Three Federal Reauthorizations: Implications for Low-Income Workers

Speakers: Andy Van Kleunen, executive director, Workforce Alliance; Lynda Meade, director of social concerns and parish social ministry, Catholic Charities; Sylvester McKay, Ph.D., president, Baltimore City Community College; Christopher Thompson, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies.

 

View Andy Van Kleunen’s PowerPoint presentation on Current Federal Reauthorization Proposals.

 

View Christopher Thompson’s PowerPoint presentation on Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization.

 

Over 60 people attended an April 23 forum on major legislation pending on Capitol Hill and the significant implications the measures hold for low-wage workers in Baltimore. The forum was held at the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business and co-sponsored by the Job Opportunities Task Force, Open Society Institute-Baltimore, and the Jacob France Institute.

 

The three pieces of legislation scheduled for reauthorization this year are the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Higher Education Act (HEA), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – which together include funding for such key programs as college scholarships, job training, and financial support for single parents. “All three of these federal funding streams are critical to developing the skills and raising the income opportunities for low-wage workers,” says Deborah Povich, executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force.

 

Andy Van Kleunen provided an overview of recent developments in Congress regarding WIA, TANF, and HEA.

 

WIA: The Workforce Investment Act is designed “to consolidate, coordinate, and improve employment, training, literacy, and vocational rehabilitation programs in the United States.” A Senate vote on WIA reauthorization is expected in May, while floor vote on the House’s WIA bill, H.R. 1261, has been delayed. Among the elements of H.R. 1261 are a consolidation of Adult, Dislocated Worker, and Employment Service funding into a new $3.1 billion “Comprehensive Adult” block grant; transfers greater authority from local workforce investment boards to state governors, and contains no provision for personal re-employment accounts (PRA’s).

 

According to Baltimore City officials, WIA has helped about 300 Baltimoreans improve their job skills through the use of Individual Training Accounts in the last nine months. In that time, more than 10,000 people have received help with job searches, referrals, skills assessments and literacy training.

 

TANF: Commonly known as welfare reform, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. TANF was designed to reduce states’ welfare rolls and designed to focus on work and responsibility and “to provide states with flexibility to create the best approaches for their individual circumstances.” In February 2003 the House passed H.R. 4, a TANF reauthorization bill. This legislation calls for further limits on allowable work activities; raises required work hours to 40 per week; raises work participation rates to 70 percent; and allows no more than four months for education and training. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote on TANF this summer. Current TANF law has been extended through June 2003.

 

HEA: Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act is expected in late 2003 or early 2004. Current guidelines for this legislation favor full-time college students who are pursuing academic degrees, while part-time students and those who wish to enhance their skills without pursuing degrees experience difficulty in accessing funding under these acts. The Workforce Alliance calls for expanded eligibility guidelines that would do more to support education and training of working adults.


Lynda Meade said that TANF reauthorization will have implications for both parents and state agencies that oversee welfare programs. “The new requirements will probably translate into moms putting in more hours into programs and a job, and will put pressure on the state to achieve higher rates of participation in those programs,” she said. “The folks who have left welfare for work more recently have had a harder time meeting their job requirements. They have more issues to deal with, including child care, transportation, and a poor economy.” Ms. Meade noted that under current economic conditions, the State does not have additional resources to provide these vital work supports.


Christopher Thompson rated various aspects of WIA-funded workforce programs. He gave high marks to the One-Stop systems for their customer focus and their ability to deliver multiple services at integrated points. He also praised the Local Workforce Investment Board (LWIB) and Governor’s Workforce Investment Boards (GWIB) networks for encouraging employer participation and for taking the initiative in establishing governance structures.

 

Other elements of the system received lower grades. Dr. Thompson pointed out gaps in system-wide performance measures and data collection, a paucity of Individual Training Account (ITA) funding, and lack of full employer engagement. He suggested ten ways of improving on WIA, including: expansion of demand-driven features; adoption of flexible funding; investment in technology to support decisions; and movement to benchmarking and performance support. Dr. Thompson’s grades and suggestions for improvement can be viewed by clicking the link to the Power Point presentation, above.


Sylvester McKay stressed the importance of public investment in education as a key to developing a skilled workforce. Community colleges play an important role in this process because of their emphasis on vocational training and career development.

 

Most rating systems are based on the number of students graduating. But many people improve their work opportunities by taking a few courses, which may not result in graduation, but which can still be considered a successful outcome. Measuring a community college’s performance by the same academic standard used to evaluate four-year institutions does not accurately reflect the value of targeted skills enhancement that community colleges provide, upgrades which are critically important to low-wage workers and job seekers.

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