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House Approves Job Training Bill

On March 2, the House approved, 224-200, a bill (H.R. 27) to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) (P.L. 105-220). Approved by Congress in 1998, WIA consolidated more than 60 job training programs into block grants to states and established a centralized, one-stop delivery system providing federally funded employment and training services. The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved H.R. 27 on February 17 (see The Source, 2/18/05).

Sponsored by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), the Job Training Improvement Act would combine the WIA adult program, the WIA dislocated worker program, and the employment services state grants into one funding stream. Adult employment and training activities would be authorized at $3.14 billion in FY2006 and such sums as necessary for FY2007 through FY2011.

H.R. 27 would create a Youth Challenge Grant program to provide job training for youth aged 16-24. Youth could qualify if they are school dropouts, recipients of a secondary school diploma or a GED and are deficient in basic skills, involved in the court system and attending an alternative school, or are in foster care. Youth who are in school would be eligible to participate if they are deficient in literacy skills; homeless, runaway, or foster children; pregnant or parenting; offenders; or require additional assistance to complete an educational program or secure employment. Out-of-school youth would be given priority for services, with 70 percent of funding designated for them. Activities that could be funded through the grant program include training and internships for out-of-school youth in sectors of the economy experiencing high growth; after-school dropout prevention activities for in-school youth; activities designed to assist special youth populations; and activities combining academic skills, work readiness training, and work experience. Youth activities would be authorized at $1.25 billion in FY2006 and such sums as necessary for FY2007 through FY2011.

The bill also would authorize a Personal Reemployment Accounts (PRAs) demonstration program to provide unemployed individuals with up to $3,000 to purchase job training and supportive services such as child care, transportation, and housing assistance. The measure would establish a National Institute for Literacy to “promote the improvement of literacy, including skills in reading, writing, and English language acquisition for children, youth, and adults, through practices derived from the findings of scientifically based research.” The Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor would administer the institute. A National Institute for Literacy Advisory Board also would be established under the bill.

During consideration of H.R. 27, the House rejected, 186-239, an amendment offered by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would have struck a provision in the bill that allows faith-based organizations to consider religion in the hiring of individuals.

Explaining that as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission she helped to write guidelines against religious discrimination, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) stated, “Today, religious organizations, a church or synagogue, for example, can do what no union or business can do. It cannot only use its money to hire its religious members in religious positions; it can use its own money to hire even their own members in secular positions. This is the maximum in religious freedom that is allowed under the Constitution.” She added, “If you want public dollars, do so in accordance with public law. That law requires no discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religion. It would be a horrible setback to now come forward and say that you can in fact discriminate on the basis of religion, of all things. And that is what you would be doing, because, as everybody knows, race and religious identity track one another very, very closely.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) disagreed. “This debate is about whether a religious organization should have the ability to select employees who share common values and sense of purpose. This is not saying that they will not hire people of other religions but we will not force them to do so. This is a vital criterion for all organizations, especially religious ones. A secular group, such as Planned Parenthood or the Sierra Club, that receives government money, is currently free to hire based on their ideology and mission but still use Federal funds in accordance with the terms of the program. How can we allow this for groups such as these and not allow it for groups that are religious by nature?”

The House also defeated the following amendments:

  • an amendment by Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI) that would have struck the provision of the bill that designates 70 percent of the funding for out-of-school youth, 200-222; and
  • an amendment by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) that would have allowed unemployed workers to use their Personal Reemployment Accounts to apply for a 7(a) loan to start a small business, 202-221.

 

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