TIME Education

Obama to Sign Bill Improving Worker Training

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden greets President Barack Obama as he arrives to speak at Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Oakdale, Pa., about the importance of jobs-driven skills training. Carolyn Kaster—AP

On Tuesday, President Obama and Vice President Biden will announce new executive actions on job training at the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed by Congress on July 9 will streamline the federal workforce training system, trimming 15 programs that don’t work, giving schools the opportunity to cater their services to the needs of their region, and empowering businesses to identify what skills workers need for success and help workers acquire them.

The bipartisan, bicameral bill is a response to a projection that by 2022, 11 million workers will lack the education necessary to succeed in a 21st century workplace including bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and vocational certificates.

“Workforce training is critically important to help grow the American economy still recovering from recession and bridge the widening skills gap separating thousands of unemployed workers from promising careers in 21st century workplaces,” said Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) when the bill passed.

The Obama Administration apparently agrees. On Tuesday, when Obama signs the bill into law, he and Vice President Joe Biden will also announce new federal and private sector actions to address the need for an improved job training system, which currently serves about 21 million Americans including veterans, Americans with disabilities, the unemployed, and those who lack skills to climb the career ladder. The Obama administration’s new actions also complement the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by improving federal training programs not included in the bill.

Earlier in 2014, President Obama tasked Biden with reviewing the federal training system to find ways to improve it. As a result of that review, Biden will issue a report Tuesday that outlines “job-driven” strategies that the Administration says will make the federal training system “more effective, more responsive to employers, and more accountable for results” in Tuesday’s report.

Chief among these strategies is a new “job-driven checklist,” a tool that measures how effective programs are in preparing students for careers that will be incorporated into applications for all 25 federal training grants, at a total of about $1.4 billion, starting Oct. 1. The checklist requires programs to engage with local employers in designing programs that cater to their needs, ramp up opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, and keep better data on employment and earning outcomes.

“From now on, federal agencies will use specific, job-driven criteria to ensure that the $17 billion in federal training funds are used more effectively,” a senior White House official said on a Monday evening press call.

The Obama administration will also expand opportunities for apprenticeships, considered a “proven path to employment and the middle class,” according to a White House statement. After completing these programs, 87% of apprentices gain employment at an average starting salary of $50,000.

In addition to using competitions and grants to bolster job training in the U.S., the administration will also use technology. On Tuesday, Obama and Biden will announce $25 million award from the Department of Labor to develop a web-based “skills academy” for adult learners. And the Department of Education will experiment with education models that award skills based on a person’s tangible skills rather than their performance in a classroom setting.

“Too often job training programs are focused on providing the skills needed for yesterday’s jobs, not the jobs of today and tomorrow,” an administration official said Monday. “And teaching methods are often rooted in outdated, class-based models that haven’t kept pace with technology and new training techniques.”

TIME Education

School Administrators: Kids Like Healthy Lunches Just Fine

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Female student carrying tray in cafeteria Tetra Images—Getty Images/Brand X

According to a new survey published in the Childhood Obesity journal

As the battle rages on over whether or not to scrap healthier options in public school lunch, a new survey suggests students actually like the nutritional meals they’re being offered. Well, at least they like it enough to keep from complaining to school administrators about it.

Last school year, administrators reported students started off complaining about the healthier take on lunch, after the USDA introduced new standards in 2012 that called for a reduction in sugar, sodium and fat in meals and the addition of more whole grains, vegetables, and fruit in an effort to confront childhood obesity.

But most had come around by the spring, they reported in a new study backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Now, around 70% of elementary school students “generally like the new lunch,” they said. Middle and high school administrators reported similar reactions, with 70% and 63% of students “generally” liking the new lunches, respectively.

Schools also report few drop-offs in school lunch participation with the advent of the new standards. About 64.6% of elementary schools said “about the same” number of students purchased school lunches last school year, compared to the year before.

“The updated meals standards are resulting in healthier meals for tens of millions of kids,” said Lindsey Turner, lead author of the first study, and co-investigator for Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which funded the study in a statement. “Our studies show that kids are okay with these changes, and that there have not been widespread challenges with kids not buying or eating the meals.”

