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New report charts path to reemployment for workers left behind by nation’s pandemic response

The recent health crisis - and unprecedented, rapid job loss associated with it - has illuminated how unprepared the United States is to help workers who lose their jobs reskill to prepare for and successfully enter new employment. Policy responses to the current crisis – while critical – have fallen short of addressing challenges workers and businesses face. In a new report, National Skills Coalition outlines an aligned, comprehensive, reemployment accord to respond to current challenges and prepare for an inclusive economic recovery that addresses prior policy shortcomings and moves all workers and businesses towards success in the 21st century.

This path forward, outlined in A 21st Century Reemployment Accord, includes four key pieces:

  1. Expand access to skills training by making workers who lose their jobs eligible for a Dislocation Training Account, providing up to $15,000 in public funds to invest in training through an apprenticeship program, with a community organization or at a community or technical college. Studies suggest financial concerns are the largest barrier to workers succeeding in training. Reskilling for jobs of the twenty-first century will require short and longer-term training, frequently outside of traditional degree programs, yet today’s workers are often unable to access public funds to support training for quality non-degree credentials.

  2. Launch a federal “Reemployment Distribution Fund,” providing access to income support, through robust unemployment insurance and wage-replacement subsidies, that mitigate the financial impact of job loss on workers, their families, and communities. An initial investment of $20 billion as well as sustainable funding, should empower states to draw down funds to cover the length of training and job search necessary for workers to access a job of the twenty-first century. A first step for Congress to accomplish these goals would be to expand Trade Adjustment Assistance to cover a far larger set of workers, such as those who lose their jobs permanently due to automation.

  3. Create a network of “Twenty-First Century Industry Partnerships” among businesses, education providers, the public workforce system, and community organizations to ensure the significant public and private investments necessary to respond to worker dislocation caused by technological changes in the workplace align with employment opportunities in in-demand industries. Industry and sector partnerships are a best practice across the country but need to be expanded to more industries in more local areas to reach the scale necessary to respond to challenges associated with technological change in the workplace. This expansion will mean a dedicated federal investment.

  4. Maximize eligibility for and access to other support services under existing federal programs for workers during the reemployment process. Barriers to accessing childcare, transportation, and other support services — such as eligibility that doesn’t permit workers to access subsidies while in training programs, underfunding that leads to long waiting lists, or the fact that our social safety net programs reach too few people — make it harder for workers to succeed in training programs necessary for reemployment. To maximize retention and success in a new job, these services should be available to workers during the transition period in a new job, as well. Any federal response to job loss caused by technological change needs to provide workers with access to comprehensive, robust support services that improve worker success and retention.


The new report is the second in several publications National Skills Coalition is releasing this summer detailing recommendations for an inclusive and equitable economic recovery from Covid-19. Read the full brief for more detail on how to modernize reemployment to serve workers and businesses.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, Work Based Learning, Future of Work
Digital literacy skills are necessary for an equitable economic recovery from Covid-19, new report finds

A new report from National Skills Coalition provides recommendations for policymakers on how to ensure that businesses and workers have the digital literacy skills needed for an equitable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and recession. In-demand careers increasingly require digital literacy skills, including essential frontline occupations such as home health aides and janitors. For many occupations, digital skills are now entry-level competencies for new hires and incumbent workers alike. Digital skills investments must help to build broad-based foundational skills as well as more occupationally specific skills needed for the workplace.

The new brief, Digital Skills for an Equitable Recovery, is the first in several publications National Skills Coalition will release this summer detailing recommendations for an inclusive and equitable economic recovery from Covid-19.

While digital skill gaps exist in every industry and every demographic group, workers of color are disproportionately affected, in large part due to structural factors that are the product of longstanding inequities in American society. As public policy decisions have played a key role in forming skill gaps, including those that are racially inequitable, they must now be an integral part of the solution. Thus, Digital Skills for an Equitable Recovery outlines key recommendations for federal policymakers, as well as a new definition to describe occupational digital literacy and problem-solving skills.

Read the full report today.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Work Based Learning
The 4 Workforce Issues Congress Must Address in the Next Stimulus

Over the past 5 months, Congress has passed three Covid response packages, the House has advanced a fourth (the HEROES Act), and the House and Senate have started their annual appropriations process. In each of these cases, Congress has undervalued skills training programs as an important element of both addressing our current crisis and its current and future economic impact.

As lawmakers negotiate what is likely to be the final coronavirus stimulus package this year, they must recognize that new jobs – and public investment in job creation – are a critical part of our response to the largest economic downturn in the past century. It will be necessary to ensuring employment opportunities for workers most impacted by the health crisis and its economic impact – people of color, those without a high school diploma, and those who were already disconnected from work or school prior to the downturn.

To fill those jobs, though, Congress will need to do something policymakers have yet to accomplish up to this point: adequately investing in skills so workers can access and succeed in in-demand careers.

Any Covid response package needs to include key investments necessary to helping workers reengage in the workforce, upskill, and be successful in these newly created jobs. Here are the four workforce issues Congress must address in the next stimulus package:

Issue 1: Reskilling workers who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 for industries that are hiring

While some of the 40 million workers who have lost their jobs over the past few months will return to the same job or industry once communities begin to reopen, a significant number of workers will need retraining to successfully transition to in-demand occupations in other fields. And, an overwhelming majority of workers recognize the value of – and prefer – short-term training programs to make this transition efficiently.

Federal funding for skills training has seen substantial cuts over the last two decades

Unfortunately, federal investments in skills training have been cut by nearly 40% over the last two decades. Our public workforce and adult and postsecondary education systems can help connect workers to this kind of training but need investments today to make that possible.

