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NSC Statement on Racial Justice

  ·   By NSC Staff,
NSC Statement on Racial Justice

NSC stands against racism and police brutality that has claimed the lives of far too many Black people and other communities of color.

We share the responsibility of advancing racial justice; we are committed to listening to BIPOC advocates; and we won’t stop fighting to advance racial equity in our workforce.

New data spotlights literacy gaps among Americans at the state and local level

Data released recently from the US Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences is providing a first-of-its-kind look at American adults’ literacy and numeracy gaps at the state and local (county) level. The data comes from the widely respected Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Survey of Adult Skills, also known as the PIAAC. The new data will be a powerful tool for advocates looking to illustrate the impact of skill gaps on their local economies.

The U.S. PIAAC Skills Map is an interactive mapping tool that enables members of the public to view estimates of adult literacy and numeracy skills in each of the fifty US states and 3,000+ counties. These estimates are based on data collected in three rounds of US PIAAC survey (2012, 2014, and 2017) as well as data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2013-2017).

The mapping tool provides estimates of the proportion of US adults ages 16–74 who have the lowest levels of proficiency (at or below Level 1 of the PIAAC), versus those with middle proficiency (at Level 2), or the highest levels of proficiency (at or above Level 3). The tool also allows users to make statistical comparisons between various states and counties.

More information about the data source is available at the PIAAC Gateway website. Sample test questions from the PIAAC assessment are also available for users to review.

Using this data for advocacy

Advocates can use PIAAC data to illustrate the number of adults in their communities who lack key literacy and numeracy skills. This information can help explain the need for adult education services such as high school equivalency or English language classes. It can highlight the importance of accelerated learning strategies such as Integrated Education and Training that combine instruction in foundational skills with training for a specific industry.

Data can help policymakers understand who in their communities lacks key foundational skills, and how greater investment in public policies to support education and workforce development can help to upskill local residents. Data can also help local chambers of commerce, economic developers, and business leaders to understand the potential economic impact of upskilling their incumbent workforce.

National Skills Coalition used PIAAC data as the basis for our 2017 Foundational Skills in the Service Sector report focusing on retail, hospitality and healthcare workers, and an accompanying webinar. (View slides and recording.)

NSC also used PIAAC data to inform recent research specifically focused on digital literacy skills, including industry-specific fact sheets for manufacturinghealth and social workhospitalityretail, and construction as well as the Applying a Racial Equity Lens to Digital Literacy fact sheet. An additional, full-length digital literacy data report is forthcoming.

Stay tuned for additional updates from NSC on using the PIAAC local-level data for skills policy advocacy.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education
Listen to Skilled America Podcast Episode 7: Contain and Gain

Success with containing Covid-19 has been linked to investments in contact tracing in countries around the world.

With the more than 33 million workers that have filed new unemployment claims in the past two months – and millions more that were out of the labor market before the pandemic – investing in contact tracing capacity is not only essential to respond to our current crisis, but also an opportunity to get people back to into the workforce.

In an episode recorded as part of a virtual briefing for Congressional staffers, host Rachel Unruh talked to Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI 09) about the contact tracing proposal he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren devised that was incorporated into the House version of the HEROES Act. She then spoke to a panel of workforce experts - Diane Factor of California's Worker Education and Resource Center, Steve Jurch of the Community College of Baltimore County, and Luann Dunsford of Michigan Works! Association - about how to make contact tracer training effective while addressing the racially inequitable impacts of Covid-19.

 

HEROES Act fails to reach scope and scale Covid-19 crisis demands  

  ·   By Katie Spiker, Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, Katie Brown, Kermit Kaleba, and Rachel Vilsack 
HEROES Act fails to reach scope and scale Covid-19 crisis demands  

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act falls far short of the investments necessary to address the unprecedented unemployment levels as well as the current and future industry demand for skilled workers. The $3 trillion bill includes only $2.75 billion in workforce funding, significantly lower than the $15 billion in funding that was called for by National Skills Coalition, our partners in the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce, and the nearly 500 organizations who signed a letter to House leadership earlier this week. 

Even taken together with very small skills-related investments in the earlier Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March, the HEROES Act fails to invest in workers or businesses at the scale or scope necessary in the face of the current crisis.  

