By Laura Walling, Senior Director of Government Affairs, Advocacy & Legislative Affairs, Goodwill Industries International
President Trump delivered his official State of the Union address on February 5. Among the special guests invited to attend the speech was Felicia Porter, who works as a Senate custodian through Goodwill of Greater Washington’s participation in the AbilityOne program. AbilityOne empowers community-based nonprofit organizations, including many local Goodwill® organizations, to provide employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities to deliver a range of contract business services to government agencies. Felicia was the guest of Senator John Kennedy (R-LA). This marked the third year that Senator Kennedy invited a Goodwill employee to accompany him.
During the speech, President Trump highlighted a number of specific areas of interest to Goodwill and the people we serve.
The President noted that we need to rebuild America’s infrastructure and said he is committed to everyone having access to high-speed internet. Goodwill Industries International (GII) believes that comprehensive infrastructure legislation will have to include investments in job-training programs so workers can pursue new career opportunities in infrastructure-related fields. We also support high-speed internet access, particularly in rural communities.
Specifically, the President endorsed a highway bill sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY). While the Democrat counterparts in the House have recently renewed talks with the administration regarding infrastructure, they are still far apart on how to fund new infrastructure projects. House Democrats released a $760 billion framework to invest in infrastructure, which includes components on workforce development for infrastructure/transportation career fields and some potential new funding opportunities in digital equity.
Criminal Justice Reform
The President briefly touched upon criminal justice reforms noting that many second chance individuals have been able to get a job as a result of the First Step Act, acknowledging that many “people in the room got it done.” Providing employment opportunities is an important part of the solution to reducing recidivism, and Goodwill works to assist individuals with criminal backgrounds in gaining the skills they need to find work, launch their careers and strengthen their families and communities. We hope that the President will request, and Congress will appropriate, the full amount authorized to fully implement the First Step Act.
While the President stated, “Through our Pledge to American Workers, over 400 companies will also provide new jobs and education opportunities to almost 15 million Americans,” he did not reference specific workforce development policies or programs – including apprenticeships – while his administration has proposed changes to the apprenticeship program regulations, which are under review. He also requested that Congress support a plan to offer vocational and technical education in every high school. It remains to be seen if his administration will unveil a proposal to ensure career and technical education is offered, or if he was referencing funding available under the Perkins Act. Following the address, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a statement that the President has a “strong commitment to career and technical education and apprenticeship expansion.”
The President called on lawmakers to pass the Advancing Support for Working Families Act sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ.) in the Senate and by Reps. Colin Allred (D-TX) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) in the House. The measure would allow new parents to get a $5,000 advance on the child tax credit to help them take parental leave. However, some worker advocates have criticized the bill for being too narrow as only some parents would benefit. Most Democrats are supportive of a different bill that would include small increases in payroll taxes to create a more expansive federal paid family and medical leave benefit. Several GOP members have submitted proposals to give new parents the option to advance some of their Social Security benefits to use for paid leave, in exchange for delaying or receiving reductions in their Social Security benefits when they retire.
In the coming days, the President will propose his Fiscal Year 2021 budget to Congress, which will include additional details around these areas and others. The Goodwill network stands ready to work with Congress and the administration on policies for the future.
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