Battle Between the Reeds on Proposed GED Requirement
Date: February 2, 2012
—Where Do You Stand?
Wednesday, February 1, members of the House-Senate Conference Committee met to further discuss issues and work out their differences surrounding the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011, H.R. 3765. According to Roll Call, a newspaper which covers Capitol Hill, legislators “…still find themselves on shaky ground after their second meeting, with broad agreement on where to go but little agreement on how to get there.”
Legislators discussed the education requirement at great length, which was proposed by House Republicans as part of an earlier UI extension package. The conference committee is expected to continue negotiations going forward. Below is a recap of some points made in committee. Where do you stand on this issue?
HS diploma/GED requirement begins at 34:00 (Click the image of Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Co-Chair of the Conference Committee and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to watch the video on the C-SPAN site):
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) discussed how the education requirement “misses the point of the program.” He makes several arguments, including that it is not the purpose of the program, it would disproportionately impact older workers, the adult education system is underfunded, and the proposed provision is not focused on increasing education because if it were, it would provide the resources to do that. Here are some excerpts from this discussion:
Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY):
“If you could just please explain to me why you think that not obtaining a GED while in an unemployed status, would be an obstacle, or a hindrance, or a burden, on an individual that is not something that we should support together to try to give them the tools to re-arm to be re-employed.”
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI):
“We should encourage people to get as much education as possible but it is making it a condition to collect—a condition that has never existed before in the program—misses the point of the program, which is to provide support, financial support, for people who have worked for many years, who thought their employers were contributing to the system that they were qualified based on the fact that they lost their job through no fault of their own. And now we’ve imposed another condition which never existed before. And then some very practical points.
“This provision would disproportionately affect older workers. It’s been estimated that 35 percent of the UI beneficiaries without a high school education are over the age of 50. So you would have a significant number of people who have worked literally for 30 years, who might have more skills, even technical certificates and company training awards than anyone else, and then to ask them to get a GED before they can collect on their unemployment I think is a huge burden.
“The other issue…the reality is that in most communities, there’s a long long waiting list to get into GED programs. …It would be terribly ironic… In fact I think 50 states have reported that they have growing lists of people trying to qualify for a GED training or other types of training. So it’d be really ironic to force someone who has worked 30 years, who fully expects that this is the only benefit that’s going to keep them home, keep them in the house, keep the mortgage paid, to be disqualified because they don’t mind getting a GED but they can’t get into a program. And that’s one of the realities.
“Now, if we’re proposing to come up with resources—which they would be substantial in terms of supporting state training and GED programs so that we can guarantee that they could walk right out of the unemployment office—sign up for a GED, start working for a GED, that’s something else. But I don’t see that in the proposal. I just see this requirement, go get a GED, even though it could be completely impractical to get.”
[More discussion ensued on what’s causing the lack of employment and how long it takes to get a GED credential.]
Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY):
“What I’m hearing as a response to my question is that essentially it’s not a good policy because we never did it before, and there are practical barriers to people getting an education and a GED or HS education back in our communities that prevent that. But I don’t hear a fundamental disagreement in the philosophy that if people get a GED, that enhances their lives, and that enhances their ability to get a job on down the road. I don’t hear a disagreement with that. I hear an excuse as to why not to do it, rather than the fundamental philosophy of trying to re-arm people with an education so that when they go into the workforce, they have an additional tool to be re-employed.”
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI):
“I don’t think you’re going to find anyone in this room that is more pro-education over twenty years in both the House and the Senate of urging real resources for workers training, for all of these things. But to link the social insurance program designed—and for 70+ years functioning—to provide financial support when you lose your job to a requirement that you have to be in this training—I think, first off, won’t work for some of the practical considerations. But second, I don’t think it contradicts the notation that you’re suggesting and I agree with, that the more education you have today, the better off you’ll be in this economy. There’s nothing contradictory there. The question is, what is the [policy] vehicle we use to provide this training assistance?”
[Congressman Tom Reed is asked to wrap up]
Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY):
“In our bill, that came out of the House, we did have in there the exception for undue burdens provision in there, so the practical barriers you refer to [older workers issue] I think can be taken care of in that proposal that came out of the House, so we tried to take that in to consideration.”
However, as Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) later countered:
“You recognize this with the waiver process but the majority fall into this category, so it would make no sense to add this additional burden.”
Congresswoman Nan Hayworth (R-NY) later noted a CATO study (unnamed), citing that there is good evidence that enhancing the welfare requirements of welfare recipients could be credited with a decline in the number of people on welfare roles. However, her point is focused on reducing welfare roles, not on whether or to what extent there is evidence that welfare requirements increased education levels.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) continued:
“No one is going to argue against the efficacy of an education. In fact, if you want to look at the biggest payoff, the people doing the best—they aren’t GED recipients, they’re people with advanced degrees. I don’t know anyone around here who would suggest you have to have a master’s degree before you can qualify for unemployment compensation, but if you take the argument out, that’s where we’re going.”
For more, watch the C-SPAN video archives from February 1 and keep tabs on this page for more as negotiations continue this month. Check out the recent letters and resources from the National Coalition for Literacy, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education, and see how you can participate in the Campaign for a Fair UI.
In the meantime, what’s your take on this issue?
A) Are you fundamentally against this proposal because it is unjust to punish those most in need, who have been out of work, to then be denied UI because they do not meet the education requirement and cannot access an adult education program?
B) Do you think there should not be an education requirement in the UI extension; rather Congress should focus on increasing investments in adult education, provided for in the Workforce Investment Act Title II?
C) Do you agree that unemployment insurance is the best “policy vehicle” as the proposal currently stands, without all of the resources needed federally to clear waiting lists for adult education programs so that undereducated, unemployed adults can access and benefit from the program?
Where do you stand?