CHN: Senate Continues Reauthorization of WIA

Details of Bill Emerge over August Recess: Mark-up Set for September 24 The Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the nation’s primary job training and services system, is due to be reauthorized this year. The House passed a partisan, Republican-sponsored bill in May (HR 1261). In contrast, the Senate has worked over the last few months to draft a bipartisan bill. Since June, staff on the Senate Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee have been meeting to work on their bipartisan draft, starting from a Republican proposal that was very similar to the House-passed bill, HR 1261. Although HELP staff have released their draft in three separate stages this summer, their work is not finished. The third and most recent draft of the bill was released over the Labor Day weekend and a summary is below.

The Senate HELP committee has set a mark-up date of September 24 and will release the completed bill on September 17. Advocates are watching closely as the draft develops and must submit their comments and suggestions to staff before the 17th. The Workforce Investment Act expires September 30 and it is highly unlikely the Senate will be able to finish the bill – much less complete a conference with the House – without passing a temporary extension of the existing law beyond the end of September.

Summary of the draft: Advocates have found some encouraging aspects in the completed sections of the Senate draft, including many improvements over the House passed bill. The major improvement is that the Senate bill maintains separate funding streams for the WIA Adult, WIA Dislocated Worker, and Wagner-Peyser programs. The House bill had block-granted those three programs into a single WIA Adult program – a move many advocates feared would threaten future funding of WIA programs.

Like House bill, this draft includes the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program as a mandatory One-Stop partner. This will encourage more coordinated and improved services for low-income adults who are eligible for both programs.

The draft proposal fails to improve, clarify, or eliminate the sequence of services language. This is an aspect of WIA that most advocates, as well as One-Stop staff and WIA partners, agree is in need of revision. Currently, people serviced at a One-Stop Center need to move through the first two levels of services (core, intensive) before becoming eligible for training. Advocates had hoped the language could be changed so as to allow individuals to access the training services they need to advance in their careers, find a new and better job, or advance towards self-sufficiency. The current draft language is too restrictive to allow One-Stop Centers to tailor their services to the needs of each individual.

In addition, advocates contend that the Senate bill gives too much control over local services and strategy to state Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs). The bill allows state WIBs to establish administrative and accountability structures for local One-Stops and also to ability to establish statewide strategies to be used by all local centers to serve both employers and job seekers. This would restrict the local centers ability to tailor their services and programs to meet the needs of the local community. Given there could be large differences in the unemployed workforce, labor conditions, and job availability throughout any state, this provision is very restrictive for local centers.

There are still many sections of the bill that are unfinished and major issues left to be resolved, including the infrastructure funding for local One-Stops and the system of performance measures that can adequately showcase the different types of successes and shortcomings of WIA system across local communities. Another concern is structuring the performance measures so as not to give unintended incentives to serve certain populations through WIA while leaving others unserved (such as those individuals with the greatest barriers to work, or employers who require a large amount of training).

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