Chaired By: Rep. Dave Obey (D-WI)
Witnesses: Hilda Solis, Secretary, Department of Labor
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REP. OBEY: Good morning, everyone. Good morning, dear teacher. If I don't make any sense this morning, Madame Secretary, it's because I broke my glasses yesterday, and so, I've got an old pair on. I think I know who you are, but I'm not quite sure. We'll get through the day.
Good morning. I'm pleased to welcome our former colleague and new Secretary of Labor to her first appearance before this subcommittee. Madame Secretary, you face some pretty daunting challenges. The country is experiencing the longest and the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, more than 5.7 million jobs lost during the recession and that understates the true gap between how many jobs there are today and how many are needed. To simply keep up with the growing population, the economy needs to add about 127,000 jobs each month. That means the economy is nearly eight million jobs below where it needs to be just to maintain pre-recession levels of employment for the American workforce. Nearly 14 million unemployed Americans are actively looking for work with 3.7 billion people out of work for more than six months. That's 27 percent of the unemployed persons in April, the highest proportion of long-term joblessness on record. That, indeed, is something to worry about.
I think the crisis is magnified for the American workforce because their problems are not solely the result of the current economic downturn. The earnings disparity between the working class and the wealthiest earners has been growing for the past three decades. Between 1979 and 2000, real after-tax incomes grew by 256 percent for the top one percent of households. That compares with 21 percent growth for households in the middle fifth and 11 percent growth for households in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum.
One of the primary drivers behind that growing earnings disparity is the inability of workers to reap the economic benefits of their increased productivity. That is at least in part a result of the decline of unionization. During our post World War II economic expansion and so-called "heyday" of the American economy, union membership fluctuated between 30 and 35 percent of the workforce. By 2006, it has fallen to 12 percent including only 7.4 percent in the private sector. And, according to the economic policy institute, the gap between pay and productivity growth is the result of economic and employment policies that shift bargaining power away from the vast majority and towards employers and the well off.
I would hope that, to confront this rising income disparity, this Administration will refocus on programs and policies that help our nation's workers and strengthen the middle class, the foundation of our nation's economy.
I am pleased to see a number of items in your request, including investments in green jobs, youth built career pathways innovation fund. I'm pleased to see a request for an increase in funding for state unemployment insurance operations. I'm also pleased to see the department renew its focus on workplace health and safety. In 2007, 5,657 workers died as a result of job-related injuries, an average of more than 15 deaths a day. And as many as 8-to-12 million workers sustain job-related injuries or illnesses each year, approximately 50,000 workers die each year from illnesses in which workplace exposures were a contributing factor.
I'm also --- well, let me put it this way, while I am positively impressed by most of your budget, I am concerned about a couple of items. As you know, the Congress included $250 million in the Recovery Act to train workers for high growth jobs, especially in the healthcare sector, which continues to add jobs. One of the few sectors of the economy that does.
The BLS reported last week that the healthcare industry added 17,000 jobs in April in line with its average monthly gain since January. In 2008, the average gain was 30,000 jobs per month. However, your fiscal 2010 budget does not appear to continue any targeted investment to address the critical shortage in the healthcare workforce, including a long term need for 2.8 million nurses and nearly two million allied health workers. It seems to me that if we're serious about a significant healthcare reform, we have to build the capacity of the system and we're falling short in this area.
I'm also, frankly, disappointed by the Administration's proposal to freeze the number of participants in Title V community service employment programs for older Americans. There are a lot of good reasons why this program ought to be expanded. The most important reason in my judgment is that the unemployment rate for seniors age 65 and up is at its highest reported level since the Federal government began tracking this figure after World War II according to a recent report by The Urban Institute.
Let me simply conclude by saying that, on balance, I think you're presenting a strong budget, certainly, one that I think represents much greater effort to meet the needs of workers than the budget we received a year ago, but I still think that there are gaps that the Administration needs to be aware of and consider. And I look forward to working with you as we deal with these issues in the coming weeks. Mr. Tiahrt?
REP. TIAHRT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I know you've been quite anxious to get moving forward on the Administration's budget request and begin today's work. First, I'd like to welcome our new labor secretary, our former colleague, Hilda Solis. Congratulations and I hope you enjoy your experience on the other side of the dyad.
Today, more than ever, Americans eagerly await the news from the Department of Labor hoping for good news about job growth and our task in Congress is to ensure that you have the tools necessary to help our fellow citizens realize their dreams. It's in this vein that I'm sure all my colleagues as well as myself examine the department's budget request. Last Friday, the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the nation lost 539,000 jobs in April and that the unemployment rates rose to 8.9 percent from 8.5 percent in March.
In addition, the Bureau reported that for the 12-month period ending April 30, the nation lost 5.24 million jobs, a decrease of 3.8 percent. We can only hope that this news could be the first indication that the pace of job loss may be slowing.
Remarkably, in April of last year, the unemployment stood at only five percent. Today, Americans are facing the kind of economic conditions that would've seemed unfathomable a couple of years ago. In fact, since the recession started, the nation lost 5.7 million jobs. The deficit soared to over 11 trillion and Congress faces daunting choices.
In the last 100+ days alone, the deficit has increased with the Administration's spending spree in the Stimulus Bill, the Omnibus, and the Supplemental.
We are printing more money than we can keep up with and I'm concerned about the long term effect on our economy, especially jobs.
Let me start by saying I appreciate that on the discretionary side you have requested only about a three percent increase over the fiscal year 2009 non-Recovery Act budget authority. Nevertheless, prior to considering this budget request, it seems only logical for Congress to ask for what's become of the $4.8 billion in discretionary budget authority that Congress provided to the Department of Labor in the Recovery Act.
How much of the funding has been expended? What has been accomplished so far?
It has come to my attention that the Recovery Act reports, while featured prominently in the Department of Labor's Web site, have, since their inception, been decreasing rather than increasing in program level obligation and expenditure detail. Naturally, I have concerns about this fact. This seems to be the antithesis of transparency that the American public was promised.
Furthermore, the Department of Labor seeks appropriations that will maintain funding for some programs at levels more similar to the augmented fiscal year 2009 levels. Congress needs to consider whether program levels can be justified at this time.
One example is the Youth Build Program. The budget, in brief, states, "Few studies of Youth Build demonstrate promising results," and it designates significant increases in budget authority for both Youth Build program level and it's evaluation.
Few studies take merit with respect to Youth Build brings us questions about the studies which have not found merit. In fact, our own government's evaluations have identified a number of shortfalls in this program. Seen as though Youth Build just received an infusion of $50 million in the Recovery Act and in light of the Department's tepid, if not cryptic, acknowledgement of Youth Build's lack of notable success, I'm curious as to why the Department seems to want to gamble on Youth Build's track record with a $45 million increase in program level funding. That's about a 64 percent increase over fiscal year 2009. This seems to be counter-intuitive.
I would think that there would be more than enough activity generated by the additional Recovery Act funds to support a thorough evaluation of this program and that evaluation will be more properly conducted prior to the appropriations of significant increases to the budget.
Another concern I have is the notion of green jobs. The President desires to simultaneous create new green jobs, stimulate the economy, and wean America off foreign oil. This is a social experiment that appeals far more to environmental interests than our own workforce community.
A study conducted by King Juan Carlos University in Spain found that, based on the European or Spanish model cited by President Obama as the model for green policies, they are likely to destroy upwards of nine conventional jobs for every four green jobs created.
I find myself quite reluctant to support policies underlying the need for green jobs training. This poor timing scheme cannot be overstated in my opinion. I'm further concerned that these jobs will be just temporary and too few in number and will fail to justify the level of government intervention being directed at them.
The net reduction in the budget request for the Office of Labor Management Standards also concerns me. The Office of Labor Management Standards is the lone Federal agency with the job of protecting workers' interests in how their unions are managed. I'm not pleased that the Department of Labor has already signaled it will not enforce compliance with current conflict of interest disclosures.
In addition to recommending that we slash funding for this extremely important division all the while announcing its desire to increase worker protection. The fact that from 2001-to-2008, the Labor Department secured more than one thousand union fraud related indictments and 929 convictions proves that the workers deserve protection from more than just employers in many cases. I oppose the reduction in funding for the OLMS and intend to watch very closely to ensure that the mission of this important agency is not being diluted.
With regard to the mission area increases, I'd like to take note of the Department's request for a large increase in the area of worker protection. The budget request includes 9.9 percent increase in the area of worker protection.
I think we can argue that safe and fair workplaces should never be a luxury, yet I'm curious about the evidence on which the Department of Labor has based its request for such a significant increase, especially when the Office of Labor Management Standards has been reduced. I look forward to hearing the background on this.
Finally, on a personal and directed note. I just want to mention my desire to work with the Department of Labor to rectify a situation that has impacted some of my constituents over the last year.
In Fiscal Year 2007, the Department of Labor awarded, by competitive bid, a Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas, a community-based job training grant. The grantee had intended to use the grant to train workers in the construction of two coal-fired power plants. Unfortunately, last year, the governor of my state blocked the construction of these power plants and created a delay which made it impossible for the grantee to comply with the terms of the grant.
Recently, however, our current democrat governor of Kansas permitted the construction of the plants to move forward. While I'm aware that there may be some hurdles to overcome with respect to the grant at this time, I look forward to working with the Department to find a way for this important job training opportunity to get back on track. I want to thank the Department in advance for its cooperation on this project.
Madame Secretary, at the end of the day, I'm sure we all want the same thing. High quality, high paying jobs for all Americans and it's your Department's responsibility to see that we're prepared to fill those jobs. Let us know how we can work together towards that common goal.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. OBEY: Mr. Lewis?
REP. LEWIS: Mr. Chairman, outside of welcoming the Secretary, I'm anxious to hear her testimony and participate in the questions. Congratulations, Madame Secretary, I look forward to working with you.
HON. NAPOLITANO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member Tiahrt and the Subcommittee members that are here this morning.