The package includes $500 billion for states and $375 billion for cities to respond to the crisis, which had been a top priority for governors and mayors. It also extends increased support for workshare programs and federal contributions to unemployment insurance payments of up to $600 per week per worker through January 2021. Under the CARES Act, these payments are set to expire in July 2020.  

While necessary, these components of the bill are far from enough to address the needs of workers, businesses, or communities. Instead, the legislation continues Congressional undervaluing of the public workforce, postsecondary, and adult education systems in tackling unprecedented levels of unemployment and preparing workers to respond to current demands in industries like health care, manufacturing and transportation, distribution, and logistics.  

NSC sought to directly address such shortfalls by calling for a $15 billion workforce investment, which is consistent with funding levels called for by Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) along with several other House Democrats in the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act. 

These workers are at the frontline of responding to the current crisis – health care professionals working around the clock to keep us healthy; grocery store clerks stocking shelves and people in transportation and logistics shipping needed supplies, electricians, mechanics, and HVAC technicians keeping our utilities running.  

These men and women in skilled positions, many of which don’t require a four-year degree, have always been the backbone of our economy and this crisis makes that even more clear. But many of these industries were struggling to hire workers before the pandemic and increased demand to respond to Covid-19 only exacerbates the challenge.   

Beyond the immediate workforce shortages, we must also be prepared to invest in skills training to support our eventual economic recovery. As evidenced by the 33 million workers who have filed for unemployment since the crisis began, workers need not just basic income support, but also assistance finding new jobs and gaining skills to work in those jobs.  

Our nation’s workforce, postsecondary, and adult education systems stand ready to assist in getting U.S. workers and businesses the skills they need for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s recovery, but Congress has yet to live up to its commitment and make necessary investments.   

National Skills Coalition looks forward to working with Senators to ensure any response to the HEROES Act addresses shortcomings in this initial legislation. As part of these efforts, NSC and our partners in the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce are collecting signatures on a letter to send up to Senate leadership and appropriators, urging necessary investments in workforce as part of any future stimulus bill.   

Sign your organization on here!  

In depth analysis

Department of Labor

The HEROES Act would provide $1.6 billion in state formula funding under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I, with $485 million for adult programs, $518 million for youth, and $597 million for dislocated workers. It includes $400 million for Dislocated Worker National Reserve grants and $25 million for the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker programs.  

While overall workforce funding levels are far from enough, the bill does include critical programs necessary to respond to the current crisis, including $500 million in funding for training, support services, and career pathway connections for building a Coronavirus Containment Corps (CCC) of contact tracers and case managers. This is consistent with a proposal released by Congressman Andy Levin (D-MI) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). 

The CCC proposal, part of a $175 billion Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, would allocate funds to states, based on a formula that takes in to account the number of contact tracers necessary within the state, to grant to local workforce boards and, with 20 percent of the funding, community based organizations with experience working with the public health system. 

The CCC proposal would fund training, support services for workers in that training and once they begin their jobs, and would require 30 percent of funding to be set aside to connect workers in contact tracing jobs with long-term employment once the need for contact tracers declines. National Skills Coalition will release an episode of our podcast, Skilled America, featuring Congressman Levin and workforce practitioners preparing workers for these contact tracing positions, on May 21st.  

The bill also included $25 million for Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Susan Harwood safety training grants, which fund training and education to help workers and employers identify and prevent workplace safety and health hazards. This allocation is a significant increase over the $10 million the program as appropriated for FY2020. Past grants in this program have played an important role in supporting skill-building for frontline workers in several essential industries, including many immigrant and limited English proficient workers.  

In addition to funding, the bill provides states and local areas with flexibility to spend funding through the end of 2022 and calls on the Department of Labor to release tools to help programs transition to virtual and online learning.  

Department of Education

HEROES Act includes $90 billion for state Education Stabilization Funding, a second round building on funding included in CARES. Of this funding, and like CARES Act, the bill targets nearly $30 billion to postsecondary institutions, allowing funds to spent on both institutional costs and general expenditures and direct grants to support students during the crisis and for activities authorized under several statutes, including Perkins Career and Technical Education and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act.   

