U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (“SKILLS”) Act (H.R. 803) on February 25, 2013 and on Wednesday, March 6th.
It was passed out of the House Education and Workforce Committee. The SKILLS Act is similar to last year’s bill advanced by Republicans. In February 2013, Democrats submitted a competing Workforce Investment Act reauthorization bill (H.R. 798) and then walked out of the March 8th Committee hearing prior to the vote and issued a statement in protest of the passage of H.R. 803 out of Committee. The full House will vote on the SKILLS Act as early as mid-March. There appears inadequate support for passage of H.R. 803 in the U.S. Senate.
You may view the SKILLS Act here.
The legislation consolidates 30+ federal job training programs into a single $6 billion workforce investment fund that states would administer. The consolidation (also known as block granting) has occasionally been used to cut funding for programs. Indeed, current leadership in the U.S. House has pointed to block granting as a means to cut funding for the current workforce development delivery system. Programs/populations subject to consolidation under the SKILLS Act include, but are not limited to, Job Corps, adult basic education, Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), Wagner-Peyser, Employment and Training, dislocated workers/displaced homemaker, WIA youth, migrant & seasonal workers, and veterans.
Advocacy groups representing workforce training and education stakeholders are both in agreement and divided about some of the merits of the SKILLS Act. Some issues are
- One-stop centers pay for infrastructure: The Act proposes to pay for the costs of infrastructure by taking a portion of administrative funds from each one-stop partner. It also allows for the assignation of additional funds from partners for other one-stop costs. Stakeholders who have hard caps for administrative costs suggest that diverting administrative funds for other purposes could negatively impact service delivery and program quality.
- Participation on state and local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs): The Act requires a two-thirds business majority on state and local WIBs. Stakeholders recognize the need for substantial business sector representation, but have not advocated for a set percentage. The Act eliminates the requirement that local boards include representatives from local education agencies, labor organizations, community based organizations, one-stop partners, and economic development agencies.
- Inclusion of “for profits” as eligible service providers: The legislation makes several changes to the list of eligible providers to allow private, for-profit agencies and institutions to receive funds for adult education service delivery.
- Authorization of appropriations: The Act creates a ceiling of funding for adult education at $606 million for a total of 7 years. Stakeholders note that this limit prevents any real program growth in adult education in a time when adult education can positively impact the nation’s high unemployment rate.
- Eliminates public assistance and low income requirements: The Act ends the requirement that recipients of public assistance and low income individuals receive priority in delivery of services. Stakeholders fear that this audience may be ignored without a priority of service requirement.
- Requirement that WIBs proactively engage veterans: Local WIBs would be required to hire an employment specialist for veterans of U.S. military service. Stakeholders are largely in concurrence with this stipulation of the Act.
Past sessions of Congress have ignored the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and this Congress is to be commended for applying considerable efforts toward reauthorization. Your input is critical to getting final legislation that reflects the nature of your day-to-day work. Make your Congressional representatives and senators aware of how you positively impact the lives of the students and employees you serve. Don’t wait; write that email today and we will get the legislation that we want and need!