CHN: Controversial SKILLS Act Passes in House

When the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803) was approved in the Education and the Workforce Committee on March 6, the Democratic members walked out.  Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) and his colleagues objected to what they saw as refusal by the majority to negotiate towards some level of bipartisan support.  The legislation consolidates 35 federal workforce programs into one Workforce Investment Fund, funded at $6 billion.  Included are job training programs for adults, youth, and displaced workers under the Workforce Investment Act, Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, employment and training programs operating through SNAP/food stamps, and others.  Among the changes to existing job training programs is the elimination of the current requirement that local Workforce Investment Boards give priority to services for low-income people.
The reduction of assistance to “vulnerable populations” was one of several reasons the Obama Administration issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) opposing the House bill.  The vulnerable groups which the Administration identified as likely to receive fewer services under this bill include “veterans, low-income adults, youth, adults with literacy and English language needs, people with disabilities, ex-offenders, and others with significant barriers to employment.”

Of particular concern is the fact that the legislation would freeze funding levels for 7 years.  Low-income advocates including the National Skills Coalition view the legislation as providing a rationale for deep cuts in job training programs in the Budget Resolution now before the House.

The SKILLS Act passed with a vote of 215-202, with only 2 Democrats supporting the legislation and 14 Republicans opposing it.  It is unclear what action the Senate will take on these workforce programs this year, but the Senate is unlikely to endorse the House bill.

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