on Workers' Retirement Security."

Good afternoon.

Last week, Congress approved an emergency rescue plan in response to the worst financial crisis our country has seen since the Great Depression. We know that this plan alone will not magically turn the economy around. But we are confident that without it we will not have the chance to move forward.

We insisted that the plan include strong protections for taxpayers and tough accountability – neither of which was included in the President’s original request to Congress.

Immediately after the plan was approved, Speaker Pelosi announced that the House would conduct a series of hearings to investigate the causes of the current financial crisis and what steps we should take next to protect homeowners, workers and families struggling today.

As part of that commitment, the Committee on Education and Labor today is holding a hearing to explore how this financial crisis is impacting the retirement security of American families.

Yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee launched the first of many oversight hearings examining the toxic mix of corporate greed, recklessness, and deregulation that created this financial crisis.

During his testimony, Lehman’s CEO, Mr. Fuld, showed no remorse for his catastrophic mismanagement of the company. In fact, he repeatedly denied responsibility for running the storied Lehman Brothers investment house into financial oblivion.

He refused to admit that his own reckless management – and his industry’s success of keeping regulators at bay – directly contributed to this historic financial crisis that is costing taxpayers, shareholders, and the nation’s current and future retirees billions of dollars from their nest eggs.

All the while, he insisted on taking obscene multi-million dollar bonuses for his executive teammates.

Unlike Wall Street executives, American families don’t have a golden parachute to fall back on.
It’s clear that their retirement security may be one of the greatest casualties of this financial crisis.

The current financial and housing crises are stripping wealth from American families at a record rate.

A new poll just found that 63 percent of Americans are worried that they will not have enough savings for their retirement. Tragically, they may very well be right. Due to the collapse of the housing market and the financial crisis, trillions of dollars that Americans were counting on has been lost.

Americans were counting on much of this wealth for their retirement. Now it is gone – as is their ability to adequately fund their retirement.

Even before the current meltdown, middle-income families were losing ground due to the decline in middle-class wages over the last decade – making it harder for them to save for their retirement and family emergencies.

Retirement and financial experts now predict that retirees and older workers who rely on financial investments for retirement income may suffer more than any portion of the American population in the coming years.

According a survey released today by the AARP, one in five middle-aged workers stopped contributing to their retirement plans in the last year because they had trouble making ends meet. One in three workers has considered delaying retirement.

Now, the number of investors taking loans on their 401(k) accounts is increasing. And hardship withdrawals are also increasing.

T. Rowe Price estimates a 14 percent increase in hardship withdrawals just in the first eight months of 2008.

And, all the signs point to an increased frequency of 401(k) loans and hardship withdrawals in the coming year.

It makes sense that more Americans will be raiding their retirement accounts as they deal with rising unemployment and increasing costs of basic necessities.

Unfortunately, these drastic measures taken by workers today will have a long-lasting impact by significantly reducing account balances once these workers reach retirement age.

Over the past 12 months, more than a half trillion dollars have evaporated from 401(k) plans as a direct result of the crisis in the markets.

Some experts say that it will take as long as 3 years to recover market losses in 401(k)-style accounts – but only if the market turns around soon.

Just like consumer directed retirement plans, traditional pension plans are not immune from the financial crisis.

Although pension plans hire professional money managers and are required to be diversified, these plans will likely lose value as a result of the weak performance of the investment markets.

Sophisticated pension funds lost 20 to 30 percent of their value during the 2001 recession and took several years to overcome those losses.

We must keep our eye on these plans and I await further data on the health of our nation’s pensions.

While this crisis began on Wall Street, much of the financial burden will ultimately be borne by Main Street. And this did not happen overnight.

With the Republicans’ help and armed with their powerful lobbyists, Wall Street cunningly held off fair regulations by Congress, arguing that Americans would be better off if left to their own devices.

As Congress continues our investigations into this crisis, we cannot allow those responsible to emerge unscathed. The American people are paying the price of this go-go, Wild West approach to governing.

One cost will be the concern that our nation’s workers will not have sufficient savings to ensure a secure retirement after a lifetime of hard work. In the coming months, this committee will examine what measures may be needed to ensure a safe and secure retirement for workers, retirees and their families.

For starters, we know that 401(k) holders lack critical information about how their money is managed and what fees they pay.

I’m here to say right now, those days are over.

We must have more transparency in 401(k) investment practices. The Wall Street veil of secrecy must end.

I would like to thank all of our witnesses for joining us today. I look forward to their testimony.  

And I expect that we will be back here repeatedly until we can ensure greater security for the retirement of hard-working Americans.

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TODAY: Committee Hearing to Explore Effect of Financial Crisis on Retirement Savings

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 10-07-2008, 10:37 AM

The Committee today will hold a hearing to examine how the current financial crisis is impacting pension funds and workers’ directed retirement accounts, such as 401(k) plans. According to a recent poll by the Associated Press, more than half of all Americans are worried that the ongoing financial crisis will force them to postpone retirement.

"The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Workers' Retirement Security"
Scheduled at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 7, 2008, in room 2175 Rayburn H.O.B.

Witnesses:

Jerry Bramlett
CEO
BenefitStreet, Inc.

Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci
Professor of Economic Policy Analysis
The New School for Social Research

Dr. Peter Orszag

Director
Congressional Budget Office

Jack VanDerhei

Research Director
Employee Benefit Research Institute

Dr. Christian Weller

Associate Professor of Public Policy, University of Massachusetts-Boston
Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

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Record Job Losses in September; America's Working Families Need Real Solutions

By Chairman George Miller on 10-03-2008, 02:41 PM

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced today that 159,000 jobs were lost in September, the steepest decline in five years and the 9th consecutive month of job losses.

Today’s jobs report highlights the massive destruction that the Bush-Cheney-McCain wrecking ball has done to our economy, workers, and families. Eight years of their misguided policies have culminated in nine straight months of job losses. Two million workers have been unemployed for more than 27 months – 167,000 more than in August. Our nation is now dealing with the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

America’s working families are hurting, and in need of real solutions to get our economy back on track. For starters, we must extend unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans whose current benefits are set to expire this weekend. Today, as the House considers a financial rescue plan to protect the credit that small businesses and families rely on, we will also vote to extend unemployment benefits to help workers cover their bills while looking for a new job.

But workers also need a long-term strategy to generate new jobs. Last week, the House passed a much-needed stimulus that would create millions of good-paying jobs by investing in our crumbling infrastructure – an investment that would get our nation back to work and prevent our economy from falling deeper into recession. Unfortunately for American families, Senate Republicans blocked the package.

This latest news underscores the urgent need to ease the pain of America’s working families and get our economy on the road to recovery.

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Measure to Protect Runaway and Homeless Youth Heads to White House

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-29-2008, 12:07 PM

On September 26, the House of Representatives approved final bipartisan legislation to strengthen protections and support for America’s runaway and homeless children. The measure, the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act (S.2982), builds on legislation authored by Rep. John Yarmuth, which the House overwhelmingly passed on June 9, 2008. It now heads to the President’s desk for his signature.

The bill reauthorizes the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. Among other things, it would significantly improve the quality of services available to help disconnected youth and would expand access to those programs – so that fewer runaway and homeless children are turned away from shelters. More than a million children experience homelessness each year; in many cases these children flee because of situations of abuse and neglect. Studies show that runaway and homeless youth are at greater risk of behavioral and mental health problems.

In addition, the bill would also increase transparency at the Department of Health and Human Services and provide funding for local community programs that help homeless and runaway youth. In 2005, these programs served more than 500,000 homeless and runaway children.

“We must protect our nation’s most vulnerable children, especially those who have been pushed out and are living on the streets. This legislation will give them the physical shelter and emotional support they need to start rebuilding their lives.  I commend Rep. Yarmuth for his leadership and dedication to providing runaway and homeless children across the country with the attention, stability, and hope they deserve.” -- Chairman George Miller

“This legislation will bring us significantly closer to ensuring that, in America, no child ever has to grow up without a home.  For more than a million children each year, this legislation could mean the difference between continuing to live on the streets without hope and finding a path to successful adulthood.” -- Rep. Yarmuth

“I would like to congratulate Rep. Yarmuth on this bill and commend him for his commitment to helping our nation’s runaway and homeless youth.  It is crucial that we do everything in our power to help the thousands of vulnerable young people in this country that are without a home.  The programs that are reauthorized in this bill will give runaway and homeless children a real chance at getting a new start in life and help them get on track to a better future.” -- Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities 

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More Retirees Losing Employer-Promised Health Care, Witnesses Say

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-25-2008, 04:40 PM

Stronger protections in federal law are needed to ensure that companies deliver on their promise to provide health care to retired workers, witnesses told the full committee today.  With insurance premiums skyrocketing and companies looking to cut expenses, an increasing number of companies have been rolling back or eliminating promised retiree health benefits. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the share of large firms offering retiree health coverage fell by half between 1988 and 2005, from 66 percent to 33 percent.

“Through the years, millions of workers have retired believing that they would be provided with the health care benefits that they were promised by their employer, benefits that they earned. What many of those workers found was their former employer eventually made a cost-cutting decision to renege on that promise and cut or reduce those health care benefits,” said Rep. John Tierney.

One of those companies was Raytheon Missile Systems, a defense contractor. Despite guaranteeing lifetime heath coverage to its retirees in the 1990s, in 2004 the company notified retirees that they would be have to pay several hundred dollars a month to continue coverage. “Retirees have been forced to sell a large part of their retirement dreams in order to afford the premiums they now have to pay,” said David Lillie, a Raytheon retiree. “More than a few retirees have had to mortgage their homes that were paid off in order to pay medical expenses that were not covered under a cheaper insurance plan.”

Employees have few protections when trying to prevent employers from shrinking or eliminating health benefits. Employer-sponsored health insurance for both retirees and current employees is voluntary.  If an employer chooses to provide these benefits, employers are generally allowed to modify or terminate benefits, as long as they disclose it in the fine print.  “The law is hostile to reasonable employee expectations about retiree health benefits – expectations created by the employer and from which the employer benefited in terms of increased employee loyalty and productivity,” said Norman Stein, a University of Alabama law professor and pension expert at the Pension Rights Center. “We know that in a real work environment, rather than the imagined work environment conjured up by the judge, employees tend to believe communications – oral and written – that they receive from their managers.”

