2005 Public Policy Agenda
- Develop a skilled, competitive workforce that is responsive to the needs of employers and contributes to the economic vitality of the state.
- Create, and ensure access to, jobs that pay self-supporting wages.
- Provide effective education and training pipelines for workers, particularly those with the largest barriers to employment, to prepare them for jobs that lead to career advancement.
- Develop greater public awareness about economic development, employment, education, training, and their relationship to poverty.
SKILLS, JOBS, INCOMES: CHALLENGES AND PROPOSED STRATEGIES
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 often complain that they have difficulty finding a skilled and ready workforce to fill job openings. By revising state policies we can better meet the needs of both employers and job seekers.
1. SKILLS: Increase opportunities for low-skill, low-income workers to upgrade their skills through education and training.
The availability of a skilled workforce is among the most important factors in location decisions for businesses. Yet 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; and most returning inmates have severely limited employment histories and experience. 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.
Increase funding for workforce training programs; prioritize training that meets employer needs 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 funding for Maryland Business Works, a state matching grant program for incumbent worker training.
Increase opportunities for low-skill workers to upgrade their skills through adult basic education (literacy, GED, and English for Speakers of Other Languages).
- Increase access to adult education, particularly workplace-based adult education, for populations in need.
Remove financial barriers for low-income working adults seeking to upgrade their skills through post-secondary education.
- Allocate more funds for assistance based on financial need. 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.
Prepare inmates for gainful employment upon release.
- Protect funding for correctional education programs to better prepare inmates for reentry into society.
- Promote State Use Industries as a skills training center for inmates. Protect SUI profits earmarked for inmate education and job training programs.
- Support full implementation of Project RESTART (Reentry Enforcement Services Targeting Addiction, Rehabilitation, and Treatment), which would increase staff and resources for substance abuse treatment, job training, and counseling for Maryland inmates.
2. JOBS: Enhance employment opportunities for low-skill, low-wage workers.
Pockets of concentrated joblessness and underemployment mar Maryland’s overall healthy economy. Most of the state’s current projected low-skill job openings fail to offer a road out of poverty for too many working families; in 2002, over 384,000 Marylanders earned less than a poverty-level wage. The state does not adequately track whether publicly subsidized economic development efforts result in good jobs for low-income workers. Thousands of low-skill job seekers in Maryland possess criminal history records, extensive child support debt, or both. These challenges limit employment options, particularly in jobs that pay family-supporting wages.
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.
Reduce the impact of a criminal record on employment.
- Allow the expungement of convictions for certain nuisance crimes after a reasonable period of time.
- Allow the expungement of non-conviction items even in the event of a subsequent conviction.
Support mainstream employment among low-income non-custodial parents who owe child support.
- Establish a statewide program that allows eligible low-income child support obligors to reduce their state-owed arrears when they meet current child support obligations.
Renew state program to promote long-term employment among former prisoners.
- Reauthorize legislation establishing a state tax credit for employers who hire ex-prisoners; authorizing the MD Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) to purchase Federal Fidelity Bonds to act as additional incentives; and requiring DLLR to work with local Workforce Investment Areas in engaging employers and service providers to promote ex-prisoner employment.
3. INCOMES: Provide the supports needed for workers to stay employed.
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.
Restore funding for childcare support for low-income parents.
- Restore the $25 million cut from the Purchase of Care childcare subsidy program, which provides childcare vouchers for low-income families.
Expand access to health care for low-income working parents and children, since Maryland’s Medicaid eligibility criteria are some of the strictest in the nation.
Modernize the unemployment insurance system to provide adequate benefits to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
- Increase the maximum benefit level to keep pace with inflation.
- Allow part-time workers and recent entrants to the workforce to access benefits when they lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
Allow individuals with drug-related convictions to receive Food Stamps.
- Lift the state ban that prohibits single individuals and non-custodial parents with drug-related convictions from receiving Food Stamps and federal Food Stamps Employment and Training Matching Funds.