Dec 31, 2004

2004 Public Policy Agenda

Our Goals:

  • Develop a skilled, competitive workforce that is responsive to the needs of employers and contributes to the economic vitality of the state.
  • Create jobs, and assure access to jobs, that pay self-supporting wages.
  • Provide effective education and training pipelines for workers, particularly those with the largest barriers to employment, so they are prepared for jobs that lead to career advancement.
  • Develop greater public awareness about economic development, employment, education, training and their relationship to poverty.

The Challenge, The Opportunity

Despite its relative affluence, Maryland has a large population of low-income families who work in jobs with inadequate wages, benefits and prospects for advancement. Employers complain that they have difficulty finding skilled workers to fill job openings. By revising state policies we can better meet the needs of both employers and job seekers.

1. Increase opportunities for low-skill, low-income workers to upgrade their skills through education and training.

The Challenge 
One in six adults in Maryland does not have a high school degree or a GED. One in five Marylanders aged 16 and older reads at or below a 4th grade reading level. This limits employment options, particularly in jobs that pay family-supporting wages.

The Strategy
Increase opportunities for low-skill workers to upgrade their skills through adult basic education (literacy, GED and English for Speakers of Other Languages). 

  • Over three years, increase access to adult education for eligible populations by 5 percent per year
  • Establish a 50/50 matching grant program for employers who provide workplace adult education programs.
  • Allow Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) employee skill- and productivity-enhancement programs to be used for adult basic education.

Remove financial barriers for low-income working adults seeking to upgrade their skills through post-secondary education.

  • Allocate more financial aid funds for need-based aid. Allow part-time students to be eligible for need-based aid. – Update the cost-of-living allowance for commuter students, allowing childcare to be a counted expense.

Assist welfare recipients’ long-term earnings capacity by providing increased education and training opportunities.

  • Allow adult basic and vocational education to count as a Family Investment Program work activity for Temporary Cash Assistance recipients.

2. Enhance employment opportunities for low-skill low-wage workers.

The Challenge

  • The availability of a skilled workforce is among the most important factors in location decisions for businesses. In areas with an abundance of low-skill workers, it is crucial to upgrade the skills of the workforce to meet the needs of employers and provide better economic opportunities for workers.

The Strategy
Ensure economic development funds are used to create family-supporting jobs by increasing public accountability. 

  • Adopt a disclosure policy requiring businesses that receive state economic development subsidies to report the number and quality of jobs created or retained, and requiring the State to make this information available to the public.

Increase funding for workforce training programs. Prioritize training that meets the needs of employers in sectors with labor shortages. 

  • Increase funding for workforce training to upgrade skills of entry-level and incumbent workers. Target half of the Governor’s discretionary Workforce Investment Act funds for customized training programs for low-income workers.
  • Increase coordination between the DBED business recruitment and expansion programs and Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation workforce programs.

3. Provide the supports needed for workers to stay employed.

The Challenge

  • One sixth of Maryland’s working families, over 110,000 families, earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Over 384,000 Maryland workers hold jobs that pay less than the federal poverty wage for a full-time worker of a family of four.

The Strategy
Restore funding for childcare support for low-income parents.

  • Restore the $25 million cut from the Purchase of Care childcare subsidy program last year.

Continue to provide income support to working parents through the state Earned Income Tax Credit. 

Expand access to health care for low-income working parents and children. 

Modernize the unemployment insurance system to serve the modern-day workforce and provide adequate benefits to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. 

  • Allow part-time workers access to benefits when they lose their jobs, and increase the maximum benefit level to keep pace with inflation.

Increase outreach and simplify access to work support programs for which working low-income families are eligible. 

  • The Department of Human Resources should increase utilization of work-supports such as food stamps and health care assistance.

4. Reduce barriers to employment for special populations.

The Challenge

  • Over 15,000 ex-offenders return to Maryland communities each year. Seventy five percent of prison returnees are high school dropouts, and 20 percent read at or below a 3rd grade level when they entered prison. Of the19,800 inmates eligible for educational services in 2000, only 9,300 (47 percent) received any educational services. A criminal record acts as a significant barrier to employment. Investment in education and job training for prisoners has stagnated while the incarcerated population has exploded.

The Strategy
Reduce the impact of a criminal record on employment. 

  • Allow the expungement of convictions for certain nuisance crimes after a reasonable period of time.

Prepare inmates for gainful employment upon release. 

  • Increase funding for correctional education programs to better prepare inmates for jobs upon release.
  • Promote State Use Industries as a skills training center for pre-release inmates. Direct SUI profits to education and job training programs for inmates.
  • Stop the child support clock for inmates who have no economic resources and who stand to accumulate child support arrearages during incarceration.

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