Congress is finally doing something about long term unemployment

June 29, 2014

The 1998 version of the Workforce Investment Act has some major problems. It was supposed to be reauthorized in 2003, but fell by the wayside during the Bush administration and has been on autopilot for over a decade. Neglected by Congress, its funding has slowly fallen off, even as politicians pay lip-service to the program's goals — according to data from the National Skills Coalition, funding for WIA programs has fallen from $4.7 billion in 2000 to around $2.9 billion today.

The new bill will strip out 15 programs, 12 of which were unfunded last year, according to the National Skills Coalition. This represents a compromise between a Senate version of the bill that had planned to cut 6 programs a House version that would have cut 35. The bill will also streamline other areas, like by drastically cutting membership on state and local boards that govern workforce development. Those cuts will mean local business leaders will get greater voices in steering these boards' decisions, as National Journal reported this week.

In addition, there will now be uniform indicators of how well WIA's many programs are working. The very act of making the data uniform means these Labor Department programs will finally all be clearly aimed at the same goals of re-employing Americans.

"It's saying, 'Here's some key things we want these programs working toward. we want these programs working toward getting people credentials,'" says Rachel Zinn, director of the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, an office of the National Skills Coalition that advocates for better data collection. "It's establishing clearly that there are some clear goals across programs."