HEROES also includes a provision that explicitly prohibits the Department of Education from imposing any restrictions on student eligibility for direct grants from higher education institutions, except for a requirement that students be enrolled at that school. This prohibition would be retroactive to the CARES Act as well. It is consistent with NSC recommendations urging the Department of Education to roll back its April 21, 2020 guidance, which limited eligibility for direct grant funds to only those students who are eligible for Title IV financial aid under the Higher Education Act. This new provision ensures that a much broader set of students are eligible for aid, including those in short-term training, those with Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status or undocumented status, working students who have been displaced from their jobs as a result of Covid-19, online students, and adult education students attending community colleges.   

The bill explicitly allows local funds to be spent to expand access to online learning and services that help both faculty teach online courses and students succeed in this kind of instruction, consistent with NSC advocacy to expand support for worker and student digital literacy skills. Given the urgent importance of digital skills in enabling individuals’ access to training, supports and employment opportunities during the current crisis, investments in digital inclusion are of the utmost importance.  These investments should include internet access – such as the initial emergency investments in broadband included in the bill – digital device access, and digital literacy skill-building. While all three elements of digital inclusion are important for all workers, they are especially important in ensuring that the pandemic does not widen existing racial equity gaps in digital literacy.  

Adult Education

On the adult education front, the HEROES Act fails to make any additional investments in WIOA Title II, also known as the Adult Education and Literacy Act (AEFLA). While AEFLA programs are one of many allowable uses for state stabilization funds, the lack of dedicated funding for adult education in the HEROES bill is a substantial oversight that does not reflect the urgency and importance of the role that many adult education providers are playing in upskilling and reskilling frontline workers as the pandemic unfolds. State unemployment data shows that workers with a high school diploma or less make up a significant proportion of workers laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic.   

The bill does provide some legislative flexibility for states’ use of existing WIOA Title II funds, allowing program administration and state leadership funds to be used to support the transition to online service delivery. It also includes a provision that -- within 30 days of the bill’s passage -- the Secretary of Education must provide states with strategies and virtual proctoring tools they can use to assess adult learners’ progress as part of WIOA performance accountability.   

Department of Homeland Security

The HEROES Act would take two powerful steps in recognition of the crucial role that immigrant workers are playing in the US economy during the current pandemic.  First, the bill would automatically extend the work permits of just under 1 million immigrants who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Currently, these workers have work permits that last for 1-2 years, with various expiration dates starting as soon as this month. Many are employed in key industries such as healthcare, transportation, and warehousing.  

This provision is consistent with NSC’s recommendations in this area and represents a vital step as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the DACA program, potentially jeopardizing the status of hundreds of thousands of young people.  

However, even if this provision were to pass, it would represent only a temporary reprieve for those workers. A permanent solution will require the Senate to take action on HR 6, the Dream and Promise Act passed by the House in 2019, or similar legislation.  

A second immigration provision in the HEROES Act stakes out bold new territory in Congress. The bill would create a new temporary Deferred Action category covering millions of workers who are currently undocumented but are employed in occupations that are federally designated as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers. This category includes dozens of occupations in industries such as energy, wastewater management, law enforcement, agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, and more.  

Given the demographics of workers in those occupations, the new Deferred Action provision would likely cover a sizeable chunk of the roughly 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States. Workers would not need to file individual applications with the federal government in order to be covered by the designation and be considered legally work-authorized. 

The work authorization would last until 90 days after the end of the Covid-19 public health emergency, as declared by the US Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Unlike the DACA program, which was created by administrative action through the Department of Homeland Security in 2012, this new Deferred Action program would be authorized by Congress. 

Department of Agriculture

The bill would increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15% and the minimum benefit to $30 a month. HEROES waives all work requirements for SNAP benefits, consistent with NSC advocacy on the ineffective and harmful impact of work requirements. 

It also prevents the Department of Agriculture from implementing a new rule that would restrict eligibility for benefits for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDS).  NSC has advocated against restrictions imposed by the new rule on states’ ability to request waivers on time limits for ABAWDS receiving SNAP benefits.  Most non-disabled, working-age SNAP recipients do work - albeit in jobs that often do not pay sufficient wages, or offer enough hours, to move off of SNAP - but for the minority of those who do not, educational attainment gaps are likely a significant barrier to careers that provide a pathway out of poverty. 

A focus on rapid labor market attachment without a corresponding emphasis on upskilling opportunities for individuals subject to tighter work requirements will almost certainly lead to reductions in the number of ABAWDs eligible for SNAP, but will do little to address the skills needs of U.S. businesses or increase economic opportunities for SNAP recipients.  Especially given unprecedented unemployment levels associated with our current crisis, NSC strong supports any parameters Congress can provide to prevent the implementation of a rule that would make it harder for workers to access basic services and supports.  