I especially want to say a thank you for your gracious welcome, Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member. It's good to be able to see friends here in the House. This is the first time that I am actually testifying before a committee, so it is with a great deal of privilege and an honor for me. So with that, I'll begin my statement. I would like to suggest, I would like to provide a summary of my remarks and ask that my written testimony be entered into the record.
The total request for the Department of Labor is $104.5 billion and $15.9 billion is before the committee and $13.3 billion of the request is for discretionary budget authority.
Our budget for DOL request funding programs for the Recovery Act. And we all know that families right now are struggling. We see this economic crisis every single day. Investing in our nation's workforce and creating new jobs is a critical component of President Obama's effort to jumpstart our economy. The Department of Labor is using its Recovery Act resources to help ease the burden of unemployment and to put people back to work.
I'd like to highlight some of our Recovery activities which include the following: Providing new training and employment opportunities for unemployed adults, youth and seniors; enhancing and expanding the unemployment Compensation and Trade Adjustment Assistance Act; and also launching a new COBRA Premium Assistance Outreach Program; and fourth, initiating additional worker protections to ensure that economic activity spurred by the recovery occurs in workplaces which respect workers rights, which provide safe and health environments.
Building on the recovery efforts, the Department's Fiscal Year 2010 budget features three overall priorities. First, worker protection. We're beginning to restore the capacity of our programs that protect workers health, safety, pay, and benefits. Secondly, a green recovery. We're implementing new and innovative ways to promote economic recovery by working towards energy independence and increasing the competitiveness of our nation's workforce. And, third, accountability and transparency. We'll ensure that our programs are carried out in a way that is accountable, transparent to our stakeholders and to the public.
In all these efforts, uncommitted to fostering diversity and to ensuring that our programs are accessible to previously underserved populations, including those in rural America. I'm particularly proud that Fiscal Year 2010 begins to restore programs to protect workers. These programs enforce laws governing minimum wage, overtime, family, and medical leave. They also protect workers' pensions and their health benefits while ensuring workplaces are safe and healthy. They ensure equal opportunity in Federal contracting.
In Fiscal Year 2010, the Department is requesting $1.7 billion for worker protection programs, an increase of 10 percent above Fiscal Year 2009. By adding a total of 878 full-time employees, such as investigators, inspectors, and other program staff, the budget will return worker protection efforts to a level not seen since Fiscal Year 2001. Increasing our capacity so dramatically in a single year, as you know, is unprecedented and it illustrates, again, the President's commitment to America's workers and the workforce.
I can assure you that we've developed an aggressive, comprehensive hiring plan which will be implement as soon as Fiscal Year 2010 funding is available. The plan prioritizes the hiring of multi-lingual inspectors and investigators to enhance our enforcement outreach.
We're providing an additional $35 million to add 288 FTE for the wage and hour division which protects over 135 million workers in more than 7.3 million establishments. These additional resources will allow the wage and hour to improve compliance in low wage industries that employ vulnerable workers and youth. The increases focus on reducing repeat violations and strategically conducts complaint investigations. The increase for OSHA will allow it to also add 213 new staff such as enforcement personnel, standards writers, technical support, and bilingual staff to address the changing demographics in our workplace.
In recognition of the work of our state partners, the budget request includes nearly a $14 million increase in state program grants. The number of enforcement staff in the Employee Benefits Security Administration will also be increased by 75 FTE allowing the agency to conduct an additional six hundred investigations. To help promote equal opportunity in Federal contracting, we will expand the Office of Federal Contract Compliance programs and the number of compliant officers and other field office staff by 213 personnel.
By returning to Fiscal Year 2001 levels, there will be a reduction in the Office of Labor Management and Standards. I can assure you that the resources requested will allow the agency to accomplish its core mission and that the reduction in FTE will occur in the transfer of staff to other protection programs which we have seen a drop in levels of enforcement over the past eight years.
The increases in our enforcement programs will also require legal services and support from the Office of the Solicitor. To help meet these needs, the budget request includes an increase of $14.8 million to support additional 82 FTE.
I'm hopeful that this Congress will endorse our worker protection program request and allow the Department to provide these programs to meet our responsibility to all American workers.
DOL is also currently using Recovery Act funds for a range of other activities to provide transitional benefits, job training, and placement assistance to unemployed workers. I want to thank the Congress personally for providing these dollars.
Fiscal Year 2010 budget request supplements the Recovery Act funding through targeted investment in employment and training programs. I am very pleased and excited about the use of innovative strategies and programs that are designed to increase the skills and competitiveness of all our workforce.
Our $71 million increase in the National Reserve account will help fund national emergency grants allowing for targeted response to large scale worker dislocations; $135 million for a new career pathways innovation fund; and to provide fund grants to community colleges and other educational institutions to help individuals advance up the career ladders in growth sectors in our economy. The career pathways programs involve a clear sequence of coursework and credentials each leading to a better job in a particular field, such as in healthcare, in law enforcement, and in clean energy.
The budget requests an additional $50 million for enhanced apprenticeships and competitive grants for green jobs. We're pursuing those strategies to ensure that all of our training programs are equipped to provide training for the new green economy and have included funds from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to produce valuable information on defining green jobs.
Then, our request for pilots and demonstrations, the budget includes a new investment of $50 million for transitional jobs to help young and non-custodial parents gain employment experience and sustainable employment. The budget also includes $114 million to expand the capacity of the Youth Build program to train low income and at-risk youth. This is an increase of $44 million over the Fiscal Year 2009 level and will allow us to build on the Recovery Act funding for the program.
In addition, the request is also made for $255 million for the Veterans Employment and Training Services program, known as VETS, which contains strategic investments to allow the agency to do the following: To reach out to homeless women veterans; to make employment workshops available to families of veterans and transitioning service members; and to restructure existing training grants to focus on green jobs. These innovative strategies supplement our core workforce security programs that are extremely sensitive to economic conditions.
Thus, in the budget you'll also see an increase of $860 million for the newly expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance program and $3.2 billion for state grants to fund the administration of unemployment insurance to support the increased demand on state systems. In addition to providing states with the funding, they need to cover these increased workloads. Our approach includes an increase of $10 million to expand reemployment and eligibility assessments to help claimants return to work as soon as possible.
I believe that spending tax dollars wisely helps the Department achieve our mission on behalf of American workers and builds trust among our stakeholders. A number of other Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposals support these goals. For example, the budget request also includes a $15 million workforce data quality initiative which will help us develop data to understand the effect of education and training on worker advancement, a $5 million increase for job training program evaluation to help us understanding which job training approaches are more effective and will help inform the direction of future programs, and a new $5 million program evaluation initiative to help the Department of Labor examine all programs, not just those in employment and training.
I would like to just say a few words about the programs at the Department. First, the budget does provide $10 million for the Office of Disability Employment Policy. The increase will allow us to build on the lessons that we learned through the Work Incentive Grant Demonstration Program. It will allow us to promote opportunities for individuals with disabilities, particularly our youth in employment, in apprenticeship/ pre-apprenticeship programs and community service activities.
Fiscal Year 2010 budget also includes the program known as "Add Us In," a new grant program with the agency's base budget to help minority youth with disabilities who are interested in entrepreneurship. Secondly, the budget request provides an increase of $5.3 million, 12 FTE, to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, known as ILAB. With these funds, ILAB will be able to step up its monitoring and oversight of labor rights through close monitoring, reporting on labor conditions worldwide, particularly with our trading partners.
Through these efforts, we can help reduce instances of child labor, forced labor, human trafficking, and violations of worker rights.
Fiscal Year 2010 budget will also maintain the child labor and worker rights technical assistance activities at the same level of 2009.
In conclusion, I'm committed to ensuring that these new efforts, along with all the programs supported by the Department's Fiscal Year 2010 budget will help to demonstrate that we're working to meet the needs of all American workers and their families. And I ask for your support and look forward to answering your questions. Thank you for having me here this morning.
REP. OBEY: Thank you. Mr. Tiahrt?
REP. TIAHRT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. There is an overall philosophical, I think, debate maybe or question that we should ask with the idea of enforcement. Our current philosophy is one of adversarial contact. When you think of how the public sector interacts with the private sector, it seems to be on an adversarial basis in each case.
I had an instance of this happen in Wichita that, I think, could give us some grounds for a good debate on how we view the philosophy of our interface between public and private sectors. OSHA targeted three counties in Kansas in the home building industry. This is three years ago. They came into Sedgwick County where Wichita is located and, literally, shut down the home building business. All the agents that OSHA had in Kansas came to that area and they started writing citations and fines. I got a call and was asked to come back and meet with the Wichita area buildings.
I met with them and I think it was all summed up by a framing contractor who said, "I just recently got a $5,000 citation for having a Styrofoam cup on the front step of a house that I was framing." He said, "My normal profit for a framing job is about $2,500, so it doesn't pay for me to go to work while so many of the agents are in town." He was one of about six thousand people in the home building industry that currently weren't working.
So I met with the regional, or I called the regional office of OSHA and they agreed to meet in Wichita, Kansas City, they agreed to meet in Topeka and, together, they came up with a plan that I thought was very interesting. They decided that they would announce when OSHA would be at a job site, they would meet with the superintendent or the contractor of that job site.
They'd walk through the area, they'd make a list of violations or potential violations, they agreed to the list without any fines and citations, and then OSHA gave them six weeks to comply. While OSHA gave them that time, the Wichita area builders hired an expert out of the insurance industry that focuses on workplace safety. He came in and conducted training at each major job site and they brought people in from the other sites. When OSHA returned, they went around the job sites and they didn't find any violations. A common goal was achieved. A safe workplace.
When I talked with the contractors, many of them hire friends and family and they don't want anybody to get hurt on their job. The last thing they want to do is report at a family reunion why somebody lost a finger or broke a leg because, quite often, it's their own family that's involved.
So I thought this is an interesting philosophy change where OSHA actually worked with the private sector to achieve a common goal of a safe work environment. They were an advocate for a safe work environment instead of an adversary to a private sector. And that worked for a couple of years, and then when the OSHA office here in Washington D.C. found out what was going on, they said, "No. You've got to go back to the old method of enforcing regulations," which is this adversary method.
