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The Honorable Alexis M. Herman

Closing Gaps, Opening Doors
Department of Labor Fiscal Year 2000 Budget


February 3, 1999

Good afternoon. I’d like to welcome all of you to the Department of Labor as we outline our first budget of the 21st century.

I know we have a number of organizations and advocacy groups here and I want to thank you for your work and for being here. I also want to acknowledge and thank all of the members of our own Department of Labor team. Let me also recognize our Director of the Office of Public Liaison, Lisa Ross.

We are going to talk through a few numbers today. But through it all, I want to keep the focus on what this is really about. Because in the end, a budget is not about numbers on a page or words in a book. A budget is about values and priorities and direction.

Our Fiscal Year 2000 budget has a $39.6 billion bottom-line. But from my perspective, here is the bottom line. This budget is about closing gaps and opening doors for working families. It’s about reinforcing the values that built this country–and equipping workers with the tools to build their own future.

Today, we are all building from a solid foundation. America is working.

We are in the midst of the longest peacetime expansion in the history of the United States. Nearly 18 million new jobs have been created. Real wage growth is at a twenty year high. Unemployment is at a nearly 30 year low. And we have finally closed the book on a generation of deficits.

Our Department of Labor is also working.

Over the course of the last year, we have provided more than $1.5 billion to help families make the transition from welfare to work.

We saw the enactment of the Workforce Investment Act which revolutionizes our job training system for the 21st century.

We were successful in winning passage and full funding for legislation to open new doors for out of school youth.

We secured the largest ever increase in the fight against abusive child labor and we have put labor squarely in the middle of the trade dialogue.

We convened the SAVER Summit, the first national conversation about the need and the importance of saving for retirement.

We established the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities which has already made tremendous progress in bringing together government agencies and identifying real solutions to help people with disabilities find real jobs.

And on the enforcement side, we collected record awards in back pay–mine injuries are down–and American workers are safer than ever on the job.

None of this would have been possible without the commitment of our DOL employees here and watching on TV–so let me say, once again, thank you. Thank you DOL Team!

And, of course, I want to thank so many of you here who teamed up with us. Thank you for your leadership and partnership.

As the President said in his State of the Union Address, ours is not a record to rest on, but to build upon. This Administration’s record of accomplishments–the strong economy and the budget surplus--gives us a unique opportunity to turn our attention to the country’s unmet challenges.

To echo the President: “Our nation must pursue a new strategy for prosperity with investments in education and skills to prepare our people for the new economy; new markets for American products and American workers...”

That is a message that is central to our own mission and vision here at the Department to: “assist all workers in their efforts to achieve economic security, with rising wages, pensions, health benefits, and opportunities to improve their skills in safe and healthful workplaces free from discrimination.”

To meet this challenge, I have outlined three goals as Secretary of Labor: A prepared workforce to help make sure all Americans are ready for the opportunities of the new economy. A secure workforce so no one is left behind. And quality workplaces--ones that are safe, healthy and fair-- and that means free of discrimination.

Those overriding goals are based on underlying values–opportunity and responsibility. Community and family. Justice and fair play.

Let me take each strategic goal in turn.

Prepared Workforce

First, a prepared workforce. As Labor Secretary, I have often said that we don’t have a worker shortage. We have a skills shortage.

We need to make sure that every American has the skills, the education, the training to get ahead–that every worker is ready for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century–that the American workforce is indeed a prepared workforce. To meet this goal, the Department proposes a total of $6.1 billion–this represents an increase of $1.5 billion.

This includes funding for a Universal Re-employment Initiative...investing in youth...continuing our successful initiative on welfare to work...and providing $22 million for Bureau of Labor Statistics efforts to maintain and improve statistical data for key economic indicators.

This budget also honors our Department’s commitment to our veterans through licensing and certification to make sure veterans are on the frontlines of opportunity in the new economy–and we’re also providing a $2 million increase for job training for homeless vets.

Now let me zero in on three of these initiatives to advance the goal of a prepared workforce:

Universal Re-employment

To help close the skills gap, our budget includes $368 million for what we call the Universal Re-employment Initiative.

