NJFAC Scores with Congress by Philip Harvey
NJFAC’s Legislative Committee, chaired by Chuck Bell, has a dual strategy to promote “big” initiatives that may not be politically realistic in the short run (e.g., the Dellums Living Wage and Jobs for All Bill) and to pursue modest initiatives that have some chance of adoption in the present political environment.
An example of the “modest initiative” is the Coalition’s successful effort to secure Congressional funding for job vacancy surveys that determine the number of applicants for each available job. Vacancy surveys in selected areas of the country have consistently shown that there are many more applicants than available jobs, even where official unemployment rates are quite low. Presently the U.S. government does not collect data on job vacancies, and unemployment data do not tell this story. (For more on vacancy surveys, see Uncommon Sense 15: “How Many Jobs Are There? The Need for a National Jobs Vacancy Survey.”)
The Legislative Committee began this project in early 1995 under the leadership of then Committee Chair Jenifer Urff (World Hunger Year). The Committee drafted a sample bill to establish a national job vacancy survey and undertook a small lobbying effort to promote the idea with key Congressional staffers and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These efforts laid the groundwork for a revival of the initiative after enactment of welfare “reform” in 1996. NJFAC took the position that job vacancy surveys should be conducted before welfare recipients are ejected from the rolls, and if jobs are not available, benefits should either by retained or jobs should be created by the government.
The turning point came early last spring. Jim Werner (NJFAC Washington representative) organized a Washington briefing for Progressive Caucus staff members where NJFAC Vice Chair Sumner Rosen made a presentation that included a description of the Coalition’s job vacancy proposal. Bill Grady, a staff member of Congressman George Brown (D-CA), was attracted to the idea; with the support of Congressman Brown, Grady was the driving force in a campaign to enact the proposal.
The Coalition was intimately involved in this effort, spearheading a lobbying campaign on behalf of the initiative that involved many Coalition members. Our goal of establishing a national job vacancy survey was pared back, but we succeeded in gaining a commitment of about $600,000 to fund sample job vacancy surveys in different communities around the country. Interestingly, the commitment finally came, not in the form of legislation, but in a “recommendation” to the Department of Labor in the Committee Report that accompanied the Department’s appropriations bill.
The money will be made available through Research and Demonstration Block Grants by the Department of Labor. As the program unfolds, NJFAC intends to be a watchdog, making certain that surveys are done in areas where there are many welfare recipients, and publicizing these results. The Urban Program of the National Ministries United is joining us in this effort to protect our win. Rev. Janet Parker, who served as NJFAC coordinator last summer, will be the liaison between NJFAC and the National Ministries United. She will work with Rev. Charles Rawlings, NJFAC Advisory Board member.
The Jobs Survey “win” shows that the Coalition could achieve a modest legislative success, even in these times.