On June 7 the House Education and Workforce Committee marked up the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4297), a measure to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The bill, originally introduced by Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Joe Heck (R-NV) and Buck McKeon (R-CA), was reported out of committee on a party-line vote of 23-15, with all Republicans voting in favor of the bill and all Democrats voting against it.
The bill combines over two dozen currently existing federal workforce programs into one single $6 billion Workforce Investment Fund, which would use a formula to distribute money to states – without maintaining a priority of service for low-income individuals or other safeguards. The bill makes many changes to the current WIA program, including eliminating current membership requirements for state/local workforce area boards, requiring states to reserve a maximum of 18 percent of allocations from the Workforce Investment Fund for new State Youth Challenge Grants and cutting the governors’ set-aside for statewide activities from 15 percent to 5 percent of a state’s Workforce Investment Fund allotment. Governors will also be allowed to consolidate funds (including those for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, adult education and vocational rehabilitation) into a block grant.
In May the Campaign for Youth, a national coalition co-chaired by the National Youth Employment Coalition and CLASP, the Center for Law and Social Policy, issued a letter signed by nearly 300 organizations from across the country in opposition to H.R. 4297, highlighting its damaging effects on youth education and training programs. Specifically harmful is the consolidation of youth funding into the adult-centered Workforce Investment Fund, which contains no requirements that youth be served and terminates the national Job Corps and Youth Build programs.
During the markup of the bill, a substitute amendment offered by Subcommittee Chair Foxx was accepted by a voice vote. This amendment includes the reinstatement of the Job Corps, the complete elimination of the Youth Challenge Grant and the addition of a number of new definitions to the language of the bill. For the complete listing of changes made, see this article from the National Skills Coalition.
Despite improvements in the economy over the last few years, more than 13 million Americans remain unemployed, including a stunning 40 percent who have been job-searching for more than six months. Although there is bipartisan support for updating WIA, which was enacted 15 years ago and has not been reauthorized since, Democrats and Republicans differ on the ways to do so. Before the markup on H.R. 4297, numerous organizations expressed their concerns that the bill does less to improve WIA and more to dismantle it. Many of these same organizations feel that the amendments accepted during the markup would further harm WIA.
Advocates hope that the committee members will do more work to create a bipartisan plan for reforming our nation’s workforce development system – one that protects low-income people and youth – before the bill is brought to the floor for a vote.