The trend of scaling back or canceling promised health benefits accelerated in the 1990s when, as a result of an accounting rule change, companies were forced to disclose future health care obligations as a part of their balance sheet. By rolling back promised benefits, companies could result in a healthier bottom line to shareholders.

Historically, employer-sponsored retirement health benefits have been an essential source of health care coverage for retired workers and were a common benefit among larger institutions. As a part of their compensation package, loyal and dedicated employees were promised health benefits when they retired.  “When most of the current retirees were in the workforce, larger American companies universally offered retiree health care to their employees and retirees as an incentive to retain trained employees,” said C. William Jones, chairman of ProtectSeniors.org, an advocacy group founded to protect retiree health care. “The workers accepted the IOU for retirement health care and other benefits in exchange for lower wages, and fewer vacations and holidays.”

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Upcoming Hearing: Safeguarding Retiree Health Benefits

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-24-2008, 11:01 AM

On Thursday, September 25, the full committee will hold a hearing to explore options to safeguard promised retiree health benefits. With insurance premiums skyrocketing and companies looking to cut expenses, an increasing number of companies have been rolling back or eliminating promised retiree health benefits.

“Safeguarding Retiree Health Benefits”
Thursday, September 25, 2008, 10:00 a.m. ET

See the Committee's schedule page for more information and potential updates »

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House Passes Bill to Increase Access to Mental Health Treatment

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-23-2008, 06:50 PM

Ensuring better access to treatment for people suffering from mental illness, the House of Representatives today passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (H.R. 6983) by a vote of 376 to 47.

The bill requires group health insurance plans that cover mental and addiction health benefits to put those benefits on equal footing with physical ailments. Private health insurers generally provide less coverage for mental illnesses than for other medical conditions.  H.R. 6983 prohibits employer group health plans from imposing limitations on coverage for mental illnesses that they do not impose on physical illnesses. For example, the legislation would require that group health plans offer the same terms for deductibles, limits on hospital stays and outpatient visits, and co-payments.  The measure will allow employers to offer more comprehensive mental health coverage without significant additional cost, while significantly reducing out-of-pocket costs for plan participants.

Some states already have strong requirements for the coverage and treatment of mental illness. H.R. 6983 would not affect state laws that offer stronger consumer protections.

The bill is named after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and current Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), both longtime advocate of mental health awareness and parity.

"Today, approximately forty-four million Americans suffer from mental illness, but only one-third receive treatment. One reason is that private health insurers generally provide less coverage for mental illnesses and substance abuse than for other medical conditions.  This bill is an important step towards ending the stigma attached to mental illness and providing fair coverage to those in need.” -- Chairman George Miller

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Labor Department Not Effectively Fighting Child Labor Violations, Witnesses Say

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-23-2008, 01:53 PM

The U.S. Department of Labor is failing to effectively enforce the nation’s child labor laws, witnesses told the Workforce Protection Subcommittee today.  According to a study by the National Consumers League, the number of child labor investigations decreased dramatically during the Bush administration: The number of child labor investigations conducted by the Labor Department in 2006 was at the lowest in at least a decade.  Meanwhile, research by the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, a coalition of migrant and seasonal agricultural nonprofit and public agencies, indicates that approximately 400,000 children under the age of 18 work in the fields to help support their families. While there are numerous restrictions on what dangerous job functions underage workers may perform, there are few protections if those children happen to work in agriculture.  Agricultural child labor rules have remained largely unchanged since signed into law in 1938. At that time, a quarter of all American lived on farms and the majority of the agricultural work was performed on the family farm. Unlike counterparts in other industries, minors working in agriculture are still permitted to log in more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay.

“Children at age 12 [are] not allowed to work making copies in an air-conditioned office or cleaning floors at a local store.  Yet today in America, children can legally work in harsh conditions out in the farm fields for wages sometimes below minimum wage. Exploitation of children, regardless if it’s done legally or illegally, needs to stop today.” -- Norma Flores, a former migrant farmer who began working when she was 12 years old.

“Unfortunately, all the laws and labor protections in the world won’t help if we do not adequately enforce our child labor laws.  It is clear that the Bush administration is not focused on enforcing the laws already on the books.” --  Rep. Lynn Woolsey, chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

“Much more can and must be done to better protect our young people from hazards and dangers they confront in the workplace. Child labor law is no longer a high priority for the Department of Labor.” -- Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League.

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House to Vote on Bill to Ensure Better Access to Mental Health Treatment Today

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-23-2008, 12:47 PM

The House is expected to vote today, September 23, on the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. This measure will help ensure better access to treatment for people suffering from mental illness by requiring group health insurance plans that cover mental and addiction health benefits to put those benefits on equal footing with physical ailments. More »

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House Votes Again to Protect Americans with Disabilities from Discrimination

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-17-2008, 03:48 PM

The House of Representatives gave final approval today for legislation to stop discrimination against individuals with disabilities by restoring the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act.   By a voice vote, the House passed the ADA Amendments Act (S. 3406) to reverse several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have undermined the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since the ADA’s enactment nearly two decades ago, courts have dramatically reduced the numbers of workers who are protected from employment discrimination under the law. The bill now goes to President Bush for his signature.