Solution: Congress must invest at least $2.5 billion each in formula grants for Adults, Dislocated Workers, and Youth under WIOA, at least $1 billion in our Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, and $1 billion each in both Career and Technical Education and Adult Education.

Contact your Representatives today and tell them to invest in our recovery NOW by investing in America's workers

Issue 2: Upskilling workers who are still on the job so they can maintain employment and advance in their industries

To address the current economic crisis and minimize further job loss associated with future economic impacts of Covid-19, we need to invest in keeping workers on the job and empowering businesses to upskill current workers with the digital and occupational skills necessary to succeed in 21st century careers.

Current WIOA Incumbent Worker Training is difficult to scale without adequate business engagement. We need industry partnerships that bring together businesses, education providers, the workforce system, and community organizations to build capacity for businesses to both be engaged in developing training offered by education providers and in training workers on the job.

Solution: Congress must invest $1 billion in a new Incumbent Worker Training formula fund that supports these industry partnerships to scale and empower incumbent worker training , as well as $1 billion in grants to support digital literacy skills for the 1/3 of our workforce who needs digital skills.

Issue 3: Adequately preparing workers for in-demand jobs by supporting partnerships between educators, community organizations, and local business

To address our unprecedented unemployment, empower businesses to safely and rapidly reopen, and ensure that workers with the greatest skills needs – who are also most likely to have lost their jobs during this crisis – have access to the kinds of programs that lead to family sustaining jobs, we need to support partnerships between education providers, community organizations, and the industry partners that are hiring.

Solution: Congress must invest $2 billion over the next four years to provide capacity for our country’s network of 1,050 community and technical colleges to better partner with businesses to rapidly upskill and reskill workers to meet current industry demands.

Issue 4: Connecting workers to long-term careers by training and deploying a contact tracing workforce to slow the spread of the virus

The U.S. is estimated to need 100,000 contact tracers to respond to our current crisis, a role that does not require a four-year degree. By connecting our workforce system with our public health system, we can train workers to fill those roles with a focus on workers from communities hardest hit by the current crisis – communities of color.

We need to invest public dollars in training workers, ensuring they have digital skills, and support services necessary to succeed in roles necessary to track and contain the spread of Covid-19. By connecting those workers to long-term employment once the current health pandemic subsides, Congress will both speed up an efficient, safe and effective reopening of our economy and address the disproportionate impact workers of color have experienced from this crisis.

Solution: Congress must invest at least $500 million in preparing, supporting, and advancing the careers of a contact tracing workforce.

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Despite many opportunities to help workers access the skills they need during this pandemic, Congress has fallen short on investments that would connect them to family-supporting, in-demand jobs.

Without public pressure, the current – critical, but far from sufficient – proposals could be slashed to even lower levels in order to reach a bipartisan and bicameral agreement on a Covid response package. Members of Congress need to hear from workforce, education, labor, business, and other advocates today that investments in skills are necessary for an inclusive economic recovery.

Contact your Representatives today and tell them to invest in our recovery NOW by investing in America's workers

Posted In: Federal Funding
Federal government allows use of TANF, SNAP E&T, WIOA funds to support digital inclusion

The rapid shift to online services caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the barriers to digital inclusion faced by millions of US workers and jobseekers. Even as adult education organizations, community colleges, and workforce development providers have converted their programs almost overnight into distance learning or other virtual services, a significant percentage of their constituents have been unable to access those services because of such barriers.

New guidance from the federal government can help skills advocates to improve digital access and equity for adult learners and workers. In particular, several federal agencies have clarified how existing policies can be used to remedy technology gaps faced by many US jobseekers and workers.

What are barriers to digital inclusion?

Key elements of digital inclusion, sometimes described as the three legs of the stool, are: 1) home broadband internet access; 2) access to up-to-date digital devices; and 3) digital literacy skills. Individuals face barriers when they lack one, two or all three of these elements due to their income levels, geographic location, and other structural factors such as racism. (This last issue is explored in more depth in NSC’s recent Applying a Racial Equity Lens to Digital Literacy fact sheet.)

In a Covid-affected world, skills advocates have documented ways in which each of these barriers is preventing people from gaining access to crucial services. For example, both teachers and students -- especially those in rural areas -- are struggling with lack of access to affordable broadband internet. Individuals are sometimes resorting to sitting in parking lots to use a library or school Wifi signal to teach or participate in classes.

When it comes to device access, numerous providers have shared stories about how jobseekers and adult learners are attempting to participate in classes despite having out-of-date technology, being forced to share a single tablet computer or smartphone with other family members, or having devices that do not include unlimited data plans.

Finally, the pandemic has also heightened the challenges for individuals who did not have strong digital literacy skills pre-Covid. National Skills Coalition analyzed the digital skill gaps of US workers in a recent report, The New Landscape of Digital Literacy.

(Further resources on digital inclusion issues are available through the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Digital US coalition, of which NSC is a member.)

What federal policies can support greater digital inclusion?

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program can be used to support certain digital inclusion efforts, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. In particular, 2013 federal guidance explains that “A State may use Federal TANF funds or State "maintenance of effort" (MOE) expenditures to purchase computers, provide training and cover the cost of Internet access for eligible, needy families.”

Notably, because states are allowed to set different eligibility criteria for various benefits or services under TANF, the guidance also notes that “The criteria for helping families purchase computers and/or access the Internet could be broader than the criteria used for cash assistance. For example, a State could make computers and Internet access available to all families with incomes below 150 percent of the poverty line.”

