Focus on skill building, not work requirements

By Melissa Johnson, February 19, 2018

On Monday February 12, President Trump introduced his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019. Though a mixed bag for workforce programs, the proposal notably calls for the establishment or expansion of work requirements in federal housing aid and food assistance programs. This comes on the heels of a federal invitation to states to apply for waivers to implement work requirements for Medicaid health insurance. Waiver requests by Kentucky and Indiana have already been approved.

National Skills Coalition opposes these outdated and ineffective proposals to establish or expand work requirements in public benefit programs. Work requirements have not been effective at connecting people to family-supporting jobs or lifting them out of poverty. They can actually be counterproductive, since they encourage workers to take low-wage jobs rather than building skills and credentials that can help them compete in today’s economy. There’s also no evidence that work requirements help meet employers’ need for skilled workers. And they can create red tape for community colleges and training organizations that need flexibility to train people for jobs in our rapidly changing economy.

Rather than imposing work requirements on people with few financial resources – and putting them at risk of losing food, health care, and housing which make training more possible – federal and state policymakers should focus on strengthening workers’ access to education and training aligned with the needs of local and regional employers. In this way, workers can build the skills they need to earn family-sustaining incomes and businesses can hire workers with the right skills.

This message was recently echoed at NSC’s legislative briefing on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T), held in conjunction with the 2018 Skills Summit. The briefing illustrated NSC’s SNAP E&T Reauthorization Recommendations through the stories of professionals who work with SNAP recipients every day. Leaders from JVS Boston, Portland Community College, and Seattle Jobs Initiative spoke about the need to focus on training clients for in-demand jobs. Spending administrative time and resources tracking compliance with a weekly work requirement would detract from that goal, they said.

NSC also convened its Safety Net and Skills Policy National Advisory Panel for the first time ever at the 2018 Skills Summit. Over the coming year, the advisory panel will help guide NSC’s work on the intersection of the safety net and skills policy and connecting public assistance recipients to skills and training opportunities. Recently, this work has included a series of federal policy recommendations in the Skills for Good Jobs agenda, TANF and SNAP E&T reauthorization recommendations, along with state-level policy and practice materials. The panel will help NSC promote voluntary, job-driven skill-building as a key element of public benefit programs.

NSC looks forward to enriching the conversation about how federal and state policies can accelerate the transition from poverty to earning family-supporting wages. We believe ensuring that workers and industries have the skills they need to compete is a key component of this transition. Our National Advisory Panel will help us advance the discussion about using public benefit programs as tools to help workers obtain these skills.