Labor and Education Priorities to Watch for in Budget Reconciliation

Blog Post
Sept. 3, 2021

Though Congress is in the midst of summer recess, a great deal of work is taking place behind the scenes as Congressional committees work to draft sweeping budget reconciliation legislation. Control of both chambers of Congress and the White House gives Democrats the ability to pass a reconciliation bill with a simple majority vote in the Senate. The party thus has a rare opportunity to pass many of its priorities into law and make substantial investments in our country. The reconciliation bill, which could total $3.5 trillion dollars, is intended to provide funding for many of President Biden’s priorities included in the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. Alongside a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, reconciliation could help foster an inclusive economic recovery and allow us to address long-standing inequities and challenges.

Earlier this month, House and Senate lawmakers approved a FY 2022 budget resolution, which unlocks the reconciliation process, divides up the $3.5 trillion among the committees, and instructs committees to begin writing the portions of the reconciliation bill that fall under their jurisdictions. Below are priorities the Center on Education & Labor is monitoring as work on reconciliation moves ahead.

Apprenticeships, Workforce Training, and Community Colleges

The reconciliation bill is expected to include investments that could ease the path for workers to earn high-quality credentials and make career transitions. The American Jobs Plan proposed $10 billion to expand registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs and open up more of these opportunities to women, people of color, and others from underrepresented groups. Lawmakers should make young people a priority too, and should focus on expanding high-quality youth apprenticeships and youth apprenticeship partnerships.

In addition to apprenticeships, the Biden Administration has called for investments in wraparound supports for jobseekers and the creation of high-quality sector-based training programs. These investments in apprenticeships and workforce development are key for building an inclusive economy in which everyone can succeed, and they’re also key for ensuring we can deliver on investments in both physical and human infrastructure.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill will fund projects like improving roads and bridges and expanding broadband across the country. In doing so, it will create demand for workers across a range of construction and manufacturing occupations, including business and financial operations as well as more traditional construction and production jobs. On top of this investment, both the reconciliation bill and the bipartisan infrastructure bill are expected to include funding for projects that would mitigate the impact of climate change. It’s vital that we create affordable, accessible pathways to train for these jobs and ensure they’re high-quality.

In addition to preparing workers to build and repair physical infrastructure, we need to invest in our care infrastructure. The American Jobs Plan called for expanding access to home and community-based care for older individuals and people with disabilities, and this priority is expected to be included in reconciliation. To attract and retain caregivers, the reconciliation bill will need to prioritize ensuring care jobs are high-quality. That includes paying caregivers a living wage as well as offering benefits, stable schedules, the ability to join a union, and career advancement opportunities. Many states have raised caregiver pay and improved turnover among caregivers through the Medicaid program, the nation’s largest source of funding for home-based care. Specifically, more than half the states have at some point established a Medicaid wage pass-through program, or states have permanently raised Medicaid reimbursement rates and allowed more of those dollars to go toward caregiver pay and benefits. Congress and the Biden Administration should explore ways to encourage states to strengthen and expand these efforts on a sustainable, long-term basis.

New America has examined strategies for organizing and building power among care workers, including establishing home care authorities to serve as employers of record or forming worker cooperatives. As access to caregiving expands, these strategies could empower the care workforce to organize and negotiate for high-quality working conditions.

Reconciliation also offers an opportunity to invest in community colleges, harnessing the powerful role they can play in our economic recovery. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan called for $9 billion to support community college training partnerships, which would bring together local employers, unions, the public workforce development system, and community-based organizations. These partnerships would boost colleges’ capacity to deliver high-quality training for in-demand occupations in local areas. This would build on the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program under the Obama Administration, which provided $2 billion to promote community college capacity to train and retrain workers for a shifting economy. The TAACCCT program yielded insights on effective strategies for job training, reemployment, and serving adult learners. With a new investment, reconciliation could help community colleges leverage and apply these insights, as well as generate new ones. It could also provide community colleges with much-needed resources after years of underinvestment, while providing pathways for people to make career transitions in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The reconciliation bill is expected to make key investments in HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions, double the Pell grant, and make community college tuition-free. In addition to these priorities, lawmakers should use the reconciliation bill to assist community colleges with retention and completion among their students. Community colleges have seen sharply declining enrollment in the pandemic, more acute than any other sector of higher education, particularly as lower-income students stopped out due to financial concerns. New resources could help community colleges re-engage students, get them back on track, and ensure they’re able to complete their education. The American Families Plan proposed $62 billion for evidence-based strategies to improve completion and retention rates at community colleges and institutions that serve students from disadvantaged communities.

