President Biden’s Latest Budget Request gives Workforce Advocates a Win

The President’s Budget Proposal for the 2024 Fiscal Year (FY) is a commitment to bolstering workforce and training programs across agencies. While the budget doesn’t propose increases to workforce programs at the robust levels provided in Build Back Better, in general, the budget request provides small increases over 2023 levels. Additionally, the budget reflects the efforts of our network to increase investment in skills by proposing a new program to bring employers, training providers, and other partners together to design and implement training programs that create access to in-demand, good jobs.

Throughout programs – including those focused on industry or sector partnerships, apprenticeship, transportation and energy workforces implicated in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and pairing skills with economic development – the administration continues to focus on outreach to communities of color. Building on the Biden Administration’s 2020 Executive Order on Addressing Racial Equity, those efforts include agency reporting on efforts to address racial equity as well as targeting and prioritizing of programs to benefit underserved and underrepresented populations.

The overall budget totals nearly $7 trillion dollars and includes proposals to expand access to childcare and preschool, establish 12 weeks of national paid family and medical leave, and make Affordable Care Act Subsidy enhancements permanent.

It is important to note that this request will not be enacted, it serves as a marker for what the president would like to see from Congress. There is no obligation from the legislative branch to move the contents of the budget forward.

The president’s budget request kicks off the appropriations process for both chambers of Congress. That process will not be smooth this year, though. Congressional Republicans have expressed a desire to roll non-defense government spending back to FY22 levels. Democrats are largely unified in opposing cuts. Federal workforce programs are not an area that can afford to see cuts. Over the past 20 years, these programs have been consistently underfunded making it more difficult for workers to access training and employers to reach qualified job seekers.

Industry or Sector Partnership programs are big winners in Department of Labor budget

The administration’s budget for the Department of Labor (DOL) largely includes modest increases above 2023 enacted levels for critical workforce programs. The proposed 2024 levels are also generally consistent with the President’s request for FY23. While the proposed budget may not be as bold as skills advocates hoped, it does reflect support from the President for skills. In a year when split control of Congress may lead to non-defense spending cuts, the administration making this a priority item in appropriations negotiations would be a significant boon to the programs.

The proposed DOL budget invests in partnerships as a proven method to train workers- including $200 million for the Sectoral Employment through Career Training for Occupational Readiness (SECTOR) program. This new proposal echoes NSC’s calls for Congress to invest in industry and sector partnerships by bringing employers, training providers and other partners together to design and implement training programs that create access to in-demand, good jobs. In the same vein, the budget request also calls for an additional $35 million over 2023 enacted levels for the Strengthening Community College Training Grants program to help community colleges partner with employers and the workforce system. Both programs are intended to prioritize underrepresented populations gain access to high-quality training programs that lead to good jobs.

DOL’s budget request proposes a 3% overall increase for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I State Formula Grants for a total increase of roughly $90 million. This figure includes increases of $14.3 million for Adult, $59.7 million for Dislocated Worker, and $15.7 for Youth programs under WIOA. Even with a total proposed budget of just over $3 billion, the budget for title I programs falls nearly one billion dollars short of funding in 2001 before adjusting for inflation. This is a clear reflection of our country’s underinvestment in the workforce development system which has contributed to the current situation: workers aren’t able to = access training for the jobs that employers are offering.

Another WIOA formula grant program, Employment Service (Wagner-Peyser) receives a modest 3% percent bump for a total of roughly $700 million. Employment Service formula grants provide funds to states to operate public employment offices nationwide and offer career services, job search assistance, referrals to employment and other services.

There is also a call for an additional $50 million to support apprenticeships for a total of $335 million. This is reflective of the Biden Administration’s commitment to registered apprenticeship and organized labor.

NSC regularly calls for additional resources to track earning and employment outcomes to ensure that workforce programs are having their intended impact and serving communities of color, women, and other underrepresented workers. The President’s Budget nearly doubles the budget for the Workforce Data Quality Initiative to $11 million to help improve the data that is captured in order to improve program performance.

