On April 20, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), held a hearing entitled: “COVID-19 Recovery: Supporting Workers and Modernizing the Workforce Through Quality Education, Training, and Employment Opportunities.”
Witnesses testifying included:
- Ms. Maria Flynn, President and CEO, Jobs for the Future, Boston, MA
- Mr. Alejandro Mendoza, Human Resources Director, Optimax Systems Inc., Ontario, NY
- Ms. Deniece Thomas, Deputy Commissioner of Workforce Learning and Development, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Nashville, TN
- Dr. Scott Ralls, President, Wake Technical Community College, Raleigh, NC
The hearing focused on the issue of workforce and labor in the US, and the steps the Federal Government should be taking to overcome the pressing issue of unemployment—currently at 9.7 million Americans.
Chair Murray (D-WA) began her opening statements by emphasizing the importance of workforce training programs, calling for additional financial support to succeed and overcome barriers to education. Ranking member Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) called for better systems in place to connect “job-seekers, employers, and education opportunities.”
Labor and education professionals testifying before the subcommittee were unanimously in favor of supporting the nation’s education programs and workforce. Panelists outlined the disproportionate impact on the pandemic has had on women, communities of color, and low-wage earners, now suffering from unemployment and the inability to connect to workforce training programs.
Other issues outlined to lawmakers were access to community colleges—notably recognized as the “road to workforce opportunity” by Dr. Ralls; education deserts; access to broadband and public transit; expansion of Federal Pell Grants for short-term certifications and job-training programs; as well as the public health workforce.
During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), spoke with Ms. Thomas about legislation introduced by the Senator last Congress to create a Public Health Loan Repayment program. Sen. Smith outlined issues the public health workforce is currently facing, recognizing that nearly half of the workforce is considering leaving within the next five years, 25% citing reasons such as low wages and opportunities in the private sector. Sen. Smith and Ms. Thomas agreed that a loan repayment program breaks down barriers and assists in “recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.”
Over the past few months, NACCHO has been working with Sen. Smith and other Members of Congress and their staff to promote the creation of a public health loan repayment program as well as the subsequent funding needed, advocating for members to include the program in their FY 2022 appropriation requests.
Currently, a Dear Colleague letter that supports funding to bolster the public health workforce letter is circulating through the halls of Congress. NACCHO is asking members to reach out to their Representatives to urge them to sign on. The deadline is COB, Friday April 23.