Lawmakers Rewrite Nation’s Job Training Programs

WASHINGTON–In a rare show of congressional cooperation, lawmakers rewrote many of the nation’s job training programs, with a 415-6 House vote in early July sending the Workforce Investment Act bill to Democratic President Barack Obama for his signature.

The rewrite, though championed by Senate Labor Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and pushed by unions, still faced some hurdles from the House GOP majority.  They were overcome, AFSCME reported.

Prime among them was, again, a House Republican scheme to roll all U.S. workforce development programs into one block grant, cut the money and give it to governors to distribute.  That would have ended the states’ Employment Service.  The block grant plan lost.

The bill “also continues the individual identities of the Workforce Investment Act’s adult, dislocated worker. and youth programs although local areas would have some authority to transfer funds between the adult and dislocated worker programs,” AFSCME added.

Instead of the block grants, the workforce development programs would be linked more tightly to the Labor Department’s One-Stop career centers.  The new law orders the two to be in the same place, where possible, and it adds joint Labor Department-state plans for career enhancement training for employment service workers, many of them AFSCME members.

Employment Service programs will be tied more closely with unemployment insurance, AFSCME said.  And the law sets up a multi-state plan to develop career advancement models for low-wage health care, child care and adult caregivers.  And businesses will have a smaller majority of seats on state and local workforce development center boards.

“Access to training, education, and employment services opens doors to the middle class for workers and helps strengthen our economy,” Harkin said when his panel and the GOP-run House Education and the Workforce Committee worked out the compromise.

“This bipartisan, bicameral reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act will help ensure all workers – including those with disabilities – can access these opportunities. It will provide better coordination and value to our workforce development system,” he added.