HHS issued updated TANF guidance pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. While this guidance is not specific to digital inclusion issues, it does once again affirm the broad flexibility and discretion that states have in determining how best to use their TANF funds.

Similarly, US Department of Agriculture has clarified that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment & Training (SNAP E&T) funds can also be used to support digital inclusion. Guidance issued in April 2020 explains that if the pandemic has caused SNAP E&T providers to move to online services, “States may use SNAP E&T funds —50 percent Federal reimbursement funds or direct Federal grant funds — to purchase laptops or other computer equipment that may be loaned to E&T participants.”

Importantly, the guidance also notes, “States must follow Federal cost principles regarding disposition of equipment.”

In addition, the  US Department of Labor’s Employment Training Administration (ETA) has issued guidance for federal workforce grant recipients as part of a Spring 2020 Coronavirus FAQ. The guidance clarifies that “Grant funds can be used to purchase supplies or equipment to assist in providing program services and training in a virtual setting during this time. […] Laptops and tablets usually fall within the definition of supplies, which do not need grant officer approval.”

The guidance also links to relevant sections of federal regulations that define the terms “supplies” and “equipment.”

Finally, skills advocates can take advantage of opportunities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to tackle the third leg of the digital inclusion stool – digital literacy. In particular, WIOA Title II (also known as the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act) lists digital literacy as an allowable activity.

More information about digital literacy in this context is available from the US Department of Education via a 2015 fact sheet from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE).   

Using CARES Act funding to support digital inclusion

The federal CARES Act passed by Congress in March 2020 included $150 billion in funding for state, local, and tribal governments. Some local governments have announced plans to use these funds to support greater digital inclusion. For example, San Antonio’s City Council is considering a stimulus package comprised of CARES Act and local funds that would invest $27 million in digital inclusion efforts, primarily focused on home broadband internet access for low-income households.

National Skills Coalition is continuing to monitor developments in how federal policy can be used to support digital inclusion and equity. Stay tuned for further policy recommendations on how policymakers can support digital equity as part of an inclusive economic recovery.


Posted In: Federal Funding

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
Set of House Democrats release bill to invest $15.6 billion in workforce to respond to Covid-19 crisis

On Friday, May 1st, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), along with Representatives Andy Levin, Suzanne Bonamici, Susan Davis, Joaquin Castro, Marcia Fudge, Lucy McBath, Susie Lee, Haley Stevens, Joe Courtney, Steven Horsford and Angie Craig and Senators Patty Murray, Tim Kaine, Tina Smith and Tammy Baldwin introduced the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act (RAWA). The bill is intended to attach to future stimulus packages passed to respond to Covid-19 and its economic impact and is consistent with advocacy from National Skills Coalition and our partners in the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce. Earlier stimulus packages included minimal investments in skills, with the CARES Act providing only $345 million in funding for WIOA’s Dislocated Worker National Reserve.

This bill is a critical step to investing in skills workers need today to respond to our crisis and those businesses will need once we look to economic recovery. Inclusion of this funding in any future stimulus package – and even the timeline for that package – are far from guaranteed, however. NSC urges partners to call your members of Congress to express the importance of this investment and to sign your organization on here to a letter to House and Senate leadership calling for investments in our workforce consistent with the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act. 


SIGN ON TODAY

RAWA would provide significant new appropriations for state formula grants under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) and for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) as well as for WIOA national grant programs and registered apprenticeship programs. The bill would more than double state grants under WIOA, $2.5 billion of new funding for each of the Adult, Dislocated Worker and Youth allocations and AEFLA, with a new $1 billion in funding. It would also almost double funding for CTE, adding an addition $1 billion in state formula funding.

The bill would also modernize the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program, first authorized under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009, and reinvest $2 billion over three years to support partnerships between community and technical colleges and industry partners with funds to be used for both equipment and training costs.

The workforce and postsecondary education system stand ready to prepare workers at the front line of addressing our current crisis – healthcare workers who need training in respiratory specialties, workers to manufacture person protective equipment and transportation, distribution and logistics experts to respond to deliver these essentials. These are also systems that have trained and donated hospital beds to overburdened healthcare systems, are rapidly responding to match an unprecedented number of unemployed workers with job openings and are serving as navigators as people in communities across the country try to access Unemployment Insurance and other public benefits.

The system is also drastically underfunded compared to historic levels, international peers and our own needs. In 2008, prior to our last recession, the workforce system was funded at levels 25% higher than today and saw a significant increase in supplemental funding as part of ARRA. Currently, the U.S. underinvests compared to other industrialized countries and would need to invest $80 billion annually just to reach the median level of our international peers.

RAWA takes a first step to committing to our workers, businesses and communities that the U.S. will respond adequately to our current crisis and help address its economic impact.

In addition to increases in funding, the bill provides state and local workforce areas with flexibilities to help them respond to the current crisis including expanding eligibility for WIOA programs to anyone eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, allows boards to use up to 40% of new funding for incumbent worker training and for transitional jobs, and allows the Governor to reserve additional funding beyond the existing 15% Governor’s Reserve to support areas in the state most impacted by Covid-19.

Congress is currently recessed, although the Senate is expected to return next week to continue negotiations on further legislative responses to the current crisis. Any next stimulus package is likely to originate with House Democrats, and this bill is an important marker of the first step necessary to respond to worker and business’ immediate and short-term need for public investment in workforce programming.

In April, National Skills Coalition, along with more than 40 other national organizations, submitted a letter to House and Senate leadership calling on investments of at least $15 billion in our public workforce, adult education and postsecondary education systems. Representatives Bonamici and Levin also sent a letter to House leadership calling for this same level of investment that garnered support from 48 members. On the Senate side, Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Merkley (D-OR) led a similar letter to Senate leaders calling for consistent funding levels in future stimulus packages.

