By: Eleanor Mueller
House passes bill to expand apprenticeships but rejects Trump program
The House passed a bill Friday that would authorize the investment of nearly $4 billion over five years — $3 billion of it via grants — in the expansion of apprenticeships.
H.R. 8294 (116) would aim to build out existing registered apprenticeship programs, create new programs in sectors that traditionally don’t employ apprentices like health care and child care, and make programs more accessible for employers. The legislation would also encourage coordination between the secretaries of Labor and Education to work toward integrating apprenticeships into primary, secondary and higher education.
“Apprentices have a wonderful opportunity to earn and learn at the same time, which is really tough for college kids today,” sponsor Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), who retires at the end of the session, told POLITICO. “So it just makes a ton of sense for us to take a look at this.”
The 246-140 vote was mostly along party lines: No Democrat voted against the bill, and 20 Republicans voted for it. While apprenticeships have historically enjoyed bipartisan support, many Republicans oppose the bill over the exclusion of White House-requested language that would allow the funds to be funneled to President Donald Trump’s Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program.
“If we want the registered apprenticeship system to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the economy and the workforce, we need to provide employers a seat at the table,” the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Virginia Foxx(N.C.) said on the floor.
IRAP, which allows private employers to oversee apprenticeship programs, lacks sufficient oversight, Democrats say.
“This was a bipartisan bill up until about a couple of days before it was marked up,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said to POLITICO. “Now the White House said ‘you don’t have the IRAPs in there, we’re not going to do this, we’re going to veto this bill.’ And that was sad, because this was a bipartisan bill.”
An apprenticeship program “shouldn’t receive federal funding if it doesn’t have standards,” Davis said. “If you’re going to take taxpayer money, you ought to be sure that that apprentice doesn’t sit in a program for two years and end up with nothing, which is what happens.”
With Covid-19 causing permanent job losses to steadily mount, the bill is more needed than ever, Democrats say.
“Congress has a responsibility to help workers not only find jobs, but also prepare them for long-term employment,” House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said on the floor Thursday. “Expanding the Registered Apprenticeship system — our most successful workforce development initiative — is the proven solution that we need.”
There were about 25,000 active apprenticeship programs in the U.S. as of fiscal 2019, according to Labor Department statistics. Construction is by far the most prominent industry, with more than 191,000 active apprentices (the next, public administration, has about 19,000). The bill’s backers estimate it will create an additional 1 million registered apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeship programs and youth apprenticeships.
Lawmakers adopted all but two amendments by voice vote on Thursday, including an amendment from Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) that would greenlight pre-apprenticeship programs' use of funds to provide stipends to participants; an amendment from Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) that would aim to improve innovation by authorizing short-term “demonstration programs” in new sectors; and an amendment from Reps. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and Van Taylor (R-Texas) that would make the bill more veteran-inclusive.
Republicans requested the hold-over of one Democratic amendment: Language from Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), whose name is in the mix for Biden’s Labor secretary, that would require grant applicants to partner with a labor organization when possible. GOP opponents condemned it as ambiguous and, in Foxx’s words, “a way to boost [union] membership.” Lawmakers adopted it 236-152 Friday.
The legislation is backed by a number of high-profile unions, including AFL-CIO, National Education Association and UNITE HERE. It’s also supported by a number of other advocacy groups, including the National Skills Coalition.
In the other corner: the Trump administration and some trade associations like Associated Builders and Contractors, as well as a handful of conservative groups.
“As our economy rapidly evolves to suit the needs of the pandemic era and the 21st century in general, we should empower employers to innovate and develop their own apprenticeship programs, not hamstring them,” Heritage Foundation said in a statement.
“This bill would also require a one-size-fits-all approach to apprenticeship that would stifle the Department’s ability to promote innovation in the apprenticeship system,” the White House said in a statement.
The bill is unlikely to see movement in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate before the end of the lame duck session. But Democrats will pursue the legislation with the help of President-elect Joe Biden once he takes office, Hoyer said.
“This apprenticeship program is going to be on the agenda for the next Congress, with a president who will sign the bill and with a president who I think will work with both Democrats and Republicans to have a bipartisan bill on apprenticeship programs, because I think this is a bipartisan issue,” Hoyer said. “It’s important to pass the bill today to tee it up, in effect, for the next Congress.”
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