Additional Provisions Supporting Workers and Families  

As a result of Covid-19, millions of individuals and families have lost access to supportive services, including childcare, housing and healthcare due to childcare center closures, widespread lay-offs and other pandemic-related barriers.  

The HEROES Act includes an additional $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, building on $3.5 billion in supplemental funding appropriated under the CARES Act. The bill also includes $175 billion in funding aimed at helping offset the cost of rent and mortgage payments for families. In terms of health benefits, the HEROES Act provides full healthcare premium subsidies through January 2021, to allow workers who have been laid off or have had their hours reduced to maintain their employer-sponsored coverage. 

 

Posted In: Federal Funding

Federal policy change leaves millions of students out of pandemic-related emergency aid

  ·   By Katie Brown, Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, and Amanda Bergson-Shilcock
Federal policy change leaves millions of students out of pandemic-related emergency aid

Across the US, countless individuals and families have been adversely affected by Covid-19, including the millions of workers and students enrolled in postsecondary programs. While Congress recently approved nearly $15 billion in postsecondary educational stabilization funding—part of which is designated for emergency grants to students—subsequent guidance issued by the Department of Education (ED) has excluded millions of working adults and other non-traditional students from relief.

National Skills Coalition calls on ED and Congress to course correct by taking swift action to ensure all current and future students—particularly those with the greatest financial need—have access to emergency grant funding, wrap-around services and tuition assistance during this pandemic and beyond.

Non-traditional students have historically been left out of federal higher education policy and the new guidance exacerbates that trend. By reversing course, federal policymakers can ensure that vital relief is reaching students who are in urgent need—many of whom are training for or already working in essential jobs.

Congress responds with CARES Act support for postsecondary institutions and students

To help offset the costs incurred by institutions of higher education as a result of COVID-19 and ensure supportive services remain available to students, Congress authorized a $30 billion Educational Stabilization Fund as part of the CARES Act—the third stimulus bill signed into law since the beginning of March. The CARES Act carved out $15 billion of this fund to go directly to institutions of higher education (IHEs), including community and technical colleges.

The CARES Act stipulated that once IHEs received their portion of stabilization funding, they were to disperse at least half of their total allocation to students in the form of direct emergency aid—including grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care. The other half of the funding could then be used by institutions to offset the costs of technological equipment and infrastructure, loss of revenue driven by decreased enrollment and employee retention.

Problematic guidance issued by the Department of Education

Shortly after the CARES Act was signed into law, ED Secretary DeVos sent a letter to IHEs stating that each institution was permitted to set their own parameters around individual student eligibility for direct emergency aid. This flexible guidance was welcomed by educational leaders—particularly community and technical college leaders who serve a high number of non-traditional students in need of wrap-around services.

However, on April 21, the Department reversed course and issued a FAQ document about emergency financial grants to students, which rolled back these flexibilities, stating that only students who were eligible for Higher Education Act Title IV federal financial aid under current law may receive emergency funding. The guidance further states that students who are eligible for aid include those who have filed a FAFSA, are eligible to file one, and are U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens.

Adverse impact on adult and other nontraditional students

While this recent ED guidance may seem innocuous, in reality the decision to use Title IV aid as an eligibility requirement for access to emergency grants, is preventing millions of students from receiving vital pandemic-related aid.

Among the students who will not be able to receive emergency aid under ED’s new guidance are:

  • Students enrolled in shorter-term programs. Notably, many community and technical college students are ineligible for Title IV aid solely due to the types of courses they are choosing to enroll in. Under current law, students are only eligible for needs-based federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, if they are enrolled in a course that is at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks of instruction. This “seat-time” requirement often prevents students seeking high-quality, short-term education and training programs that lead to in-demand jobs from benefitting from federal tuition assistance, and will now also prevent them from receiving emergency aid.

 

NSC has long recognized the inequities students enrolled in short-term programs have faced and has advocated for the modernization of federal financial aid to be more responsive to the needs of today’s students.  Specifically, NSC has called on Congress to pass the JOBS Act as part of a comprehensive Higher Education Act reauthorization, which would make low-income students attending courses that are at least 150 clock hours over 8 weeks of instruction eligible for Pell grants, so long as the courses meet a number of quality assurance criteria laid out in the bill. While the JOBS Act has enjoyed bipartisan, bicameral support, it has yet to move forward in the legislative process; resulting in many underserved community college students weathering the storm of this pandemic without access to tuition assistance or federal emergency aid.