Yet, according to the new survey to be published in an upcoming issue of the Childhood Obesity journal, high school students and students in rural schools have been more reluctant to accept the changes. About 25% of middle and high school administrators reported noticing “a little more” plate waste during the 2012-2013 school year, while 16% of middle schools and 20% of high schools reported noticing “much more” waste.

Administrators at rural schools also reported more plate waste and more complaints than their urban counterparts, which is troubling given the higher rates of obesity among youth in rural areas. But among poor urban youth, the researchers found higher rates of consumption and more meal purchases—suggesting those kids opting out of the school lunch program are those who can afford to eat elsewhere.

“It is possible that widespread implementation of national policy has been effective for improving the diets of socioeconomically disadvantaged children,” said the study’s authors, “but more research is needed to understand the effect of changes in the meal standards on children’s participation and dietary intake.”

There has been much debate over the Department of Agriculture’s updated school nutrition standards this year. In fact, Monday’s survey results stand in contrast to a recent USDA report that showed about 1 million fewer students chose to eat school meals every day during the 2012-2013 school year. The School Nutrition Association, a long time supporter of healthy options for kids, rolled back some of its support earlier this year due to the burden the standards place on already cash-strapped schools.

In May, House Republicans ok’d a spending bill that would allow schools to opt out of following the healthy school rules, which pump up the amount of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains served to kids at school while reducing fat, sugar, and sodium. But champions of the standards, including First Lady Michelle Obama, argue rolling back the standards would be a bad choice for kids.

In a statement Monday, the School Nutrition Association said the survey’s “perceptions about school meals do not reflect reality.”

“More kids aren’t buying lunches,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association, tells TIME.

TIME Transportation

A TSA Fee Hike Just Made Your Plane Tickets More Expensive

TSA Security
A TSA agent waits for passengers to use the TSA PreCheck lane being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport on October 4, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

You now have to pay $5.60 per flight

Transportation Security Administration fees are doubling Monday, and frequent travelers will notice a slight hike in their airfares.

The TSA fee is currently $2.50 per non-stop flight and $5 per connecting flight, but the new fee will be $5.60 for all flights, and any connection over 4 hours counts as a separate flight.

Congress approved the new fee in December in order to raise $12.6 billion to cut the deficit, and the TSA estimates the fees could raise $16.9 billion.

“It’s like paying for a root canal,” George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com, told USA Today. “It’s something you didn’t want anyway. Now you’re paying more for it.”

While the fees go into effect Monday, frustrated travelers can send comments to the TSA until Aug. 19.

TIME Immigration

Democrat To Obama: You Must Hear the Stories of Child Migrants

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.)
Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., speaks during a news conference on Feb. 6, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

At a meeting Wednesday, the President was sympathetic, but non-committal on Democratic plans to deal with the border crisis.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, tried to bring the human face of the ongoing border crisis alive to President Barack Obama in a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House, according to two Congressmen present.

“To not hear these stories is to make these kids disappear,” Luján says he told the President and the beginning of the meeting. He then cited the Pope’s call for action on the immigration crisis earlier this week, and recounted three news reports of kidnapped, beaten and killed children and journalists.

Luján also told a story of his own, one he says was shared with him by two nuns who worked with unaccompanied migrant children at Catholic Charities in Honduras. The nuns told Luján a child was being recruited by one of the local gangs there when the parents intervened, the Congressman recounted. “[The gang] not only killed the child, they killed the parents,” Luján said. “They left them on display for everyone to see.”

The President, who has not visited the border, reacted sympathetically to Luján’s stories, according to Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who was at the meeting as a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which had requested time with the president.

“The horror of what is going on—you could just feel it in the room,” said Sanchez. “[The President] said, ‘Look as a father I understand that completely. Those children’s lives are no less valuable than my own.’”

The President, however, did not back down from his insistence that Congress make changes to a 2008 law that would allow for a speedier deportation of children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The Administration estimates that the Administration will apprehend as many as 90,000 unaccompanied minors at the border by the end of September. The White House did not respond for comment for this story.

The Hispanic Caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi support an approach where the President would use his current authority—and $3.7 billion—to address the crisis. The Democrats argue that the most humane response would be to quicken the current backlog of immigration cases through hiring more judges and adjusting current policy that would prioritize the children’s cases.

