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DOL defends budget request as "make or break" for middle class

CongressWhile some items ended up on the financial chopping block, the budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 presented to Congress yesterday by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) includes millions to enhance worker health and safety.

The budget request includes $16.9 million to continue efforts to help reduce an unacceptably large case backlog at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. The DOL is requesting an additional $5 million to bolster the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's enforcement of the numerous laws that protect workers and others from retaliation for reporting unsafe and unscrupulous practices.

Among the programs that would be funded by the $12 billion in requested discretionary funding: job training and job retention programs for  unemployed adults, dislocated workers, vulnerable communities and disadvantaged youth and employment and education efforts for veterans trying to transition into civilian careers.

"We are at a make or break moment for the middle class, and the Labor Department's fiscal year 2013 budget request reflects our commitment to supporting an American economy that's built to last," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Our budget request focuses on programs that will help keep America's workforce strong and innovative, while providing needed worker protections. It also makes responsible and reasonable cuts that are rooted in current economic realities and a continued focus on increased efficiency and effectiveness."

The budget would provide $125 million for a Workforce Innovation Fund with $100 million from the Department of Labor and a $25 million contribution from the U.S. Department of Education. The Departments of Labor and Education jointly will oversee this fund, which will utilize competitive grants to support innovative, systemic and evidence-based reforms in the workforce system. The DOL will also partner with the Department of Education on a new $8 billion Community College to Career Fund.

Programs that did not make the cut include the Women in Apprenticeship in Non-Traditional Occupations program and the Veterans Workforce Investment Program. The budget request also proposes the consolidation of several regional offices.

The budget proposes to strengthen the defined benefit pension system for the millions of Americans who rely on it by giving the board of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. authority to adjust premiums and directing the PBGC to take into account the risks that different sponsors pose to their retirees and to the PBGC itself. The DOL said the action will encourage companies to fully fund their pension benefits and ensure the continued financial soundness of the PBGC. It is estimated that this proposal will save $16 billion over the next decade.

The DOL also intends to provide the Wage and Hour Division with $10 million to combat worker misclassification and other violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. "When workers are misclassified as independent contractors, they are deprived of benefits and protections to which they are legally entitled, and law-abiding businesses are placed at a disadvantage against employers who violate the law," according to the department.

Additionally, the FY 2013 budget would invest a minimum of $9 million in program evaluations to be overseen by the chief evaluation officer and requests continued authority to set aside funds from major program accounts for an increased number of evaluations.

Details on the FY 2013 budget request for the Department of Labor are available at: www.dol.gov/budget/.

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