On February 9, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness voted, 18-15, to approve a measure (H.R. 27) that would 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.
Subcommittee Chair Buck McKeon (R-CA), sponsor of H.R. 27, said that the bill “improves the nation’s investment in the workforce by streamlining unnecessary bureaucracy, increasing effective cooperation among workforce development partners, and placing increased emphasis on basic skills in adult education programs.”
The Job Training Improvement Act (H.R. 27) would renew and make changes to WIA programs. The bill 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.
The legislation would create a Youth Challenge Grant program to provide job training programs for youths ages 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 out-of-school youth. 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 in FY2007 through FY2011.
Additionally, 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.
H.R. 27 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 institute would be administered by the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor. A National Institute for Literacy Advisory Board also would be established.
The subcommittee approved, by voice vote, a substitute amendment by Rep. McKeon that would authorize a new initiative aimed at strengthening partnerships between community colleges and employers in high-demand industries. This initiative received $250 million in FY2005 and was included in President Bush’s FY2006 budget. The substitute amendment also made a number of technical changes and clarifications.
An amendment by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) to strike a provision of the bill that would allow faith-based groups that receive WIA grants to use religious preferences in hiring was defeated, 13-19.
Another amendment by Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI) to strike the PRA demonstration program was defeated, 15-18.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill on February 16.