There is a significant proposed increase in the Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) program which is budgeted at $170 million representing a 48% increase above current funding levels. The REO program provides workforce development opportunities to justice-impacted individuals and reflects the Biden Administration’s efforts to ensure that federal investments support underrepresented populations.

Free community college proposal stands out in ED’s budget

The administration included a number of new proposals and funding increases for the Department of Education’s (ED’s). Notably, the plan includes $90 billion over 10 years to support free community college. This would be a first dollar program (meaning that it would supplement and not supplant other student aid, such as Pell Grants) and provide free community college to first-time students and returning adults. It would operate as a federal-state partnership, and students could access assistance for up to three years (with the flexibility of up to four years under certain circumstances). The administration proposes using mandatory funding, so this would fall outside of the typical appropriations process. We’ve seen similar proposals from the administration, including within the American Families Plan, which was released in 2021.

The proposal for a $90 billion new investment that does not have to go through appropriations approval each year will face significant obstacles in passing Congress. Interestingly, the administration seems to recognize and address this challenge by also proposing a complementary program – $500 million in discretionary funding for a program called Accelerated Success: Free Community College. This program would provide grants to community colleges, consortia of community colleges, or state systems of community colleges to support tuition free programs that (1) fully articulate and provide guaranteed credit transfer to state four-year baccalaureate institutions or (2) offer high-quality credit bearing career programs for in-demand industries that meet benchmarks for wages and employment. A portion of each grant may also be used for program development, data collection, and evaluation.

The administration also calls for an $820 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award, which would bring the total to $8,215 for award year 2024-25 if passed into law. While this amount may exceed the average tuition and fees for community college students, it still falls far short of average total cost of attendance which exceeds $19,000 for full-time students. Increasing the Pell Grant maximum promotes debt-free pathways and makes college work for more students and workers. The budget also calls for greater access to financial aid for Dreamers. The budget request is silent on the expansion of Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality shorter-term education and training programs. This is a top priority for NSC and its networks.

Other notable increases and new proposals include a $43 million increase for Perkins Career Technical and Education (CTE) state grants, a $20 million increase to the Child Care Access Means Parents In School program, and a $120 million increase for the Postsecondary Student Success Grant program, which provides grants to support institutional level retention and completion reforms. Adult Basic Education state grants are level funded under the budget. New programs include $30 million for a Systemwide Holistic Student Supports program that would provide grants to help students access federal and local benefits beyond financial aid, such as food and housing assistance. There is also a proposal for a $150 million program to support campus-based mental health services for postsecondary students.

Department of Commerce doubles down on partnerships

The Biden Administration has leveraged the Department of Commerce to further workforce development priorities. Commerce has administered grants for industry sector partnerships, funding for digital skill building, and created job quality principles in collaboration with DOL and the Department of Education – in which NSC partners weighed in heavily.

Many in NSC’s network applied to Good Jobs Challenge grants in 2022, and our state SkillSPAN lead in Iowa, the United Way of Central Iowa, and Business Leaders United partner South Charleston Chamber of Commerce received grants to scale up, diversify, and expand their partnership with training providers for their health care systems. NSC is excited to see that the President requested another round of funding for these important programs. If awarded, grantees can use the funds to scale up industry or sector partnerships or address other workforce equity needs.

In 2023, Good Jobs Challenge grants received $500M in funding. This year, the President requested $100M. This could be because the President is diverting less permanent funding streams (competitive grants) into more consistent funding streams, such as through his proposed SECTOR program detailed earlier.

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) received a proposed $102 million increase (total of $277 million over the 2023 enacted level). MEP equips small and medium-sized manufacturers with resources to develop a skilled and diverse workforce. Congress should pass MEP funding in line with the President’s request.

