The US House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee held its third hearing focusing on the US jobs gap. Chairman Adrian Smith (R-NE), in his opening statement, indicated that the purpose of this series of hearings is to demonstrate how, as the US economy continues to strengthen following the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the demand for workers by US companies is growing and human services programs can play an important role in supporting the next wave of workers needed to continue this economic growth.
On April 17th, the Subcommittee heard testimony from the Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. Secretary Acosta shared the federal government’s perspective on this issue. Secretary Acosta told the Committee in his opening remarks how the Department of Labor has been working to keep our economy moving forward because as it fires on all cylinders with the help of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Department of Labor is working to expand apprenticeships across all industries through the streamlining of traditional workforce education. Secretary Acosta, in his remarks, also emphasized the demand from governors for more flexibility to focus funds on where they can best serve the needs of communities. He indicated that “it’s not just cooperation between the agencies, but also flexibility to allow the governors to focus workforce education funds where they best serve the needs of their states.”
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On December 12, 2017 the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing titled, “The Future of the North American Trade Agreement.” The North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a trade agreement signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States to remove barriers and eliminate tariffs between the countries.
The Trump Administration is looking to withdraw from the agreement, a key campaign promise from President Trump. The President views NAFTA as an unfair agreement that has led to a loss of jobs, and has promised to withdraw unless provisions favoring the United States are added. On January 23, 2017 the President signed an executive order to renegotiate NAFTA to make it more favorable to the United States.
Several stakeholders discussed the impact that such a renegotiation might have on the American economy in the House hearing. Daniel Allford, President of ARC Specialties, discussed the massive impact of tariffs on businesses ability to be competitive in the global market. “I can beat the competition, but I can’t beat the tariff,” said Allford, who supported maintaining a U.S. presence in the NAFTA agreement. Celeste Drake, Trade and Globalization Policy Specialist at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, stated that while we shouldn’t necessarily back out of NAFTA completely, we should look at replacing NAFTA’s labor and environmental rules which Mrs. Drake says are not currently being monitored and enforced.
The general consensus in the room was that NAFTA is beneficial to the U.S. economy and increases both jobs and competition for businesses, but that it could use some modernization. The President has been a part of several talks throughout 2017, and negotiations have now been pushed into 2018 with an unclear path ahead.
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Last week, the House Budget Committee voted 19-17 to pass the GOP-backed American Health Care Act. The Act would replace the Affordable Care Act and make several modifications to the current healthcare system in the United States. Although the bill still needs to make it through the full House vote and the Senate, if passed there would be some key changes that businesses and individuals should be aware of.
The new rule would move away from the current premium tax credit system in which subsidies based on income and cost of living are provided to individuals to help buy insurance. Under the proposed rule, people would still receive subsidies but the amount would be based on age. Older people would receive more tax credits, with the caveat that insurers would now be able to charge older consumers up to five times more than younger consumers.
Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees, and individuals, are required to purchase health insurance or otherwise pay a penalty tax. The new rule would drop the tax penalty, but has adopted measures to discourage gaps in coverage. Anyone who goes without insurance for more than two months would face a 30% premium surcharge when they buy a new plan.
Currently, businesses with fewer than 25 full-time employees making an average of about $50,000 per year or less qualify for a small business health care tax credit. This is to help pay for employee’s premiums although the business is not required to purchase health insurance under the law. If the new rule passes, this small business tax credit would be repealed by 2020.
Insurance companies will still be required to cover basic benefits like maternity care, prescription drugs, and mental health care. After April 31, 2019, however, Medicaid will not need to offer these basic coverages. The new rule will also drastically reduce Medicaid funds, with each state having a fixed amount of money every year for every person who qualifies for Medicaid. Ultimately, the additional federal funding will be phased out by 2020.
The proposed rule encourages a shift among consumers to HSAs, or Health Spending Accounts. Beginning in 2018, the new rule would increase HSA contribution limits to match the out-of-pocket maximums under a high deductible plan, and non-prescription over-the-counter medications could be purchased with an HSA.
The full House was orginally set to vote on the proposed rulemaking on Thursday March 23, 2017. However, the vote was delayed until Friday March 23, 2017 by House Republicans leaders due to a lack sufficient support to pass the bill.
SGIA continues to monitor this critical rulemaking. Sign up to receive the most up-to-date regulatory and legislative information about specialty imaging.
On March 15, 2017 SGIA attended a hearing held by the Senate’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. The hearing, "STEM Education: Preparing Students for the Careers of Today and the Future", discussed the role of science, technology, engineering, and math in both primary and secondary education. Several stakeholders in the education field were present to encourage the incorporation of STEM fields in and out of the classroom. There was general agreement that students, especially young women, should be exposed to STEM subjects in the early stages of their education. One attendee argued that an interest in such topics would generate interest in other areas such as reading or writing. There was some general disagreement among the Senators present over whether such efforts should be mandated by law or rather encouraged through other means.
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On August 30, 2016, amendments to the Proposition 65 regulations in California were approved, marking the first change in the rule in over 30 years.