NSC CEO Andy Van Kleunen calls GOP relief package a “bowl of weak gruel” for workers

By Ayobami Olugbemiga, July 28, 2020

Washington, D.C. — The following is a statement from Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of National Skills Coalition, in response to the Senate GOP’s coronavirus stimulus package:

From a workforce and re-employment perspective, this package is yet another bowl of weak gruel offered by Congress to impacted workers looking for a pathway out of this pandemic.  More than 50 million people – almost a third of our nation’s workforce – have filed for unemployment since March, so you would think lawmakers would have the political courage to invest in our woefully underfunded workforce system as part of its response to that crisis. But instead this package includes only $1 billion in workforce funding, which is about $20 in skill-building and re-employment services offered to each person who is laid off during this recession.

We are frankly sick and tired of seeing Congress pay lip service to the importance of America’s workforce while at the same time refusing – time and again – to adequately invest in our workforce system at the level that’s needed.

It is encouraging that the package authorizes a program to support incumbent worker training – an indication that Republicans recognize the value of training to help workers keep their job and grow in their careers. But it’s not enough to simply authorize a training program; Congress needs to actually fund it.

Our workforce system – which includes local business leaders, workforce boards, labor unions, community colleges, community-based organizations, and local training providers – is an indispensable piece of our economic recovery puzzle. Getting people back to work, creating new jobs, and building an inclusive economic recovery requires significantly increasing investment – by the billions – in our workforce system.

Workers who have lost their jobs need access to the training and support services to help them transition into industries that are hiring. Workers who are currently employed need to be upskilled so they can keep their job and advance in their industries. Industry partnerships between educators, local community organizations, and local businesses need to be supported so that workers can be adequately prepared for in-demand jobs. And we need to connect workers to long-term careers by training and deploying a contact tracing workforce to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

All of this must be done with an eye towards advancing equity in the workforce and making sure every worker, every small and mid-sized business is part of the post-pandemic recovery.

We can’t train our way out of this recession, nor can we dismantle economic and racial inequality through workforce policy alone. But inclusive, generation-defining investments in our public workforce system must be part of the path forward. That way we can ensure that everyone is part of our economic recovery and in turn begin to address the structural economic barriers that existed long before the recession.

84 percent of unemployed Americans want policymakers to immediately increase investments in training to support their journey back into the workforce. As Democrats and Republicans in both chambers start negotiations on this package, we urge them to invest in workers, invest in small businesses, invest in communities and actually do it with the fierce urgency this crisis demands.