Are you open to discussing how we could change our philosophy and the regulatory scheme to advocate for a safe work environment, instead of being an adversary for those people who are keeping and creating jobs here in America?
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you. Is my mike on?
Thank you, Mr. Tiahrt. I appreciate your concern and sharing that. That's the first time I've heard of a citation for a Styrofoam cup. I will certainly take that information back to my department.
But I do want to say that one of the reasons that you're seeing an increase in funding for enforcement is because, quite frankly, over the last few years OSHA and Wage an Hour have not received sufficient funding over the last eight years. In fact, OL&S (ph) has received more substantial funding over the course of the last five years. So there was not a balance.
And one of the things that I know that the Congress is particularly concerned about is the fact that there have been very serious, fatal injuries on the job, whether it's in construction, the mining industry, or in other service-related areas. And my concern isn't so much to drive down industry or business, because what we're talking about here is really making it more feasible for people to go to work and to be able to come home. That is my goal.
And one of the things that I intend on providing through our offices in Wage an Hour and in OSHA, is that we provide enough technical assistance. Not just compliance information, but to actually provide on-the-job and on-the-site assistance to those businesses that are open, or may not even be aware of what some of the laws and safety concerns and regulations that they must abide by.
I don't expect that we are going to go out of our way to just create a problem for businesses. Right now, we know that we need to have jobs. And one of the things, as my highest priority, to make sure that we find people employment, and then secondly, the goal of the DOL, Department of Labor, is to provide safety and protection for them to be able to come home. And I've traveled to different parts of the country already and have seen where I've heard stories where people have lost -- family members have lost their lives because there was, perhaps, an employer, not just once or twice, but repeatedly not abiding by citations or particular penalties. That, to me, is egregious and shouldn't be tolerated.
So I think that we don't have enough resources in our budget to go after everybody. And I've asked my staff to come up with a plan to work more strategically. We don't have time to waste taxpayer dollars, but I won't tolerate when I see someone abusing periodically, time and time again their workers in a way that puts them at harm, and then causes --
REP. TIAHRT: My time's almost up. Excuse me, Madam Secretary. I think we would agree that when you have somebody who egregiously violates, they should be reprimanded at the most severe levels. But I hope that in the future, we would work with companies who are trying to comply, educate them in the regulatory stand. Thank you.
SEC. SOLIS: And I would be happy to work with you on coming up with a program that looks at that.
REP. OBEY: Mr. Jackson.
REP. JACKSON, JR. (D-IL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me also congratulate Secretary Solis on the extraordinary job that she is attempting to do at the Department of Labor, and under extraordinary economic circumstances.
I have two questions. One, I think is thoughtful because my staff helped prepare it. The other, which I'm trying to formulate. But let me start with the thoughtful question. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor statistics reported the national unemployment rate at 8.9 percent. The unemployment rate for white Americans is just 8.0 percent, 11.3 percent for Hispanics, and a high of 15 percent for African Americans. Currently, African American workers are experiencing close to double the rate of unemployment as white Americans in the United States.
In my 14 years representing the second district of Illinois, I've worked to increase access to high-quality education, to reduce health asperities and increase job opportunities for minority communities, for which my district is mostly comprised. What is the Department of Labor and this administration doing to reduce unemployment disparities? Can you point to specific programs and job training programs that will work to reverse these trends in the density of some urban communities and the nature of unemployment? And then I have a second question.
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you, Congressman Jackson, and I appreciate the question, and of course your leadership. And also, Congresswoman Barbara Lee's continued leadership on this effort.
I do have a great, great concern that we are not seeing enough minority representation in programs that are currently being administered by the Department of Labor. And I've taken a strong approach to see how we can integrate in any type of guidance that is being provided, especially for funding that's going to be made available within the next month. And I'm talking not just about the summer youth employment programs, but I'm talking also about the opportunities through the green jobs and through the healthcare industry. We have several programs that help to provide incentives.
One of the things that I'm trying to cast here is that we provide stakeholders who have traditionally not been a part of the make up of these organizations and infrastructures. That we do our best through our regional offices to contact these local CEOs, these various safe face (ph) groups, various non-traditional groups that have not been a part of the discussion. And that has been a very clear signal that I have given to my staff, as well as any correspondence or speeches that I'm making out in public.
So I have the highest concern that you do. It's unacceptable to have a 15 percent unemployment rate for African Americans, and over 11 percent for Hispanics. And we traditionally see that covert continually being effective when we're in the recessionary time, and we have to turn that around. So I know that we have much to do, and we have to prove that these programs can work. So I will be very diligent in how we administer the money, that it's accountable, and that it's also transparent.
REP. JACKSON, JR.: We seem to be the last hired, and the first fired in these difficult economic times, and so any attention that your administration and your department could give to these troubled individuals would be helpful.
Let me try and formulate another question. I spoke this weekend at the college commencement of Lincoln College in downstate Illinois. Approximately 194 at Lincoln College this past weekend. Two million college graduates will graduate during this graduation season from colleges and universities across the country. And I found this year's commencement address particularly difficult to deliver. In part because, at least for me, the economic outlook for those students entering the workplace is profoundly troubled by the highly competitive nature.
The fact that so many Americans with college degrees have been laid off, have been displaced, have suffered during the economy that as these students leave college at one level or another, optimistic about their hopes and about their chances, they're also entering probably the most competitive job market in a generation. That doesn't include the millions of high school students that are graduating, many of whom will not attend college, but also enter the workforce looking for jobs.
My question turns, I think, on manufacturing. It was brought to my attention this morning that there's a Ford plant. And as you well know, Ford did not take advantage of any of the federal bailout monies for the automotive industry. There's a Ford plant in Brazil that makes four different models of Ford. Not a single Model touched by a human hand from the beginning of the car to the completion of the car. Not a single model.
The plant is so modern that they have to change nothing to produce different cars on the exact same assembly line. That is, they don't have to stop making the Ford Taurus to produce a Ford F-150. The F-150 can be there, a Taurus can be there, another car can be there, and four different cars on the exact same assembly line. I realize that my time is expired. Can you quickly tell us and share with us the administration's thought on what we are going to do to try and save U.S. manufacturing jobs here in the United States.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you.
I'll try to be brief. But I think one of the urgent matters right now is trying to provide assistance to the dislocated workers, and we have been doing that through the National Emergency Grant Program, as well as through the Dislocated Program. So that program, as you know, provides assistance to people who are unemployed, but it also provides a safety net. It also allows you to get training. It also allows you, in some cases, to get healthcare.
I have just returned yesterday from Michigan visiting a plant, battery plant that is going to be producing batteries for the new latest electrical vehicles. Most of the equipment that I saw that was needed there was imported. That's another area that we have to focus in on, on providing a workforce that can create and manufacture the supplies, and also the educational wherewithal so that we can produce these cars that many in the public want.
We're making a tremendous investment here. We know that things are not looking good. We know that it isn't just about statistics, it's about real people that aren't able to make home payments, can't send their kids to college, and don't have any luxury of finding a good job at this time. We're promoting that by providing incentives through -- I know we're working in collaboration with the Department of Energy right now as they give out money for research and development in these high-tech, renewable energy areas.
We then couple our programs for training so that we can get the up skills available for those people that are off the assembly line from the auto industry. Or perhaps they had been working as a banker and they need to look at an entirely different career outlook. This is going to take a lot of courage on the part of the public, as well as this administration to try to move folks in a direction where there will be job growth. We didn't talk a whole lot about healthcare, but that's one area of growth, as well as IT, and obviously in renewable energy -- (inaudible).
REP. LEWIS (R-CA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Madam Secretary, southern California has been particularly severely hit with unemployment. You and I have experienced that in our home districts. The region of the inland empire suffered as greatly as any section of the country relative to housing foreclosures, in no small part because of crazy housing policies developed by democrats and republicans over a 30-year period that really kind of forced the market with our goal to have everybody have a chance to buy a home.
But as the marketplace changed, we found people going into homes they never should have been in the first place. They couldn't afford them. In the meantime, the vacancy is there. And I understand that there are still hundreds of billions potentially of dollars of homes that could be in a very similar circumstance. So that problem and its impact of unemployment is going to extend itself over considerable time.
As we go about trying to train and retrain those people, I certainly do not have any bias myself about green job advocacy. I think you may know, I sponsored the Air Quality Management Act in southern California years ago. In the meantime, though, my local workforce investment boards are saying -- in our region, looking at the unemployment problem, being forced to push money or training in the direction of green jobs could very well have us spending dollars in a direction where there really is not the problem, and it won't solve the relatively short-term circumstance for these communities.
So the question they're asking is, is it feasible to have more flexibility in giving the local communities a stronger voice relative to the way those job-training dollars will be applied?
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you very much, Congressman Lewis. That's a very good question.
I do believe that there is enough flexibility, at least in the guidance that we're going to be providing, to allow for that growth in the green-collar industry, but also to provide assistance for those folks that maybe need an additional skill. Maybe an -- (inaudible) -- or an electrician or a plumber wants to now better understand and get into wind power and help develop that industry. Or perhaps, just upgrade their skills, maybe entering into an apprenticeship program or a community college program.
I believe the regions do have the ability to control where monies can be spent, and certainly would want to hear what their greatest concerns are. I don't think we necessarily need to do that from Washington D.C. I think that we have to attack this program on a regional level, and want to see discussions about that later.
As we're seeing the automobile industry being affected, we're talking about regions across the country that are being dislocated. California, the hotel-restaurant industry, the service sector, and we ought to be looking at how we can be flexible to make that arrangement. So I'm willing to work with you on that, and I believe our administration, our President is very open to that.
REP. LEWIS: Thank you very much for that response.
Madam Secretary, the stimulus package has caused many an agency suddenly to find themselves a wash in money, with a good deal of flexibility given to the directors, and yet that leads to a tendency to want to expand programming. And clearly, you're expanding programming. If the levels of the stimulus raised us to, many a sector, are not reflected with similar growth from the '09 to the 10- year, and the 11-year and the 12-year, will that cause serious impact upon your agency, and have your people began to help you begin to evaluate that question? And I'd appreciate first, your responding, but then that responding, further for the record.
