This episode examines three bills that passed Congress in July and have since become law. The first new law will give veterans quicker access to health care. The second new law is designed to provide job training to poor people, but a hidden provision will likely take us one step closer to 1984. The third new law is another glaring example of this Congress failing to do its job. Also, Jen tells you her plans for Congressional Dish’s future.
July Bills that Became Law
H.R. 3230 Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014
- Allows veterans to get medical care outside the Veteran's Administration system; they can go to any health facility that serves Medicare patients, health centers, the Defense Department, and the Indian Health Service.
- How it works: Veteran notifies VA, VA puts Veteran on an electronic waiting list or authorizes their request, VA works out a payment agreement with the health care provider, VA reimburses health care provider but no more than they would for Medicare services.
- If the veteran gets treated for a problem that was not related to their military service, their health insurance plan will be responsible for payment and the health care provider will be responsible for going after the insurance company for the money.
- Veterans can not be charged higher co-payments for care at private facilities than they would have been charged at the Veteran's Administration.
- This program will end in three years.
- Orders a private-sector review, establishes a fifteen person commission, and creates a technology task force to review VA practices.
- Wait times for care can not be considered when determining performance bonuses for top officials at the Veteran's administration and performance goals that disincentivize using private health providers for veteran care will be eliminated.
- Wait times for health care at the VA, VA facility quality measures, and VA doctor credentials will be published online.
- The VA will add 1,500 graduate medical education residency positions for five years to address staffing shortages.
- Extends the program that reimburses medical students for education costs and increases the amounts they'll receive for working for the VA.
- Expands coverage for mental health care related to sexual assaults, which will include veterans on inactive duty. This will be effective August 7, 2015.
- Extends a pilot program for assisted living care for veterans with traumatic brain injuries until October 2017.
- Disqualifies public colleges that charge veterans more than State residents from being qualified schools for veteran education benefits.
- Makes it easier to fire or transfer senior executives at the Department of Veteran's Affairs.
- Appropriates $15 billion to implement these changes.
The bill passed the Senate on July 31st by a vote of 91-3.
The bill passed the House of Representatives on July 30 by a vote of 420-5.
- Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina's statement
H.R. 803 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
This bill was originally passed on March 15, 2013 as the SKILLS Act and was discussed in episode CD018: The Ryan Budget.
The bill that became law was drastically different.
Job Training Programs
- Keeps the make up of the boards largely the same: Most members will be representatives of the business community, twenty percent of the members must be State officials, and labor will be represented. The Chairmen will be from the business community. The State boards will advise local boards that will determine how funds are best spent in their local communities.
- States will be allowed to keep their current government-controlled boards, if they had established them before this bill became law.
- The goal is to come up with 4 year State and local plans to best provide workforce training to give the unemployed the skills most desired by the businesses that operate in the state.
- The State plans must be approved by the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Education. The plans are deemed approved after 90 days if the agencies have not formally disapproved in writing.
- Government officials will be in charge of – and held liable for- disbursing government money for the job training programs.
- Local boards will have no control over curricula taught in job training courses.
- Success will be measured by the percentage of people who are employed and how much they're earning six months and a year after leaving the job training programs.
- If a state fails to meet performance requirements, the state will lose money. If a local board fails to meet performance requirements, their board may be replaced or job trainers may be disqualified.
- Job training funds are allowed to be spent on services provided by for-profit entities.
- Twenty percent of the funds will go towards training eligible young people who include kids between the ages of 16 and 24 who have dropped out of school, are in the juvenile detention system, are homeless, are pregnant or single parents, can't speak English, or are disabled. Services for young adults will include tutoring, paid and unpaid internships, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, and financial literacy classes.
- The rest of the funds will be for adults ages 22 through 71 who make less than the poverty level or roughly $29,000 per year.
- The job trainer providers need to be "one-stop operators", meaning they will need to provide all the services in the program at one location. Services include eligibility verification, skill testing, job search assistance, statistic compilation, assistance with unemployment filing and student loan applications, career planning, and English language lessons.
- Training services will only be available to people who don't qualify for Pell Grants. Training services include skills training, on-the-job training, "training programs operated by the private sector", and ESL classes.
- Companies that provide on-the-job training can have 75% of the worker/trainee's wages paid for by the government.
- Twenty percent of the money can go towards "incumbent worker training programs", which pay companies to train their own workers to avert layoffs. Employers will pay between ten and fifty percent of the training costs, with larger companies paying more.
- The program will be funded at $2.8 billion in 2015, increasing to $3.3 billion by 2020.
- The law establishes a Department of Labor "Job Corps Program" to provide low income kids between ages 16 and 24 an "intensive social, academic, career and technical education" to prepare them for jobs in "in-demand industry sectors or the Armed forces".
- Eighty percent of the the participants must be "residential".
- Jobs corps centers can be private. They can pocket at least one percent of their funds as "management fees". There is no cap.
- The jobs corps centers will provide participants with English classes, work training, physical education, driver's education, financial literacy classes, counseling, and recreation.
- Enrollees in the job corps will not be considered Federal employees and will not be protected by laws governing hours of work, compensation, vacation time, or Federal benefits but will be considered Federal employees for taxation purposes. Work place injury compensation will be capped at $1,500 for jobs corps enrollees.
- Makes the Education Department eligible to receive excess defense articles to carry out any program, not just the jobs corps.
- The Jobs Corps Program will receive over $1.6 billion in 2015 which will gradually increase to over $1.9 billion by 2020. Administrative costs are capped at 5% of the grant awarded or $85,000, whichever is higher.
Adult Education Program
- Available for people over the age of 16 who do not have a high school diploma or who need help learning English. The providers do not include private for-profit entities.
- Part of the funds will be used to benefit people in correctional facilities who have a good chance of being released in the next five years.
- The program will be given over half a billion per year until 2020.
H.R. 5021 Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014
Written by Rep. Dave Camp (MI-4)
- Extends current levels for transportation funding until May 31, 2015.
- The effects of this extension on the budget won't be counted.
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