Committee on Education and Labor - U.S. House of Representatives

Strengthening America's Middle Class

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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 »
High quality education »
A competitive workforce »
Fairness in the workplace »
Retirement security »
Safe children and youth »
Accountability and responsibility »
By the numbers...»

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.

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act – provides the greatest increase in federal student aid since the GI Bill, and at no new cost to taxpayers (enacted September 27, 2007).
The Higher Education Opportunity Act – re-shapes our nation’s higher education programs by increasing transparency and accountability on college tuition pricing, making textbook costs more manageable, simplifying the federal student aid application process, providing students with new consumer protections for federal and private student loans, and more (enacted August 14, 2008).
The Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 – safeguards students’ federal college loan access, reduces their dependence on more expensive private loans, and helps families hit hard by the mortgage crisis and rising medical costs (enacted May 7, 2008). 

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.

The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 – helps more children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed by improving teacher and classroom quality. (enacted December 12, 2007).
Aid to Gulf Coast Area Schools – provides $60 million to schools and universities devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (enacted May 25, 2007, as part of the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act).
The 21st Century Green High Performing Schools Act – helps ensure that every child can learn in a safe, environmentally-friendly, and modern classroom by helping public schools around the country undergo much-needed repair and renovation projects. (passed by House).
The No Child Left Inside Act – improves environmental education for schoolchildren inside and outside of the nation’s classrooms (passed by House).

Education Begins at Home Act – provides critical support services to families, reduces child abuse, and helps more children arrive at school ready to succeed by expanding access to voluntary early childhood home visitation programs for parents and children (passed by Committee).

Providing Resources Early for Kids Act – partners with states to improve the quality of state-funded preschool programs, which collectively serve over one million young children (passed by Committee).

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.

The 21st Century Competitiveness Act – strengthens education and job training programs for students who want to enter careers in science, technology, engineering and math – fields that are vital to our ability to compete in a global economy. (enacted August 8, 2007).
The Green Jobs Act of 2007 – helps train American workers for “green” jobs in the renewable energy and energy-efficiency industries (enacted December 19, 2007, as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007).

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.

Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 – raises the national hourly wage floor from $5.15 to $7.25 over three years. The first two annual increases have already taken effect, boosting the current minimum wage to $6.55 (enacted May 25, 2007).
Leave Time for Military Families – provides six months of unpaid leave to workers with family members who have been wounded in military duty, and allows families to take leave to deal with deployment (enacted January 28, 2008, as part of FY 2008 Defense Authorization).
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 – protects personal genetic information from discriminatory use by health insurers and employers (enacted May 21, 2008).
ADA Amendments Act of 2008 – stops discrimination against individuals with disabilities by restoring the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (enacted September 25, 2008).
The Paul Wellstone-Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act –ensures better access to treatment for people suffering from mental illnesses and substance addictions (enacted October 3, 2008, as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act).
The Employee Free Choice Act – strengthens workers’ rights to join together to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions, reforming a badly broken union election process that is rife with intimidation and harassment of workers (passed by the House).
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – restores the rights of workers victims of pay discrimination by overturning a Supreme Court decision that made it harder for workers to pursue their civil rights claims (passed by House).
Paycheck Fairness Act – strengthens the rights of women and men to receive equal pay for equal work (passed by House).
The Supplementary Mine Improvement and Emergency Response Act – helps prevent mining disasters, improve emergency response when disasters do occur, and reduce long-term health risks facing miners (passed by House).
Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act – forces the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect workers from exposure to an artificial flavoring commonly used in popcorn and other foods, which causes a debilitating lung disease (passed by House).
Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007 – guarantees the rights of state and local firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical service workers to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions (passed by House).
Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradesworkers (RESPECT) Act – restores the rights of professional employees like nurses and skilled craft workers to organize and collectively bargain after Bush agency decisions sought to strip these rights (passed by Committee).
Employment Non-Discrimination Act – prohibits employment discrimination, preferential treatment, and retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation by employers with 15 or more employees (passed by House).
The Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosion and Fires Act – requires the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue rules regulating combustible industrial dusts, like sugar dust, that can build up to hazardous levels and explode (passed by House).

The Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act – ensures that flight attendants and pilots are eligible to take unpaid family and medical leave to care for themselves, newborn children, and sick or injured family members under the Family and Medical Leave Act (passed by House).

Early Warning and Health Care for Workers Affected by Globalization Act – provides workers with more advance notice of impending layoffs, strengthens penalties for businesses that fail to give employees proper notice, and extends health care coverage for workers; also extends COBRA coverage in certain situations (passed by House as part of the Trade and Globalization Act of 2007).

Indentured Servitude Abolition Act of 2007 – holds employers and foreign labor contractors responsible for foreign workers recruited for jobs in the United States by requiring clear and accurate disclosure of terms of employment to recruited workers, outlawing exorbitant fees paid by workers to recruiters, and by requiring foreign labor recruiters to register with the Department of Labor (passed in House as part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act).

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.

The 401(k) Fair Disclosure for Retirement Security Act – ensures that Americans have clear and complete information about fees that could be cutting deeply into their 401(k) plans (passed by Committee).

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.

Runaway and Homeless Youth Protection Act – improves and supports programs that help re-engage runaway and homeless youth who are on the streets and without family or community supports (enacted October 8, 2008).

Protecting Our Children Comes First Act of 2007 – funds the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and offers tools to assist families and communities in keeping children safe (enacted June 3, 2008).

Child Labor Protection Act – increases penalties for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act that result in the death or serious injury of a child (enacted May 21, 2008 as part of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act).

Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008 – protects teens by creating basic health and safety standards for private and public residential programs (including therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness camps, boot camps, and behavior modification facilities), preventing deceptive marketing by these programs, holding them accountable for violating the law, and asking states to step in to protect teens in such programs (passed House).

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.

Mismanagement and Conflicts of Interest in the Reading First Program. The Committee launched an investigation into Reading First, a federal program designed to strengthen schoolchildren’s reading skills, after independent government investigations found that Department of Education officials used the program to inappropriately steer federal contracts to products that they had close connections to or financial ties with. The Committee’s months-long probe included several investigative hearings that revealed that egregious conflicts of interest were pervasive in the program.
Unethical Practices in the Student Loan Industry. The Committee launched investigations into questionable tactics that lenders were using to curry favor with colleges and universities, and into deceptive practices that lenders were using to market their loans to students. The investigations led to the House passing legislation to clean up the student loan industry and protect students from predatory lending practices, and the release of a new consumer guide for student borrowers by the Federal Trade Commission.
Crandall Canyon Mine Tragedy. When a disaster at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah killed six miners and three rescue workers – the worst coal mining tragedy in 2007 – the Committee immediately launched an investigation. The Committee’s investigations and other inquiries found that this tragedy was largely preventable – the result of an irresponsible mine operator and a negligent U.S. Mine Health and Safety Administration. The Committee referred the matter to the U.S. Justice Department for 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.

How laws enacted by the Committee have affected American families:

  • 13 million of the nation’s lowest paid workers will see their pay raised by the minimum wage increase.
  • Working families of more than 2 million active duty military personnel and reservists will be able to take unpaid leave to deal with issues that arise when a family member is deployed overseas or is seriously injured in combat.
  • Millions of workers with disabilities have had their rights to equal opportunity and fair treatment on the job restored.
  • More than one million of the nation’s most disadvantaged children will receive a better early education each year.
  • $20 billion provided in new additional federal college aid for low- and middle-income students over the next five years – and at no new cost to taxpayers.
  • 5.5 million students who take out need-based federal student loans each year have already seen the interest rates on their loans drop by 0.8 percent; and will continue to see interests rates decrease in each of the next three years.
  • More than five million students who receive the Pell Grant scholarship could see an increase of $1,090 in the scholarship by 2013.
  • $4,000 a year in up-front tuition assistance for students who commit to teaching in high-need public schools or subject areas.