Commerce also administers grants for digital skill building, most recently through the Digital Equity Act. All states and territories have received their planning grant funds and are in the process of creating Digital Equity State Plans which include digital skill building components. There are no new proposals for funding digital skill building in the proposed budget. There is funding to National Telecommunications Information Administration to conduct oversight over of Digital Equity Act Grants

As a result, NSC continues to advocate for legislation that creates upskilling for workers on the job and reskilling grants for workers who have lost their job to train for in-demand digital skills. In the budget, President Biden outlines his commitment to support a WIOA reauthorization. Leaders at DOL should consider this key component of digital skills a must-have in any WIOA reauthorization.

Finally, the President requested $200 million for the Recompete Pilot Program to provide grants to distressed communities and connect workers to good jobs that support long-term comprehensive economic development (100M increase from omni FY23).

Departments of Transportation and Energy include small programs dedicated to training

The bulk of funding for workforce under the Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Energy (DOE) is embedded into formula grants, competitive grants and other programs as a possible use of funds though not the primary objective of the funding source. However, there are a few programs in the President’s Budget worth mentioning where workforce and related activities are at the core of the program.

The President’s Budget includes small increases for a few existing programs administered by DOT administrations and bureaus. Under the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the budget proposes $25.5 million to support the Training and Education program. T&E supports several programs that train the transportation workforce including the National Highway Institute, Local and Tribal Technical Assistance programs, education and academic programs, the Transportation Education and Training Development and Deployment Program, and the Transportation Centers of Excellence. Under the Federal Transit Administration the budget proposes $8 million Transit Technical Assistance and Training program to increase the capacity of states and local transit agencies to attract and retain workforce talent and $12.4 million for the Transit Technical Assistance and Workforce Development program p which provides technical assistance to public transportation agencies, funds National Transit Institute activities, and supports training and outreach to underrepresented populations.

Moving into DOE programs, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), sees a $49 million increase above FY23. The justification for the increase is to allow for the retrofitting of additional low-income homes with energy improvements like insulation, duct sealing, heating and cooling systems, air filtration, hot water and electric base load reduction and to train contractors to perform this work.

The Local Government Energy Program under DOE’s State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP) would receive $65 million to support deployment of clean energy programs. In the current funding year, the program received $12 million dollars so the President’s budget would quintuple funding for that program. The Local Government Energy program’s budget is expanded by the administration in order to support workforce development and training in clean energy roles within the local community. Funding for this program would help meet one of NSC’s priorities for infrastructure implementation -making sure that programs support local hire.

Department of Agriculture continues investments for SNAP E&T

The budget proposal for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) matching program sees a $13.5 million increase over FY23 estimates for a total of $550 million which 100% federal funds remains flat at $124 million. SNAP E&T is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program helps people receiving SNAP simultaneously gain access to training and supportive services to enter into the workforce or advance in their careers.

The Farm Bill was last updated in 2018 and is again on the table this session. Given tight margins in both chambers, massive changes to the program seem unlikely. SNAP E&T and other work programs, however, are likely to feature significantly throughout negotiations for the reauthorization.

Department of Health and Human Services creates new health care workforce program

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) budget includes a new $27 million Health Care Workforce Innovation program designed to grow the health care workforce by funding new, leading edge health profession education and training models that will expand the supply of health care professionals in underserved and rural areas. This is a competitive grant that will fund innovative models, including expanding career pathways for paraprofessionals.

What’s Next?

While the budget request is only a proposal it’s the starting point for the annual appropriations process. Members of Congress and their staff expect to hear from stakeholders about items in the budget proposal, and what items are most important for their constituents.

The process originates in the House, and appropriators will hold hearings over the next couple of months with agency leads to dig into the priorities the administration set out.

Our upcoming annual Skills Summit is one of the best ways that our network can learn more about these upcoming legislative opportunities as well as connect with Congressional offices. Join us in Washington, D.C. May 1-3.