  • Students with Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)   status, or undocumented status. Hundreds of thousands of students in the US fall outside of the categories used to determine immigrant eligibility for traditional federal financial aid. Yet, these students are contributing members of their higher education communities, and many are working in essential jobs. Excluding them from emergency aid is a short-sighted decision that will have severe ripple effects on the lives and livelihoods of students themselves, as well as the enrollment numbers and economic stability of the institutions they attend.

 

  • Working students who have been displaced from their jobs as a result of COVID-19. To qualify for needs-based Title IV Aid under the Higher Education Act, students must demonstrate financial need. Financial aid administrators use several pieces of information to determine student need including taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits. Students who were working full-or-part-time while enrolled in a postsecondary program prior to COVID-19 may be deemed ineligible for emergency grants based on their pre-pandemic earnings or the fact that they are now receiving Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.

 

ED addressed this issue in 2009 during the Great Recession by issuing guidance to financial aid administrators that encouraged them to use their flexibility—also known as “professional judgement”—to exempt Unemployment Insurance (UI) payments from financial aid determinations. Many of today’s financial aid administrators may not remember the 2009 “Dear Colleague” letters (GEN 09-04 and GEN 09-05) and most students do not know of their ability to adjust financial aid eligibility based on their special circumstances—a reality that will leave many working students without access to emergency grants.

 

  • Students enrolled in postsecondary programs that are fully online. According to the Community College Research Center (CCRC), almost 13% of all community college students are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. Many of today’s students are balancing family and work obligations while working towards a postsecondary credential or degree, and online courses can provide them with increased flexibility. However, fully online students have been deemed ineligible for emergency aid based on the fact that these students did not rely on on-campus housing prior to the pandemic. This decision does not take into account the childcare, health care, and nutrition related needs of online students as they adjust to a new normal driven by COVID-19.

 

  • Adult education students attending community colleges. Many community colleges offer programs for adult students who have not yet earned a high school credential. These students may be pursuing sequential programs that allow them to build foundational skills before processing to credit-bearing courses, or Integrated Education and Training (IET) programs that allow them to quickly master foundational skills while earning an industry-recognized credential. In either case, these students are especially vulnerable to economic shocks or other pandemic-related disruption of the educational and vocational goals. Unless they have gained access through the “Ability to Benefit” provision, most of these students are not eligible for federal financial aid, yet they are a vital part of the pipeline of essential workers and future postsecondary students. Providing them with emergency aid is essential to helping them maintain momentum.


What actions are needed now?

  • The Department of Education should immediately roll back their April 21 guidance around pandemic-related emergency aid for postsecondary students. Postsecondary institution leaders have seen first-hand the adverse impact COVID-19 has had on the students they serve. To assist them in serving their most vulnerable students, ED should re-grant power to individual institutions and allow them to set their own parameters around individual eligibility for direct emergency aid, so long as these parameters advance equity and access.  


  • ED should re-issue guidance to financial aid administrators, reminding them of the flexibility to exempt Unemployment Insurance (UI) payments from financial aid determinations. This flexibility was provided to financial aid offices during the Great Recession in 2009 and considering the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on today’s students, it should be quickly reinstated.

 

  • Congress should ensure future stimulus bills include educational stabilization funding that explicitly mandates its availability to all students. As Democrats in the House work towards finalizing language for a CARES 2.0 package, policymakers in both chambers should advocate for additional educational stabilization funding that is explicitly inclusive of all students—regardless of the type of postsecondary program they are enrolled in or their immigration status.

 

  • Congress should support more of today’s students through federal policy by:
    • Passing the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6). This bill, which has already been passed in the House, would ensure a sustainable pathway to citizenship for DACA, TPS and undocumented students.
    • Passing the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 839, H.R. 3497). This bill bipartisan, bicameral bill would make students attending high-quality, short-term programs—including working adults and other nontraditional students—eligible for needs-based Pell grants.

 

NSC looks forward to continuing to work with Congress and the Administration to support education leaders and today’s students during this pandemic and beyond.

Posted In: Federal Funding