NSC will continue to work with national and state partners to push for both a next stimulus package and for that package to include critical investments in skills.

Sign your organization on here to tell Congress – investments in skills are critical to respond to our current crisis and its economic impact.

  FY2020 Funding Levels  RAWA proposes supplemental funding
Department of Labor    
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title 1 - State Formula Grants  $2,819,832,000  $7,500,000,000
WIOA Adult $854,649,000 $2,500,000,000
WIOA Dislocated Worker $1,052,053,00 $2,500,000,000
WIOA Youth $913,130,000 $2,500,000,000
Wagner-Peyser / Employment Service Grants $668,000,000

$1,000,000,000

Workforce Data Quality Inititative Grants $6,000,000 -
Apprenticeship Grants $175,000,000 $500,000,000
DW National Reserve $270,859,000 $500,000,000
Native American Programs $55,000,000 $150,000,000
Ex-offender Activities $98,079,000 $350,000,000
Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers $91,896,000 $150,000,000
Youth Build $94,534,000 $250,000,000
Senior Community Service Employment Programs $405,000,000 -
JobCorps $1,743,655,000 $500,000,000
Trade Adjustment Assistance $450,000,000 -
Department of Education     
Career and Technical Education State Grants $1,282,598,000 $1,000,000,000
Adult Education and Family Literacy State Grants $656,955,000 $1,000,000,000
Posted In: Federal Funding
Analysis: Third stimulus package lacks comprehensive strategy to respond to urgent workforce needs today

On March 26th the Senate voted on a third stimulus package to address the current CoVid-19 pandemic and its economic impact. The legislation is known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The bill included important provisions for workers who have lost their jobs – federal support for expanded “Pandemic unemployment insurance” that would add an extra $600 a week to unemployment insurance payments and $345 million in national grants to support activities to serve dislocated workers. It also included access to loans for businesses – and nonprofits – to cover payroll costs during the economic downturn and federal support for layoff aversion strategies like job sharing.

It lacked, however, the vision of a comprehensive national strategy to support workers’ ability to reenter the workforce after job loss. The bill also doesn’t do enough to empower businesses to rapidly upskill and reskill workers to respond to immediate workforce needs in healthcare, manufacturing or transportation, distribution, and logistics industries.

Bipartisan agreement on a nearly $2 trillion package to support workers and businesses is an undeniable win in time of national and international crisis. This crisis has stress-tested our unemployment, workforce, and education systems, however, and the package fails to address the woefully inadequate investment and support we provide workers once they lose their jobs and on their path to reemployment in industries in which businesses need workers today.

This package is the third in a series of stimulus packages over the past couple of weeks. Earlier versions provided federal support for extended Unemployment Insurance benefits, paid sick leave for workers, and waived time restrictions on access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for certain individuals.

As we look to an undeniably necessary fourth stimulus package, Congress and the administration should use that opportunity to reach bipartisan agreement on a bill that supports a national system with training, income, and healthcare supports for workers who lose their jobs. The next package must also address industry’s immediate needs so that our businesses, workers, and communities aren’t left waiting for a Congressional response that may be too little too late.

On March 19th, National Skills Coalition sent a letter to Congressional leadership with comprehensive recommendations for any stimulus package that would address needs of workers, businesses, and communities. On March 21, NSC along with more than 30 other national organizations sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for vital investments in workforce programming as part of any response to CoVid-19 and its economic impacts. We look forward to continuing this work with our network of practitioners and businesses and with national partners to elevate the critical role workforce training plays in preparing workers with skills necessary to respond to the immediate crisis and its economic impact. 

We will release additional analysis in the coming days of where policymakers should look to rectify these challenges as part of a fourth stimulus package.

What’s included in the third stimulus package

1. Supplemental appropriations for Dislocated Worker National Reserve (DWNR) Funds: The bill includes $345 million in new funding for the DWNR; national grants to support training and career services for workers who have lost their jobs due to CoVid-19. This investment will be critical to states’ ability to serve dislocated workers but is woefully inadequate to respond to the actual level of needs businesses and workers face today.

In the 2009 stimulus package, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), Congress invested $1.25 billion in formula dollars to states to support dislocated worker activities, combined with an additional nearly $3 billion in other workforce funding streams. During that economic downturn, the workforce system experienced a 234 percent increase in the number of Americans seeking reemployment and training services and the system served more than 8 million people in 2009.

The public workforce system is poised today to address challenges faced by workers who are dislocated as a result of COVID-19 and need rapid retraining to enter in-demand jobs, like those in healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing.  But the system needs adequate investment to respond to the scale of need it is already facing.

2.  Reauthorization of the TANF block grant and targeted funds for training TANF-eligible workers for healthcare careers: The bill includes a clean extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant through November 30, 2020. It also includes an extention of the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) until November 30, 2020, allowing grantees a longer time period to spend existing dollars. HPOG grants go to partnerships between healthcare providers and workforce and education providers to empower TANF-eligible workers to access training for healthcare careers and to fund support services – like access to childcare and transportation – that ensure workers with the greatest skills needs can succeed in this training. Current HPOG grantees are set to finish out their grant cycle this year and the House has introduced a reauthorization bill to expand HPOG grants, and significantly increase funding for these grants, in what would be the third round of the program. 

3. Layoff aversion strategies for small businesses and nonprofits: The bill includes access to up to $10 million in loans to businesses and nonprofits, including veterans’ organizations, to support payroll, insurance premiums, rent, and other costs incurred during the crisis. The bill also includes access to loan forgiveness provisions, tied to organizations maintaining employment levels and not laying off employees.

