House Advances Workforce Reauthorization Bill
Late last week the House Education and Workforce Committee voted along party lines to adopt a bill that reforms a range of federal workforce programs, including the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). This House action is the first significant push to reauthorize WIA since the Senate’s effort to craft a bipartisan bill during 2011.
The House bill (H.R. 4297) consolidates nearly two dozen federal programs into a single block grant called the Workforce Investment Fund without maintaining a priority of service for low-income individuals or other safeguards. It also gives governors the option to consolidate funds from additional programs, including adult education, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Trade Adjustment Assistance and vocational rehabilitation, into the block grant. If this option is adopted, funds could be diverted from existing programs serving unemployed workers, individuals with low education and skill levels and those who are low-income.
During the mark-up session, members on both sides of the aisle offered amendments to restore programs and safeguards for disadvantaged adults and youth that had been eliminated in the original bill. For example, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa attempted to restore the priority of service for low-income adults and existing provisions for supportive services and needs-related payments, but this amendment failed in a recorded vote. A number of amendments related to youth were also offered.
The committee agreed to several amendments with bipartisan support:
- Rep. Virginia Foxx proposed to create a funding stream for a new military transitional assistance program and to require every local area to add a veterans employment specialist.
- Rep. Kristi Noem requested an increase in the national set-aside for native American programs from 1 percent to 2 percent.
- Rep. Robert Andrews proposed to disaggregate performance information by population, to require more information on use of federal funds and to increase the transparency of policies adopted at the state and local levels.
The committee voted down the House Democratic bill (H.R. 4227 – sponsored by Rep. John Tierney, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa and Rep. George Miller), which was offered as a substitute to H.R. 4297. The House Democratic bill requires states to streamline and coordinate the use of workforce and education programs through unified planning. It also expands the range of training options available for disadvantaged individuals, modernizes the adult education system to meet the postsecondary and employment needs of students, and expands priority of service for out-of-school youth. In addition, H.R. 4227 authorizes a national Workforce and Youth Innovation Fund to support the development and expansion of promising workforce strategies, such as career pathways, industry partnerships, and dropout recovery and re-engagement.
CLASP continues to have serious concerns about H.R. 4297. The committee-reported bill creates a block grant that is expected to serve all job seekers without providing assurances that individuals with barriers to employment will have access to suitable services. The bill also sharply reduces the ability of the public workforce system to respond to the needs of low-income adults and those struggling to find employment. Of great concern is the elimination of the priority of service provision that helps to ensure better and more consistent access to services for those who are most in need of employment and training assistance.
It is not clear whether the committee-reported bill will reach the House floor for a vote. As the economic recovery continues, workforce programs that help adults and youth find jobs, prepare for work and build skills need to be strengthened. CLASP recommends that any reauthorization bill should focus on raising the skills of the American workforce and on making public workforce programs more effective for low-skilled, low-income individuals.
To help advocates and stakeholders, CLASP has prepared analyses of prior-to-mark-up versions of H.R. 4297 and H.R. 4227.
For a discussion of key issues with the new block grant proposed by H.R. 4297, see Reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act: The House Workforce Block Grant Bill Heads in the Wrong Direction
For a discussion of adult education provisions in the two bills, see An Analysis of Adult Education Provisions in WIA Reauthorization Proposals
For a discussion of youth provisions in H.R. 4297, see Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization May Move Youth Development Field Back a Decade