After being initially postponed due to the federal government shutdown, President Trump delivered his official State of the Union address on February 5th. Among the special guests invited to attend the speech was Justina Pettway, who works as a custodian in the Russell Senate Office Building 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 significant disabilities to deliver a range of contract business services to government agencies. Justina was the guest of Senator John Kennedy (R-LA). He praised Justina for her hard work and positive attitude. “She helps daily to maintain a friendly and welcoming work environment on the Hill for the senators, our staff and the public,” said Sen. Kennedy.
Justina’s position was fortunately not impacted during the government shutdown. However, many federal contract workers, including some employed at local Goodwill organizations, were directly affected by the shutdown. Unlike federal employees, contractors are not guaranteed compensation for lost work. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) have introduced the bicameral Fair Compensation for Low Wage Contract Employees Act that will ensure that contract workers, including low-wage food service, janitorial, and security service workers, are fairly compensated for the wages and benefits lost due to the government shutdown. Take action via GII’s Legislative Action Center and urge your lawmakers to support this measure (Goodwill CEOs click here to access the CEO Legislative Action Center).
During the speech, President Trump highlighted a number of specific areas of interest to Goodwill and the people we serve.
The President renewed his call for Congress to work with the Administration on an infrastructure bill. “Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure,” said President Trump. “I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investments, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future.” Goodwill Industries International 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.
Criminal Justice Reform
The President spoke at length about the Administration’s efforts to pass criminal justice reform legislation. In December 2018, he signed into law the First Step Act, which adjusted federal criminal sentencing guidelines and extended programs that support job training, drug treatment, mentoring, and other reentry services. “The First Step Act gives non-violent offenders the chance to reenter society as productive, law abiding citizens,” said Trump. 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 will need to find work, launch their careers, and strengthen their families and communities.
During his remarks, the President reiterated his call for Congress to approve funding for a new wall (or physical barrier) along the southern border. However, there was no mention of a plan to address the status of the “Dreamers,” which has been the subject of numerous court challenges since President Trump ordered an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program in 2017. Goodwill Industries International has joined a number of organizations, employers, and social service providers in urging Congress to pass a permanent legislative solution that will enable Dreamers who are currently living, working, and contributing to our communities to continue doing so.
In the coming weeks, the President will propose his Fiscal Year 2020 budget to Congress which will include additional details around these areas and others. While the Goodwill network stands ready to work with Congress and the Administration on policies for the future, we urge Congress and the President to keep the government open moving forward and help make those federal contractors impacted by the last shutdown whole.