CHN: Bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Introduced

In May, a group of bipartisan lawmakers from both chambers of Congress introduced legislation to update the federal workforce development system.  The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) will replace the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which was originally passed in 1998 and has been overdue for reauthorization for over a decade.  WIOA is a compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356) that passed the Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in July of 2013. It would provide job training and career services to youth and adults to help them prepare for work or additional education, find and keep jobs, and build the skills necessary for the 21st century. It will also benefit employers by building the workforce needed to compete in the global economy, and strengthen the economies of local communities. WIOA will provide a wide range of services for low-skill, low-income people and individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment, improving access to high-demand, higher-paying jobs and career pathways out of poverty for many. By increasing education, training, and access to good jobs, WIOA will provide a needed step for many Americans.
Among the improvements in WIOA is an increased focus on real-world education and job training opportunities through on-the-job and incumbent worker training, a stronger push to engage out-of-school and disadvantaged youth, and protections for migrant, seasonal, and Native American workers. It also streamlines program administration and applies one set of metrics to every program under the bill to ensure accountability and outcomes. While 15 programs covered under WIA are slated for elimination in the new legislation – including the Workforce Innovation Fund, WIA incentive grants, and WIA Pilots and Demonstration Projects – the majority of programs on the chopping block haven’t received funding for many years.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2022, the US will fall short of the necessary number of workers with postsecondary education by 11 million. Meanwhile, according to CLASP, funding for workforce and adult education programs has declined 10 percent or more since 2010, even though the need for these services remains high. WIOA authorizes funding for programs covered by the bill from FY 2015 through FY 2020, with modest increases in the funding amounts every year, and includes a separate funding stream for youth programs. By FY 2017, funding for youth workforce investment activities would return to levels not seen since FY 2010. However, it’s important to note that these are just authorized maximum levels of funding; actual funding will continue to be set through the annual appropriations process. Unless Congress changes existing spending caps and mandatory cuts under sequestration, funding for these programs remain at risk.

Since the bill’s introduction, a large and diverse group of organizations – from businesses and labor organizations to state and local elected officials to nonprofits serving low-income youth and people with disabilities – have come forward to show their support. With bipartisan and bicameral support in Congress and wide support from outside organizations, the bill is expected to pass before the August recess. The Senate will take up the bill first, followed by action in the House.

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