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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Executive Session on S.1356, The Workforce Investment Act of 2013”

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Today we will mark up the Workforce Investment Act of 2013, a bill to reauthorize our nation’s primary workforce development system. Our actions today are crucial and long overdue – the last reauthorization of this law expired in 2003. With this mark-up, we have the opportunity to strengthen the foundations of the existing system while modernizing it further to help workers get the service and skills they need and to help our businesses grow.

“I am proud that the bill we are considering today is a strongly bipartisan product, representing years of hard work by our committee. In particular, I would like to recognize the tireless and always-constructive efforts of Senators Murray and Isakson, who led this process for our Committee and have been long-time champions of reauthorization.

“I also want to thank the Ranking Member of the Committee, the distinguished Senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander and his staff. We worked together in good faith to update amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, Title V of this bill.  We both share a strong commitment to helping individuals with disabilities achieve success in the labor market, and to improving outcomes for transition-age youth with disabilities. I am pleased to have worked with him in this effort and am glad we have a product before us today that we both can be proud of.

“I know that members on both sides of the aisle have interests that may not be represented in this bill.  At the end of the day, that’s what bipartisanship is all about.  We each gave a little to reach an agreement to move us forward.  In the end, it’s this bipartisanship that will set our work apart.  I think we all recognize that it is past time to update the law. It’s important to help ensure job seekers have access to the services they need.  This bill will also help our businesses grow and strengthen our regional economies.  On a broader scale, this work is critical to America’s overall economic strength and ability to compete in the global market place in the long term. 

“As we have worked to modernize WIA, we have worked to maintain a balanced system that ensures a strong role at the local level to meet the evolving demands of regional labor markets.  The bill that Senators Murray and Isakson have brought before us today strikes the right balance in achieving those goals. That’s why the changes this bill makes to strengthen accountability are critical.

“For jobseekers and workers, a reauthorized bill means access to the training and employment services they need to find good jobs or advance. It requires states to develop and submit one unified plan to the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Labor, covering all of the programs authorized under WIA – job training, adult education, employment services, and vocational rehabilitation – streamlining administrative processes at the state level in a thoughtful way. It eliminates several unfunded programs and provides for an innovation fund that will help the system to identify and replicate the most effective strategies for workforce development.  It also includes provisions to support better data and evaluations that can be used across all core programs, including common definitions and performance indicators.

“Finally, I would like to focus on the improvements this bill makes to vocational rehabilitation programs and other provisions under the Rehabilitation Act, amended by WIA.  We have a number of provisions designed to improve services to young people with disabilities while they are in school and as they are entering the workforce for the first time.  These include a new definition of pre-employment transition services, a requirement that states spend at least 15 percent of their state VR allocation on transition-age youth, and strengthened national technical assistance to the states to help them do a better job serving this population. 

“Last Friday, we celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  It is a sad reality that, today, more than two decades after the employment non-discrimination provisions of the ADA took effect, more than two in three working age adults with disabilities are still outside the labor force—not working and not looking for work.  For young adults with disabilities between ages 25 and 34, the gap in labor force participation rates is currently nearly 41 percentage points: 83.1 percent of young adults without disabilities are in the labor force, compared to just 42.2 percent of young adults with disabilities).  Because of this gap, we pay special attention to youth with disabilities in the VR title, providing them with more opportunities than ever to experience competitive integrated employment and to reinforce high expectations for youth with disabilities.   I am confident that the changes we are proposing for the VR title of WIA will help to close this gap in the coming years. 

“Another significant change in the VR title involves realigning some of the critical programs that serve people with disabilities in order to provide for better coordination and collaboration across federal agencies.  Specifically, our draft moves the Rehabilitation Services Administration from the Department of Education to the Department of Labor; it moves the independent living program from the Department of Education to the Department of Health and Human Services; and it moves the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research from the Department of Education to the Department of Health and Human Services.  These changes, coupled with other provisions in the overall bill, will result in better coordination between vocational rehabilitation and the broader workforce investment system; and also better coordination and emphasis on the importance of independent living and disability-related research in the agency – HHS – that is best equipped to guide those efforts.

“This is a very good bill and I am proud of our efforts.  We owe it to America’s workers, businesses and communities to produce a bipartisan workforce development law that supports states and regions while providing opportunities for advancement to the most vulnerable, especially those who face barriers to employment or the classroom.”