In a series of rulings beginning in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of who is protected under the ADA. The court held that workers with disabilities who are able to mitigate their impairments, such as by wearing hearing aids or taking medication, should not be considered disabled. In such cases, these workers would have no remedy under the law when they are discriminated against on the basis of disability. In other words, an employer could fire or refuse to hire a fully qualified worker simply on the basis of a physical or mental impairment, while contending in court that the worker is not “disabled enough” to qualify for protection under the law.

The ADA Amendments Act will reverse these court decisions and restore the original Congressional intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act by:

  • Prohibiting the consideration of measures that reduce or mitigate the impact of impairment – such as medication, prosthetics, and assistive technology – in determining whether an individual has a disability.
  • Covering workers whose employers discriminate against them based on a perception that the worker is impaired, regardless of whether the worker has a disability.
  • Making it clear that the Americans with Disabilities Act provides broad coverage to protect anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of disability.
A similar House bill, H.R. 3195, introduced by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), passed the House in June.

 “The Americans with Disabilities Act guaranteed that workers with disabilities would be judged on their merits and not on an employer’s prejudices. But, court rulings since the law’s enactment have dramatically limited the ability of people with disabilities to seek justice under the law.  Today we make it absolutely clear that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of a disability.”  -- Chairman George Miller

“This victory today will restore the commonsense, meaningful definition of disability and overturn the Supreme Court’s misinterpretation of our Congressional intent.” -- Rep. Rob Andrews, chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions
 

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Last-Minute Secret Labor Department Proposal Will Harm Workers, Witnesses Say

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-17-2008, 02:44 PM

A last-minute Department of Labor proposal could undermine future health and safety protections for American workers, witnesses told the Workforce Protections Subcommittee today.  The Washington Post recently reported that the proposal was developed by political appointees in secret with little consultation with career agency health and safety experts. The proposal only gives 30 days for comment and provides for no public hearings. Critics say that the Department of Labor proposal would add additional layers of red tape to an already slow regulatory process, even for those initiatives being considered. The Bush administration has only issued one health-related standard over the past eight years, which it was forced to complete under a court-ordered deadline.

In July, Chairman George Miller proposed legislation (H.R. 6660) to forbid the Department of Labor from issuing, administering or enforcing the department’s proposal.

“I am troubled by the Department of Labor’s attempt to rush through this rule without a full consideration of its effect on the health and safety of American workers.  This proposed rule has without explanation leapfrogged ahead of many other worker protection standards that OSHA should have been working on for the last 8 years.” -- Subcommittee Chair Lynn Woolsey

“Our nation’s system for protecting workers from harmful substances that cause injuries, illnesses, and deaths is paralyzed.  Thousands of workers are exposed every day to chemical compounds and physical hazards that are known to be harmful, yet these exposures are permitted by outdated or non-existent OSHA and MSHA standards.” -- Dr. Celeste Monforton, a lecturer at the department of environmental and occupational health at The George Washington University

“The proposed risk assessment rule has been developed in secret by political appointees…with little involvement by OSHA and MSHA and with no public notice prior to its publication.  The department is trying to rush the proposal through and is depriving the public of an opportunity to meaningfully participate in this rulemaking process.” -- Peg Seminario, director of safety and health at the AFL-CIO
 

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Upcoming Hearing: Secret Rule: Impact of the Department of Labor's Worker Health Risk Assessment Proposal

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-16-2008, 02:56 PM

On Wednesday, September 17, the Workforce Protections Subcommittee will hold a hearing examining the Department of Labor's last-minute proposal that would dramatically weaken future workplace health standards and further slow their enactment. The department has allowed only 30 days for comment on the proposal and will not hold public hearings.

"Secret Rule: Impact of the Department of Labor’s Worker Health Risk Assessment Proposal"
Wednesday, September 17, 2008, 10:00 a.m. EDT

See the Committee's schedule page for more information and potential updates »
 

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House Votes to Extend Student Loan Access Protections at No Cost to Taxpayers

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-16-2008, 02:22 PM

The House of Representatives yesterday approved bipartisan legislation to further ensure that turmoil in the U.S. credit markets will not prevent students and families from accessing the financial aid they need to pay for college. The legislation extends for one year certain provisions of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008, which were due to expire on July 1, 2009.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill, H.R. 6889, by a vote of 368 to 4. Specifically, the legislation would extend provisions that provide the U.S. Secretary of Education with the additional tools needed to safeguard federal student loans by purchasing loans from lenders in the federal student loan programs in the event that those lenders were unable to access the capital needed to finance their lending activity. Like the original legislation, this bill carries no new cost for taxpayers.

H.R. 6889 would extend, for one year:

  • The temporary authority given to the U.S. Education Secretary to purchase loans from lenders in the federally guaranteed loan program, ensuring that lenders continue to have access to capital to originate new loans, if there was a determination that lenders were unable to meet demand for loans. The Education Department would be authorized to purchase loans only if doing so would not result in a net cost for the federal government; and
  • The authority to allow guaranty agencies to carry out the functions of lenders of last resort on a school-wide basis. Under existing law, these guaranty agencies are obligated to serve as lenders of last resort to prevent any possible problem in access to student loans.
Last spring, Congress first passed the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008, after turmoil in the nation’s credit markets made it difficult for some lenders that participate in the federally guaranteed student loan program to secure the capital needed to finance their student lending activity.