SEC. SOLIS: I think, Congressman Lewis, you bring up a very good point because we realize that the Recovery Act money is somewhat of a one-time opportunity for us, and we haven't seen this unprecedented level of support. But by way of saying that, it's very important that the programs that we have funded through the recovery program, that we will be able to make some initial funding and growth and expansion in dislocated worker programs, and also for the other programs that provide assistance in the -- (inaudible) -- program because of the tremendous unemployment, the financial crisis, there was a need to provide that safety net.
However, in upcoming fiscal budget round, I'm certain that we're going to see some time evens this out. And I'm sure that we'll be looking at programs that have not worked efficiently, and where we can find and cut down on any type of fraud or misuse of funds. I believe in competitive grant making as well. I don't believe that anyone should have an opportunity to a sole source a contract out. I think the public spoke very clearly about that to many of us.
REP. LEWIS: Secretary Solis, I have other hearings going on, so I'm going to have to run in a while. But in the meantime, congratulations on your new assignment, and I look forward to working with you. Thank you.
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you very much.
REP. OBEY: Mr. Moran.
REP. MORAN (D-VA): I try to continue to get here earlier.
Madam Secretary, a few years ago, I put a provision in to the bill to encourage people to use public transit and federal agencies. It was a public transit benefit, $100 a month. Every federal agency embraced it but one. And that particular secretary said that all of her employees were eligible unless they joined a union. But if they were a member of the Federal Employees Union, they would not be eligible to receive any public transit benefit. Of course, that being the secretary of Labor, I found it somewhat ironic.
Now, I understand you've fixed that. I trust that everyone is eligible, whether or not they join a federal employees union.
SEC. SOLIS: Yes, Congressman Moran. Thank you for your question, and yes, we have made that available to our employees.
REP. MORAN: Thank you. The second question -- I had to be parochial, but, you know, we all have to deal with our own economic situations. In the BAC Closure, the Base Realignment and Closure, 2005, Arlington County lost 17,000 jobs that were to be moved out. It's the equivalent of four major military bases. And there's a program in the Department of Labor that is specifically designed to help with relocation. They're emergency grants that are made available.
But that money was not made available until December of 2008. That was just a few months ago. And now, I understand that you have decided to terminate the program this July. So in other words, there would only be a period of about six or seven months where the money might be available, but all of the people have to move out by 2011, so this is the time, the FY 2010 budget when the money would be most needed.
So I wanted to ask you about that. Can we get an extension? It just seems as though the timing isn't particularly consistent with the demand that all of these people be moved out of the community.
SEC. SOLIS: I realize that many of our states are going through this readjustment, and to be honest, this is something that is inherent in the legislation. It is part of a formula that is actually made available by members of the House. They set that schedule for the formula for the allocation of these funds that you're talking about. And we're finding that while your state may have been hit hard earlier before the recession, obviously two or three years before, and now that we see other states coming on board with very high unemployment rates, that money is not as easily available at the same amount that it was to prior years.
I do believe that we are making every effort, though. We do have a contingency fund of about $200 million for dislocated workers, and we also have a revenue, I hope that will be approved by this committee, to the tune of at least $71 million that can also be available to help with the Dislocated Worker National Reserve money. So there will be, I think, our ability to make those kinds of adjustment, and I certainly will want to work with you and your staff on this. But know that I, too, am well aware that we have a problem, and I hope that this might be something that could be taken up when we reauthorize the reauthorization.
REP. MORAN: Thank you, Madam Secretary. So in other words, you're saying we have found the source of the problem, and it is us rather than you, and I can't say I'm surprised at that. Thank you very much.
I know that so much of the department is mandatory in origin. Given the authorizations, very little of it is actually discretionary. I hope we can fix that imbalance a little bit, give you a little more discretion to meet the specific and the most intense needs around the country.
But again, it's very nice to have you as secretary. And thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. : Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And let me add my congratulations. It's always a great thing when somebody from our body goes to the other side and can explain us to one another.
You mentioned in your written testimony that the administration was going to be seeking changes in the H-1B and L Visa fraud preventions fees, statutory changes, and I have two questions along those lines. One, could you acquaint us to what the nature of the changes are going to be? And two, as somebody that frankly favors raising the limits on H-1B and H-2B Visas in terms of the numbers of people that we allow to come into the country, are you comfortable you're going to have what you need in terms of enforcement in fraud if Congress does, indeed, at some point raise those numbers?
SEC. SOLIS: I'd like to answer the latter part of the question first. We are going to, I think, be diligent in seeking, I think, a better assessment of how the program is operated because we know there have been abuses. And I think that's the number one. We want to make sure that we get to those bad apples, and that sends a signal, I think, right there.
I think also we want to do an evaluation to make sure that we're actually assessing the area most impacted, if we are in fact doing our best to inform American workers who might be eligible for these jobs. I think that is one of our priorities that the President and I both have. So we want to do what we can to help make sure there is ample information, that those surveys are reflective of the working pool that's available. And then begin, if there is more need, to have further discussion and have a bigger debate with all the stakeholders.
REP. : Okay. And can you tell us what the nature of the changes are going to be and the using of the statutory limits the using of the fee at this point?
SEC. SOLIS: I think it's somewhat premature at this time, but I will certainly get back to you on that.
REP. : Thank you. I appreciate that.
Secondly, I'm very pleased to see your efforts to expand expenditures in -- (inaudible). I'm a little concerned that we're not sending a comparable increase in Senior Community Service Employment Program. That's a great program, and I think you're going to see frankly, sadly, more need for that program in the current economic times. We've got a lot of people that are being forced out of jobs early in their 50s and 60s, and they're going to need some sort of bridge to retirement. Or people that, again, just simply need to supplemental income their post-65. So are you comfortable we've got what we need there?
SEC. SOLIS: Well, I know that the recovery program did give us a bump up, and that was helpful. But looking into this next program year, fiscal year, it is going to be a challenge. And I know the chairman and I have spoken about this. I have a strong commitment and support to our senior citizens and our elder population.
When you think about it, in a short time we're seeing so many people that have been displaced that are 55, 60 years old even. And we're seeing a larger number of people who really do need this kind of program. I've seen it work very affectively in my own state in California. In East Los Angeles, there's a health program, actually, that helps to retrain seniors. I met a woman who was 77 years old who was a bookkeeper, spoke Spanish. But it was tremendous that she was able to have that as her fulfillment, and the extra earning that she could have. So I do want to enter into that discussion with the committee members, and I'm very, very pleased to hear that from you.
REP. : I certainly will, Mr. Chairman.
REP. OBEY: Well, let me simply say to the gentleman, I think you can count on that program being one that receives a bump up when we get to mark up.
REP. : I appreciate that, Mr. Chairman. I'm glad to hear that because it is a great program.
Let me ask you another area where I'm a little worried that we may have undershot rather than overshot, is the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. I think we're going to see a lot of pressure. We're already seeing a lot of pressure on that. There's nothing worse than being at retirement age, and all of sudden losing -- you don't have the time arising to recover. So are you comfortable you have the tools you need to make sure that when companies have guaranteed workers pensions, that they've got the wherewithal to back up the commitments that they've made, and you're sort of on top of it and able to monitor it?
SEC. SOLIS: I think that this is one area where the funding for this particular program has been somewhat stable. We haven't seen the dramatic decreases as we did in enforcement in other agencies and departments. I do think this will be an area that will be of continued concern as we see big corporations going under, and the affects that it will have. And really getting more staff involved to help look at those cases where there is fraud or where there's been embezzlement or things of that nature.
I think at this time we're prepared to kind of stay the course where we are. But when it's appropriate, I'd like to have those discussions with you and with other members of the committee.
REP. : I see my time's up, madam and Mr. Chairman, so I'll hold for later. Thank you very much, Madam Secretary.
REP. OBEY: Ms. DeLauro.
REP. DELAURO (D-CT): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and welcome, Madam Secretary. What a joy. What a joy. We miss you here. We all feel that way, but we are so delighted that you are the helm of this agency because we know at your core about your concern and your caring about what is happening with working Americans, and also the balance that you spoke about before between workers and business in order to create the best environment and atmosphere so that people will have jobs and businesses will be strong.
Your budget makes it clear that this department is in capable hands, and that you're there with kind of a renewed sense of purpose at this department. And we want to help people build their skills and face a recession with the assistance they need. I will make a point and then get to my questions.
I, for one, am so delighted to see what you've done at the core of your mission with worker health and safety. The funding increases for regulatory enforcement agencies, OSHA, Wage an Hour, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program. For too long, in my view, we've had a group of folks that were like solely on voluntary compliance, and it's fair to say that with this budget that those days are over.
Let me kind of frame my one question, but it's in three pieces. I have a concern that with the Recovery Act and a fair chance for women, and their employment, and I think we need to find ways, which for women, minorities, economically disadvantaged jobseekers are provided with equal access of training.
So first question, then I'll give you the other two and then let you answer. Given the number of new jobs that are going to be created, how do you see the role of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance in ensuring that the contractors who received Recovery Act funding have a plan, a concrete plan to recruit, retain women, people of color, veterans, and people with disabilities? How would the funding be used to create guarantees so that we're not going to be -- with the Contract Compliance Office of identifying contractors who haven't done enough good jobs after the fact, that it's after they had the money to do that. So -- (inaudible).
Secondly, with regard to the Women's Bureau, I think women are -- this is a tough recession for everyone. I think women are the hardest hit. And the circumstance undergirding all that is they're paid 78 cents on the dollar. But the hidden gem, I think, at the Department of Labor is the Women's Bureau. We know from this committee that the prior administration tried to weaken it, ultimately tried to eliminate it, and this committee prevented that from happening.
Let me ask you this, how you see the role of the bureau as we move forward. Personally, I'd like to see the funding double, but that's me personally. But I think it's a powerful agency, and if you could just give us some insight as to how you plan to reinvigorate.
