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Government Affairs: Congress defers action on H-2B program until after midterm elections

October 2, 2018 -  By
The United States Capitol | Photo: iStock.com/Joecho-16

Photo: iStock.com/Joecho-16

The H-2B returning-worker provision and some modest H-2B reforms did not make it into the fiscal year 2019 federal appropriations bills, as business advocates had hoped.

Appropriations bills, except DHS

The House and Senate sent several appropriations bills to President Trump’s desk for signature, encompassing most of the federal bureaucracy. However, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) appropriation, in which the returning-worker provision was inserted, was not among them.

Rather, the DHS appropriation was handled by continuing resolution within the Department of Defense appropriation, which means the appropriation for DHS will continue at the same level as last fiscal year, until it expires on Dec. 7.

Trump threatens government shutdown

President Trump had threatened in early September to shut down the federal government if he did not receive his requested $25 billion for a border wall. That $25 billion was not in the House or Senate versions of the DHS appropriations bill.

Congress punted, with the president’s agreement, to fight that battle later this year. No one, including the President, seemed to want the spectacle of a government shutdown just weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Congress to take up DHS appropriation after midterms

House Republicans say they intend to take up the DHS appropriation, as well as those of the Departments of Justice, Commerce and State, after the midterm elections. This could make it a bit easier to get the H-2B reforms and the returning-worker provision into the bill and passed without the pressure of a looming election. Maybe.

The current returning-worker provision

The returning-worker provision in the current DHS appropriations bill would:

  • Exempt H-2B workers from the 66,000 annual cap if they received any H-2B visas during one of the previous two fiscal years. This measure could double the number of H-2B visas available to employers;
  • Allocate the 66,000 visas for new H-2B workers on a quarterly basis to assist employers whose seasons do not align well with the current biannual allocation; and
  • Create a system in which 66,000 H-2B visas for new workers would be allocated on a proportional basis if the cap is reached, so all employers will receive a percentage of H-2B workers they had requested.

Now is the time to talk to your Congressman and Senators

We have about 30 days until the midterm elections, a time when our elected representatives in Congress will be most open to hearing our stories about the importance of the H-2B program and the returning worker provision to our companies and American employees.

It’s important that we put pressure on our Congressmen and Senators to keep the returning-worker provision in the final bill. They will be home frequently over the next 30 days to campaign and ask for your vote. Take advantage of them being in your community to meet with them personally.

Both houses are extremely important. Even though the provision is in the House bill, we need to shore up Congressional support to fight for the provision. We also need to convince the Senate that this provision is essential to keeping our businesses open.

Your Congressmen will be asking for your vote this November. Talk to them in person while they are in the district and tell your story. Also, talk to their opponents.

If one of your Senators is running this year, talk to him or her and the opponents. If they are not running, visit them when they are home in the district.

We have about 30 days to do this, and the clock is ticking.

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About the Author:

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

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