Subsidized Employment and Youth Employment

To foster an inclusive economic recovery from the pandemic, it will be important to ensure everyone, including people who face structural barriers to employment, can connect to high-quality jobs. That’s why a coalition of organizations, including New America, have been advocating for a permanent, national, and equity-centered subsidized employment program to be included in reconciliation.

In subsidized employment programs, the government temporarily subsidizes some or all of a person’s wages, which can improve both financial well-being and employment outcomes. Research has shown that subsidized employment programs can provide a rapid path into the labor market for people who face barriers to entry and would likely not be working otherwise. In particular, these programs can benefit people who are long-term unemployed, people with lower levels of formal education or work experience, young people who are disconnected from work and school, people impacted by the criminal justice system, unhoused people, and others who have been marginalized in our economy. Reconciliation gives lawmakers the opportunity to make a robust investment in subsidized employment, which will help ensure that moving forward, everyone can participate and succeed in our economy. The Jobs for Economic Recovery Act of 2021 (S. 784, H.R. 1962) offers a legislative path forward for this idea.

Lawmakers should also work to connect youth to high-quality employment opportunities. Youth employment fell across most major industries during the pandemic, and while youth unemployment rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels, they remain higher than for other age brackets, with Black and Latinx youth experiencing higher rates of unemployment compared to their white peers. The COVID-19 recession could leave behind young people, and especially young people of color, unless we take steps to expand youth access to labor market opportunities. Youth apprenticeships can play an important role in this. The Civilian Climate Corps offers another avenue to provide youth with work experience doing conservation and environmental restoration projects.

Provisions for Workers and Working Families

Lawmakers should strive to ensure all jobs are high-quality. Reconciliation is an opportunity to pass policies like the PRO Act, which would make it easier for workers to form unions and collectively bargain for improved working conditions. Progressive Democrats have been working to include the PRO Act in reconciliation, but budget reconciliation rules prohibit non-budgetary language from being included, so it’s likely that only certain provisions will make it into the final bill. These could include, for example, monetary penalties against employers engaged in anti-union activity. However, passing the PRO Act in its entirety into law is crucial for building worker power and is something workers, labor unions, and advocates have been pushing for. Lawmakers may be able to make the PRO Act germane to budget reconciliation by, for example, applying a higher corporate tax rate to companies that don’t adhere to it.

Reconciliation should include increased funding for stronger labor enforcement by agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. More robust funding for labor agencies is needed to restore and enhance their enforcement capabilities, particularly if the PRO Act becomes law.

Finally, reconciliation is expected to include provisions to make child care more affordable, as well as a national paid family and medical leave program—both necessary for helping working families, and especially mothers, fully participate in our economy and recover from the pandemic. As we make child care more affordable, we should also improve the quality of child care jobs, ensuring caregivers earn a living wage and have access to benefits, stable schedules, career advancement opportunities, and the opportunity to join a union.


Committee members and staff are currently writing their portions of the reconciliation bill and are working to meet a deadline of September 15. Lawmakers face a packed legislative calendar when they return from summer recess, but reconciliation legislation could pass in late September or early October. With Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the Senate, the bill’s passage is no guarantee, especially as some lawmakers have expressed unease with the bill’s overall price tag. Advocates will need to keep the pressure on in the coming weeks. This legislation is an important opportunity, as it would better position us to tackle many of our challenges and build an inclusive economy. We must seize this moment.

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