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resident Donald Trump called attention to the economy, paid family leave, health care, job training and second-chance hiring in his annual State of the Union (SOTU) address on Feb. 4.
It was the last SOTU address of the current presidential term, and though the 2020 election draws near and the Democratic primaries are under way, Trump did not mention the election in his speech. The president focused on the “incredible results” he said his administration has achieved, such as securing the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and low unemployment figures. “Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, and our country is thriving and highly respected again,” he said.
In the Democratic response, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the “economy needs to be a different kind of strong” than just for the wealthy, and “if the economy doesn’t work for working people, it just doesn’t work.” She highlighted Democrat priorities, such as helping the “sandwich generation” who are the primary caregivers for their children and aging parents.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) will continue to be a resource for policymakers in 2020. “When it comes to workplace issues, this night is about policy, not politics,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM’s president and chief executive officer, on Twitter. “It will take all of us to create better workplaces for a better world.”
We’ve rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on this topic. Here are some of the key workplace issues Trump mentioned in his SOTU address.
Paid Family Leave
“I was recently proud to sign the law providing new parents in the federal workforce paid family leave, serving as a model for the rest of the country,” Trump said. He called on Congress to also pass the Advancing Support for Working Families Act, which would allow families to take up to a $5,000 advance of the child tax credit in the first year following birth or adoption to offset leave, childcare and other expenses. Democrats support the more expansive Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would create a national family and medical leave insurance fund that could be used to care for their own health condition or that of a relative, or to bond with a child following birth or adoption. Republicans are concerned that the FAMILY Act would be funded through a large tax hike.
Health Care Legislation
Trump stressed the importance of an “affordable, innovative and high-quality health care system” and pledged to protect patients with pre-existing conditions. He also addressed potential health care legislation aimed at curbing “surprise” billing at hospitals and lowering the price of prescription drugs. Health care reform will continue to be a hot topic for the 2020 election year, and Democratic presidential candidates have supported several proposals, including “Medicare for all,” which would establish a government-run national health plan.
Additionally, questions still remain about the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) individual mandate. President Trump has supported efforts to halt the ACA, and the monetary penalty for people who do not have insurance has been set at zero. The Supreme Court will ultimately weigh in on whether the individual mandate is constitutional, though the justices declined to fast-track the issue.
Education and Job Training
Trump mentioned his administration’s Pledge to America’s Workers, through which he said more than 400 companies will provide new jobs and education opportunities to nearly 15 million workers. The training would include areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cybersecurity. SHRM was one of the first signers of the pledge.
SHRM’s Taylor serves on the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, created by the U.S. Department of Commerce, to provide insight on how the government, educators and employers can train workers and reduce the skills gap.
“To expand equal opportunity, I am also proud that we achieved record and permanent funding for our nation’s historically black colleges and universities,” Trump said, and also called on Congress to support a plan to offer vocational and technical education in every high school.
Trump noted that lawmakers passed “landmark criminal justice reform.” Trump signed the bi-partisan First Step Act into law on Dec. 21, 2018, which provides job training, treatment and rehabilitation for the formerly incarcerated. The new law aims to reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders in federal prisons and improve programs to curb recidivism. SHRM supported the First Step Act. The employment of people with criminal records is an issue workplaces should be talking about, according to Taylor. “I encourage HR professionals to lead conversations about inclusive hiring at their organizations so other executives can make informed, sensible and beneficial hiring decisions,” he said.
Trump touched on workplace immigration as well. “To build on these historic gains, we are working on legislation to replace our outdated and randomized immigration system with one based on merit, welcoming those who follow the rules, contribute to our economy, support themselves financially, and uphold our values,” he said. While the administration is working on a merit-based immigration proposal, “immigration leaders in the House are expected to continue to look for opportunities to address workplace immigration, especially concerning a bill to eliminate employment per-country green card limits, a bill the House passed last July and is being discussed in the Senate,” SHRM said. “SHRM continues to be resource to policy makers on both sides of the aisle as we work to create a modern workplace immigration system.”
Trump touted the “roaring” U.S. economy and how his administration has been “slashing a record number of job-killing regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts, and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements.” U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) officials have also said that deregulation is a priority for the administration, and the department has been working on a number of regulatory updates. The DOL is looking for ways to lower compliance costs for employers, according to Solicitor of Labor Kate O’Scannlain, but she said there are regulations that the department is not willing to change, such as safety standards.