This week Congress set to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide funding for the government until April 28, 2017. The CR is an extension of last year’s omnibus appropriations bill that originally expired September 30, but was extended to December 9th.
Congress normally should debate and approve several separate appropriation bills for each federal agency including those important to the horse industry like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior. However, Congress was unable to pass any individual FY 2017 appropriations bills.
The CR maintains current funding levels for all government agencies and programs including USDA, which is responsible for responding to contagious equine disease outbreaks and enforcing the Horse Protection Act. The CR also extends the language that prohibits USDA from using any funds to provide inspectors at meat processing facilities that slaughter horses, continuing a policy that began in 2005, except for a brief period in 2012 and 2013. No horse slaughter facilities are operating in the U.S. and this CR would prevent any such facility from opening until April 28, 2017.
The CR does not include an H-2B returning worker exemption. This provision was included in last year’s omnibus appropriation bill and exempted from the 66,000 cap on H-2B visas, workers who had complied with past visa requirements and worked in the program during one of the preceding three years. However, the bill does extend several beneficial provisions that make the H-2B program less burdensome for employers including:
- A requirement that wages be based on the job category and experience level required, rather than an artificially inflated median wage;
- Defines seasonal as ten months, as opposed to nine months;
- Prevents the Department of Labor (DOL) from implementing the provisions of the 2015 H-2B rule related to corresponding employment and the ¾ guarantee of work days; and
- Prevents DOL from implementing the new and burdensome DOL enforcement scheme in the 2015 H-2B rule related to audits and the Certifying Officer (CO) assisted recruitment.
The H-2B program is used by members of the horse industry, principally horse trainers and owners who cannot find American workers to fill semi-skilled jobs as grooms, exercise riders, and stable attendants at racetracks, horse shows, fairs and in similar non-agricultural activities.