It provides federal support for Short-Time compensation (STC) – programs that enable workers to access a portion of their UI benefits when companies reduce their hours by 20%, enabling businesses to avert layoffs and reduce public UI costs. For states that already support STC, the bill would contribute 100% of cost of new claims. For states setting up new STC systems, federal funding would support both set up costs and 50% of claims.

The inclusion of nonprofit organizations in the loans provision is critical to workforce providers’ and human service organizations capacity to continue to serve clients during this time of crisis. For many local practitioners, the forced move to remote services means they’re helping clients in new ways – often without access to national or state grant funding to provide services like trying to access unemployment claims or meet work requirements associated with SNAP or Temporary Assistance for Need Families benefits.

These loans will be critical to enabling a robust network of training and human service organizations persist during the crisis, but it will be vital that nonprofits are able to access loan funds and are not penalized as being risky loan recipients based on low capital resources or other standards.

4. Resources for postsecondary institutions and the students they serve: Thousands of postsecondary institutions have had to close their doors to keep educators, students, and others safe during this pandemic. However, the needs of these institutions and students have not dissipated—rather, they have increased. As a result, the bill looks to provide emergency grant funding to both graduate and undergraduate students by expanding the Supplemental Economic Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program. SEOG grants aim to provide students with the most financial need with funding to offset the overall cost of their education. These expanded grants are meant to help students cover any unforeseen costs associated with COVID-19.

The bill also equips institutions to provide students enrolled in the Federal Work Study (FWS) program with the payments they anticipated receiving in exchange for their FWS service for the duration of the academic year. Additionally, if a student is unable to finish their coursework due to COVID-19 related issues, any Pell grants they used to cover the cost of enrollment will not count against their lifetime Pell eligibility.

In terms of direct support for postsecondary institutions, the bill provides $14.25 billion in funding to institutions of higher education to support students facing urgent needs related to coronavirus, and to support institutions as they cope with the immediate effects of coronavirus and school closures. This provides targeted formula funding to institutions of higher education, as well as funding for minority serving institutions and HBCUs.

5. Increased funding for supportive services, including childcare, housing and mental health services to states: The importance of supportive services for students, workers, and families cannot be overstated—particularly during times of crisis. Countless individuals across the U.S. have had to leave their jobs, drastically reduce their hours, adjust to remote work or schooling, or work overtime depending on their circumstances.

In recognition of this, the bill provides $3.5 billion in Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG)  to states for immediate assistance to child care providers to prevent them from going out of business and also to support child care for families, including healthcare workers, first responders, and others playing critical roles during this crisis.

The bill also provides $425 million in funding to address mental health and substance use disorders as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It makes housing resources available under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for elderly, disabled, veteran, homeless, and low-income populations are funded at $17.4 billion.

 

Posted In: Federal Funding

Responding to the crisis before us

  ·   By Rachel Unruh & Katie Spiker
Responding to the crisis before us

Update March 26: On March 19, National Skills Coalition sent a letter  to Congressional leadership detailing these comprehensive recommendations that would address needs of workers, businesses, and communities. On March 21, NSC along with more than 30 other national organizations, sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for vital investments in workforce programming as part of any response to CoVid-19 and its economic impacts. For more on our analysis of the federal response to CoVid-19 and its economic impacts, see our blog here.

March 18 – The financial, emotional, and physical toll that the COVID-19 health pandemic has put on our country can’t be overstated. This is a time for federal policymakers to come together – using every policy lever possible, every public resource available – to do everything we can to immediately protect and support workers and small businesses. Based on principles informed by our networks, National Skills Coalition has developed the following policy goals for an immediate stimulus package to assist workers who need income, healthcare, and housing today and to shore up small and mid-sized businesses trying to keep their doors open. You can read the full reccomendations sent to Capitol Hill here. We know there are people who will suffer the impacts of this crisis more acutely and in inequitable ways and we are working with our network to develop policy solutions that could be in subsequent stimulus efforts over the next couple months.  

Working with our networks, National Skills Coalition will release more detailed recommendations under these goals in the coming weeks. To stay informed about these recommendations, how we’re working with Congress to advance them, and how any passed legislation will impact your local community, please sign up for our email list. 

Immediate Responses for a National Stimulus 

Remove all barriers to our nation’s safety net: Immediately remove barriers to the existing federal safety net including health, food, housing, and cash assistance. 

Congress is currently considering suspension of a rule that will make it harder for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Congress should suspend all work-related restrictions for all safety net programs and give recipients significantly more time to get back into family supporting jobs. 

Provide comprehensive income, healthcare, and re-training support to all displaced workers: Guarantee access to income replacement, healthcare, and re-training for any displaced worker, including contingent workers. 

America’s existing Trade Adjustment Assistance program provides these robust, comprehensive benefits, but it is only available to workers displaced by trade. This level of benefits must be expanded to all forms of economic displacement, including pandemics, and all types of workers including contingent workers. Universal, expanded access to supports necessary to help effectively and efficiently connect dislocated workers to good jobs would be a more targeted and more comprehensive solution than current Universal Basic Income proposals which only provide income replacement. 

Help small and mid-sized business avert layoffs: Help businesses keep their employees while they are paid and re-trained during and in the aftermath of COVID-19, including for jobs that are themselves rapidly changing with new technology. 

Current tax policydoes not empower businesses to invest reskilling workers, particularly those with the greatest skill needs. Congressional changes to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit could provide targeted tax credits that support investments in retraining and will be a more effective way to support retraining and retention of workers than payroll tax incentives to all businesses. 