This is a down payment to ensuring that within the next five years all displaced workers will receive the job training they want and need. All people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own will get the re-employment services they need. And all Americans will have access to a One-Stop Career Center–and to that end, our budget provides $65 million to take a number of steps including:

  • the creation of a nationwide toll-free number so that workers can find out what’s available and where they can go;

  • funding for 100 mobile One-Stop Career Centers. We’re going to where the people are. So we’re putting vans on the streets to help Americans get on the road to success.

  • we’re linking up with 4,000 community-based organizations to provide job search information

  • and we’re going to help the disabled and the blind take advantage of One Stop Centers–and that includes a talking America’s Job Bank which will be developed in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind

Youth Opportunities

Second, we don’t have a person to waste in this country. And we certainly don’t have a generation to lose. But too many of our young people in high poverty areas are losing out on opportunity.

Our budget includes $2.8 billion to invest in our youth–including $250 million to continue our effort to help out of school youth find opportunity--and $100 million for the new Youth Right Track Partnership, a competitive grant program at the local level to encourage young people not to drop out of school to begin with.

This is a high priority for me as Secretary. Today almost 15 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are not enrolled in school. About 90% don’t have a college degree and 70% have a high school degree or less.

And if there is one statistic above all that stands out for me as Secretary of Labor, it is this. I have often noted that when I headed the Women’s Bureau at the Labor Department 20 years ago, the annual unemployment rate for black teens was over thirty percent.

Twenty years later, when I returned to the Department it was still 30 percent. This new investment in young people will help us to move that fact from the statistics books to where it belongs–and that’s the history books.

Welfare-to-Work

Welfare rolls are at a record low but we know that the hardest work remains because those with the highest barriers to employment remain on welfare. We also know that welfare reform won’t succeed unless they do.

So our budget includes $1 billion to reauthorize our Welfare-to-Work efforts. And we are going to put a special focus on initiatives serving non-custodial parents–most of whom are single fathers.

Today roughly half of the non-custodial fathers who aren't paying child support are low-income. A majority of these dads are minorities, most are under the age 30, and most lack even a high school education.

Through our welfare-to-work initiative the Department of Labor is investing in community-based solutions that put the focus on fathers--providing training and counseling--promoting parenting skills and building strong peer support networks.

Make no mistake, this is not about deadbeat dads, it's about creating upbeat dads. By partnering together, by investing in common sense solutions, we will help give fathers the skills they need...employers the workers they need...communities the role models they need...and most importantly--children the fathers they need.

Secure Workforce

Our second strategic goal is a secure workforce and we propose a total of $32.7 billion an increase of $369 million to meet this goal.

And when I talk about a secure workforce, I’m really talking about the value of community and family. We know, for example, you can’t have strong families, you can’t have strong communities, if people work everyday and still can’t feed their kids. No one who works full-time should live in poverty. Because we believe in the value of community, we need to raise the minimum wage.

To make sure we leave no one behind, we are including an initiative to strengthen the Unemployment Insurance safety net to make the program more accessible to unemployed workers, assure the availability of benefits in the event of an economic downturn and improve state administrative operations.

We are proposing consolidation and reform of Trade Adjustment Assistance and the NAFTA- Transitional Adjustment Assistance programs to extend eligibility to those who lose their jobs because of shifts in production abroad–similar to the current provision for workers who lose their jobs because of shifts in production to Canada or Mexico.

And of course, we are going to continue our efforts to enact a real and enforceable Patient’s Bill of Rights. Because vital medical decisions should be left to doctors and patients not accountants.

Pension and Health Benefits

We are also expanding our efforts in pensions and health care. Americans workers deserve a secure retirement. Social Security is an integral part of that equation and that is why the President has made saving Social Security first his top priority.

And we recognize that security is more than Social Security. It’s also pensions and health care. Today, only about half of all full-time workers in the private sector have pension coverage. 3/4 of workers in small business are not covered by a pension plan. So we are proposing measures to increase coverage and portability.