“We don’t want to see a child return to the hands of sex traffickers because we were in a hurry to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) tells TIME. “I think [Obama] understands that. And as a caucus we have come to the position that we won’t vote for an appropriation bill…that undermines what children have.”

Republicans have argued that the 2008 law—the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act—needs to be changed to allow Border Patrol agents greater authority to screen and deport Central American children. Under the law, the Border Patrol is supposed to transfer these children within 72 hours to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services until their immigration cases are decided. House Speaker John Boehner and others have also argued for increased border security, including sending in the National Guard.

Boehner indicated Thursday that the prospects of Republicans and Democrats forging an agreement by the end of July has taken a turn for the worse as Democrats have established their position on the 2008 law.

“I can’t imagine our members are going to want to send more money down there without attempting to mitigate the problem at the border,” said Boehner. “I don’t have as much optimism as I’d like to have.”

Additional reporting by Zeke Miller/Washington

TIME Congress

McCain: Iraq War Might Not Have Happened Had I Won In 2000

John McCain Discusses The Situation In Iraq At American Enterprise Institute
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) participates in a discussion on the unfolding violence in Iraq at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington on June 18, 2014. T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images

'You'll find this surprising'

Arizona Sen. John McCain, once one of the most ardent defenders of American involvement in Iraq, said Thursday that had he been President in 2003 the U.S. might never have invaded.

“You’ll find this surprising,” McCain said at an event hosted by CNN and National Journal Thursday in Washington, “but I think I would have been more reluctant to commit American troops.”

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee and one of the chief proponents of the Iraq surge argued that his background in the military and his experience in Washington would have led him to see through “flimsy” evidence, had he defeated former President George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries.
“I think I would have challenged the evidence with more scrutiny,” McCain said. “I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time.
“The guy named Curveball that we were relying on turned out to be some guy in a German prison that was an alcoholic,” McCain continued. “On the evidence—I think I would have challenged the evidence with greater scrutiny.
But McCain added that he was not blaming the Republican President for his handling the run-up to the war, which polarized the nation and cost more than 4,400 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. “I’m not blaming President George W. Bush. It’s not for me to critique my predecessors, especially those that I lost to,” he said.
Interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper and National Journal’s Ron Fournier, McCain said he relied on the credibility of former Secretary of State Colin Powell for his vote in favor of the war.
“In Iraq in 2003, the Secretary of State, one of the most respected men in America, went to the United Nations Security Council and alleged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” McCain said. “If I was presented with that same evidence today, I would vote the same way. I respected and trusted the Secretary of State Colin Powell. It’s obvious now that Saddam Hussein, though he had used weapons of mass destruction, did not have the inventory that we seemed to have evidence, that looking through with some hindsight was very flimsy.”
TIME Drugs

The Rules About Pot Just Changed in Washington D.C.

Pot Marijuana Weed
Getty Images

Adults caught with up to one ounce of pot will be fined $25 in the nation's capital

Washington D.C.’s pot decriminalization policy went into effect Thursday, lowering the penalties for marijuana possession to just a $25 civil fine for adults caught with up to one ounce.

The law may still encounter some pushback from Congress, as the Republican-controlled House passed a bill Wednesday that includes an amendment to stop D.C. from using federal or local funds to implement the law. The bill was passed largely along party lines; only six Democrats supported the bill.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who sponsored the D.C. provision, told the Washington Post that pot is “poison to a teenager’s brain” and that the new law would treat teenagers in a dramatically different way to young people right across the Maryland border, where violators younger than 21-years-old are required to appear in court.

The Administration “strongly opposes” the House provision, writing in a letter released Monday that it poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan police department’s enforcement and violates the principle of D.C. home rule.

Washington D.C. has an extraordinarily high rate of marijuana arrests, ranked seventh out of 945 counties examined in a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report. There’s also a huge racial disparity in who gets penalized for smoking weed, according to the same report, which found that black people are eight times more likely than non-blacks to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Possession of any amount of marijuana in the District was formerly counted as a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. It remains a criminal offense to smoke pot in the nation’s capital.