Additional Short-Term Responses for Subsequent Stimulus Efforts 

Address immediate shortages in industries needed to respond to crisis: Industries like healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing are essential to responding to COVID-19 and are already facing severe shortages of trained workers. Congress can tee up Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) as quickly as possible to get as much money on the ground as possible to train displaced workers for these jobs and to ensure capacity is in place when community colleges and training providers re-open physical classrooms.  

Update education and training policies to respond to marketplace disruption: Update our higher education policies to support the infrastructure and flexibility required for short-term digital learning to get displaced workers retrained quickly. This effort will help shore up the country for future disruptions whether they are health, environmental, trade, or technology related. This will also require a national effort to address the disproportionately low digital literacy skills among workers in industries like food service and retail that will be most impacted by job loss due to COVID-19. 

Create jobsThere is strong bi-partisan support for a major effort to re-build our nation’s infrastructure, which could create millions of jobs that will be needed even more coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. NSC is leading efforts to develop a workforce training and re-employment title within anticipated federal infrastructure proposals. We want to ensure that any infrastructure package includes comprehensive training and support services with a focus on those who have been disproportionately impacted by racial inequities in education and labor policy.  

Posted In: Trade Adjustment Assistance, Federal Funding, Higher Education Access
Budget Analysis: 2021 request has important skills proposals but big cuts to Labor and Safety Net programs

National Skills Coalition's 2021 budget analysis finds important education proposals recognizing the role of skills in the workforce, but massive cuts to safety net programs that help workers complete training and find good jobs.

The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget request highlights the administration’s stated goal of “[p]reparing for a changing labor market” as the first step in his plan for economic prosperity in the U.S. Increasing vocational training, closing the skills gap, and retooling the American workforce are all included as goals under this heading.

In several places in the budget request, the administration moves in this direction. Proposed increases to Career and Technical Education (CTE) respond to business and worker demand for more investment in skills. Continued commitment to expanding Pell grants to high-quality, short-term programs would help modernize higher education to work better for students, workers, and businesses. And investments in high-quality work-based learning, and increased opportunities for workers to earn in-demand skills while earning a paycheck, are important to address the mismatch between skills workers can access and those in-demand by businesses.

At the same time, the administration continues a narrative around the need for program elimination and proposes deep cuts to safety net programs that help workers support their family and often connect them to opportunities to build skills. Taken together, the significant decreases in funding undercut smaller increases in skills programming.  

In 2018, the Council of Economic Advisers recognized the U.S. would need to spend $80 million more on active labor market policies just to reach the median level investment of other industrialized countries. Despite important recognition of the role of skills and increases for CTE, taken together, this year’s budget request moves in the wrong direction compared to our international peers.

The budget request in context

In 2019, Congress agreed to a two-year budget deal that set nondefense discretionary funding for Fiscal Year 2021 at $626.5 billion. This is $5 billion higher than spending limits in FY2020 and above the levels proposed in the administration’s request. Congress will almost certainly spend to levels agreed to in the budget deal, in part because 2020 is an election year and there is pressure on incumbents to deliver on their constituents’ priorities.

While the budget request is unlikely to be a roadmap for negotiations on the Hill given these lower levels and the election year politics, it does send an important message about the administration’s priorities. Several policy proposals could gain momentum in the coming year, including continued progress on short-term Pell and modernizing Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for workers.

Below is an analysis of skills programming supported through the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services and Agriculture. For more overview of the budget request, see this video short, a statement from Kermit Kaleba, NSC’s managing director for Policy, on the budget and our initial overview blog with top level analysis of what works for workers – and what doesn’t – in the administration’s FY2021 budget request. 

National Skills Coalition will continue to share resources on the impact of the FY2021 budget request on workers, businesses and communities.

Department of Education

In his FY2021 budget request, the President proposes a 7.8 percent funding across-the-board cut to Education Department (ED) programs. These cuts are reflected in a decrease in funding or a consolidation of funding across several valuable programs, including Federal Work Study, Childcare Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS), and Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)—all of which help provide support to low-income students.

Career and Technical Education– While the President’s budget does call for an overall cut to ED programs, it prioritizes CTE, which is vital for helping students of all ages access the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy. The budget provides nearly $900 million in additional funding directed to CTE, which is composed of a roughly $680 million increase for Perkins Basic State Grants, an $83 million increase for Perkins National Programs and $100 million in additional funds that could be generated for Perkins through changes to the H-1B visa program (discussed below).

The budget stresses that the significant plus up for Perkins National Programs would support an expansion of the Innovation and Modernization (I&M) grant program with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields including computer science. I&M grants were recently authorized under Perkins V and are awarded to educational institutions to help fund a broad range of strategies, including designing new courses, building capacity in computer science and coding, and creating work-based learning opportunities for students.

Adult Education- While National Skills Coalition and many other organizations were encouraged by the significant increase to CTE funding proposed by the administration, the same emphasis was not placed on adult education. The President’s FY 2021 budget included $657 million for Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants and $14 million for Adult Education National Leadership Activities. Both of these proposed levels did not change from the White House’s FY 2020 request but provided a minor plus-up in funding compared to the levels agreed to by Congress for this fiscal year.

In the U.S., low basic skills are more common than in other countries—and low-basic skills impact employment, earnings, and economic mobility. Considering this, access to education and literacy services for adults is of the utmost importance when it comes to ensuring that individuals have the skills they need to compete in today’s economy. NSC looks forward to continuing to work with both Congress and the Administration to advocate for strong funding and federal support for adult education.

