House Committee Majority Decimates Workforce Programs for Women and Low-Income Groups

All  Democratic amendments proposed during a hearing to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) were defeated in party-line votes in the House Education and Workforce Committee on Thursday.  Among them was an amendment that would have preserved the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional  Occupations, which the Republican-sponsored bill repeals.

H.R. 4297, known as the Workforce Investment Improvement Act, now goes to the House floor where the Republican majority, looking to campaign on a record of budget austerity this summer, will likely pass it. It is doubtful that the Senate will take up the measure in the few legislative days remaining on the calendar.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) made a strong pitch for a two-part amendment that would increase women’s presence in nontraditional occupations. The first part would preserve the WANTO program and the second part would require states to provide services to women and employers.  The proposal, authored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), who is not on the committee this year, was defeated 23-15.

H.R. 4297 tremendously shifts the power of the purse for federal workforce dollars to governors. A new requirement ensures that businesses occupy at least 2/3 of the seats on workforce boards, and some fear the proposal paves the way for greater private sector involvement in service delivery.

The bill consolidates funding streams and repeals existing job training programs designed to serve certain disadvantaged populations with distinct barriers to employment and training needs. Yet, as pointed out, the measure fails to enact a system of accountability to ensure that various disadvantaged groups are served and served effectively.  Rep. George Miller (D-CA), ranking member and former chairman of the committee, said the bill recalls the days when the overriding concern in the workforce system was “creaming,” or picking those easiest to serve who could show the quickest positive outcomes.

Although Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), primary sponsor of the bill, started the mark-up by saying she had changed her mind and was proposing to reinstate the popular Job Corps program, her trade-off was a provision eliminating “statewide youth challenge grants,”  a competitive grant program she originally proposed to replace all separate funding for youth programs in WIA. Job Corps now gets 28% of all funds and is the only youth program remaining in WIA.

In addition to Mrs. Woolsey’s WANTO amendment, others defeated included:

  • Restoration of the current “priority of services” for low-income individuals, offered by Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX);
  • Restoration of the requirement that community-based organizations, organized labor and community colleges be represented on workforce boards, by Hinojosa;
  • Restoration of summer and year-round youth jobs and a requirement that youth be served by WIA, by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA);
  • A requirement that states address the needs of the long-term unemployed (who are disproportionately older workers), Scott;
  • Comprehensive adult literacy, including civic education and expansion of services to immigrants, Hinojosa;
  • Set-aside for Native Americans, Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI);
  • A comprehensive alternative bill that included the Obama administration’s community colleges initiative, sponsored by Reps. John Tierney (D-MA), Hinojosa and Miller.

By Susan Rees, Director of National Policy,

Wider Opportunities for Women

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