AFS Leads Push on Key Industry Priorities in Congress

Stephanie Salmon

As Congress enters into its traditionally busy summer period leading up to the fall, AFS has been at the forefront of advocating on key metalcasting priority issues, such as infrastructure, taxes, supply chain shortages, anti-counterfeiting and regulations.

Workforce Shortage 

AFS has been advocating for the inclusion of a bipartisan provision to expand the federal Pell grants to short-term, high quality programs that are as short as eight weeks. Federal Pell grants are essential financial aid awarded to students who display exceptional financial need. Currently, an individual is only eligible for a Pell grant for a program that consists of 600 hours of training. Many manufacturing and metalcasting credentials lead to good jobs while requiring significantly less than 600 hours of training. AFS also continues to work to make Pell grants nontaxable. Currently, portions of the awards not used for tuition and required course materials are taxable. Two free years of community college is formally proposed in the administration’s American Families Plan.

Another area that AFS is working on is increasing dedicated funding for Individual Training Accounts (ITAs) that are a part of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The ITA program is currently underfunded, but if it had robust funding it would provide prospective workers funding for short-term training programs. House and Senate Education Labor Committee staff are in the process of developing legislative text for the WIOA.

AFS Calls for Meaningful Infrastructure Package Without Harmful Tax Increases

Lawmakers are in the process of debating and advancing a wide variety of infrastructure legislation. AFS continues to urge Congress to pursue a bipartisan agreement to enact a significant infrastructure investment package that contains financing options outside of tax increases such as public-private partnerships, user fees and reallocated existing federal funds. AFS has continued to argue that higher taxes would harm American metalcasters and workers, putting our industry at a competitive disadvantage. 

Some of the proposed tax code changes being discussed include raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%; raising the income tax rate on individuals from 37% to 39.6%; expanding the estate tax’s reach through repealing step-up basis; increasing the top capital-gains tax rate to 43.4%; and reductions of the 20% deduction for qualified business income under Section 199A.

On June 16, a bipartisan group of 21 senators made up of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats announced support for an infrastructure framework for a $1.2 trillion plan that includes $579 billion in new spending. As these bipartisan efforts continue, Democrats are continuing to develop a much larger infrastructure package incorporating President Biden’s agenda that could be pursued through the budget reconciliation process. 

AFS Supports Robust Funding for Surface Transportation Reauthorization

In Washington, AFS has been telling the story to lawmakers and their staffs about metalcasting’s vital role in our nation’s infrastructure future. In meetings with staff and letters to the leaders of the House and Senate Committees on Transportation, AFS called for robust funding for roads, bridges, transit and rail, as well as alleviating the nationwide shortage of commercial drivers. AFS specifically urged lawmakers to include the DRIVE-Safe Act in the surface transportation reauthorization bill. The measure would provide younger drivers with the opportunity to enter the industry with enhanced safety training by offering a two-step apprenticeship program and require candidates to complete at least 400 hours of additional training.

AFS applauded passage of the bipartisan Surface Transportation Investment Act (S. 2016) by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on a vote of 25-3 on June 16, which authorizes $78 billion over five years for rail, freight, and safety programs, and includes the key portions of the DRIVE-Safe Act. The bill is one of many infrastructure proposals committees in both chambers are working to advance as Senate-White House negotiations continue. 

AFS Victory on New OSHA COVID-19 Safety and Health Standard

On June 10, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced the long-anticipated federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will only apply to employers who provide healthcare and healthcare support services. This represents a significant change from early reports that the new standard would apply to a broad range of industries, including metalcasting. The fact that the ETS only applies to healthcare settings is an important victory for the industry. However, it is important to note the ETS does apply to medical clinics housed within a foundry, but only to the embedded healthcare setting and not to the remainder of the physical plant. AFS engaged in discussions with OSHA staff and encouraged new workplace guidance that aligns with CDC’s mask and social distancing recommendations.

OSHA explained that, despite the success of vaccines in helping address the pandemic, data shows that healthcare workers treating patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 remain at the highest risk of infection. Metalcasters must still consider a variety of issues when updating their COVID-19 safety plans and procedures based on the new OSHA guidance and because a patchwork of requirements remain in place among many states.

Senate Passes AFS-Supported Bill to Boost Science & Technology to Compete With China 
The U.S. Senate recently approved a bipartisan China-focused legislative package known as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260), which would invest more than $200 billion into U.S. scientific and technological innovation over the next five years. A centerpiece of the bill is a $52 billion allotment to spur the domestic production of semiconductors. Seventy-five percent of the world’s chips today come from Asia, while the share of semiconductors manufactured in the United States has fallen from 37% in 1990 to 12% today. 

AFS engaged on several provisions contained in the final bill, securing a range of important wins including:

  • Build America, Buy America Act – to apply Buy America rules to all taxpayer-funded infrastructure and public works projects. Currently, Buy America rules have not been fully implemented with respect to all federal programs that provide grants for the construction of infrastructure.
  • Language requiring U.S. Customs and Border Protection to increase inspections of imports from countries that are top sources of counterfeit goods.
  • Language that would require the U.S. Trade Representative to publish clear criteria for determining so-called “notorious markets” that foster counterfeit (and pirated) goods, as well as specific action plans to improve intellectual property protection (including anti-counterfeiting efforts) for countries named in its annual Special 301 report on intellectual property protection.

Attention now turns to the House of Representatives, which is expected to run its own process on a China-focused legislative package. AFS remains actively engaged with key Congressional staff.

AFS Applauds Legislation to Help Manufacturers Upgrade Facilities

The bipartisan Manufacturing Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Act recently introduced by Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) would help eligible small and medium-sized manufacturers, including foundries, upgrade their facilities to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Spring 2021 Regulatory Agenda Released With Dozens of Potential New Rules

On the regulatory side, the Biden administration recently released its Spring Regulatory Agenda, which outlines planned regulatory actions for the coming years. These items range from smaller and less costly technical rules to multibillion-dollar rules that will impact metalcasters. For example, OSHA lists proposed rules or revisions to Lock-out/Tagout, forklifts, Blood Lead Level for Medical Removal, Medical Removal Protection for Crystalline Silica, and more. AFS, in conjunction, with the EHS committees, will be submitting comments and participating in public hearings on a wide range of rules being developed by OSHA and EPA.       

Click here to view the article in the digital edition of July Modern Casting.