Today, the committee will take an important step in preventing the abuse and neglect of infants born with opioid addiction. As we all know, an opioid epidemic has swept across the country. This epidemic is destroying communities; it is destroying families; it is destroying lives; and perhaps most tragically, it is destroying the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act has long provided grants to states to help prevent child abuse and neglect, as well as identify, assess, and treat the victims. In order to receive federal funding, states have to provide some basic assurances about their child welfare policies. For example, states have to assure there are policies in place to notify child protective services when a newborn is identified with the symptoms of illegal substance abuse, as well as policies for the development of a safe care plan for the newborn. Sadly, an unwillingness to follow and enforce the law is leading to tragic consequences.
In 2015, Reuters spent a year investigating cases of infants born to parents struggling with opioid addiction. As is often the case with addiction, the parents’ struggle had repercussions for those around them, including their newborns. According to Reuters, more than 130,000 babies born in the United States in the last decade entered the world addicted to drugs. That is a startling statistic on its own, but even more startling are the stories of those infants who, after suffering through the pain of withdrawal, later suffered deaths that should have been prevented.
Of the fatalities the report examined, more than 40 children died of suffocation. Thirteen others died after swallowing toxic doses of opioids. Some of the stories are simply too painful and disturbing to mention, and again, the saddest part of this all is that these tragedies should have been prevented.
Needless to say, this report raised a number of red flags. It prompted us to write to the Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to better understand the process for reviewing and approving state applications for federal funds. It’s fair to say that the response we received was disappointing, suggesting that changes to the law somehow absolve the department from its enforcement responsibilities. Regardless of any changes to the law in recent years, it was never Congress’s intent to cut a blank check to states who fail to follow the law.
These parents and their children deserve better. Fortunately, efforts are underway to provide real help and hope to these families. Programs like Lily’s Place, an infant recovery center in West Virginia, are not only helping to wean children off of the drugs they are born addicted to, but also teaching mothers how to care for infants suffering through withdrawal. This is just one of a handful of similar programs across the country and an excellent example of the work being done to address the country’s growing opioid epidemic.
While these community efforts are vitally important, there are also steps we in Congress can take to help ensure these vulnerable women and children no longer slip through the cracks. The Improving Safe Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act is part of that effort.
This commonsense measure will require the Department of Health and Human Services to better ensure states are meeting current child welfare requirements. It makes clear the department’s responsibilities in confirming states have policies in place to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect, particularly infants exposed to illegal substances before birth. The bill also includes provisions that will improve accountability and help states develop plans to keep infants and their families healthy and safe. In short, it strengthens the current system and helps address a real, immediate need.
I want to thank Representatives Barletta and Clark for their leadership on this issue and for working together to deliver the bipartisan proposal under consideration today. I’m confident their work will be an important part of the House’s larger effort to combat the country’s growing opioid epidemic. Too many American families are struggling with the consequences of this national crisis, and it’s time we, as policymakers and as a nation, said, “Enough.”
Substance abuse is a problem that afflicts millions of Americans, and it is something that I consistently hear about when I am back home in Pennsylvania. While its damaging effects are felt across our society, the most tragic cases are those involving newborns. Children who are exposed to illegal substances before they’re born are helpless in avoiding the pain and suffering caused by addiction, and so many infants enter this world without even a fighting chance.In fact, every 25 minutes in this country, a baby is born having already been exposed to drugs and suffering from opioid withdrawal. These children will pay the price for something they had absolutely no control over—something they were defenseless against. That’s why it’s so important we do everything we can to prevent these heartbreaking situations and ensure all children have the protection and care they need. This priority is one that reaches across party lines, and it’s the reason we are here today.
Federal policies have long supported state efforts to identify, assess, and treat children who are victims of abuse and neglect. One of those policies is the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA. Enacted in 1974, CAPTA provides states with resources to improve their child protective services systems—provided they assure the Department of Health and Human Services that they have put in place certain child welfare policies. Those policies include requiring health care providers to notify state child protective services agencies when a child is born with prenatal illegal substance exposure, as well as requiring the development of a “safe care plan” to protect these newborns and keep them and their caregivers healthy.
That’s unacceptable, and it’s why Representative Clark and I—along with a number of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle—introduced the bill before us today, the Improving Safe Care for the Prevention of Infant Abuse and Neglect Act. This proposal demands that HHS do better when it comes to enforcing policies meant to protect children from abuse and neglect. It requires the department to review and confirm states have put in place policies required by CAPTA; it strengthens protections for infants born with illegal substance exposure; and it improves accountability related to the care of those infants and their families. It also includes provisions to provide states with best practices for developing plans to keep infants and their caregivers healthy and safe and to encourage the use of information made available through other child welfare laws in verifying CAPTA compliance. Finally, the bill will prevent HHS from adding new requirements to state assurances and plans.
The substitute amendment I am offering today is the product of discussions with lawmakers and stakeholders to provide additional clarification and make technical changes to the underlying bill. These changes would clarify that the HHS secretary should provide states information on safe care plan requirements, that substance use disorder treatment needs should be considered as part of those plans, and that states should monitor their use. The amendment would also make it clear that the secretary cannot create new requirements for states under CAPTA and change the title of the bill to the Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act. I urge my colleagues to support the substitute, as well as the underlying legislation.
I’d like to start by saying that we are now in the seventh year of the economic recovery—the slowest recovery in our nation’s history. Although we’ve made progress over the years, we have a long way to go for the economy to reach its full potential. Millions of Americans are still stuck in part-time jobs when what they really need is full-time work. Too many working families are struggling with stagnant wages, and the workforce participation rate is at its lowest point since the 1970s.
These are very real challenges facing middle-class families, and advancing responsible solutions to address them should be the top priority of this administration. Unfortunately, this administration has spent more time advancing the interests of Big Labor at the expense of American workers and employers, and the Department of Labor’s “persuader” rule is the latest example. This new regulatory scheme may boost union dues, but it will do absolutely nothing to boost our economy or expand opportunities for the middle-class.
Under the guise of promoting fair and democratic union elections, the persuader rule upends over half a century of labor policy by changing the interpretation of the well-established “advice exemption” of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. When it enacted the law in 1959, Congress wanted to ensure employers were able to receive basic legal advice on union-related matters in order to protect the ability of workers to hear from both sides of the debate. Now, over fifty years later, the administration is attempting to rewrite the law through executive fiat.
There are far-reaching consequences for this dramatic change in long-standing labor policy. First, this extreme and partisan rule will chill employer free speech. Union elections are complex matters, with a host of legal issues to navigate and understand. Many employers, acting in good faith, seek outside advice to ensure they’re in compliance with the law when communicating with their employees about union elections. But under the “persuader” rule, they’ll face onerous, costly, and invasive new requirements that will force them to report virtually all contact with advisors and undermine their ability to communicate with workers during union organizing campaigns. Adding insult to injury, union bosses remain exempt from the same requirements.
As the American Bar Association has expressed, this is an attack on the fundamental right of employers to seek legal counsel. We are fortunate to have Bill Robinson, former president of the American Bar Association, with us today to discuss this concern in more detail. It’s a concern shared by State Attorneys General across the country.
As is often the case with this administration’s flawed policies, small businesses will bear the brunt of the burden. Large businesses have teams of in-house attorneys to make sense of a confusing and complex set of labor rules. But small businesses don’t. With far fewer resources, small businesses will struggle to navigate the maze of federal labor rules and requirements. Some will become tied up in bureaucratic red tape and mistakenly run afoul of the law while trying to do what’s best for their employees.
But let me be clear. America’s workers will be hurt the most. Union elections aren’t just complex legal matters, they’re personal matters. The decision to join or not join a union is an important one that has a direct impact on the livelihood of millions of families—their paychecks, their benefits, and their work schedules. It’s critical that workers are able to hear from both sides and receive all the information they need to make a fully informed decision. But this rule will stifle debate and restrict worker free choice—with the sole purpose of stacking the deck in favor of organized labor.
As I alluded to earlier, the real shame in all of this is that the administration’s priorities are completely out of step with the needs of the American people. It’s time for the administration to focus on creating jobs and growing the economy instead of playing politics with the policies that shape our nation’s workforce. And with that, I yield to Ranking Member Polis for his opening remarks.
We also agree that federal policies play a role in meeting that shared goal. This hearing is timely, because next week marks 45 years that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has helped keep America’s workers safe. As part of this committee’s oversight efforts, we were pleased to have Assistant Secretary Michaels join us last October to discuss what more can be done to promote safe and healthy working conditions.
The question before the committee then and today is whether the workplace rules and regulations coming out of Washington serve the best interests of employees and their employers. Are they practical, responsible, and fair? Are they created with transparency and enforced effectively?
These are important questions, because the strongest health and safety rules will do little to protect America’s workers if the rules are not followed and enforced—or if they’re too confusing and complex to even implement in the first place. I hope we can have a thoughtful discussion today that addresses these points, particularly as they relate to OSHA’s new silica standard.
In March, OSHA issued a final rule that significantly reduces the permissible exposure limit to crystalline silica. Silica is the second most common element found in the Earth’s crust, and a key component of manufactured products and construction materials. But exposure to high concentrations of silica dust can lead to a dangerous, debilitating—and even life-threatening—disease. We have witnessed important progress in recent years, but we know there’s more that can be done to keep workers out of harm’s way.
That is why this committee has pressed OSHA to use the tools at its disposal to enforce existing standards. Unfortunately, the agency has failed to do so.
OSHA itself admits that 30 percent of tested jobsites have not complied with the existing exposure limit for silica. This is an alarmingly high figure. But instead of enforcing the rules already on the books, the department spent significant time and resources crafting an entirely new regulatory regime.
The department’s first priority should have been enforcing existing standards. If OSHA is unable—or unwilling—to enforce the current limit for silica exposure, why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different?