The last piece of this question is: I don't know if you're familiar with the Pathways Advancing Career Training legislation, and you probably are, the PACT Act. It's Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Jared Polis, Mary Jo Kilroy and myself. This would deal with preparing women for employment in high-wage, high-skilled fields.
My hope would be that with regard to the Women's Bureau, we would be willing to open the dialogue about how the policies can be implemented, both under current law and as we consider new legislation.
Let me ask you to respond.
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you, Congresswoman DeLauro. It's a pleasure to be here with you. And I know you'll understand my personal commitment to women, having served on the Bipartisan Women's Caucus with your leadership and so many members of the committee here.
I continue to feel the need for us to move the Department of Labor, so that every aspect of our agencies reflect, not only the goals of achieving better representations for women, but making sure that there are opportunities at every level.
The Women's Bureau, for example, is one part of that. But we should have a seamless system where all of CCP has a mandate and guidelines set forth where they are following through on making sure that there's non-discrimination occurring with protected classes and groups, but also women. And we're looking at pay equity.
That's something that we're going to require a lot of help from.
I think the Women's Bureau can play a role there, helping us to gather the data that's going to be necessary, because there's going to be a lot of federal contracting opportunities. Here's our chance to kind of open up that door and have better relationships, but also let people know that this is the priority of the federal government and DOL. We'll work with them on that.
In terms of Office of Contract Compliance, I know there are many issues there. We have not been as diligent in the past. And I, and I have not yet identified our leader for that particular position. We are interviewing now, so I hope to soon have someone who will lead that charge. And you know from personally working with me that I am very, very concerned about making sure that there is equal representation, with respect to federal contracting.
With respect to the Women's Bureau, I too, want to see a more robust program there. They will be involved in helping us identify women in non-traditional fields. We just had a Roundtable a month ago with 35 women from around the country to talk about the notion of green jobs. Whether it's high-tech and whether it's on a low-level apprenticeship programs, community college, and women who are just entering the workforce after leaving -- (inaudible) -- or welfare. So there are many, many opportunities, and I can see us working very closely with you.
With the last item you mentioned, the PACT Act. I believe that was introduced before, and I think I had supported it. And certainly the concept is something that I know has to, has to be something that we need to be involved in. So my office would work very closely with you on providing any technical assistance and information that you need to help support your legislative agenda in that respect.
REP. DELAURO: Thank you. And congratulations.
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you.
REP. ROYBAL-ALLARD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome Madam Secretary. And let me just associate myself with the comments that were made by Rosa DeLauro and others about how pleased we are that you are at the helm of the Department of Labor, because we know of your commitment to the working men and women of this country.
And I know that one area of concern for you has always been the children in the workplace. And I'd like to bring your attention to the plight of children in agriculture. While only 8 percent of children that work in agriculture, according to a Human's Rights Watch Study, approximately 40 percent of all workplace deaths, and nearly half of workplace injuries suffered by children occur in agricultural jobs.
And unfortunately over the past few years, little attention has been paid to these children by the Department of Labor. For example, of the 1,344 child labor investigations the department undertook in 2006, only 28 were in agriculture.
Do you anticipate increasing investigations into the injuries and deaths of these children? And will the department increase its oversight of children working in agriculture?
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard. Yes, as I mentioned earlier in my testimony, we plan to have, I would say a very robust Wage and Hour Enforcement. And that also lends itself to provide more inspections in this area. I, too, am very saddened by the number of investigations that have not occurred, quite frankly. And this is a, this is an area that we do need to focus in on. And I do know that there has to be more opportunities for our young, farm worker youth.
And there are incentive programs available to help them with that. We hope to expand that. I hope to work very closely with our regional offices to make sure that they got out as best they can, identify those programs that have the capability of taking on this, this project, also. But also knowing that we have to have good enforcement and also good data to report, so that you send a signal that this is something that won't be tolerated.
REP. ROYBAL-ALLARD: Madam Secretary, I will be introducing the bill known as the CARE Act in June that extends the same child labor protections afforded other children to the 400,000 youth working in agriculture, who are four times at risk for fatal injuries than children working in other industries. And I look forward to working with you as that bill moves forward.
For several years health care workers have petitioned OSHA for an enforceable standard to protect health care workers in the event of a pandemic flu. And this standard would require hospitals to provide respirators to protect hospital workers while they treat sick patients. The CDC has warned that it is simply a matter of time until we face a pandemic flu, and the H1N1 flu reminds us that that threat is real.
Will your department direct OSHA to issue enforceable guidelines to protect hospital workers in the event of a pandemic flu? And what steps will the Department of Labor take to ensure that our nation's health care facilities have in place enforceable and appropriate standards for inspection control and respiratory protection?
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you, Congresswoman. This is a very timely question, and one that just a week ago or two we had a discussion with our internal office, OSHA, and they have prepared discussion points and guidelines to work alongside with CDC. We know that the respirator option here, wearing an N -- what they call an N95 respirator is what we would, we would want to see occur for health care workers. It provides a better protection for them.
Typically the mask that you see being used right now, for example, do not prevent someone from being contaminated with the virus or any virus. So that is, I think, a better way of moving towards that. We are coordinating with all the other agencies in terms of getting out our directive, so that we can protect all the workers that are providing. There are frontline workers, first responders, and also, obviously, health care workers.
So we're doing our best. It's something that I know that we do have addressed in our budget. I know the president has an additional request for money there, and I think we're satisfied with that amount that he's asking for.
REP. ROYBAL-ALLARD: As you know the Job Corps program, which provides at-risk youth with critical occupational and employment skills relies on a -- (inaudible) -- of dedicated teachers. However, the Job Corps instructors are paid on average 30 percent less than public school teachers, even though they have the same credentials and are required to work year-around. And this makes it incredibly difficult for Job Corps Centers to recruit and retain the staff needed for this important program.
And unfortunately after several years of flat funding, Job Corps, I understand, faces $127 million operational shortfall. And there's not enough money, unfortunately, in the president's budget to provide the centers with the resources that they need for the staff.
Do you have any plans to review this issue, and to find ways to address the high-turnover rates and the recruitment difficulties that plague the Job Corps Program, given the fact that, you know, we understand that there is not enough money to make up what is needed to retain the teachers?
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you, Congresswoman. I know that -- you know, I came into the budget process when things had already started, when I finally was able to begin my work at Department of Labor. So much of what was set in the budget was already agreed to. I know that the next round of discussions on the budget, this is an area that I will want to focus in on. And I'm glad you're bringing it to my attention at this time. And I have asked my staff to look into it to give me an assessment.
And once we do have a re-ordering, also, of where Job Corps will be. Currently it was in the secretary's office. We plan to put it back where all the employment training youth programs are. That's where it should be. It is a fine program, and congratulations. I know that we're going to be breaking ground in Los Angeles for the Job Corps facility there, and we should all be very proud of that.
But I intend on working with you and others to make sure that we're accurately paying satisfactorily the wages that are, that are due to youth structures.
Because they also provide a very meaningful part of the program. So that these young people who need remedial education or other assistance, get it, and are able to have qualified teachers get the pay that they deserve. I want to thank you for your help and support in the Los Angeles Job Corps Program.
REP. HONDA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome, Secretary Solis. It's a proud moment for those of us who have known your work, and we've followed your history, too. So I guess -- (Laughter)
Well, actually, yes, it's our class, also. (Laughter) And so they say that the budget is a reflection of our values, and certainly this budget is clearly quite different from the past administration. The budget -- some comments have been made as to the increases in certain categories from one budget to another, and I think that's worthy to note that through the high increases is a result of great cuts that were experienced in the past. So this is about catching up, also.
And so I appreciate your great work. And also the comments you made about the kinds of workers, kinds of employees that the department will be employing to work with the community, multi- lingual, culturally-sensitive, things that will make the department more amenable to the communities that we serve. So I just wanted to share that with you.
I also wanted to extend a personal thank-you for your staff's swift attention to all the inquiries that were sent by my office to your department. In my district, there's a significant lack of middle-skill workers. In the budget justification, you mentioned the ETA will be strongly encouraging the One-Stop centers to take an expansive view of how to integrate the funds through the training system.
Can you elaborate on some of the innovations local One-Stops have proposed or ideas that the department will be implementing to fill this kind of a need? And how will these ideas and efforts work with the community-based job training grant programs?
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you, Congressman Honda. It's good to see you.
I understand that -- your frustration with the past practices of these programs. And I'm also looking forward, by the way, to working, working with individuals on the appropriate committees to help reauthorize WIA, because we know that there are some structural problems, and the fact that there may not be enough flexibility. And that, that has impeded, I think, the ability for stakeholders that you just described from actually being a part, and participants in these programs.
What I am doing now with the funding that's going out for the Recovery Act is setting forth guidelines that say that, that we have to involve CBOs, community colleges. That we should also look at other educational institutions, and higher education, as well. It doesn't just stop with the community college. There's a role for, I think, just every part of our educational system. We have a need, for example, maybe more illiteracy for different segments of our population. The adult schools can do a good job there.
We may have a need for allied health careers. That, too, I can see being fulfilled by community colleges. But yet, we also have a shortage of folks that are really prepared in the higher skilled level, that we need to also make sure that four-year universities are a part of this discussion. And I hope that we can, we can generate regional support, so that we look at the program more as something that we can solve on a broader level, as opposed to just one, one source of funding going to one center. It should be a collaborated effort. Given that we don't have a lot of funding available from all these other streams, we're going to have work collectively. So that has been my priority.
REP. HONDA: And we'll look forward to doing that.
Our city, San Jose, has made a serious effort to make itself the greenest city in the United States, and it just received a platinum certification. And the city has also partnered with local labor organizations, like, Working Partnerships USA to develop green jobs, programs that provide good paying, secure employment for workers.
How is the department going to foster and support partnerships like this to the green jobs innovation fund? And what are some of the primary industries for which you see significant potential for investments in growth?
