Pramila Jayapal Says Disaster Workers Need Better Federal Protection

A bill that dovetails with some of the climate change provisions of the Democrats' Build Back Better Act (BBB) can help those on the frontline dealing with the aftermath of disasters, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told Newsweek.

Recent wildfires in Colorado and tornadoes in Kentucky have highlighted the impact of climate change, with extreme weather and disasters likely to increase in the coming years.

The chair of the congressional progressive caucus has introduced the Climate Resilience Workforce Act, which aims to give federal protection to those who after disasters, rebuild homes, schools and hospitals, and are often in precarious circumstances themselves.

"Often incarcerated people come out to do the job, don't really get paid for it, aren't necessarily trained for it and don't get the benefits associated with these very difficult jobs," she said.

"Or they might be immigrants," who "come in and do a lot of the re-roofing work following a climate disaster."

"The workforce that ends up doing what is very difficult, and hard work are often folks of color and those jobs are not really prioritized."

The bill has been shaped by the work of national non-profit Resilience Force, and backed by groups that represent interests ranging from climate change to immigration and criminal justice reform.

It aims to attach labor standards to billions of dollars of aid, create "millions of new jobs" and offer a path to citizenship for undocumented resilience workers.

It will also create an office of climate resilience within the White House and fund workforce training programs that can give skills to workers through climate resilience sectors.

There is a $555 billion climate change component in BBB, which is currently stalled in Congress. This is due to opposition from the centrist Democrat senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), whose backing is required for the bill to pass via the reconciliation process, without GOP support.

Jayapal said that "a lot of the provisions we can incorporate into the implementation if we if we are able to get Build Back Better through."

One is the Civilian Climate Corps through which she said "there might be opportunities to implement this kind of workforce training for a resilience corps."

Another is Justice 40, which commits 40 percent of benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities.

Meanwhile, Manchin has said that he backs some of the climate change provisions in BBB, spurring calls among some Democrats to break up the legislation to get it passed.

Jayapal has rejected any such breakup and said that some of the goals of BBB on climate change, as well as pharmaceutical drug pricing, could be reached through executive action.

"The place that we're at right now is we are going to spend the next month pushing for as much of Build Back Better as we can get through the Senate," she said.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) outside of the U.S. Capitol on September 23, 2021, in Washington, DC. She has introduced the Climate Resilience Workforce Act, which aims to give better federal protection for disaster workers. Anna Moneymaker/Getty