Workforce Legislation Hastily Advances in House and Threatens Access to Youth Jobs

Apr 05, 2013

By Kisha Bird 

Over the past six weeks, the House Education and Workforce Committee saw a flurry of activity related to the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and efforts to reform the nation's job training and education system.  The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 has been up for reauthorization for the past ten years.  There have been several attempts since 2003 to advance legislation, but efforts have been repeatedly stalled.  And unfortunately, while it is good that Congress has expressed renewed interest in reauthorization, the current bill passed by the House would actually reduce access to job training and education for the nation's most vulnerable youth.

Here are the events that transpired.

In late February, Virginia Foxx, majority chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce, held a hearing,"Putting America Back to Work: Reforming the Nation's Workforce Investment System," which discussed key features of H.R. 803-theSupporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act (SKILLS Act).

A week later, the committee held its mark-up of the Skills Act.  Tensions ran high, as Democrats requested more time to develop bipartisan proposals and to resolve disagreements.  On March 6, dissatisfied with the mark-up process, every democratic committee member walked out in protest..  As expected, the bill passed out of committee following a party-line vote and advanced to the floor of the House.  And on March 15, the SKILLS Act passed out of the full House of Representatives-again along party lines (215-202).

The Skills Act would consolidate nearly three dozen federal programs into a block grant called the Workforce Investment Fund.  Like H.R. 4297, which cleared the committee in 2012, it would eliminate a separate youth funding stream, strike WIA youth provisions (including the 10 youth program elements), and establish a new set of common performance metrics without any youth-specific indicators. It would also create an option for states to consolidate additional education and training programs, such as adult education, into the block grant. 

Conversely, the House Minority introduced its own reauthorization bill,H.R. 798, which would require states to streamline and coordinate the use of workforce and education programs through unified planning. It would expand the range of training options available for participants, expand priority of service for out-of-school youth and individuals with barriers to employment, take steps to  improve cumbersome eligibility requirements that hinder service to youth, and modernize the adult education system to meet the postsecondary and employment needs of students.  The bill would also authorize Innovation Funds to support the development and expansion of promising workforce strategies, such as career pathways, industry partnerships, and dropout recovery and re-engagement.

What does this mean for youth?

The SKILLS Act would eliminate $1 billion dedicated to youth employment and training services.  This follows $1 billion in cuts already made to youth deployment and training over the last decade.  This bill would be a big step backward for an already struggling economy.  The unemployment rate for young people 16-24 is at an all-time high, with 6.7 million youth not in school or not working andjust 12 percent of all black male teens employed.   Current WIA youth programs reach approximately 235,000 low-income young people across the nation and link them  to a wide array services-including summer and year-round employment, job training, and apprenticeship programs that help them earn secondary and postsecondary credentials and advance in the labor market.

The next step in the reauthorization process is for a bill to emerge from Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).  While it is not certain where this stands, we are hopeful Senate leaders will craft a bi-partisan WIA reauthorization bill that preserves dedicated youth funding and advances best practices to serve disadvantaged and disconnected youth. 




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