Jan. 23, 2003
MAKING FURTHER CONTINUING APPROPRIATIONS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2003
AMENDMENT NO. 108
(Purpose: To increase appropriations for workforce investment activities)
Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to support this important amendment sponsored by myself, the Senator from Florida, and others, which restores essential funding for education and job training in America.
Job training should be our first priority, not our last priority. American workers want to learn new skills, and businesses are looking for skilled workers. So it would be a terrible decision today to deny them the opportunity to provide job training so that they can go back to work. But that is exactly what we are doing in this omnibus bill today. In fact, this bill is a 10-percent cut in the fiscal year 2002 funding level. That is a 10-percent cut in the fiscal year 2002 level after the Senate Appropriations Committee voted last year to increase that number to a higher amount. My amendment restores the original committee level.
Some would argue that these funds have no material impact because they would like to say that fiscal year 2002 funds that haven't yet been distributed could also be used to offset this cut that is being proposed by the administration. That is like saying there is a magic slush fund for job training when there isn't. The fact is that job training dollarsbecause the programs continue for several yearsare committed over a 2- or 3-year period of time. That is how they make the programs effective. In fact, if this amendment does not pass today and we do not make a decision to restore these cuts, over 65,000 job training opportunities will be lost in America.
To further bolster this notion of the fact that these cuts really will take effect and have full impact, I point out to my colleague the GAO study on this very issue on whether the States were spending their workforce investment dollars. In fact, quoting from the report, it said:
States are spending their funds faster than required by law. And even though 44 percent of the program funds for year 2001 are being carried over to 2002, many of these funds have already been committed. Furthermore, because of reporting inconsistencies, the Department of Labor data do not adequately reflect the funds and how they have been obligated in long-term commitments.
What does this mean? It means that GAO is saying there is no magic slush fund. If we make this cut today, we will actually see a cut in reduction in programs.
Some of my colleagues ask: What is so serious about that? Maybe we need a little belt tightening. I point out to my colleagues that we are going through rough economic times. Actually retraining workers who are then rehired by a company to add to their bottom-line profitability is a good economic stimulus package. As Stephanie Powers, CEO of the National Association of Workforce Boards, wrote me:
We strongly agree with the GAO's report and we support maintaining current funding levels. We are on the front line of serving over 2.3 million workers who have lost their jobs over the last two years, and this cut would dramatically impede our ability to meet these services at a very critical time.
If there is a silver lining to this economic recession we have been in, it is the fact that there are companies and there are businesses that say they still want to hire workers but can't find the skilled workers they need.
Take the health care industry, for example. The American Hospital Association estimates that there are currently over 126,000 unfilled nursing positions in the country. Why would we take money away from the training programs to retrain individuals who have lost their jobs and who could go into nursing to give their families an income and give the health care industry the workers they need?
While we are facing tough economic times, we are also simply facing a skills gap. The best way to deal with that skills gap is to give the dislocated workers the opportunity to improve their skills. That is why, given the high unemployment rate, and the unemployment claims just last week increasing by 18,000 and over 2 million people having lost their jobs in the last 2 years, this amendment would actually be the economic stimulus we are looking for.
I don't think job training is a political issue or a partisan issue. In fact, last year I was enthused by the fact that a majority of Members of the Senate signed a letter asking the Senate Appropriators to increase funding for Job Training Programs. Of those Senators who signed the letter, I want to read from it and quote that they said:
We are writing to express our support for increasing the funding for 2003. The ability of a skilled workforce is critical to our Nation's economy and will provide the adequate support for job training. We are concerned that the unemployment landscape may not turn around rapidly and that these displaced workers will not be able to return to their former jobs. Many of them need to prepare for new jobs in the workforce.
If the same colleagues who signed this letter will vote for this amendment today, we can put this issue to rest and give the American workers the kind of job training and skills they need.
This amendment will accomplish a stimulus for our economy that is much needed. It will make sure that we don't say no to workers and no to the businesses that are looking for help, and it will make sure that we will say yes to tomorrow's economic opportunities for all of us. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.
I yield the floor