House Workforce Bill Moves Forward Amid Rising Tensions
Mar 11, 2013
By Neil Ridley, Kisha Bird, and Marcie W.M. Foster
Last week the House Education and Workforce Committee voted to advance a bill that restructures a range of federal workforce programs, including the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Tensions ran high during the legislative mark-up session and the hearing that preceded it, signaling a decline in the bipartisan spirit that has animated most reauthorization efforts in the past.
The House majority bill (H.R. 803) consolidates nearly three dozen federal programs into a block grant called the Workforce Investment Fund. Like H.R. 4297, which cleared the committee in 2012, H.R. 803 eliminates a separate youth funding stream, strikes WIA youth provisions including the 10 youth program elements and establishes a new set of common performance metrics without any youth-specific indicators. It also creates an option for states to consolidate additional education and training programs, such as adult education, into the block grant. Although the bill strengthens planning requirements and shared performance accountability provisions, it removes the priority of service for low-income adults and other safeguards for individuals with barriers to employment.
By contrast, the House minority bill (H.R. 798) introduced by Rep. John Tierney, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa and Rep. George Miller requires states to streamline and coordinate the use of workforce and education programs through unified planning. It expands the range of training options available for participants, modernizes the adult education system to meet the postsecondary and employment needs of students, and expands priority of service for individuals with barriers to employment and out-of-school youth. In addition, H.R. 4227 authorizes Innovation Funds to support the development and expansion of promising workforce strategies, such as career pathways, industry partnerships, and dropout recovery and re-engagement.
To help advocates and stakeholders, CLASP in 2012 issued A Litmus for Legislation with a set of criteria for evaluating reauthorization proposals. In applying those criteria to H.R. 803, CLASP concludes that the committee-reported bill is expected to shift funding and services away from youth and adults who are most in need of workforce services to more job-ready individuals with fewer barriers. Nothing in the new planning requirements or performance accountability system would prevent such a shift. By eliminating the youth funding stream and other programs, the bill would weaken the capacity to customize services to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.
The committee-reported bill is likely to move to the House floor within a week for a vote on final passage. As the legislative process moves forward, CLASP recommends that any reauthorization bill should promote multiple pathways to employment and education for adults and youth who are most in need of workforce services. The career pathways approach, which is building momentum at the state and local levels, is a framework for weaving together adult education, training and postsecondary programs and connecting those services to the workforce needs of employers. To increase alignment of services, CLASP also supports adoption of shared performance metrics, use of consistent definitions and reporting requirements, and greater efforts to minimize the burden associated with eligibility determination and verification across various programs.