April 18 Federal Update: Ketanji Brown Jackson Confirmed as Supreme Court Justice
On April 7, the Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, paving her way to become the first Black woman on the highest court in the nation, once Justice Stephen Breyer steps down at the end of the current term. In her speech from the South Lawn of the White House the next day, she proclaimed: “It has taken 132 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But, we’ve made it. We’ve made it, all of us.” All 50 Democrats and three Republican senators supported Jackson’s historic confirmation.
In other news, on Thursday the Biden administration released the results mandated in his executive order from last year, which called for the elucidation of a whole of government approach to addressing equity and racial justice. More than 90 federal agencies released Equity Action Plans, which detail over 300 steps these agencies will take to overcome systemic barriers in federal policies and programs. For instance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has committed to eliminating the racial gap in homeownership, and the Department of Health and Human Services will increase engagement with communities of color to facilitate enrollment in free and low-cost health care. Within the federal government, data collection efforts will be improved to include key demographic data and encourage cross-agency information sharing. The administration says that this project is a major step forward in “a generational commitment” to advancing equity and achieving justice for underserved communities.
House Education and Labor Committee Introduces Workforce Development Bill
Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Higher Education Workforce Investment Subcommittee Chairwoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL) introduced legislation that would reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. This important training and career services program, which expired in 2020, supports state workforce development systems. The proposed legislation would pump $78 billion into the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) over six years, thereby training one million workers per year by 2028. It would also create a permanent program at the Department of Labor committed to assisting formerly incarcerated individuals find gainful employment and career pathways. Expanded summer and year-round jobs programs for youth and increased support for partnerships between employers and community colleges are also included in the reauthorization package. According to the committee’s press release, federal workforce development funding has decreased 45% since 2002, adjusting for inflation.
Extension of Child Nutrition Waivers in the Works
Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act, which would extend school meal flexibilities from June 30, 2022, to September 30, 2023. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Department of Agriculture began issuing child nutrition waivers that allowed schools to serve meals during closures and gave them flexibility to respond to operational and personnel challenges. The proposed bill would provide schools with space and time to return to normal operations while keeping children well-fed and healthy. Without the extension, schools will not have flexibility given the constraints from COVID-19 and supply chain issues, putting countless meals in jeopardy. 50 colleagues joined Sens. Stabenow and Murkowski in introducing the bill.
New Bipartisan Bill Embraces Two-Generation Approach
Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act, which would address the health and well-being of parents and children by encouraging a holistic framework that links existing funding streams and systems. The bill would codify the Council on Economic Mobility at the Department of Health and Human Services, which would tackle multigenerational poverty by coordinating efforts across a wide array of federal agencies and departments. The bill would also foster innovative two-generation programs by granting transfer and waiver authority to participating agencies, which would break down silos and facilitate blending and braiding of federal programs. Finally, a pilot program would be established, allowing state, local and tribal governments to stand up their own two-generation programs.