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Investing in our workforce system is key to responding to the widespread and urgent need for workers to access skills training to fill good jobs – and an important step to building a truly inclusive economy.
Yet, instead of meeting this need, the House of Representatives proposed a funding bill that would decimate critical workforce funding sources; prevent working people from accessing the skills they need to compete; and leave businesses desperate to hire skilled workers – especially in industries at the backbone of our economy that are desperate for federal investments in skills training like infrastructure and manufacturing.
Last month, the House Appropriations sub-committee released bills to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and related agencies for the 2024 Fiscal Year. The bills (often referred to as “Labor HHS”) provides annual funding for workforce programs including WIOA Title I (which supports training for adults, dislocated workers, and youth) as well as apprenticeship, adult education, career and technical education and other important programs.
To be clear: neither the Senate nor House funding proposals meets the needs of our current workforce system, much less moves us toward an inclusive economy. But the current political divide makes funding increases for the next fiscal year very unlikely. And if the House bill is enacted, cuts to workforce funding would harm people and businesses who rely on skills training programs – particularly women, people of color, and low-income workers. Furthermore, the House bill doesn’t stop at proposing funding cuts but proposes policy changes outside of the scope of funding that would hurt women, transgender people, and the LGBT community.
Due to an earlier agreement to prevent default on the nation’s debt, the 118th Congress had decided to keep funding for non-defense spending relatively the same as 2023 spending – including Labor HHS spending.
With their bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee stayed true to the spirit of the funding compromise and kept funding levels largely the same. That bill was approved by the Committee with wide bipartisan margins and will head to the Senate floor when the chamber returns from the August Recess.
On the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans on the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee released a budget proposal that makes extensive cuts to critical workforce programs and completely eliminates funding for WIOA Youth Training, Job Corps, and the Senior Community Service Employment Program. Unlike the Senate’s bipartisan bill, only Republicans support the House legislation. The bill will still need a vote in the full House Committee on Appropriations before seeing any action on the House floor.
Through our Creating an Equitable, Resilient Workforce campaign, NSC has been advocating to change WIOA from an underfunded system to one that is adequately resourced to deliver high-quality skills training that supports the assets and aspirations of working people, helps small businesses, and advances racial equity and pathways to quality jobs.
The House bill’s draconian bill proposes more than $1 billion in cuts to WIOA Title I State Formula Grants with the majority of those cuts coming from the elimination of Youth activities. This is a major source of funding for states and local areas to create a workforce plans and run skills programs. These cuts also include nearly $175 million from adult programs. This is funding that adults – including immigrants, veterans, English as a Second Language learners, and workers with low incomes rely on to get trained, upskill, or reskill their careers. And these cuts are on top of a $712 million rescission of FY23 formula funding from Adult Employment and Training activities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which would effectively defund the nation’s primary funding stream for quickly connecting adults with employment and training opportunities.
The Senate largely proposes level funding for WIOA programs and proposes a 6% decrease from Dislocated Worker National Reserve funds.
Starting now, and lasting for at least the next decade, billions of dollars from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will flow to states with the intention of modernizing American infrastructure –from fixing crumbling roads and bridges, to establishing electric vehicle charging networks, to deploying broadband internet. The success of planned infrastructure projects hinges on a new generation of workers having access to the education, skills training, and economic supports they need to access good jobs and careers in this booming sector. That’s why NSC’s People Powered Infrastructure Campaign urges policymakers to invest in people as well as hard infrastructure.
Unfortunately, House Republicans have proposed eliminating programs such as WIOA Youth Training, Senior Community Service Employment Program, and Job Corps – cuts that would severely limit the amount of talent available to get these jobs.
The cuts in the House bill also threaten funding for industry sector partnerships. These partnerships between training providers and businesses are key for ensuring that training meets business demand, and workers are trained for jobs that are available within their community – especially for the jobs being created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Without dedicated federal funding for sector partnerships, businesses and training providers will have to scramble for additional funding and cause gaps in hiring.
The Senate proposed bill remains largely level across programs that are needed to create a people-powered infrastructure.
Neither bill offers dedicated funding for industry sector partnerships, and the Senate bill cuts 15% from Strengthening Community College grants, which serve to fund partnerships between community colleges and businesses.
Through our Making College Work campaign, NSC is urging policymakers to make college work for working people, businesses, and our economy by adopting higher education policies that fully support working people’s needs, career goals, and economic mobility.
The House bill could not be more out of step with NSC’s priorities. The bill:
Meanwhile, the Senate-proposed bill proposes modest increases of three percent to key education programs such as Career and Technical Education programs and increases the maximum Pell Grant award by three percent. These increases are critical to workers’ access to skills programs, and a slight increase is movement in the right direction. Without a greater increase, and commensurate investments across the Labor-HHS bill, however, Congress still falls short of what workers and businesses need.
More than ever before, it is imperative that workers have access to digital skills training if they’re going to compete in today’s job market. A groundbreaking analysis by NSC and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta found that ninety-two percent of jobs require digital skills but that 1/3 of workers don’t have the foundational digital skills necessary to enter and thrive in today’s job market.
The House bill cuts a whopping nineteen percent from the Department of Labor meaning that many programs that have digital skills training as an allowable use of funds, particularly WIOA activities, will not be able to be administered. Any cut to WIOA is a cut to digital equity and deepens the digital skill divide.
Structural racism has negatively impacted workforce policies and our workforce system and contributed to economic inequality – from Black workers being excluded from college-to-career programs like the G.I. Bill in 1944 to today when Black, brown, and indigenous workers are disproportionately enrolled in WIOA – our nation’s least-resourced workforce development program. To build the robust, inclusive pipeline of trained workers that business and our economy needs, we must adequately resource our workforce system and transform it into one that grants equitable access to skills training to all workers.
First, cutting programs means fewer workers and particularly fewer workers of color will be able to train for and access jobs. But the House bill makes more insidious policy changes outside of the scope of funding that would hurt women, transgender people, and the LGBT community as well.
Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) addressed this during the markup, saying “Our job is to serve our constituents, yet this proposed bill eliminates sixty-one programs that people rely on, and should not pass out of committee. . .The bill will negatively impact people of color and low-income people. It takes us in the wrong direction.”
Although there are a dozen appropriations bills that Congress considers, the vast majority of funding for workforce programs falls under the Labor HHS bill which is why this blog primarily focuses on the House and Senate versions of that legislation. However, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training (E&T) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs are funded in part through Department of Agriculture appropriations. These programs are critical for low-income families to access food, training, and other essential supports.
These investments in the SNAP program, including food benefits, are particularly relevant as Congress returns this fall. The Farm Bill is up for reauthorization – due by September 30th, the same timeline as government funding – and the appropriations proposals from the House evidence a continued underinvestment in what workers who rely on SNAP programming need.
Even with the essentially level funding proposed by the Senate, Congress still needs to hear from workforce advocates that investing in our workforce system is a crucial way to support workers and businesses on the ground.
There are a few ways advocates can take action during this crucial time: