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$3 Trillion HEROES Act Offers a Small Down Payment on Longer-Term Workforce Development Needs

With the House’s fourth COVID-19 stimulus bill facing an uncertain future, JFF calls on policymakers to provide the workforce development system with the funding necessary to help people move on to stable careers during the recovery.

May 19, 2020

At a Glance

With the House’s fourth COVID-19 stimulus bill facing an uncertain future, JFF calls on policymakers to provide the workforce development system with the funding necessary to help people move on to stable careers during the recovery.

The House of Representatives last week passed a fourth major stimulus bill aimed at addressing the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The $3 trillion package known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, calls for crucial new funding for state and local governments, the health care system, and direct payments to people who have been adversely impacted by COVID-19. It also provides $2 billion in funding for workforce development efforts to be carried out through programs authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

At JFF, we see the $2 billion in proposed workforce development funding as an important down payment for meeting the immediate needs of workers who have lost jobs as the result of COVID-19, but we know we will need to do much more over the longer term to help these workers successfully access pathways to in-demand, family-supporting careers.

We will need to do much more over the longer term to help these workers successfully access pathways to in-demand, family-supporting careers.

Long-Term Opportunities for Low-Wage Workers

More than 36 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two months as a result of the pandemic, and the U.S. unemployment rate has surpassed 14.5 percent. While we hope that these jobs will return, we know that many will not. And we know that a majority of the workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis earn relatively low-wages and won’t be able to attain the education and skills necessary for higher-paying, more stable employment unless they receive some kind of career navigation and training assistance.

The HEROES Act addresses the immediate income-related needs of this population. It would provide a second round of direct stimulus payments to individuals and extend the $600-per-week supplement to state and federal unemployment benefits through January 31, 2021. It also includes hazard pay for essential workers, among its many other provisions.

There is no question that income supports are essential while people are out of work. But it is also critical to offer impacted workers information about longer-term employment opportunities that will be in demand when the economy recovers, and provide them with assistance in attaining the skills and credentials needed for new, more stable careers.

We must think of the millions of Americans who won’t be able to return to jobs they lost and help them retool for new careers that will be in demand in the future.

Policy Goal: An Equitable Rebound

Earlier this month, Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee introduced a bill called the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act that proposed more than $15 billion in funding for the nation’s workforce development programs in response to COVID-19. That figure is considerably higher than the $2 billion included in the HEROES Act, but that’s the level of spending that will be needed, at a minimum, if we are going to provide people with the navigation, skills development, and reemployment assistance necessary to ensure that the nation and its workers succeed in a post-COVID economy. If there is one area where the HEROES Act falls short, it is here—the need to help millions of workers rethink and reskill for new careers.

It is unclear whether the HEROES Act will make it through the Senate, and even if it does, the president has indicated that he will veto it.

But as the Senate deliberates, we urge all policymakers to begin looking beyond the immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis and toward recovery. If we are to rebound equitably as a nation, we must think of the millions of Americans who won’t be able to return to jobs they lost and help them retool for new careers that will be in demand in the future.

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