Thursday, September 16, 2004

Senate Committee Bill Fully Funds OSHA; Extends Training Grants

After the not-so-good news on House appropriations bill, AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director Peg Seminario sends better news about yesterday's vote of the Full Senate Appropriations Committee which marked up and reported out the FY 2005 Labor HHS Appropriations Bill that provides funding for OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH and all the other labor, health and education-related programs. According to Seminario,

It's a very strong bill for Safety and Health Programs - thanks to Senator Specter (R-PA) and Senator Harkin (d-IA), and all the hard work of affiliates and other safety and health advocates.

It increases overall funding for OSHA to $468.6 million, $7 million more than the Bush budget request and $11.1 million more than FY 2004. For OSHA, the Senate bill proposes to maintain current funding levels for the Susan Harwood training grants at $10.5 million as opposed to the $4 million proposed by the Bush administration. The bill also includes bill language mandating that the Institutional Competency Training Grants be extended for another year. If this language is maintained in conference this means that there will be a 6th year of funding for these grants.

This is all good news. Not only is there enough money for OSHA to keep up with the cost of living, but the Susan Harwood grants are fully funded, and the 5-Year Institional Competency Training Grants, launched during the last year of the Clinton Administration, will be extended for a sixth year.

The Institutional Competency grants are largely focused on training programs for immigrant workers and fund some of the most innovative workplace safety programs as part of the COSH Coalition. The Bush administration has been trying to cut the training grant program down to $4 million since 2001, and to eliminate the 5-year Institutional Competency grants.

And unlike the House appropriations bill, the Senate bill contains no language prohibiting OSHA from enforcing annual respirator fit testing for health care workers exposed to tuberculosis.

Other good news

For MSHA, the bill proposes $280 million in funding, $4.6 million more than the Bush budget request and $11 million more than FY 2004.Increases are proposed for Coal and Metal and non-Metal enforcement and other MSHA programs.

For NIOSH, the Committee proposed a major increase in NIOSH funding from $$276.9 to $296.6 million. Moreover, the committee maintained NIOSH as a separate budget line and included very strong and clear language that the identity and stature of NIOSH should be maintained in the CDC reorganization, The committee report directs CDC to make no changes to NIOSH's operating procedure or organizational structure and to ensure that no funds or personnel will be transferred from NIOSH to other components of CDC other than by traditional reprogramming of funds. In another section of the reported bill, the committee limits CDC's overall reprogramming authority.

This is certainly good news, but, of course, there are still several hurdles to jump. The House appropriations bill followed the President's FY 2005 request. It is not expected that the full Senate will vote on Labor-HHS before the Congress adjourns for the election, but may take up the bill in a "lame duck" session right after the election. Because the 2004 fiscal year ends at the end of this month, there will be a "continuing resolution" to fund the government until a final appropriations bill is passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.