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Wanted: A Bipartisan Stimulus That Invests Heavily in Workforce Development

July 24, 2020

At a Glance

JFF calls on Congress to include significant funding for worker retraining programs in next package of COVID-19 economic stimulus legislation.

As Congress develops the next COVID-19 stimulus legislation, JFF calls on lawmakers to include significant funding for workforce development.

Since the pandemic first brought the U.S. economy to a virtual standstill in March, more than 42 million people have filed new claims for unemployment insurance (UI), and over 30 million workers are still receiving UI benefits. While many workers are expected to return to work, many will not have jobs to go back to when the nation emerges from the crisis. The people who have suffered the most—and who face the bleakest prospects once the economy begins to recover—are those who lack the education and skills necessary for stable, in-demand jobs that pay good wages.

In addition to the extension of UI and other supports, the next stimulus package must focus on the reskilling of America’s workforce. It’s essential to putting the country on a path to an equitable economic recovery. Millions of Americans will need significant assistance to acquire the skills and credentials required for new, in-demand careers in the post-COVID economy.

Two Bills Demand Consideration

Two bills already introduced in Congress—the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act and the Workforce Recovery and Training Services Act of 2020—include provisions that we would like to see incorporated into the stimulus package. They provide critical funding and needed changes in U.S. workforce programming for effective response to the COVID economic crisis.

Introduced in the House by Representative Bobby Scott, and in the Senate by Senator Patty Murray, the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act (RAWA) would provide more than $15 billion for workforce education and training services, including $8 billion for programs authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and $2 billion for community college and industry partnerships. In addition to essential funding, RAWA expands services to a broader range of COVID-impacted workers; encourages the provision of critical layoff aversion services to keep workers employed; provides funding for the expansion of distance learning opportunities; and provides funding to community colleges for the scaling of innovations in the delivery and structure of education and training programs to better meet the needs of COVID-impacted workers and employers.

The next stimulus package must support the reskilling of America’s workforce. It’s essential to putting the country on a path to an equitable economic recovery.

The Workforce Recovery and Training Services Act, introduced by Senator Steve Daines, proposes $3.5 billion for essential workforce development programming. The bill also provides additional flexibility for COVID-impacted workers to benefit from short-term, online training opportunities in in-demand occupations and includes incentives for employers to hire and train new and current employees with in-demand skills. Moreover, it requires states to reexamine and expand their lists of education and training providers that can offer skills training under WIOA to ensure that workers have quality training options in this time of social distancing and a changing economy. The bill also helps local communities expand employment and reemployment services, including online services, to reach workers in areas where in-person supports may not be currently available, such as in rural communities.

Work for an Equitable Economic Recovery

We applaud the sponsors of both of these pieces of legislation. We urge lawmakers to fund critical education and workforce development programs at levels proposed in RAWA. However, we also support the additional flexibilities and funding provided in both bills, especially provisions that prioritize the expansion of effective training solutions that are necessary to help America’s workers reskill and return to good jobs and careers in the post-COVID economy.

JFF urges Congress to find a bipartisan solution that will help the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during this unprecedented health care and economic crisis. Significant investments are needed to help workers retool and develop in-demand skills that will prepare them for the new careers that will emerge in the future. An equitable economic recovery depends on it.

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