After years of failed attempts, key lawmakers in the House and Senate announced this week a bipartisan deal to pass a reformed Workforce Investment Act (WIA) which governs more than $3 billion in federal job-training programs. Both the House and Senate are expected to consider the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act when they return from recess in June. The deal announced Wednesday reforms WIA’s nearly 50 programs overseen by nine federal agencies by eliminating 15 programs, increasing the ability of local boards to use on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, and customized training. While the deal’s language generally sticks to the intent of the original law passed in 1998, it does eliminate some regulations and makes it easier for students at community colleges to enter directly into training programs. The bipartisan proposal also directs the Department of Labor to study gender imbalances and pay inequity in more technical job fields, and improve data collection for standardized reporting on common employment metrics such as median earnings, credentials earned, measurable skill gains and employer engagement. Finally, the new legislation would set authorized funding levels for each of the next five years, a shift from how the current WIA law works. This change could help preserve funding for the job-training program in future budget battles.
Key Senate lawmakers continued efforts to forge a bipartisan agreement for Congress to extend unemployment insurance benefits which expired last December. Senate Democrats have been exploring the possibility of whether a full-year extension of the benefits, in combination with a number of measures aimed at spurring economic growth, could secure passage in Congress. Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray of Washington said she and other party leaders would continue to press for action on a long-term extension of jobless aid but that they had decided not to attach the five-month extension to the just announced bipartisan workforce investment law. Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he believed job training legislation could help build momentum for expanded jobless aid by making clear that unemployed workers will receive better training in the future.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved on a 16-14 party line vote, the top-line spending levels presented by Chair Mikulski (D-MD), known as 302(b) allocations, for the 12 annual appropriations bills. The 302(b) allocations adhere to the overall $1.014 trillion discretionary top line codified as part of the December budget deal, as well as separate defense and nondefense spending caps of $521.3 billion and $492.4 billion. The Senate allocations differ most sharply from the figures House appropriators approved earlier this month for the Defense and Transportation-HUD spending titles, with the Senate panel setting aside $1.4 billion less and $2.4 billion more for the respective measures. Senate appropriators also set aside $1.1 billion more for the Labor-HHS-Education account than their House counterparts, matching the currently enacted spending levels at $156.8 billion.
Finally, appropriators in both the House and Senate also took up Agriculture spending this week, with nutrition policy at the fore of the debate. On Tuesday the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed its agriculture spending bill, totaling $20.58 billion in discretionary funding. The bill provides $6.623 billion for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, a level consistent with full anticipated program participation.
The House will be in session starting Wednesday of next week following the Memorial Day holiday. The Senate will be in recess all of next week, returning Monday, June 2nd.