Related to enforcement, some have raised concerns about whether the new standards can be responsibly enforced. It has been suggested that silica cannot be accurately measured at the reduced limit prescribed in the new rule, because many labs don’t have the technology necessary to provide reliable results. Will employers—acting in good faith and trying to do the right thing—be held accountable for an enforcement regime that isn’t feasible or practical?
These are important questions about enforcement, but there are also serious questions concerning implementation. Can these new rules be effectively implemented on the ground and under the timeframe prescribed by OSHA? Employers may lack the time and resources necessary to adjust their workplaces to the requirements of the new rule. Others may find new controls simply unworkable.
This is especially true for small businesses. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, this rule will cost workplaces more than $7 billion each year. These costs will be borne by consumers and taxpayers in the form of higher prices for homes, bridges, and roads. And these costs will be borne by workers in the form of fewer jobs. These are significant consequences for a rule that may do little to enhance worker health and safety.
We are fortunate to have a second-generation home builder and owner of a small family business with us who can speak more to this today. They will also speak to the fear of unintended safety consequences stemming from these new rules. In trying to address significant health and safety concerns, we must ensure federal policies do not in any way create new hazards in America’s workplaces.
Hundreds of thousands of workplaces nationwide will be impacted by these new rules. We owe it to our nation’s job creators to provide the clarity and certainty they need to expand, hire, and succeed. And, just as importantly, we owe it to workers and their families to promote smart, responsible regulatory policies that are implemented and enforced in a way that serves their best interests. The workers with us today—and those working on countless jobsites across the country—deserve more than our good intentions, they deserve good policies that lead to good results.
I know that we can work together to protect the health and well-being of the hardworking men and women of this country. I look forward to today’s discussion, and will now yield to Ranking Member Wilson for her opening remarks.
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The U.S. Department of Labor is preparing to release a rule, likely in the next 90 days, that would more than double the salary threshold at which workers are exempt from overtime requirements. In addition, the salary level would increase or decrease automatically over time. This would qualify an estimated additional 20 million workers nationwide for overtime pay. On the surface it’s hard to see why this proposed rule could be a bad thing.
As longtime advocates for human rights here in Minnesota, we applaud the intention of this rule. We also have serious concerns about its potential impact on already underfunded nonprofit and publicly funded agencies and organizations. Contrary to popular misconception, many nonprofits will not be exempt from this rule, and instead will be held to the same standard as large for-profit corporations. Unlike most businesses, we cannot adjust our pricing in order to cover these new expenses.
While we support raising wages for workers, it is important that the government recognizes the devastating impact that implementing this rule will have on nonprofits like Living Well Disability Services and all Minnesota providers of community-based services for people with disabilities. Living Well Disability Services provides essential services in people’s own home, their family’s home, or in group homes to allow people to live as independently as possible. These services by definition are to be less costly than institutional alternatives and are funded almost entirely by state and federal Medicaid dollars.
This public funding is essential and it creates unique constraints. Unlike many businesses, complying with this rule will not be as simple as adjusting the price of goods sold to cover increased staffing costs. The state establishes the rate that is paid for each unit of Home and Community Based Services and, with the county, determines how many hours of care will be provided. In Minnesota these service reimbursement rates have failed to keep up with inflation and there is no plan to increase funding commensurate with the costs created by this new rule.
If the salary threshold of this rule is implemented as proposed, Living Well Disability Services’ salary expense would increase by approximately 10 percent. This investment in wages would not address our priority to maximize the compensation of our lowest wage workers who provide exceptional direct services. These employees currently struggle to meet their basic needs on the wage supported by the reimbursement rate. In order to comply with the new rule and with no additional reimbursements, providers will be forced to make significant changes that would negatively impact our ability to effectively manage our workforce and provide quality services to the people we serve.
We urge Congress and the Department of Labor to balance the equally important priorities of ensuring adequate compensation for all workers with adequate funding necessary to comply with any revision to the overtime rule. If they do not, the rule will have significant unintended consequences and it will be the most vulnerable populations who may pay the price.Read More
We are here today to examine how innovations in employer-provided coverage are improving health care for workers and their families and how federal policies can support—rather than discourage—free-market solutions. I hope our conversation will bring us one step closer to achieving the responsible reforms the American people desperately need.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) issued the following statement after the Department of Labor released unemployment data for March 2016:
It’s encouraging that hiring is improving and more Americans are back to work, but we still have a long way to go. Millions of workers are still looking for full-time jobs, and millions more are so discouraged by meager job prospects that they’ve given up on their search for work entirely. Too many working families are being left behind in this anemic economy. Instead of changing course, we are being bombarded with new regulatory schemes that will make it harder for small businesses to thrive and for families to achieve the economic security they deserve. For those individuals and their families, we have to do better. That’s why we will continue to fight against failed policies that are holding our workforce back, and instead, pursue a pro-growth agenda that will lead to the success and opportunity Americans need.
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