Pell Grants– The President’s budget calls for the funding necessary to support a maximum Pell grant award of $6,345 which is on par with the maximum award amount settled on by Congress in their FY 2020 appropriations package. The proposal also calls for notable changes to Pell grant eligibility, including allowing students enrolled in “high-quality, short-term programs that provide students with a credential, certification or license in a high-demand field” to participate in the program.  This provision echoes the sentiment of the bipartisan JOBS Act—an NSC supported policy that has gained momentum in Congress and is supported by likely 2020 voters on both sides of the aisle as well as small and mid-sized business leaders.

Additionally, the budget request calls for the extension of Pell grants to incarcerated individuals—which is another proposal that has bipartisan support in Congress. NSC highlighted the importance of this proposal, or Second Chance Pell, in a recently released report entitled The Roadmap for Racial Equity, which calls on Congress to overturn the ban on Pell grants for incarcerated individuals.

Federal Work Study (FWS) – Despite interest from the Administration in modernizing the FWS program so that it better supports career-oriented training opportunities, the budget proposes to cut the program by more than 50 percent, down to $500 million. The justification for this change is that FWS will be focused more workforce development for low-income undergraduate students and less on subsidized employment for campus-based jobs. The proposal would also reform the FWS allocation formula to better ensure that limited funds are going to Pell recipients.

This recommendation is in line with a new experimental site announced by the ED in 2019, which would expand FWS to private sector jobs. The experimental site would give colleges and universities the flexibility to allow students to receive FWS funds in apprenticeships, internships, clinical rotations and other situations not currently included in the federal aid program.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have introduced proposals to overhaul the FWS program, making it more responsive to the education and training needs of today’s students and employers. However, these proposals have largely included a plus-up in FWS funding to help educational institutions partner with employers to make these changes.

Notable Cuts and Consolidations

  • Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) – The CCAMPIS program is designed to support low-income parents enrolled in postsecondary education through the provision of campus-based childcare services. Despite the importance of non-tuition support services = to ensuring student success, the President’s budget cuts the already underfunded CCAMPIS program from $53 million to $15 million.

  • Federal TRIO Programs – As in past years, the budget proposed to consolidate TRIO programs—federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services to individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds—into a single state block program and slash overall funding levels by 13%. In addition to decreased funding for TRIO, the proposal also seeks to combine TRIO with the GEAR UP program and the College Access Migrant Program (CAMP), spreading funding thinly across all three programs. Congress has so far pushed back against the Administration’s efforts to consolidate these programs, choosing instead to fund each of them separately.

  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) – FSEOG is a grant program reserved for students with the greatest need for financial aid. These grants can help low-income students bridge the gap between what Pell grants will cover and the cost of postsecondary education or training. The President’s budget proposes to fully eliminate these grants, deeming them as duplicative to Pell grants.

  • Public Student Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) – The PSLF program helps teachers, government employees and other public servants by cancelling their student loan debt after they make consistent payments for 10 years. The Administration has proposed to eliminate the program for the past few years; a move that Congress has not adopted.

Department of Labor

WIOA Title I. The administration’s FY 2021 budget request would provide level funding for WIOA title I state grants for Adults, Dislocated workers and Youth programming with current FY2020 levels. In FY2020, Congress increased funding for these programs by $30 million, and it’s important that the administration’s budget request supported this increase. However, it is still notable that funding for WIOA state grants has declined by 40% in the past two decades and is far from enough to meet the needs of today’s workers or those who will be impacted by technological change over the next decade.

Apprenticeship. The budget request also included an increase of $25 million in funding for apprenticeship grants. Congress appropriated $175 million in funding for apprenticeship in the FY2020 omnibus – restricting the use of this funding to registered programs. The budget request would reverse that restriction – and language found in the administration’s budget request for FY2020 – and instead direct DOL to use this funding for “expanding opportunities relating to apprenticeship programs…” The language in the FY2021 request removes a reference to the National Apprenticeship Act and to WIOA, opening up the funds to be spent on the administration’s proposed Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP). Final regulations on IRAPs are expected out late spring, and NSC submitted comments on IRAP encouraging the department to consider  changes from the draft regulations released last year better link programs to the workforce and education systems and align with state workforce priorities.  

Program cuts and consolidation. Unfortunately, this increase was coupled with a continued narrative about program elimination and deep cuts. The administration proposed eliminating the Workforce Data Quality grants, which support state development of longitudinal data systems and are critical to measuring impact and success of workforce programs. The request also would cut $110 million from the Dislocated Worker National Reserve, reversing the $50 million increase Congress included in December’s omnibus package to support training at community and technical colleges, partnering with business and the workforce system. The budget request also proposed to eliminate several WIOA national programs, including Native American programs and the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers program, and had cuts to Youth Build and Ex-Offender activities.

The budget also included significant – more than 40% - cut to Job Corps funding. At his hearing on the FY2020 DOL budget request, former Labor Secretary Acosta proposed a new demonstration project at Job Corps sites and the program has been the center of attention from across party lines in Congress, but members remain committed to investment in the latest appropriations bill, increasing funding levels up to $1.74 billion.  

In the narrative around these proposed cuts and program elimination – and in the description of the proposed elimination of the Senior Community Service Employment Program under the Older Americans Act – the administration tasked the workforce system with serving these target populations.

Alignment between national programs and the work happening at the local level is vital for improved efficiency and outcomes for businesses and workers. Tasking local workforce areas – and states – with serving workers with the greatest needs, with continually decreased funding levels, is not efficient, it’s setting up workers, businesses and communities up for failure.

H-1B funds. The budget request included several legislative proposals reflective of the administration’s priorities. First, the administration repeated their proposal – also included in the FY2020 request – to double the fees associated with H-1B visas, awarding the funds to community and technical colleges to support training for in-demand industries.