“At a time when our rough economy is already dealing a huge blow to American families, we can’t allow trouble in the credit markets to further price students out of a college degree.  With market turbulence showing no signs of letting up, it’s only prudent to make sure that students have every assurance that the federal student loans they need will be there next year.” -- Chairman George Miller

“Come spring, students and families will be making their plans for the next academic year.   It is critical that we extend the authority for the Secretary to purchase student loans to avoid any uncertainty about the access to this critical source of student financial aid.  “It would be a tragedy for a student to decide to forgo or postpone college because of a fear of not being able to get a federal student loan.” -- Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness
 

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Chairman Miller Says Colombia Must Improve Investigations and Prosecutions of Labor Killings

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-15-2008, 05:44 PM

Chairman George Miller sent a letter Friday to Colombia’s President Álvaro Uribe, asking his government to address concerns that Colombia has failed to adequately address the nearly 2,700 murders of labor union leaders in his country. President Uribe will meet with Miller and other members of Congress this week in Washington.

“Our two ally nations should work together to help Colombia improve its labor laws, decrease the ongoing violence, and finally put an end to the impunity enjoyed by those who have perpetrated thousands of anti-labor killings,” Chairman Miller wrote. “These challenges have taken on heightened significance this year as the violence in Colombia has escalated over 2007 levels.”

According to the Escuela Nacional Sindical, an independent Colombian think-tank, nearly 2,700 Colombian union leaders or union members have been murdered since 1986.  The overwhelming majority of these killings remain uninvestigated by the Colombian Attorney General’s Office.  In addition, ENS statistics show that so far this year, more union leaders have been assassinated than during all of 2007.

Last year Congress approved $39 million to assist the Colombian government in improving the rule of law and human rights. This funding included $5 million for Colombian prosecutors to address the backlog of murder investigations. However, the Bush administration has delayed the distribution of these funds.

“Many members of Congress are very disappointed that the Bush administration has not transferred the funds that we appropriated last year to the Colombian Attorney General’s Office,” said Chairman Miller. “If the Bush administration had not created these inexplicable delays, the Government of Colombia could have already hired even more investigators and prosecutors, and Colombia might by now be several steps closer to creating an effective and sustainable system of justice to address the grave problem of anti-labor violence.” 

Chairman Miller traveled to Bogotá earlier this year to meet with Colombian government officials, judges, prosecutors, human rights advocates and labor union leaders. Since then the committee’s staff have continued to conduct additional fact-finding on Colombia’s efforts to improve its judicial system and the need for further labor law reforms.

“One advantage stemming from our Congress’ decision to postpone the vote regarding the proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement is that it has given my colleagues and me additional time needed to assess whether or not Colombia has in fact created an effective and sustainable system of justice to combat anti-labor violence,” wrote Chairman Miller. “I hope that this ongoing fact-finding work will allow Congress to provide helpful recommendations to the next administration in the United States over how we can further strengthen our nation’s relationship with Colombia in such a way that promotes increased trade and higher labor standards.”  

Congress delayed the consideration of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement in April.

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Indian Schools Face Unique Challenges, Witnesses Tell Education Subcommittee

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-11-2008, 11:39 AM

Dr. Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert
Dr. Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert testifies
on September 9, 2008.
The administration should do more to improve academic standards for schoolchildren who attend Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, witnesses told the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education at a hearing on Tuesday.  Specifically, they said the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Education must work more closely with tribal organizations to develop accountability systems under the No Child Left Behind Act.  The federal government provides elementary and secondary education and educational assistance to Indian children directly through federally-funded schools or through assistance to public schools. Ninety percent of Indian students attend public schools operated by local school districts.  However, 10 percent attend BIE schools, which are schools funded by the Department of the Interior. BIE schools are subject to NCLB with limited exceptions.

"Our success in the 21st century economy is directly tied to our ability to produce a high quality labor force. And that ability is, of course, directly tied to our ability to meet the challenge of providing every child – including every Indian child – with a world-class education. We must ensure that Indian tribes – which are sovereign entities who best understand their children’s needs – are full partners in that process." -- Subcommittee Chairman Dale Kildee.

"Recognizing and validating the cultural, social and linguistic needs of American Indians is critical to guaranteeing the continuity of their communities...  We believe with good faith collaboration that we can provide our children with an education that honors their Native identities while simultaneously preparing them for successful futures by providing them with opportunities to incorporate into the curriculum their rich cultural heritages, languages, and traditions." -- Dr. Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert, President of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), who testified that the BIE should expand upon the culturally based instruction currently taking place in Indian schools by promoting stronger integration of Native culture and languages into the curriculum.

"The frustration with this situation is NCLB provides opportunities for tribes to have a significant voice on assessing the quality of education for their children and making changes to their educational programs based on those assessments...  The manner in which the BIE has chosen to implement NCLB has left tribes with no voice in educating their own children." -- Ted Hamilton, Executive Director of the Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium, who testified about the need to develop strong accountability systems tailored to BIE schools under NCLB.
 