SEC. SOLIS: Well, I know that we have a very ambitious program to provide and expand weatherization in partnership with the Department of Energy. And one of the things we want to target there is the fact that after you complete your certification for weatherization, that you also be in a program that can allow you to grow, to get into another step-up, into another career, if possible. Or same career, but more expansive responsibilities.
There's been a lot of discussion with some of our friends who work in that industry, and also some of our apprenticeship programs that offer that. We want to make sure that whatever opportunities are available, that we really do kind of cross -- I don't want to say cross-pollinate, but really get as many people -- of those stakeholders involved that really haven't had that opportunity to expand. And there's a lot of great demonstration programs out there now. We'll be looking at those as models, and hopefully using our, our funding in a way that we can help incentivize people to follow suit and use those as models that we can hold up.
REP. HONDA: Well, very quickly -- thank you.
REP. RYAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, Madam Secretary. It's great to have you here. I have a couple of questions and a couple of comments. As far as the questions go, some of the WIA dislocation -- or dislocated worker money, it seems like the formula -- and we, we had dealt with this with demolition money where states who have been having problems for a long time, Ohio being one of them, losing their manufacturing base. The formula is tilted towards states who have had recent incline, because of foreclosures.
And states like Ohio are going to get a 30 percent cut, where states like Nevada are going to get 135 percent increase. So we want to work with you on trying to fix this because Ohio has been dealing with this for a long time, as a lot of other industrial states have. So we want to try to fix that formula.
And also we know you have some ability with the National Emergency Grants, and one of the issues, that if you can just comment on this, we want to work with the department on states like Ohio having a little more flexibility with those kinds of grants, because they're very specific towards specific industry or specific business.
So is there a way we can kind of work through this where if you do get the emergency grants, they'll be a little more flexibility for the states to work with the department?
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you, Congressman Ryan. Earlier I was asked a similar question. And there is a problem, I believe, with, with the formula that drives the funding, and it's unfortunate that it does penalize states like yours that have been going through a high unemployment and dislocation of workers for, for a long time.
I know that this is something that we probably want to work in as we go through to re-authorize WIA, which I hope we can do this legislative session. Meanwhile, there is some dislocated worker national reserve money available at the Department of Labor that is in the amount of about $200 million that, that we can work with, work with your state and work with those officials there, because it's been brought to my attention by one of your senators, already. And likewise --
REP. RYAN: I wonder which one that was.
SEC. SOLIS: (Laughter) And likewise, we do have, hopefully, through our requests here for the 2010 budget, we're requesting $71 million for the National Reserve for this particular effort. There has to be a better way, though, of dealing with this financial crisis, because it is longer. It's more persistent. And I don't think anybody has seen anything like this for several decades, and it probably has to be some re-thinking on how we do that. So I would love to --
REP. RYAN: Great.
SEC. SOLIS: -- be able to talk to you about that.
REP. RYAN: I just -- I wanted to reaffirm that position, as far as the formulas in working.
I have a couple of ideas, and I think that, you know, you're new and you're from this body, and we have a new president, and I think we have to start looking at new ways of addressing some old problems that we have. I'll give you an example.
Our area, we have a lot of auto in Youngstown, Ohio, a lot of Delphi workers, and a lot of Delphi-salary workers, as well. And when Delphi hit tough times, we had a lot of engineers, we had a lot of tool and dye workers who were in the area. And, and I know we have to try to retrain and, and move people into other jobs, but there is a talent pool in some of these communities. In Ohio, Dayton and Warren have a lot of Delphi workers, a lot of engineers.
I think we need to have a conversation and talk about how we not retrain some of these workers, but how to get them involved in creating new employment, how to plug them into incubators. How, how maybe the Department of Labor -- it maybe the SBA can create incubators in areas where there -- there's a high talent pool, that necessarily won't go and become nurses or get trained in a green- collar job. Although they could, but they're very talented. They're engineers. So they could, you know, realistically start a company at, at some point with a little bit of assistance, that would employ 50 people.
And so I just wanted to throw that out at you just so we can continue to have a conversation, maybe over the next few months and few years on how we could maybe put something together that would be innovative, but yet tap into the kind of the talent pools that we have in some of these regional areas.
And then another comment, as my time is running down. Along the lines of YouthBuild, there's been a tremendous success in this country with the FIRST Robotics Program. And we see kids in high schools gravitate towards the Robotics Program, and it changes their whole perception and their whole approach to education. You know, instead of teaching them physics and all of the, you know, more sophisticated -- having all the more, more sophisticated classes that teachers throw a bunch of junk on the ground and say, "Build a robot." And they build a robot, and then they teach afterwards, and it's just a different way of learning.
And we've had some kids in some -- at some of intercity schools who have just gravitated towards this, but they got to kick them out of the schools at 10:00 p.m. So I think as much as YouthBuild is for construction, I think we should also talk about the future about implementing some kind of a robotics programs.
SEC. SOLIS: I'm glad you brought up YouthBuild, because we do have a guidance to promote green jobs, but not necessarily the way that you may -- the way you described it. We'd certainly want to have more math and science applied, and that could certainly help with this population. So I'm very much in agreement to allow for that creativity to occur, and we'd be interested in seeing those kinds of programs develop.
And then secondly, I just want to tell you that through our office the recovery of the auto communities and workers is headed now by Dr. Edward Montgomery. He had been out, I think in some of the different states that have been more dramatically affected by the downsizing of the auto industry. And certainly will be helpful and make -- I'm sure will make himself available, as well as I, to see how we can try to provide that assistance, so that that talent pool -- that brain trust that we have, doesn't leave, and that we nurture it, and that we do, do some creative programs with SBA.
We do have some training programs, too, for small businesses. So those are things that I'm very excited about working with, because I haven't seen that kind of support in the past, so I'm very much interested in that.
REP. RYAN: Mr. Chairman, if I could just comment on that. In these old --
REP. OBEY: Very briefly. Very briefly.
REP. RYAN: In these old industrial areas, you know, all the young people have left. They went off, they got educated. Their parents had good-paying jobs. They went off to school, and then they left. So the only talent pool that's left, they were in those industries, the Delphis of the world, the auto industries. So I think it's critical that part of this comprehensive program is to try to keep those -- keep that talent in that area, in that geographical area.
So thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. OBEY: Ms. Lowey.
REP. LOWEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Madam Secretary. I just want to tell you that I share the enthusiasm of my colleagues, and we look forward to working with you. Now, not only is Madam Secretary a friend, but she's also my neighbor. We leave so early, I think you're still (Laughter). Thank you.
I just want to begin my commenting that what we see in our health care systems in the U.S., both private and public, we're facing a widening gap between the number of positions and the number of qualified applicants to fill them. And nowhere is this more evident than the shortage of nurses and nurse faculty. In fact, in 2008, almost 50,000 students were denied admission to schools of nursing, primarily due to an insufficient number of faculty. And we agree, I know, that we must create better training opportunities in the fields with the greatest needs in the coming years.
So if you can comment on the department's strategy for increasing training opportunities in health care-related fields, particularly through the new Career Pathways Innovation Fund. And what role can community colleges play in expanding career opportunities in health fields.
SEC. SOLIS: Thank you, Congresswoman Lowey. Yes, well, I did want to mention that earlier in my testimony, I had pointed out that we did get $250 million through the Recovery Act to help us with high- growth occupations. And obviously the health care industry is a prime, prime sector.
I do believe there's a lot more we can do. I think we need to also be collaborating now with the cabinet secretary of Health and Human Services. They also receive a substantial amount of money. I believe it's about $200 million to look at health careers and professions, and it just doesn't make sense for us not to be able to coordinate. We know there's a shortage in all, all parts of the country, and particularly when you talk about underserved or rural areas.
So I'm very hopeful that we can utilize this money to look at, not just the first tier, but also developing the second and third tier of these career programs. So we do have to work closely with, I think our four-year universities, community colleges to begin with, and then also make sure that we have the availability to place -- to have a classroom, first of all. Because I'm hearing a tremendous amount of pressure being placed on the community colleges that they don't have sufficient funding to open up a classroom, and then pay the instructor or a particular professor there to be able to come in, because they make more money out in the field than they would as a, as a faculty member.
That's something that has to be addressed, I think, at another level. But nevertheless, it does impede our ability to get people into those programs, to get trained up. And I've seen some very good programs, but they're very limited, and of course they're very, they're very rigorous. And for minority of people who want to get into these programs, it becomes even more difficult. And I just feel that there does have to be more attention placed overall on the health care arena.
And be happy to work with you --
REP. LOWEY: Great.
SEC. SOLIS: -- and with the Chairman on this to see how we can expand this area.
REP. LOWEY: Thank you. I was shocked to learn, despite efforts of states to reduce improper benefit payments, more than $3.9 billion in unemployment benefits were paid erroneously in 2008. Now, the Chairman probably recalls, because we've been talking about this -- I've been around here for about 20 years. Antiquated computers, processing systems in various states and within the department, as far back as I can recall, we were told that the computers still don't talk to each other.
So you can be on Social Security. You can get unemployment benefits. You can get all kinds of things.
I just wonder whether the budget addresses this problem. How is the department working with the states to reduce and recover improper or fraudulent payments? And as you're just beginning your important assignment, maybe this committee can help you and work with you to address the problems of computers that don't coordinate, don't talk to each other.
SEC. SOLIS: Congresswoman Lowey, you bring up an excellent point. It's one that I am very frustrated with, myself. And, again, I am only -- this is my second month into the job. I'm not even there (Laughter) 100 days yet, but I'm learning very quickly where some of these gaps are. And I really do want to work closely with you and with the members of this committee to see how we can fix those gaps.
Not only the federal government has problems, but of course some of our bigger states, New York, California, Texas, others, are having problems with also processing the amount of paperwork, and we were finding that some systems are 30 years old, the global system. I remember that as an undergrad (Laughter), that program. But I'm just saying that we do need to have funding to help upgrade our infrastructure.
And that's probably one of the most neglected areas. It's just like our bridges. Well, we forgot to also provide, I think, the necessary support that's needed to help our IT system be up-to-date. Because there's no reason why we shouldn't.