TIME Law

FAA Investigates Congressman’s Drone Wedding Video

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in Capitol hill in 2013.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in the Capitol in 2013. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Aviation Administration indicated Wednesday that it is investigating whether a video of a congressman’s wedding last month violated the agency’s ban on drone flights for commercial purposes.

The agency’s carefully worded statement doesn’t mention Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., by name, but said it was looking into “a report of an unmanned aircraft operation in Cold Spring, New York, on June 21 to determine if there was any violation of federal regulations or airspace restrictions.”

Maloney has acknowledged hiring a photographer to produce a video of his wedding using a camera mounted on a small drone. The wedding took place in Cold Spring on June 21. Maloney is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee, which oversees the FAA.

Top agency officials have testified extensively before Congress about their concern that commercial drones could collide with manned aircraft or injure people on the ground. Congress has been pressing the FAA to move faster on creating regulations that will allow commercial drones access to U.S. skies. The agency has been working on regulations for about a decade.

“On their wedding day, Sean and Randy were focused on a ceremony 22 years in the making, not their wedding photographer’s camera mounted on his remote control helicopter,” Stephanie Formas, spokeswoman for Maloney, said in a statement.

The FAA has approved a few limited commercial drone operations. But the agency has also been sending letters to commercial operators across the country — including other videographers and companies that hire videographers — to cease their drone flights or face fines.

One videographer, Raphael Pirker, challenged the $10,000 fine the FAA tried to level against him for flying a small drone in an allegedly reckless manner near the University of Virginia. An administrative law judge sided with Pirker, whose attorney argued the agency can’t ban commercial drone flights when it hasn’t formally adopted safety rules governing drone flights. The FAA has appealed the case to the five-member National Transportation Safety Board. A decision is expected this fall.

Formas, citing the judge’s ruling, said there was “no enforceable FAA rule” or regulation that applied to “a model aircraft like the helicopter used in the ceremony.”

The wedding photographer subcontracted Parker Gyokeres of Propellerheads Aerial Photography in Trenton, New Jersey, to shoot the video. Gyokeress posted outtakes of the wedding on his company’s website and created a YouTube video.

TIME Drugs

House Votes to Help Pot Businesses Use Banks

Rethinking Pot Border Town
Customers gather at a medical-marijuana store on July 9, 2014. Zachary Kaufman—AP

But the measure may stall in the Senate

The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed one measure designed to help legitimate marijuana businesses gain access to the financial system, and rejected another that would have blocked them from doing so. But the votes may not force a resolution to the cannabis industry’s long-running fight to bank its cash.

The House easily approved an amendment to an appropriations bill that would bar regulators from punishing banks who transact with legal marijuana businesses. The measure, which passed 231-192, is designed to ease the fears of financial institutions, who mostly eschew pot clients, even in states that have relaxed marijuana laws, because the drug remains illegal under federal law.

In the other vote, the House rejected an amendment sponsored by a conservative Republican that would have blocked the implementation of Treasury Department guidelines, issued earlier this year, that gave a yellow light for banks to accept legitimate cannabis clients.

Industry activists hailed the votes as a major triumph. “This is a huge step forward for the legal cannabis industry,” Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a statement. “Access to basic banking services is one of the most critical challenges facing legal cannabis businesses and the state agencies tasked with regulating them.”

Pro-pot votes in the Republican-controlled House are another marker of just how mainstream marijuana is becoming. But they are not necessarily a sign that the banking issue will be resolved anytime soon.

A bill to open the banking industry to pot clients would still have to clear the U.S. Senate, which is no easy feat for far less controversial legislation. There is no guarantee the measure will come up for a vote in the midst of a contentious election season, with control of the chamber up for grabs. And some legislators from both parties oppose opening the financial system to marijuana money. After the Treasury guidelines were issued, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) co-authored a blistering letter arguing that the department had “severely undermined” its mission.

“Following the guidance may expose financial institutions to civil or criminal liability,” Feinstein and Grassley wrote. “Congress and the President may reconsider marijuana’s legality, but until federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal. Far from clarifying the obligations of financial institutions, FinCEN’s guidance appears to create uncertainty where none had existed beforehand.”

Multiple Democratic Senate aides did not immediately respond to questions about the measure’s chances of passage in the upper chamber. Without Congressional approval, banks are unlikely to take the risk of changing their policy.