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Upcoming Hearing: Subcommittee Hearing on the Role of Museums and Libraries in Strengthening Communities

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 09-10-2008, 10:53 AM

On Thursday, September 11, 2008, the Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Examining the Role of Museums and Libraries in Strengthening Communities," scheduled at 10:00 a.m. in room 2175 Rayburn H.O.B.

See the Committee's schedule page for more information and potential updates »

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Higher Education Opportunity Act Signed Into Law

By Chairman George Miller on 08-14-2008, 11:37 AM

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 was signed into law today.  The law, passed by the House on July 31 by a vote of 380-49, is the first reauthorization of the nation’s primary higher education laws in a decade.

Today is truly a momentous day for America’s current and future college students and families. Over the past two years, the Democratic Congress has charted a new direction to help make college more affordable and accessible for all qualified students. We’ve enacted the single largest increase in federal student aid since the GI Bill and key measures to protect federal college aid from turbulence in the nation’s credit markets – and all without costing taxpayers a dime. We’ve proven we can work in a bipartisan way to enact good public policies that make sense for students, for our economy, and for taxpayers.

Now, with this bill signed into law, we have taken the next critical steps toward restoring the promise of our nation’s higher education programs: To help all students gain access to a world-class college education. For the first time in years, students and parents will encounter a higher education system that is more consumer-friendly and that operates in the best interests of helping them pay for college. This law will help every student in this country get their fair shot at a college degree, and reclaim their piece of the American Dream.

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One Year Anniversary of the Crandall Canyon Mine Collapse

By Chairman George Miller on 08-06-2008, 02:49 PM

One year ago today, six coal miners were trapped after a series of catastrophic – yet preventable – events resulted in the collapse of the Crandall Canyon Mine. Our nation became transfixed on the heroic attempts to save the miners and prayed that everyone would return to their families unharmed. On this sad anniversary, our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and communities who lost loved ones in the mine and the rescue attempt.

After the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, the U.S. House of Representatives acted promptly to strengthen our nation’s mine health and safety laws by passing the S-MINER Act. This bill will require more vigorous oversight of retreat mining plans and activities.

Our committee’s investigation and other inquiries have shown that this tragedy was preventable. Actions by an irresponsible mine operator and an incompetent U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration allowed this disaster to occur. Unfortunately, Secretary Chao has failed to hold anyone in MSHA accountable for the agency’s substantial failure to prevent the Crandall tragedy.

This anniversary reminds us of the significant risks miners still face while extracting the coal that meets our nation’s energy needs. The several mine tragedies that have occurred recently have been the result of weak laws, outlaw mine operators, and government agencies asleep at the switch. This is unacceptable. We must work aggressively toward a future where all miners can return home safely after their shifts. There is no better way to honor the lives of these fallen workers than to do all we can to prevent these kinds of tragedies from ever occurring again.

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House Passes Paycheck Fairness Act

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-31-2008, 07:35 PM

The House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act today, by a vote of 247-178.  This bill will help end the discriminatory practice of paying a woman less than a man for performing the same job by strengthening the landmark Equal Pay Act and closing the loopholes that have allowed some employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay.

This action comes a year after the House addressed another discriminatory pay issue with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  The House approved that measure last year to rectify a Supreme Court decision that made it harder for workers to pursue pay discrimination claims.

 

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House Passes Higher Education Opportunity Act, Sets Stage for Higher Education Renewal for First Time in a Decade

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-31-2008, 03:30 PM

The House passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (H.R. 4137) today, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 380-49.  This vote gave final approval to an overhaul of our nation's higher education laws, advancing key reforms that would address the soaring price of college and remove other obstacles that make it harder for qualified students to go to college.  The Higher Education Act was last reauthorized in 1998. The current law expired in 2003.  The bill now moves to the Senate for final clearance before being sent to the President for his signature. 

Tuition and fees have increased across the board over the last five years, at public and private colleges and at two-year and four-year colleges. These increases have consistently outpaced increases in the rate of inflation and in families’ ability to pay, creating a college cost crisis that threatens to prevent qualified students from pursuing a higher education.   This measure addresses these affordability challenges by encouraging colleges to rein in price increases, ensuring that states maintain their commitments to higher education funding, and providing students and families with consumer-friendly information on college pricing and the factors driving tuition increases.  It also strengthens provisions previously approved by the House to avoid conflicts of interest in the student loan programs. The bill’s new provisions include requiring better consumer disclosures and protections on private student loans.
 