REP. LOWEY: Now, I see my red light on, so I won't ask you for another minute. At another time, I'd like to talk to you, because I know how passionate you are about the International Labor Affairs Bureau. And Rosa just whispered -- my colleague, Ms. DeLauro, just whispered (Laughter) to me that the worse abuse the ILA has said in agriculture is in the United States. And so that's something that we have to work on.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. OBEY: Ms. McCollum.
REP. MCCOLLUM: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Well, a lot of the questions have been asked. And it's wonderful to, as Congressman Honda pointed out, just to watch you blossom and grow. It's great to have someone from our class that we can now call Madame Secretary.
I think what I'm going to do instead is kind of have a conversation about some things I've seen out in the district. And the challenge that I think we face as a nation, gearing up not only to come out of these difficult economic times but to prepare ourselves to be competitive in the future. So, I'm going to start with we know we've gone an unemployment problem. We know it could very likely go up. It's like the first time because we have such a diverse economy, hard unemployment that we know is going to be extended for a long time.
We have high school students that we want to encourage to stay in high school. We have high school students that are graduating and had really no plans about continuing their education. We have high school students who were planning on continuing an education, but their families are looking at the cost of college or vo-tech schools saying, you know, jeez, we're going to have to pace ourselves a little different doing this.
College students who are going to come on line who I don't know how they're going to be recorded in the unemployment statistics because they haven't lost a job. They aren't going to be able to find a job. High school students and college students competing with adult workers for part time jobs. People underemployed. You know the picture.
But let me tell you about some of the solutions that I'm seeing out there or I'm seeing as a possibility. I was at Arlington High School just yesterday. Very diverse high school. As you know, our district is very, very diverse. And they have a bio science program in which one of the cornerstones of it is students who want to sign up for it can take this Red Cross class, which then at the end of it, they're qualified or they're certified to be a type of medical helper. Pays ten dollars an hour. But at the same time, those students are being reinforced with math, science. But it's broken down in bite- size chunks that a lot of new, vibrant immigrant population sees as a can-do possibility.
And, so, I know that there's opportunities and programs like that happening all over. And on page eight and nine of your budget summary that you've given us, you're talking about how you're going to work with the Department of Education to track longitudinal studies. So, at least I want to work with you on how we put that together. Because if you look at the Department of Labor and its inner relations with the Department of Health for jobs, for training, as well as for workers health, the Department of Education for jobs and training. The Department of Energy for jobs and training. How do we get everyone around the table talking, just as the computers are talking, so that we're creating incentives and opportunities as we reauthorize all these different program we're not doing them in silos?
So, let me kind of close with ? another place I was originally in the district was talking about volunteering and community service, something that President Obama is very focused on. There are so many opportunities out there, whether it's Youth Build or Young Conservation Corp, or something like that to do service. Maybe not necessarily be paid for it. We know cities are under a lot of stress with homes that need grass cut. Neighbors that need fix-up projects and that in homes.
How do we look to create a youth service corps that creates educational opportunities, does exactly what Congressman Ryan was talking about, makes kids excited about learning? How do we help you with that? Not only in this budget, but in future budgets. How can we help you?
MS. SOLIS: Thank you very much, Congresswoman McCollum. I am really excited that you're excited, and that I'm hearing so many enthusiastic voices about things that I know we've been struggling over for the last eight years. And youth are a very, very important element in our recovery effort. And I'm very happy to say that looking at this new round of funding that's going out now through the recovery program that there's going to be some area for testing. So, new models can also be interjected for students that go through summer youth employment programs, for example.
We will have a guidance to say that we do want them to focus somewhat on green jobs. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it has to stay there. It can also go into maybe health, as you're saying, with the Red Cross or working volunteer. The program allows you to get instruction. And also receive a small stipend if you fall into the category of being disadvantaged. But I see where you're going where we have to have more of a long term program that is really extended throughout the year, but has an educational component added to it.
So, I am working right now, and our staff is, with the Department of Ed, because we want to try to minimize where there are areas where we can work together and not duplicate our efforts. But I'm very enthusiastic about the ability to see our young people really be a part of this growth that we need to see, badly need to focus in on our youth. Their unemployment rate is way above 21 percent.
REP. McCOLLUM: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think one area in which I'm becoming more convinced than ever where we've missed the boat is we didn't think we needed high school counselors anymore, because their jobs were out there, and the economy was successful, and everything was going smooth. By not having high school counselors, we do our economy a disservice. We do our youth a huge disservice. And I'm hearing from parents a disservice, because they don't know about all the job opportunities that are out there to even have conversations with their children. Thank you.
REP. OBEY: Madam Secretary, let me ask a couple of questions. And this is only because of the time when I finish my questions, I've got to try to do it in two minutes second round so we can get her out of here as quickly as possible.
Madam Secretary, you've been on the job for about a month, as you said. If you look at the department's roster of critical positions, deputy secretary, employment training administrator, OSHA administrator, MSHA administrator, etc., etc. Can you tell me how many of the senior level vacancies at the Department of Labor that you've been able to fill? I mean, how close are you to being in a home alone situation?
MS. SOLIS: Unfortunately, the process has been so cumbersome that I've had actually just two. And one of them is here with me today who is overseeing my intergovernmental relations, Mr. Brian Kennedy.
REP. OBEY: So, you're in the position of speaking for the department, defending the department. And so far you have no lieutenants in sight, save one. Is that right?
MS. SOLIS: Two.
REP. OBEY: Two.
MS. SOLIS: Maybe our colleagues in the senate will heed your call to help expedite.
REP. OBEY: Certainly I hope whatever meetings you participate in having to do with fraudulent claims, I hope you will convey the message at Executive Branch that nothing is more important in budgeting than eliminating fraudulent claims. Because every single fraudulent claim that's paid discredits programs that are meant to provide badly needed benefits to the deserving. And I hope the Administration will put together ? I don't care whether it's a task force or you name it, whatever they call it. We need a crash course to eliminate that nonsense. We just cannot afford it.
I would also like to simply say that I'm concerned about the steep rise in unemployment for returning veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to BLS, the unemployment rate for post 9- 11 veterans jumped from 8.9 percent in January to 11.2 percent in February, a single month increase of 26 percent. And the overall unemployment rate for post 9-11 veterans is 32 percent higher than the unemployment rate for the general population.
How is the Labor Department enforcing federal laws ensuring that military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are able to return to their jobs they left behind? And what can the Labor Department be doing for unemployed veterans?
MS. SOLIS: Thank you, Chairman Obey. This is of great concern to me as well. Having for the last eight years represented a district in Los Angeles that's one of the highest rates of veterans and homeless veterans. This is an issue that I don't think many of us quite understand how to get our arms around. But we do have incentives in our budget to provide assistance for homelessness for veterans. But also for female veterans. Because we're also seeing an increase there. And they face different problems, because many of them may have children. There isn't enough space available at some of these transition homes. And there's a need for that.
So, as we're uncovering and seeing our young people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, we're finding that they have multiple different types of challenges. But one that I am charged with overseeing is the fact that if a returning soldier, he or she goes to a place of employment that they previously worked at and are denied that placement, we have an obligation to go back there and investigate and then file our complaint. That is something that I hope to beef up to many of those reports that are coming out.
And then secondly, I'm trying to work closely with the O.D. now also to look at their programs where returning soldiers, when they come back, are given appropriate information. Not just a one time kind of drop in the bucket of different services or things that they can apply for. But being a little bit more consistent with them and their spouses. Because the spouses are also an important element here. And I believe that the President's wife, Michelle Obama, also has a great initiative there to try to help with our veterans' spouses and the family.
REP. OBEY: Well, if you could expand on that for the record. I just want to make a last point on my time. In the early years I was on the subcommittee, I worked with Sylvia Conti and to some extent with Bob Michael in trying to see to it that OSHA was more flexible in dealing with employers who were generally trying to meet their obligations to their workers. And we worked to do a number of things that required retraining inspectors so they quit focusing on the minutia and started focusing on the real problems.
And, so, I'm all for the agency being reasonable. But there are also other kinds of employers who are not at all helpful. Example. When my sister was dying, at first the doctors didn't know what was wrong with her. Her lungs were filling up with fluid. They thought she was having an allergic reaction, something she was working with in the plant. And, so, they asked her husband if he could on the plant floor, because they both worked at the same place. The doctor asked her husband if he could check to see what the chemical content was of the solvent that they were using on their machines.
He tried to do that and was blocked from doing it by the employer. Even after the doctor called and asked them to allow him to check that out. So, while there are certainly legitimate employers with whom we need to work, there are also people who put the dollar bottom line ahead of everything else. And that's why we need to have an OSHA that performs much better than it has in the recent years when we discover that the Inspector General showed that the OSHA-enhanced enforcement program was a spectacular failure because of OSHA's failure to go after employers who really needed going after.
And with that, Mr. Tiahrt.
REP. TOOD TIAHRT (R-KS): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The study that was conducted at the King Juan Carlos University in Spain found out that the European model of creating green jobs cost 2.2 jobs on an average for every job created. In the study, they talk about how the government got locked into old technology in their pursuit of green jobs. And I see that already in our own government where we're so locked into solar panels to generate electricity while the private sector is moving to photovoltaic panels. And they can generate more electricity. And they're going into parking lots like in Phoenix and getting landowners to allow them to create shade for their customers while they put these panels overhead to create the shade and also generate electricity.
So, with the innovation in the private sector and the tendency for our government to get locked into a technology that's become stagnant, what level of job loss does the Administration find acceptable to create green jobs?
MS. SOLIS: Well, I look at this a bit differently. We've had tremendous job loss for the past ? what, December, 2007. Long before this new administration was here. So, this has been an ongoing issue for some time with high rates of unemployment that are not acceptable to anyone. I think that green jobs is not a silver bullet by any means. I think that there is ample opportunity, however, for us to begin to invest R&D into research and new science and technology to help create our security independence away from fossil fuels and look at how we can use materials and resources that we have here at hand and be better navigators of those resources.