TIME Congress

Senate GOP Blocks Bill on Contraception Coverage

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans have blocked a bill aimed at restoring free contraception for women who get their health insurance from companies that object on religious grounds.

The vote on Wednesday was 56-43 to move ahead on the measure, short of the 60 votes necessary to proceed.

Democrats sponsored the election-year bill to reverse last month’s Supreme Court ruling that closely held businesses with religious objections could deny coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Republicans called the bill a political stunt aimed at helping vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the midterm elections.

Democrats appealed to female voters, critical to their hopes of holding onto their Senate majority, in arguing for the measure.

TIME Congress

House Passes Highway Bill As Deadline Looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — With an August deadline looming, the House voted Tuesday to temporarily patch over a multibillion-dollar pothole in federal highway and transit programs while ducking the issue of how to put them on a sound financial footing for the long term.

The action cobbles together $10.8 billion by using pension tax changes, customs fees and money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for transportation programs nationwide, solvent through May 2015. The vote was 367 to 55. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Without congressional action, the Transportation Department says that by the first week in August the fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid to states, and the government will begin to stretch out payments. Congress has kept the highway trust fund teetering on the edge of bankruptcy since 2008 through a series of temporary fixes because lawmakers have been unable to find a politically acceptable long-term funding plan.

The most obvious solution would be to raise the federal 18. 4 cents a gallon gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in over 20 years. But lawmakers are reluctant to raise taxes in an election year — especially Republicans for whom a vote in favor of any tax increase could trigger a backlash from their party’s base.

As a result, Congress has had to look elsewhere for transportation money while not increasing the federal deficit. The bill by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., relies on tax changes that are forecast to generate revenue over 10 years, but provide only enough money to keep the highway and transit programs going for another 10 months.

The largest chunk of the money, $6.4 billion, results from allowing employers to defer payments to their employee pension plans. Funding pension plans normally results in a tax savings for companies, and deferring those payments means they will pay more in taxes and increase federal revenue. But several lawmakers suggested the revenue from the pension changes is illusory.

“Come on, really, it’s pretty phony stuff,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. “Let’s get real about how we’re going to fund our transportation” programs.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, defended the bill while acknowledging its limits. “Listen, these are difficult decisions in difficult times in an election year,” he said. “The long-term problem is still there and needs to be addressed.”

President Barack Obama, touring a transportation research center in Virginia, said he supports the House and Senate bills to keep aid flowing to states, but wants more.

“All this does is set us up for the same crisis a few months from now. So Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months,” he said. Earlier this year, Obama offered a $302 billion plan to increase transportation spending and keep programs going for another four years. The plan, which was paid for by closing business tax loopholes, was received coolly by Republicans.

Democrats and some Republicans complained that it won’t be any easier under the GOP bill to reach a compromise on sustainable, long-term means to pay for programs by pushing off a decision until next year when the presidential campaign is heating up. Republicans, however, may be in a better position to shape a transportation bill to their liking next year if they re-take control of the Senate in this fall’s midterm elections.

Republicans are divided over transportation policy. A significant minority of the party’s more conservative House members want to slash federal gas and diesel taxes, dramatically scale back transportation aid and leave it to states to come up with the money to pay for roads, bridges, buses and trains.

The conservative Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, which are influential with Tea Party Republicans, urged lawmakers to vote against the Camp bill. But as a sop to conservatives, House GOP leaders allowed an amendment by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., that says Congress should “increase the authority and responsibility of the states” to fund and manage their transportation systems.

But Democrats said greater federal spending is needed to repair and replace the nation’s aging infrastructure, meet the needs of a growing population and keep pace with other nations like China which are spending a greater share of their economies on transportation than the U.S.

States have been told to expect an average 28 percent reduction in aid if Congress doesn’t act. The fund is expected to reach a zero balance by the end of August. Some states already have begun to delay or cancel construction projects due to the uncertainty of federal money.

The House defeated along party lines a motion by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., that would reduce the money in the bill to about $8 billion — just enough to pay for highway and transit aid through Dec. 31 — in the hope that another quick deadline would force Congress to come to an agreement on a long-term funding plan this year.

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