TAA. Finally, the Administration proposed an update to Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers, including a call to reauthorize the program through 2031. Like what has been included in FY2019 and FY2020 budgets, the administration proposes shifting a focus in TAA for workers to encourage more access to work-based learning for participants. The FY2021 budget request also reflected an intention to foster closer alignment between services provided under TAA and the public workforce system, consistent with a Congressional report earlier this year and draft regulations released by the Department of Labor late 2019. Spending under TAA for workers is authorized – based on the number of claims against the program – up to $450 million, but the administration estimates lower FY2021 costs, if their legislative proposal is adopted, and only estimates spending just over $400 million on the program in FY2021.

Safety Net Programs

The President’s budget calls for drastic cuts and policy changes to a range of public assistance programs across different agencies, consistent with past budget proposals and ongoing regulatory efforts by the administration to reduce access to needed benefits.

SNAP. The budget calls for changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would tighten work requirements for individuals between the ages of 18-65, which the Department of Agriculture estimates will result in cuts of $36.6 billion over ten years. These proposals would come on top of regulatory actions by the administration to reduce access to SNAP, including a recently finalized rule that restricts the ability of states to waive work requirements for certain SNAP participants in areas of high unemployment. That rule is expected to take effect as of April 1, and it is anticipated that as many as 700,000 individuals will lose access to SNAP benefits due to the new requirements. These proposals come despite the fact that Congress recently reauthorized SNAP as part of the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill, and specifically rejected expanded work requirements as part of that compromise legislation. 

Medicaid. The Administration proposes expanding work requirements to Medicaid recipients, building on current efforts to give states the authority to impose such requirements through waivers. At least ten states have gotten approval from the administration to experiment with work requirements, with poor results: initial efforts in Arkansas resulted in approximately 18,000 individuals losing access to health coverage with no demonstrated improvement in employment outcomes. The proposed changes in the budget would lead to estimated cuts of approximately $150 billion over ten years, as more individuals would lose access to health benefits.

TANF. The Administration also proposes a ten percent cut to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) state grant program – reducing budget authority from the current $16.7 billion to $15.2 billion, and would eliminate the TANF contingency fund, which is designed to help states provide assistance to qualifying participants in times of economic hardship. These cuts would come despite the fact that funding levels for the TANF block grant have not increased since 1996, resulting in a nearly 40 percent erosion in purchasing power for TANF over the past 20 years due to inflation.

While it is highly unlikely that Congress will adopt the administration’s legislative proposals with respect to these programs, the budget signals the administration’s continued insistence on work requirements as a strategy for moving low-income workers out of poverty, despite strong evidence that indicates such requirements are ineffective and mostly serve to reduce access to critical nutrition, health, and other supports for the least fortunate. If enacted, these proposals would significantly undercut state and local efforts to better connect individuals on SNAP, TANF, and other programs to high-quality education and training, and would make it difficult for millions of low-income workers to find and keep family-supporting jobs. National Skills Coalition strongly opposes efforts to expand work requirements, and we look forward to working with Congress to reject these harmful proposals and instead focus on strategies that connect individuals to the skills and credentials they need to succeed in today’s economy.

Infrastructure

In the FY2021 budget request, the administration also includes a supplemental description of a $1 trillion infrastructure investment, dividing the funds between a surface transportation bill, funding for new infrastructure, for improving freight safety, bridge rebuilding, broadband access to rural areas and for repairing transit. The supplemental – despite the administration’s inclusion in the past – is silent on funding being allocated to support the workers who would complete the projects.

Congressional leadership and the White House have engaged in several negotiations over infrastructure, and the issue remains a bipartisan priority. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, a $1 trillion investment could create 11 million new jobs – new workers on top of the already steep skills mismatch that exists in infrastructure industries like construction, manufacturing and utilities.

Coupled with drastic cuts to labor programs, and comparatively small increases in education programs, any infrastructure conversation needs to include funding and support for helping workers in the communities with infrastructure projects develop skills necessary to succeed in those jobs.

  FY 2021 - Authorized Levels  Current Levels - FY 2020 FY2021 President's Budget Request FY2021 Budget Request to FY2020 Levels
Department of Labor        
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title 1 - State Forumla Grants   $2,819,832,000    
WIOA Adult NA $854,649,000 $854,649,000 -
WIOA Dislocated Worker NA* $1,052,053,000 $1,052,053,000 -
WIOA Youth NA $913,130,000 $913,130,000 -
Wagner-Peyser / Employment Service Grants NA

$668,000,000

$668,052,000 -
Workforce Data Quality Inititative Grants NA $6,000,000 - -$6,000,000
Apprenticeship Grants NA $175,000,000 $200,000,000 $25,000,000
DW National Reserve NA $270,859,000 $160,859,000 -$110,000,000
Native American Programs NA $55,000,000 - -$55,000,000
Ex-offender Activities NA $98,079,000 $93,079,000 -$5,000,000
Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers NA $91,896,000 - -$91,896,000
Youth Build NA $94,534,000 $84,534,000 -$10,000,000
Senior Community Service Employment Programs NA $405,000,000 - -$405,000,000
JobCorps NA $1,743,655,000 $1,015,897,000 -$727,758,000
Trade Adjustment Assistance $450,000,000 $450,000,000 $450,000,000 -
Department of Education         
Career and Technical Education State Grants NA $1,282,598,000 $1,962,598,000 $680,000,000
Adult Education and Family Literacy State Grants NA $656,955,000 $656,955,000 -
Posted In: Federal Funding
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