Why Is the SKILLS Act Bad Public Policy?

April 8, 2013

By Neil Bomberg

This article is the third in a series of four designed to educate NLC members about the Workforce Investment Act.

Why is the SKILLS Act bad public policy?

The SKILLS Act was adopted by the House of Representatives on March 15, 2013, largely along party lines. The bill received no Democratic support and was supported by all but19 Republicans. It may be the only major workforce development bill that has been developed and passed by a partisan majority.

Since the Manpower Demonstration Training Act more than 50 years ago, every workforce development bill has been developed and passed with bipartisan support, and every law that was passed since the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973, has included a pre-eminent role for local elected officials.

For the first time since MDTA was passed, Congress has chosen to work in a partisan fashion developing the bill without the input of the minority, and passing it on the floor of the House, also, without any minority support. In addition, the bill, if it became law, would largely eliminate a role for local elected officials.

But more than this, the SKILLS Act or H.R. 803, which was introduced by Rep. Virginia Scott (R-NC), and supported by the House's leadership including the minority leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), and House Committee on Education and the Workforce chair Jon Klein (R-MN), fails to make the kind of changes to the Workforce Investment Act that would improve the overall program.

H.R. 803 fails because it would:

1. Undermine the local delivery system that has been the cornerstone of job training programs since the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 was passed into law 40 years ago by turning the program over to governors and their state workforce boards even though evidence otherwise points to the value of keeping the program locally based;
2. Establish a program that is based on political boundaries (states) rather than on economic regions and local labor markets, or the naturally evolving areas in which workers find paying work, employers find willing workers, and wage rates are determined;
3. Eliminate a strong role for local elected officials but require that they continue to be fiscally liable for funds spent in their local areas, even if they cannot control the use of those funds;
4. Change what was once a program targeted to those most in need - economically disadvantaged adults and youth and special population groups like veterans, migrant farm workers, and low income seniors - into a block grant to governors whose funds may be used to provide training and employment services to almost any segment of the population, including those who are not economically disadvantaged;
5. Contribute to the emerging division between those American's who have the requisite skills to find employment and those who do not, by failing to target those most in need of job training and employment services;
6. Mandate that certain workforce development programs whose expenditures currently equal approximately $14 billion be eliminated or consolidated into a single $6 billion workforce investment fund (block grant);
7. Cap program funding at $6 billion for seven years which would prevent the federal government, through the normal appropriations process, from responding to emerging economic and employment crises by investing additional resources in workforce development programs;
8. Prohibit thoughtful program consolidation and elimination by failing to focus on the desired outcome, but rather on the larger goals of substantially reducing the total number of programs, and reducing the overall federal investment in training and employment assistance; and
9. Eliminate targeted funding for disadvantaged and disconnected youth at a time when the nation's youth are facing an employment crisis, with young people three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and youth employment at its lowest level in 60 years.

For America's cities and towns and the residents who reside in them, this is bad public policy.

Next week: What Would an Ideal Bill Designed to Improve the Workforce Investment Act Look Like According to NLC?