We want to update rules so more employees can take their pension benefits with them when they change jobs. We want to make it easier for small businesses to establish pension plans.

In total, our budget includes $11.8 million for efforts to increase pension plan and health coverage.

And that includes funding that builds on the success of our retirement savings campaign with the launch of our new health benefits education campaign.

Every year, nine million private sector workers with employer-based health insurance change jobs and have to cope with what that means for their health benefits. And every week, we at the Labor Department get almost 2,000 calls from Americans with questions about their health coverage.

But many of us know more about the TV show “ER” than we do about our health insurance plans. Families need to know the protections they have--the rights they have--and all they are entitled to under the law. That’s what our Health Benefits Education Campaign will be about.

Quality Workplace

Our final strategic goal is a quality workplace. When you boil it down, it’s really about the value of justice and fair play. It’s about making the promise of America the practice of America.

Our budget includes a total of $800 million - an increase of $118 million to provide for workplaces that are safe, healthy and fair and that means free of discrimination.

We are about to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act which has helped millions of Americans balance work and family. It’s time we expand this commitment so to include workers in more small businesses, and to allow workers to take up to 24 hours of additional leave each year to meet family obligations.

Our budget also includes $10 million to study the impact of the Family and Medical Leave Act and how to make leave accessible and affordable for working families.

We are also proposing $4.3 million to increase compliance with labor standards in nationally targeted low-wage industries including garment manufacturing and agricultural production.

The budget also provides $9 million funded last year to help tackle domestic child labor problems–including $5 million dedicated to demonstration projects to provide alternatives to field work for migrant youth.

International Labor

In the international labor arena, we will continue to build on our progress–to echo the words of the President by putting “a human face on the global economy”.

The budget includes $35 million to improve working conditions around the world–including $25 million to create a new arm within the International Labor Organization to help build institutions to monitor and enforce core labor standards and build their own social safety nets–and $10 million for Labor Department technical assistance directly to those nations.

We already have made significant headway in building consensus on one of those standards–and that is in our fight against abusive child labor.

In addition to continuing last year’s $30 million investment to combat abusive child labor--this year we will also lead the effort to hopefully conclude a new ILO convention that would ban the worst forms of child labor.

Equal Pay

We are going to step up our efforts to ensure that women and men earn equal pay for equal work. Today working women earn about 75 cents on the dollar compared to men.

Our budget will invest $4 million to increase outreach, education and technical assistance–specifically by continuing to develop and provide guidelines via the Internet that addresses pay issues, including industry best practices.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t simply a women’s issue, it’s a family issue. Today, more than 3 out of 5 women with children work. And in over 10 million families, women are the sole breadwinners.

And this is a kitchen table economic issue. You know, I have yet to go to the grocery store to buy a $1 loaf of bread and have the cashier look up and say, “Since you’re a woman it’s 75 cents.” Working women pay the same--and should be paid the same.

OSHA

We are doing more to protect workers on the job. For the fifth year in a row, workplace injury and illness rates have come down. But one person killed or injured on the job is one too many.

So our budget invests $48 million for innovative safety and health programs in the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to protect workers, inform employers and enforce our laws.

That includes:

  • $10.5 million for OSHA to increase outreach, education, public awareness and training in job safety and health

  • $4 million for OSHA to focus its enforcement on the most dangerous workplaces and hazards

  • and $6.7 million to MSHA to reduce fatalities at surface mines through accident prevention programs; and an increase for inspectors and training for contractors working on mine property
* * * * *

So that is an outline of our Fiscal Year 2000 budget and our vision and priorities for the coming year. A prepared workforce. A secure workforce. Quality workplaces.

This is a budget about closing the gaps and opening the doors. It is a budget that invests in ideas and innovations. It is a budget that keeps faith with our bedrock values.

It is a budget that truly will help our workers manage change in the new economy. And it is a budget that will help our nation meet its challenges in the new century.

Thank you again for being here and sharing in this presentation. With that, I will open it up to questions.

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