Letter Regarding the Workforce Investment Act from 48 Stakeholder Groups
April 20, 2012
Dear Chairman Kline and Ranking Member Miller:
As you approach mark-up of the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4297) introduced by Reps. Foxx, McKeon and Heck, we, the undersigned, write to express our concerns relating to several provisions that we believe will detract from the ability of disadvantaged populations to benefit from our nation’s one-stop job training system and to obtain the skills they need to move toward economic security. As drafted, the bill repeals effective, non-duplicative job training programs, eliminates supportive services, eliminates the existing priority of services for low-income individuals and diminishes the input of stakeholders other than businesses on Workforce Investment Boards.
Most fundamentally, we believe that the purpose of the nation’s workforce development system should include serving the needs of workers as well as the needs of employers and, furthermore, that the purpose should include providing workers the opportunity to develop the skills necessary for jobs leading to economic security, or, at a minimum, self-sufficiency. As outlined in the committee draft, the purpose is to “enhance employer engagement,” “promote customer choice” of training services and “ensure accountability” in the use of funds. The bill does not define or mention worker self-sufficiency except as one goal of Adult Basic Education and Family Literacy.
In contrast, the WIA reauthorization bill introduced by Reps. Tierney, Hinojosa and Chairman Miller (H.R. 4227) requires states to describe in their state plans their vision and goals for developing the skills needed for both economic growth and economic self-sufficiency. In Section 101, the legislation defines economic self-sufficiency as “a wage sufficient to support a family adequately and, over time, to save for emergency expenses and adequate retirement income” taking account of local cost of living, family size and other geographic factors.
H.R. 4297 repeals section 134 (e)(2) of current law, which permits local WIA dollars to be used to provide supportive services when participants are unable to obtain them from other programs in the community. Supportive services, such as dependent care, transportation or needs-based payments, are often essential in order for single parents, seniors, disabled and very low-income individuals to participate in on-going pre-employment services, education and job training. In recent years, the availability of such services through other community programs has been reduced as a result of state and local budget cuts following the recession.
Overall, H.R. 4297 fails to adequately address factors that currently keep the most disadvantaged workers from qualifying for actual training services. First, it eliminates the current provision, Section 134(d)(4)(E), that gives priority to recipients of public assistance and other low-income individuals for training and intensive services. Low income adults, disproportionately women, minorities and single parents, are currently less than one-half of those who receive these most valuable services. The legislation appears to stress “work ready” services in a way that perpetuates the system’s current “sequence of services,” which prevents many customers from receiving skill training unless and until they progress through the most basic job search and readiness services. Also, the bill fails to increase WIA resources overall, which peaked in 2000, even as it expands the number of discretionary activities permissible at the local level.
The Foxx bill eliminates required membership on state workforce boards of representatives of labor and individuals representing youth and organizations with expertise in delivering services, including community colleges and community-based organizations. It also requires a two-thirds business majority on local boards and eliminates requirements for representation of labor, local educational entities, community-based organizations, economic development agencies and one-stop partners.
Of particular concern to advocates for special populations with barriers to employment – displaced homemakers, women seeking nontraditional careers, older workers, farm workers, ex-offenders, Native Americans, veterans, refugees and others -- is the bill’s repeal of 16 programs, including Job Corps and YouthBuild, designed to deliver services tailored to many of these populations with specific goals and needs. The “repeals” section of the bill (Section 401) is separate from and in addition to the “consolidation” of 27 other programs into a “Workforce Investment Fund.” Programs repealed include Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO), and the Senior Community Services Employment Program (SCSEP), both of which, the GAO concluded, provide specialized services to populations “not targeted by any other of the (47) programs we surveyed.”1
The Tierney proposal does not repeal job training programs, but does increase cross-program alignment, including with Department of Education career and technical education programs. Importantly, H.R. 4227 adds to the definition of “individuals with barriers to employment,” persons with “lack of work experience or access to employment in nontraditional occupations,” thus increasing the likelihood that “nontraditional services” will be woven into many aspects of the one-stop system.
H.R. 4297 does call for state and local workforce plans to meet how they will address the needs of populations served by the programs it repeals as well as other populations with barriers to employment. It also requires governors to reserve two percent of the state’s allocation for grants to serve certain populations with “barriers to employment.” However, that amount must come from a smaller pot. Under the circumstances, it is doubtful that governors would be willing or able to maintain or initiate the services now provided by all of the existing programs that would be repealed.
The WANTO program addresses both the gender pay gap and employers’ needs for skilled workers by broadening the potential workforce for relatively higher paying occupations in traditionally male fields by introducing more qualified women. Male-dominated technical occupations and those in manufacturing and skilled trades typically pay at least 30% more than the clerical, service, and health care jobs (except nursing) held by women who have less than a four-year degree. An independent evaluation of WANTO’s effectiveness over nine years found stakeholders nearly unanimous in their assessment of the program’s value, with employers saying the most important benefit to them was its referral of qualified, skilled workers.
SCSEP is the only federal program specifically targeted to employing individuals age 55 and over with incomes below 125% of the federal poverty line ($13,963). Participants, 72% of them women, earn the minimum wage for part-time work in local community service agencies while learning skills transferable to other local employers. For example, the typical unemployed SCSEP participant whose monthly income was $359 before the program could increase her earnings sufficiently to cover basic expenses of $1,672 per month as measured by the Elder Economic Security Standard Index for Minnehaha County S.D.
As organizations deeply concerned about the ability of our nation to return to high economic growth and to develop the skills of all who want to participate in the workforce, we urge you to consider these views in your reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.
ANEW (Apprenticeship & Non-Traditional Employment for Women, Pacific Northwest)
Association for Women in Science
Chicago Women in Trades
Coalition of Labor Union Women
Coalition on Human Needs
Community Action Partnership
Compliance USA, Inc.
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Gerontological Society of America
Hard Hatted Women
Insight Center for Community Economic Development
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Massachusetts Tradeswomen Association
Missouri Women in Trades
National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity
National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Council of Negro Women
National Council of Women’s Organizations
National Council on Aging
National Education Association
National Employment Law Project
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Transitional Jobs Network
National Women’s Law Center
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc.
OWL-The Voice of Midlife and Older Women
Senior Service America Inc.
TNT (Tradeswomen Now and Tomorrow)
Vermont Works for Women
West Virginia Women Work
Wider Opportunities for Women
Women’s Foundation of California