SKILLS Act passes the House.

March 15, 2013

Early this afternoon, the House passed the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803), legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), introduced by Representatives Foxx (R-NC), McKeon (R-CA), and Heck (R-NV). The bill was passed 215-202, largely along party lines.

The SKILLS Act consolidates 35 existing federal workforce programs—including WIA formula and national programs, Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, SNAP E&T, and others—into a single $6 billion Workforce Investment Fund. In addition, the bill:

• Eliminates all current membership requirements for state and local workforce boards, except for certain requirements relating to business and economic development representation, and locally elected officials;
• Eliminates provisions relating to automatic designation of local workforce areas, allowing state boards to designate local areas in consultation with the governor;
• Eliminates the requirement that local Workforce Investment Board’s (WIBs) give priority for services to low-income individuals;
• Requires states to set aside up to 25 percent of Workforce Investment Fund dollars to maintain Job Corps as a national program;
• Authorizes states to develop unified state plans, and consolidate funding for other federal training and social services programs—including funding for TANF, Trade Adjustment Assistance, Community Service Block Grants, and programs under state unemployment compensation laws—into such state plans;
• Mandates a minimum percentage of local area allocations that must be used for training services; and
• Sets common performance measures for the Workforce Investment Fund, adult education programs under Title II, and Vocational Rehabilitation programs under Title IV.

Read National Skills Coalition’s (NSC) recently released in-depth analysis of HR 803 for further details on the bill.

During the floor debate, the following amendments were offered:

• Rep. Gallego (D-TX), allowing veterans to use federal jobs programs to seek jobs in advanced manufacturing (agreed to on a voice vote);
• Rep. Young (R-AK), requiring states to set aside 1 percent of workforce investment funds for job training assistance for Native American populations (agreed to on a voice vote);
• Rep. Black (R-TN), including a sense of Congress that costs of the bill should be offset with funds used by the Department of Agriculture’s marketing and outreach program (withdrawn);
• Rep. Garret (R-NJ), requiring a 10 percent reduction in funding for the bill if evaluation reports to Congress are late (agreed to on a voice vote); and
• Rep. Tierney, offering H.R. 798, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 as an amendment in the nature of a substitute (failed 192-227). 

NSC opposes The SKILLS Act because it fails to enact real reforms to improve the quality of our nation’s federal workforce development programs, and in many instances, will make it more difficult for jobseekers to connect to the labor market and for employers to access the skilled workers they need. NSC believes any WIA reauthorization legislation should meet three goals: enhancing the effectiveness of our workforce system to meet the skill needs of all U.S. workers and businesses; strengthening accountability; and promoting innovation by building on the lessons learned and best practices developed over the past 15 years by the workforce field. Unfortunately, The SKILLS Act fails to meet that standard. 

Read NSC’s press release on House-passage of the SKILLS Act.

Any further action on WIA reauthorization now moves to the Senate. Due to significant membership changes on the HELP committee—Senator Alexander (R-TN) has replaced Senator Enzi (R-WY) as the ranking member at the full committee level and Senator Casey (D-PA) has replaced Senator Murray (D-WA) as chair of the Employment & Workplace Safety subcommittee—it is currently unclear how the Senate will proceed on WIA reauthorization, although it is not expected that the Senate will take up the House-passed bill.