If you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening in Washington, you’ve heard about infrastructure and the role its poised to play in our country’s recovery from the pandemic. Making sure people have high-quality skills training and supports necessary to access jobs created by an infrastructure package, and making sure that businesses can meet demand and develop a pipeline of skilled workers, are pillars of our Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery framework. We’ve been keeping a sharp eye on the infrastructure debate. And we’ve been working with you to make sure investments in skills are part of any infrastructure package. Together, we’ve had a lot of influence. But there’s a long way to go in our efforts to drive an inclusive recovery.
Earlier this year, NSC led a coalition of 70 organizations to call on President Biden to invest $100 billion for workforce development in his recovery proposal. We urged policymakers to focus on workers most impacted by the pandemic, including workers of color, immigrants, and women.
Soon after, the White House released the American Jobs Plan (AJP). It’s an ambitious job creation package based on rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. The plan includes investments in roads and bridges, the care economy, clean energy infrastructure, and manufacturing. Next, the Administration released the American Families Plan (AFP). That proposal would invest in education, childcare and other supports workers and students need to succeed in jobs created under AJP.
We heard all the right things from Congress and the administration.
These proposals weren’t an accident; they were clear signals that Congress and the administration heard NSC’s call to action.
The results of our collective advocacy are clear:
As critical bipartisan support builds in Congress for our shared legislative priorities, the path forward for infrastructure and economic recovery legislation has evolved into a two-step effort.
The Administration has worked with a bipartisan group of Senators to negotiate the top lines of an infrastructure deal that group believes could pass Congress. That package does not include many of the priorities the administration championed in AJP and AFP. At the same time, the Administration and Congressional Democrats are working on a separate $3.5 trillion economic recovery package that would include many of the provisions excluded from the bipartisan, narrow infrastructure deal.
But, workforce is missing or at risk of being negotiated away. The infrastructure compromise excludes the $100 billion in workforce development funding promised in the AJP. It also leaves out critical investments to support job creation in healthcare and manufacturing industries.
That means this bipartisan framework leaves out workers. It leaves out investments in training necessary to ensure that people of color, women, and immigrants have access to infrastructure jobs from which they have historically been left out. It leaves out support for small and mid-size companies and contractors who hire most workers in our country and are struggling to return to full capacity after the crisis. It leaves out partnerships that help educators prepare people – efficiently and effectively – for good jobs that will be created. And it leaves out tuition assistance for people who have lost their jobs to rapidly retrain for something new.
That won’t work: Investments in our nation’s infrastructure without investments in the people who will rebuild it will only perpetuate inequity and slow recovery.
The Democrat’s $3.5 trillion broader package is intended to supplement the infrastructure deal and invest in priorities not included there. But even at $3.5 trillion, the topline won’t support the costs associated with all of the proposals in AJP and AFP. That means the $100 billion investment proposed in AJP is at risk of being cut or eliminated without our collective advocacy.
Congress and the Administration are piecing together this problematically narrow infrastructure deal. That process could move quickly through the Senate and House if negotiators are able to reach bipartisan agreement on how to pay for new investments. Members, optimistically, want to see an agreement before Congress heads home for August recess in a few weeks.
Democrats want to use a process called Reconciliation, that only requires support from their members without needing bipartisan support, to pass a $3.5 trillion comprehensive economic recovery package. The first step to do that is to pass a Budget Resolution that commits to that $3.5 trillion investment. Democrats want to move this resolution contemporaneous with passage of any infrastructure deal, reaching this milestone prior to August recess, as well.
These packages, taken together, would be historic investments with spending committed over the next decade. While a path forward prior to August recess, or even later this Fall, seems possible, the passage of both a narrow infrastructure deal and a broader economic recovery package is still a long way from certain.
This uncertainty around timeline and content for these packages means there is still an opportunity to influence what is included in these two packages.
There is a real concern that Democrats could negotiate away a good portion of the $100 billion proposed in the AJP without a full court press advocacy effort by NSC and our networks. This means advocacy focused on supporting sector-based training programs under BUILDS Act, on industry partnerships consistent with ACCESS and TAACCCT grants, and on the digital equity and short-term Pell provisions we’ll be focusing on in hard infrastructure as well.
Over the next few months, we’ll be providing opportunities for you to help make sure Congress and the administration know that investments in skills training and supports for workers and small and mid-size businesses are critical to an inclusive economic recovery. In fact, right now, you can urge your Members in Congress to support a people-centered infrastructure plan.
We’ll also be giving you real time, regular information about what’s happening in these negotiations so that you can be the most effective advocate possible. Stay tuned for that.
Here’s what we know: The businesses and workers most impacted by the pandemic– women, people of color, immigrants, and their families –need Congress to invest in training and supports that are essential components of any job creation efforts. So our work is not over. While there is no easy road to recovery, there are concrete steps we must take to make sure that we are empowering workers and small businesses most impacted by the pandemic to drive and thrive in an equitable recovery.