In addition, the Higher Education Opportunity Act would:

  • Streamline the federal student financial aid application process;
  • Make textbook costs more manageable for students by, among other things, helping them plan for textbook expenses in advance of each semester; 
  • Allow students to receive year-round Pell Grant scholarships; 
  • Strengthen college readiness programs; 
  • Increase college aid and support programs for veterans and military families; 
  • Improve safety on college campuses and help schools recover and rebuild after a disaster; 
  • Ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities; and 
  • Strengthen our nation’s workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology, and foreign language educational opportunities.
“Today’s students face daunting obstacles on the path to college, from skyrocketing tuition prices to predatory student lending tactics. This landmark bipartisan legislation will address these challenges and create a higher education system that is more consumer-friendly, fairer, and easier-to-navigate.  Already, this Congress has taken historic steps to make college more affordable and accessible. With today’s vote, we are saying that in our nation’s higher education programs, the needs of students and families must always come first.” -- Chairman George Miller

“This bill is crucial to the health of our economy and will ensure that more students graduate prepared for the 21st century workplace.  It puts smart strategies in place to improve our student aid process, restore confidence in our student loan programs, and provide more low-income, first-generation, and minority students the chance to pursue a college education.” -- Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness



 

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House Democrats Introduce Legislation to Stop Labor Department's 'Secret Rule'

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-31-2008, 10:37 AM

Chairman George Miller and other House Democrats introduced legislation last night to prevent the Department of Labor from finalizing a last minute rule that could dramatically weaken future workplace health and safety regulations and slow their enactment.  The “Prohibiting the Department of Labor’s Secret Rule Act” (H.R. 6660) will forbid the Department of Labor from issuing, administering or enforcing any rule, regulation, or requirement derived from the proposal submitted to the Office of Management and Budget on July 7.  Chairman Miller and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy first requested information regarding the draft rule on July 10, when it was revealed that the department was working on a last-minute change to the regulatory process that may significantly inhibit the implementation of critical health and safety regulations.  On July 23, Miller and Kennedy requested that the Department withdraw the rule.

“Congress will not stand for any backdoor effort by the political appointees to further cripple our nation’s ability to respond to vital health and safety concerns. This entire effort is the product of a flawed, politicized process that has failed to properly consider the views of experts or the consequences for workplace health.” -- Chairman George Miller

 

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House Expected to Vote Today on Paycheck Fairness Act

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-31-2008, 10:32 AM

The House is expected to vote today on the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Committee passed the measure on July 24 to help end the discriminatory practice of paying men and women unequally for performing the same job.  Loopholes created by courts and weak sanctions in the law have allowed many employers to avoid liability for engaging in gender-based pay discrimination. The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, will strengthen the Equal Pay Act and close the loopholes that have allowed employers to avoid responsibility for discriminatory pay.

Although the wage gap between men and women has narrowed since the passage of the landmark Equal Pay Act in 1963, gender-based wage discrimination remains a problem for women in the U.S. workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The Institute of Women’s Policy Research found that this wage disparity will cost women anywhere from $400,000 to $2 million over a lifetime in lost wages.

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Historic Funding Increases for Historically Black Colleges and Universities This Fall

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-30-2008, 06:17 PM

As a result of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, enacted into law last year, historically black colleges and universities across America will begin to receive record increases in new funding for the coming school year. The U.S. Department of Education will start awarding the grants to schools tomorrow.

The law provides $170 million in new funding for HBCUs over the next two years to help expand college access, strengthen support services that focus on helping low-income and minority students stay in school and graduate, and renovate campuses in need of improvement. The grants provided under the law are mandatory funding, meaning schools will receive them in addition to any funding that is appropriated annually by the Congress. All 99 HBCUs that currently receive federal funds will benefit from this increase.

HBCUs play a significant role in helping African American students succeed in college and the workforce. Although they represent only 3 percent of all colleges and universities, they enroll close to a third of all African-American students. Forty percent of their students pursue four-year degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, and about half of all African-American students in teaching fields attend HBCUs.   Despite this progress, HBCUs continue to face a unique set of financial challenges, including balancing limited resources and endowments with a deep commitment to serving students with fewer financial resources. Many schools are in dire need of repair, especially Gulf Coast schools that are still feeling the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Sadly, federal support for HBCUs and other minority-serving schools has dwindled under the Bush administration. In his most recent budget for the fiscal year 2009, President Bush proposed cutting funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions by $85 million, a 35 percent decrease from the previous year’s budget.

In addition to the funding provided by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, Democrats are also working to boost support for HBCUs by enacting the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which would strengthen and reauthorize the nation’s higher education programs. That bill, which Congress is working to finalize this week, would increase the amount of funding HBCUs could receive for capital projects, expand funding eligibility for graduate student programs at HBCUs and other minority serving-institutions and would address the challenges of starting and growing endowments at these schools.

“This landmark investment in HBCUs will strengthen college opportunities for millions of talented students.  HBCUs are a vital part of America’s higher education and economic framework, and have a long history of producing some of our nation’s greatest leaders, innovators, and thinkers. By providing HBCUs with these much-needed federal resources, we are saying that the needs of these vital institutions and their students can no longer go ignored.”  -- Chairman George Miller, author of the law

“HBCUs have played and continue to play an integral role in furthering the education of Black students in America.  Unfortunately, these institutions face increasing challenges and have limited resources.  I am very pleased with the historical investment to HBCUs that the College Cost Reduction and Access Act will provide. It is a much-needed step in the right direction and will go a long way toward helping HBCUs continue to provide a quality education to our nation's youth.” -- Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Co-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Education Taskforce

“As a graduate of the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, I and my brothers, sisters, nephews, cousins and friends know firsthand the opportunities provided by HBCUs, especially to low-income African American students.  Chairman George Miller and the Committee on Education and Labor are to be commended for this outstanding bill.” -- Rep. Danny K. Davis, Co-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Education Taskforce

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Upcoming Hearing: Subcommittee Hearing on the Growing Middle Class Income Gap

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-30-2008, 05:45 PM

On Thursday, July 31, the Workforce Protections Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the growing income equality and its effects on the middle class. Stagnant wages have contributed to income inequality. The rapidly rising costs of food and energy have put additional pressures on families already struggling to make ends meet.  Income inequality has been rising since the late 1970’s when the top 1 percent of wage earners earned less than 10 percent of all income. But since then, these top earners have increasingly accounted for a larger portion of the income pie:  By 2006, the top 1 percent earned more than 20 percent of our nation’s wealth.

