CHN: Job Training Legislation Moves In The Senate

Last week the Senate passed by unanimous consent legislation that reauthorizes the law governing training and education programs for workers, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  Congress passed WIA in 1998 for the express purpose of strengthening the nation’s workforce development system, specifically by streamlining and coordinating the delivery of multiple employment, education, and training programs.  The legislation also created “one-stop” career centers to facilitate access to a range of education and training programs.
Congress began debating WIA in 2001. WIA’s authorization expired in 2003, although the programs continue to be funded based on the 1998 law.  Prior to action last week by the Senate, legislation has been stalled since the House passed its version of the bill in March 2005 and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee acted in May 2005.

Conference committee negotiations could prove very difficult as the House and Senate bills each contain provisions that would be opposed by the other body.  One highly contentious issue is whether faith-based groups that receive job training grants should be able to base hiring decisions on religion.  The House bill allows for staff hiring decisions to take religion into account, something Democrats generally oppose; the Senate bill does not.  A second issue of contention relates to block-granting programs.  The House bill combines a number of programs into a block grant.  The Senate does not in an effort to gain the support of Democrats who oppose the loss of accountability and worker protections that can occur when programs are subsumed into a block grant. The Senate does, however, allow flexibility so that states can transfer up to 45 percent of funds between the Adult Training and Dislocated Worker Assistance programs, for example when unemployment rises.

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Labor and Employment