Bi-Partisan Partnership Helps to Advance Workforce Legislation in the Senate

Aug 02, 2013

By Kisha Bird

This week the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356).  A rare example of bi-partisanship in Washington these days, the bill was voted out of committee with a majority of support from both sides of the aisle.  This movement marked the most significant progress in this chamber in several years to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

S. 1356 makes a number of improvements to ensure low-income workers - youth and adults - have the skills and supports they need for full participation in the American workforce.  Specifically, Title II includes several significant provisions that will increase the focus on comprehensive programming for high school dropouts and youth who face the greatest challenges.  These provisions of Title II:

  • Expand the definition of out-of-school youth to consist of young people ages 16 to 24 who are not attending school, have dropped out of school, and those who face extensive barriers. In addition, Title II targets 75 percent of youth funds to provide services for out-of-school youth.
  • Address cumbersome eligibility issues that can make it difficult for local areas to develop comprehensive cross-system approaches to serve youth by expanding the definition of low-income individual to include those who receive or are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunch, and increasing the income threshold to 150% of the poverty line. Title II also incorporates a special rule that allows young people living in a high-poverty area to be deemed eligible for services.
  • Require a minimum percentage of youth funds to support work experiences for low-income and vulnerable young people and authorizes a youth innovation fund designed to build capacity to deliver services in high-poverty communities and expand the use of promising strategies.

S. 1356 also maintains the national youth programs - YouthBuild and Job Corps.

This is a stark contrast to the House-passed bill (Skills Act) which consolidates nearly three dozen federal programs into a block grant called the Workforce Investment Fund and completely eliminates dedicated formula funding for youth employment and training.  The Skills Act ignores the decades of knowledge development learned about youth programming.  Instead of strengthening the WIA Youth Provisions, the Skills Act strikes them (including the 10 youth program elements) and also establishes a new set of common performance metrics without any youth-specific indicators.

Although the overall unemployment rate has reached a record four-year low, young people, and in particular, youth of color and those with limited education and skills, continue to face the lowest employment rates in history.   These are critical times.  We need a strong workforce system that recognizes the unique needs of this population and provides adequate funding and direction to states and local areas to implement innovative strategies and pathways that will educate, train, and prepare disconnected and disadvantaged youth and young adults for labor market success.

While the bill is a step forward, it could still be improved. For example, the definition of out of school youth is too broad because it includes low-income high school graduates who have basic skill deficiencies along with young people without secondary credentials and those with significant barriers. The definition should be tightened to ensure that services are focused on those with major barriers.

The next step in the reauthorization process is for this bill to go to the Senate floor. While the timing of this is unknown, we are hopeful that the bi-partisan spirit in which S. 1356 was crafted will permeate and the Senate will advance long-overdue legislation that demonstrates a commitment to low-income youth and adult workers.

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