“The Growing Income Gap in the American Middle Class”
Thursday, July 31, 2008, 10:00 a.m. EDT

See the Committee's schedule page for more information and potential updates »

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House Expected to Vote on Higher Education Measure Tomorrow, July 31

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-30-2008, 04:03 PM

The House is expected to vote tomorrow, July 31, on the Higher Education Opportunity Act (H.R. 4137).  This measure is the conference report on the Higher Education Act reauthorization; conferees adopted the conference report last night.

This would be the first time the Higher Education Act was reauthorized since 1998. The current law expired in 2003. This Congress has already passed two major pieces of legislation to make college more affordable and accessible. Last September, Congress enacted the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which provides more than $20 billion in federal college aid for students over five years – and at no new cost to taxpayers. This spring, Congress also enacted the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act, which safeguards students’ access to federal financial aid from turmoil in the U.S. credit markets. That law also carried no cost for taxpayers.

A college education continues to be the best path to the middle class. But more and more, high college prices and other obstacles are putting a college degree further out of reach for America’s students. In addition to rising tuition, students and their families face an overly complex federal student aid application process and a student loan industry mired in conflicts of interest and corrupt lending practices. The Higher Education Opportunity Act will continue this Congress’ effort to make college more affordable and accessible. This bill would reform our higher education system so that it operates in the best interests of students and families, while boosting our competitiveness and strengthening our future.

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Social Work Is An Essential Safety Net for Americans From All Walks of Life, Witnesses Say

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-29-2008, 07:08 PM

Witnesses today told the Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee that the field of social work affects the lives of Americans from all walks of life on a daily basis, and though the field faces some challenges, it is expected to grow in the coming years.

Social workers provide critical services across rural, urban and suburban areas.  They work with a wide variety of people, from children, families and the elderly, to those with mental health problems or substance abuse issues, to those who are incarcerated.  As baby boomers age, they will increasingly require more social work services, said Gary Bailey, associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Work at Simmons College in Boston, MA.

A master's degree in social work or a related field is now standard for many positions.  Dr. Robin Mama, dean of the School of Social Work at Monmouth University in Monmouth, NJ, said recruitment is the biggest challenge facing undergraduate social work programs, in part because of negative associations.  Mama also said there is a need for bilingual and trilingual social workers and cultural awareness and sensitivity.  More »

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Upcoming Hearing: Subcommittee Hearing on Worker Impact of Proposed Merger of Delta and Northwest Airlines

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-29-2008, 12:16 PM

On Wednesday, July 30, the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the proposed merger of Delta and Northwest Airlines and the merger’s potential impact on workers of those airlines.

"The Proposed Delta/Northwest Airlines Merger: The Impact on Workers”
Wednesday, July 30, 2008, 10:30 a.m. EDT

See the Committee's schedule page for more information and potential updates »

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Upcoming Hearing: Role of Social Work in a Changing America

By Betsy Miller Kittredge on 07-28-2008, 06:30 PM

In light of the recent economic downturn and the nation’s aging population, the Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, July 29 to examine how social workers can best meet the changing needs of American families.

Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee Hearing on “Caring for the Vulnerable: The State of Social Work in America”
Tuesday, July 29, 2008, 3:00 p.m. EDT

See the Committee's schedule page for more information and potential updates »

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OSHA's $8.77 Million Citation of Imperial Sugar Highlights Need for Rules to Prevent Similar Explosions

By Chairman George Miller on 07-25-2008, 02:10 PM

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today issued an $8.77 million citation to Imperial Sugar for the fatal February explosion that killed 13 workers and seriously injured dozens of others at the company’s sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia.

This unfortunate tragedy didn’t have to happen. The Chemical Safety Board urged OSHA in 2006 to adopt rules that could prevent more deaths and injuries caused by combustible dust explosions. OSHA ignored those recommendations. The agency tasked by Congress to protect the health and safety of American workers has failed to aggressively address this deadly problem.

It is obvious from these events that existing rules and efforts by OSHA to prevent these explosions are not sufficient. The agency should immediately issue an emergency standard to prevent these explosive hazards. Failing that, Congress will act to ensure that the agency does its job.

It is clear from OSHA’s report that Imperial Sugar had a company-wide problem with sugar dust. Not even the deaths of 13 workers raised alarm bells with the company as proven by the dangerous conditions exposed at Imperial’s Gramercy, Louisiana plant more than a month later.

(In April, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosion and Fires Act (H.R. 5522). The bill, introduced by Chairman Miller and Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), would require OSHA to issue emergency rules to regulate combustible dust, like sugar dust, that can build up to hazardous levels and explode.)

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