The study that you cite I understand was conducted by industry individuals who feel that there may be a job loss in their industry. I see this as an opportunity, as we heard a theme reoccurring here that we have many people who are dislocated and displaced. Engineers, bankers. People who are well educated and qualified to do many things.
I hope that when we begin a discussion of looking at new renewable jobs and jobs of potential growth that we look at all opportunities. What I do see in green jobs is one of our priorities for this administration but certainly not the only one.
REP. TIAHRT: Just to correct the record, the job was conducted by King Juan Carlos University and Dr. Alvarez. So, it was done by the university and not by the private sector. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. OBEY: Ms. DeLauro.
REP. ROSA DeLAURO (D-CT): Question, Madam Secretary. This is about an issue I've worked on for a number of years. And it follows up what Chairman Obey was talking about, about the potential harm that is caused by the chemical dyacital to thousands of workers who are mainly working at popcorn manufacturing facilities.
You've taken initial steps to address the issue, and you've convened a small business regulatory enforcement fairness panel to look at it. I understand it's a process in place, including a 60-day comment period. I want to ask for your assurances that this will be a priority for the department and OSHA, and, if so, can we anticipate seeing a proposed rule on dyacital in the federal register.
MS. SOLIS: Congresswoman DeLauro, I'm happy you brought this item up. It's one that I know I worked on here as a House member with other members of the Labor and Education Committee. And it is something that we are taking very seriously. Right now we're finishing up the small business review process that has to be taken for dyacital, and we'll soon be able to move forward with a formal proposal.
REP. DeLAURO: Thank you. I'd like to continue to work with you on that. Thank you.
REP. OBEY: Mr. Cole.
REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I know we're operating under an abbreviated time schedule here, so let me make two points, if I may. And then entertain, obviously, whatever response you'd like.
First, I'd like to very much associate myself with Mr. Tiahrt's remarks about the concerns and the cuts in the office of Labor Management. You know, frankly, most of our money in the Department of Labor is appropriately spent on protecting workers in the workplace and mitigating disputes between employers, etc. But labor unions aren't always a force for the good. And there certainly have been plenty of instances of abuse. And if we ever pass car check in this Congress, potentially you might need more oversight rather than less. So, that does concern me greatly.
Second, while I appreciate the emphasis on green jobs, I want to say for the record in my state, in Oklahoma, frankly, the energy industry, the oil and gas industry has provided more opportunity for more people than any other industry in the history of the state. Upward mobility, the greatest concentration of technical talent, the highest salaries are paid there. We have the number one and two producers of natural gas in America headquartered in Oklahoma City. And even critics of carbon-based energy generally recognize natural gas as the least objectionable of the carbon-based energy sources.
And, so, if we're going to have an emphasis on green jobs, I would suggest natural gas is one that ought to get an emphasis. And, honestly, nuclear energy ought to also get an emphasis. I don't see any way that with renewables alone this country will be remotely energy independent in our lifetime. We're going to have a carbon- based energy sector. It's going to be extraordinarily important. And, frankly, we ought to follow the example of our friends in Europe, particular the French, and look pretty seriously at our nuclear based capabilities where I think we've basically abandoned a lead that we had 20 or 30 years ago, and they've actually done better than us in recycling and taking care of the waste products.
So, I would hope that you look, when you think green, you don't exclude natural gas. And you certainly don't exclude nuclear.
MS. SOLIS: Thank you, Congressman Cole. I would just concur that I think that natural gas is another source of energy that we should be utilizing more. I know that might be something that the Department of Energy will probably undertake as well as the nuclear energy debate. Certainly we have to look at what resources we do have here. Hopefully, whatever takes place, it will be done in a manner where we can have the cleanest energy provided with the less egregious outcomes in our communities. So, I'm with you on that.
And with respect to OLMS, I would just say to you that they have had substantial increases in their budgets for the last four or five years. More so than the other agencies. And what we're trying to do is level the playing field. And we'll be moving some of those investigators over to wage and hour where we do need them and in OSHA. Now, they're appropriate skilled areas where there's a better fit. That doesn't mean we're going to hold back on looking at any fraud or this kind of fact that folks are not complying with the law. So, we'll be very diligent there. And I can promise you now that we're already keeping that that pace now.
REP. LUCILLE ROYBAL-ALLARD (D-CA): Just a quick statement. I've been asked, Madam Secretary, to thank you for recognizing the value and the contributions of migrant and seasonal farm workers to our society. This is the first time in eight years that the job training program for these hardworking people has been included in the department's budget.
During the last eight years, we have had under the leadership of our chairman and his efforts, we have had to restore the funding for the over 45,000 eligible farm workers who have been trained and placed in steady year round employment. However, as you know, the funding for the program only permits us to reach a little less than three percent of the eligible population. So, our hope is that we can continue to find ways to increase the funding for this very effective and successful program so that it can reach more farm workers.
MS. SOLIS: Thank you, Congresswoman. I would just add that we are trying with one of our notices that did go out to workforce investment systems did provide additional information for funds for the national emergency grant program to be used for this particular population, so I'm excited about that. But I know that we should have those discussions to further figure out how we can address the long- term issues here that I know both you and I are very concerned about.
REP. : Thank you, Mr. Chairman. One question. I know the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of HUD are working together on a sustainable cities, livable cities initiative. And one that I read in last year's report that the Department of Labor is looking at is the telework and telecommuting and those kinds of things. And, so, if you could just comment on ? your opinion on telecommuting, I think from traffic purposes, and the whole greening of our country. This could be a component to it. And, so, are you going to be involved in any of those discussions or initiatives?
MS. SOLIS: Well, we are collaborating with the Department of Energy and HUD, and the Department of DOT. And we know that it's very important to allow for flexibility in the workplace, and this comes up often with respect to folks that need to work from home and having that flexibility. I think that that is a way to go. It saves cost over all. Transportation congestion. But also probably more productivity on the part of the employee. So, I think that those are mechanisms, as you've outlined it, that are very important for us to follow up on. And we will be working with our partners at the other agencies to see how far we can promote this program.
REP. OBEY: Ms. Lowey.
REP. LOWEY: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I referenced before the International Labor Affairs Bureau, and I know you care very much about it. And I am very pleased that the budget sets the number at 92 million, which is an increase of more than six million from FY'09. And this is certainly a welcome increase, given that the previous president attempted to drastically reduce this account every year.
In a time when we've taken on greater responsibility abroad, we have a duty in my judgment to do more to improve labor conditions in foreign countries, including reducing child labor, protect women's rights, maintain our education, HIV-AIDS initiatives. My colleague whispered to me, and I repeated it before that the worst abuses around the world are right here in agriculture. So, obviously, we have to address that, and I know you will.
Could you share with us how the department plans to use the proposed increase to address these priorities?
MS. SOLIS: Thank you, Congresswoman Lowey. You know of my passion and concern for trying to provide information and data as to what the conditions are with trading partners in particular. And I think there has been an absence in this particular division for the last few years. It has not been a priority. While there has been funding incrementally provided for the exploitation of children and trafficking, those are good things that should continue. And I don't see us minimizing that.
But I think now with a new President coming out with his proposals that he would like to reintroduce trade agreements again. It's very important that we do have the best data available. And I think that we have not had sufficient funding to allow the department to be able to get that data to work with NGOs, to work with our partners to also help provide assistance to our trading partners so they can, hopefully, elevate their standards.
That helps American workers in the long run.
So, I do have a vision, and I'd like to be able sit down when we can to tell you a little bit about more what my thoughts are. But I was able to attend the Americas Summit with the President and met with many of my counterparts from countries representing the labor secretary's position. And we had very good discussions, one of which I heard resoundingly is that they want to have more assistance from us. They want training from us as well. They can benefit from our OSHA staff going and conducting seminars and meetings with them. But also importantly helping them to understand what our labor standards are.
So, this is something that is of great importance, I know, to the President as well as myself.
REP. LOWEY: Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you.
REP. OBEY: Madam Secretary, let me just make one point in ending the hearing. The new estimates have come out on the part of OMB. And they're indicating that we're going to experience an even larger deficit than we expected. One of the major reasons for that is because of the drop in revenue and to the federal treasury. And I would point out that the same thing is happening at the state level. In my own state, just in the last three months, their estimate of the size of the state deficit that they're going to incur has risen by 1.5 billion dollars.
The Washington Post this morning carried ? and I just want to read a couple of paragraphs. They carried an article this morning which says this. Eleven weeks after Congress settled on a stimulus package that provided 135 billion to limit layoffs in state government, many states are finding the funds are not enough and are moving to lay off thousands of public employees. And they tell stories about what's happening in the state of Washington, Massachusetts, Arizona, etc., etc.
It says the lay offs are one early indication of how the stimulus funding could be coming up short against the economic downturn. As the stimulus plan was being drawn up, there was agreement among the White House congressional democrats and many economists that a key goal was to keep states from making big layoffs at a time when 700,000 Americans were losing their jobs every month. It says supporters of the final 787 billion bill, which included 25 billion less in state aid than the House planned, said it would help states avoid severe cuts, but tax revenues are coming in even lower than feared.
I would simply make the point that as we discovered during the Carter and Reagan deficit era when the economy was going to pot at an earlier time, we will never balance the budget or come anywhere near close so long as this economy does not get moving again. And I would urge with all of the attention that's being paid to the negative impacts of deficits, I would urge the Administration to remember and remind the country that at least in the short haul, the economy needs to be stimulated by those short term deficits.
And if we do not have enough stimulation, we're not going to get out of this hole. Because if the unemployment continues to rise, if we continue to lay off more workers, those revenues are going to continue to drop. And that's going to leave us with an even bigger hole than we thought we were facing. That can be avoided with the right policies. And I hope that the Administration will recognized that the situation at the state level is significantly more serious than was thought at first, as is the situation at the federal level. And it requires something more than simply hoping for the best.
With that, I appreciate your coming. And I wish you luck. And I hope you eventually get some people around you on your team so that you don't feel like you're alone.
MS. SOLIS: A one-woman. (Laughs) Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman and members and ranking members. Thank you.