The Senate Passed an Infrastructure bill and took the first step towards economic recovery legislation – where do investments in inclusive skills training fit in?  

By Katie Spiker, August 23, 2021

Spoiler Alert: As the House and Senate reconcile their infrastructure and recovery plans, the $100 Billion for skills training the President proposed is still on the table – and what Congress does in the next 30 days will determine workforce funding levels for the next decade.

Investments in skills training and supportive services are critical to an inclusive economic recovery. The businesses and workers most impacted by the pandemic – women, people of color, immigrants, and their families – need Congress to invest in training and supports that are essential components of any effort to revitalize the labor market. That’s why NSC is fighting for a generation-defining $100 billion investment in equitable skills policies that contribute to an inclusive economic recovery. That’s the amount we need to respond to the pandemic’s impact on the workforce and the decade worth of digital and technological change that happened in just the last year. In a real victory for our advocacy work, that was exactly the amount that President Biden included in his American Jobs Plan.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and Democrats took the first step towards economic recovery legislation by passing a budget resolution that would allow them to spend up to $3.5 trillion over the next ten years.

Now the action goes to the House.

What’s in the Senate’s Infrastructure bill?

There’s one important win for our coalition in the infrastructure bill passed through the Senate: it funds workers’ access to digital skills in a way that’s consistent with the bipartisan Digital Equity Act introduced by Senators Murray (D-WA) and Portman (R-OH). Digital access and learning for all working people at home and on the job is key to an inclusive economic recovery. COVID-19 put a spotlight on the digital divide and the racially inequitable consequences of that divide. The Digital Equity Act has broad support from members on both sides of the aisle and would support state and local capacity to help workers access broadband and develop the digital skills necessary to use devices. The bill would also allow local areas to support workers’ digital reskilling and upskilling necessary to succeed in jobs that are evolving as businesses reopen and expand during our economic recovery.

The legislation also includes over $1 billion in occupational-specific skills training grants administered by the Departments of Energy and Transportation. These investments are critical to preparing workers for jobs like those in water infrastructure, surface transportation, and electric car manufacturing. They’re also important for making sure that people of color and women who have historically been excluded from these sectors and acutely impacted by pandemic-related job loss can access new infrastructure jobs. Effective and equitable implementation of these grant programs, however, will require alignment between funding at Energy and Transportation and knowledge of federal and local workforce experts, including community leaders who can ensure that training and employment is available to local residents most impacted by the pandemic.

The Senate infrastructure bill alone won’t drive an inclusive economic recovery

The bipartisan infrastructure bill left out key proposals NSC was fighting for:

  • the $100 Billion in skills training investments that we’ve been advocating for, that the President proposed, and that businesses and workers really need.
  • Expanded access to Pell Grants for high-quality, short-term programs, a proposal with support of more than 1/3 of the Senate – with equal support from Republicans and Democrats.
  • Critical investments to health care infrastructure that would support equitable career pathways for millions of workers in allied and direct health care jobs, who are mostly women of color.

It also didn’t include proposals from the President’s American Families Plan, which would significantly expand free postsecondary training and education, affordable child care and other supports to working people.

Investments in our nation’s infrastructure without investments in the people who will rebuild and maintain it will only perpetuate inequity and slow recovery. That’s why it important to turn our advocacy to the reconciliation process.

What’s next?

The $3.5 Trillion budget resolution that the Senate passed with the infrastructure bill earlier this month is a complement to the $1 trillion infrastructure plan. The resolution is meant to be a blueprint that guides decision-making around how Congress allocates (up to) that $3.5 trillion and is based on proposals the President included in his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan – his Build Back Better agenda. And, since Democrats have majorities in the House and Senate, they’re using a process called “reconciliation” to fast track the budget – which is a high priority for Democrats and President Biden – and makes it easier to pass.

Funding levels for workforce training, postsecondary education, childcare, and other supports may fall short of what’s needed for an inclusive economic recovery

The good news: We know that on a very basic, broad level, there will be investments in workforce development – but we don’t know exactly where they will go, or the amount of those investments.

The bad news: Even though $3.5 trillion sounds like a lot of money, it’s not enough to fund all the pieces of the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan at the levels proposed by the President. The Senate HELP and House Education and Labor committees together are currently authorized to spend $726 billion. But the costs of proposals in AFP and AJP under these committees’ jurisdiction far exceed that allocation, meaning the committee will have to make tough decisions about what to fund, and at what level. These committees will be focused on issues NSC supports as key to an inclusive economic recovery: workforce training, free community college including for DREAMers, expanded access to childcare and universal pre-K, along with school infrastructure costs, increases to Pell grants, targeted investments in Historically Black Colleges & Universities and Minority Serving Institutions, and investments in teacher training and support.

Compounding this, moderate Democrats are pushing back on the topline of $3.5 billion, urging their colleagues to spend significantly less overall. Leadership is likely to be responsive to this concern, meaning committees could have their allocations slashed (and therefore have even less to spend on critical programs) in the coming weeks.

As lawmakers negotiate this once-in-a-generation investment, they should seize the opportunity to ensure that working people and families who were struggling before the pandemic have a better career –and the services that support it – when it ends.

What Skills Champions can do over the next month to impact workforce funding for the next decade

Next month, members in both the House and Senate will be in daily discussions on which programs to include in the reconciliation package and how much to spend on each one.

By as early as September 15th, the House will pass a reconciliation package and send it over to the Senate. The Senate will make changes and – optimistically – Senators want to pass their version of reconciliation by the end of October. At that point both chambers will either conference to iron out differences or the House will pass the Senate version of the bill.

Members of Congress need to hear that a $100 Billion investment in skills training is critical to supporting an inclusive economic recovery for the workers and small businesses all over the country who were most impacted by the pandemic– and they need to hear it repeatedly.

Together with Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce, National Skills Coalition is circulating a sign on letter again calling for $100 Billion in skills training that we saw proposed from President Biden in the American Jobs Plan. Is your organization able to sign on or share with your networks so we can show the breadth and depth of the coalition that supports investments in training?

We are also working with Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships to circulate a parallel letter for businesses and industry associations to sign on to so Congress can understand business interest in investment in skills. Can you share with Businesses in your network?

Both letters are open through close of business on August 26th.