Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) a Critical Step Forward for U.S. Workers

CLASP supports the proposed Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—a bipartisan House-Senate effort to reauthorize the nation’s workforce development and adult education programs. At a time of sustained unemployment in many communities, these programs are designed to help young people and adult workers prepare for work or further education, find jobs, and build the skills employers need. The Workforce Investment Act, which WIOA would replace, was enacted in 1998.

WIOA improves current workforce and adult education programs in many ways and creates the conditions for wider adoption of career pathways and other strategies that hold promise for raising the skills and improving economic prospects for low-income adults and youth. Among the improvements in the proposed bill are:

  • Increased focus on comprehensive programming for youth without a secondary school credential and those who face the greatest challenges;
  • Wider range of services, including transitional jobs, for low-skill, low-income adults and individuals with barriers to employment;
  • Strong performance accountability provisions that reduce disincentives to serving participants who need considerable assistance; and
  • Support for integrated education and training and concurrent approaches to adult education that allow for increased transitions to and success in postsecondary education.

CLASP supports these changes, which align workforce and education programs and create more employment and training opportunities for low-income individuals.

Strengthening the nation’s workforce programs through WIOA is an important step forward. What is also needed is a commitment to provide adequate resources to ensure that improved services reach those who need them. Funding for workforce and adult education programs has declined by 10 percent or more since 2010, even though unemployment levels and the need for services in many communities remain high. Today, adult education programs are serving only 5 percent of those with low literacy levels after years of funding and enrollment decreases. The proposed bill, to its credit, authorizes modest increases in funding for these programs between 2015 and 2020. States and local communities will need additional resources to carry out reforms and to ensure that services are accessible and available to individuals who have low education and skill levels and who face challenges in the labor market. However, the caps on discretionary spending that are now in place will put these investments at risk unless Congress acts to modify them.

It is time to move forward with this overdue reauthorization and provide the resources necessary to make it successful.