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Murray, Isakson, Harkin, Alexander Applaud HELP Committee Passage of Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization

Reauthorization Bill Clears Senate HELP Committee by Vote of 18-3

WIA Reauthorization Has Been Overdue Since 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) applauded the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee vote to pass reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  The bill passed through the committee by a 18-3 vote, and will now be considered by the full Senate.

The original WIA legislation was first passed by Congress in 1998 and has been overdue for re-authorization since 2003.  The reauthorization bill passed by the committee today contains changes to the legislation that reflect the ever-changing global economy, input from business, education, and labor groups, and more than a decade of experience with existing programs.

“It’s been more than a decade since we first passed the Workforce Investment Act, and though it’s already had an incredible impact on our economy, this legislation is well past due for improvements and reauthorization,” said Senator Murray.  “In a time when it’s becoming more difficult to pass bipartisan legislation, I’ve been thrilled to work with Senators Isakson, Harkin, and Alexander on a strong, bipartisan bill that sets politics aside to make important investments in our economy.”

“I applaud the members of the Senate HELP Committee for voting today to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which is critically important to getting Americans back to work and meeting the modern demands of businesses,” said Senator Isakson. “I thank Senator Murray and my colleagues for their bipartisan efforts on this legislation, and I look forward to continuing to make improvements as we move towards final passage of legislation.”

“The reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act is long overdue, and this bipartisan bill will help workers, including young adults with disabilities, get access to the job placement, training services, and supports they need,” said Senator Harkin, who is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “Despite passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 23 years ago, too many people with disabilities continue to be tracked into segregated employment settings. The updates in this bill will provide people with disabilities more opportunities to get ‘real-world’ work experience, along with improved transition services, so that they have a better chance of securing competitive, integrated employment.”

“With unemployment still at 7.6 percent, Americans can’t afford to waste any time training for skills that employers don’t need,” said Senator Alexander, Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  “This bill takes a step in the right direction to update our workforce investment programs and I look forward to improving it further on the Senate floor.”

The WIA reauthorization bill passed by the HELP committee today has earned support from a wide range of businesses, labor, and education organizations, including: IBM, AFL-CIO, Siemens, The National League of Cities, The National Association of Counties, The Leadership Conference, The National Youth Employment Coalition, The Arc, The National Metro Business Alliance, and the National Coalition on Literacy.

Of the more than 50 million new American jobs projected to be created by 2018, 30 million will require postsecondary education, but currently, the American workforce is projected to fall short of that number by more than 3 million workers, creating a significant skills gap and a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.

To help grow the American economy still recovering from recession and address the widening skills gap separating thousands of unemployed workers from good-paying jobs, the WIA re-authorization bill introduced today contains significant improvements to existing job training programs and local workforce systems originally authorized under WIA in 1998.  It also responds to a 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on WIA programs by consolidating administrative burdens through use of a unified plan in each state, common performance measures, and a move to regional service delivery.

The bill passed by the committee today:
•    Includes a strong emphasis on effective use of real-world data, performance indicators, and stringent assessments and evaluations to determine the impact of workforce investments.  
•    Empowers state and local workforce agencies to tailor their programs to specific needs.
•    Emphasizes real-world education training opportunities, including: on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, customized training, transitional jobs, and sector strategies.
•    Maintains business majorities while shrinking state and local boards.
•    Closely aligns workforce systems with regional economic development and labor markets.
•    Applies one set of common performance metrics to each workforce program supported by WIA.

Title V of WIA reauthorizes the Rehabilitation Act, including vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs. The updates to Title V are aimed at making sure that young people with disabilities have increased preparation and opportunities for competitive, integrated employment. The bill requires state VR agencies, in conjunction with local educational agencies, to make “pre-employment transition services” available to students with disabilities. The bill will also require individuals under the age of 24 with a significant disability to make a serious attempt at competitive, integrated employment—including getting pre-employment transition services and utilizing VR services—before he or she can consider working at a segregated workshop or sheltered employment setting. For individuals who are currently in sheltered employment settings, the bill will increase opportunities to move into competitive, integrated employment by requiring ongoing career counseling, information, and referrals about programs that offer employment-related services and supports. Updates to the bill also focus on creating better alignment of government programs at the national level that are focused on employment and independent living for people with disabilities.