The National Governor’s Association is meeting in Washington, DC this week, providing an opportunity for Governors to lead and participate in discussions on topics such as child welfare, resiliency against disaster, education reform, entrepreneurship and more. Nearly every one of the nation’s Governors have provided their State of the State addresses to their constituents and many touched on these topics. Click here to view the text of your Governor’s speech. Not surprising, many of the returning Governors began by focusing on accomplishments of the last year. Those ranged from the number of jobs created, the number of bills signed into law, to amount of investments made and key results. However, six states were facing budget shortfalls in the beginning of the year, and many Governors addressed this fiscal situation in their states.
There are 20 newly elected Governors who gave their state of the state or inaugural addresses, focusing on ambitious goals, many of which were outlined in their campaigns. The importance of expanding workforce development opportunities and training people for the jobs of the future was a major theme in all of the speeches with the Mississippi Governor stating that workforce development is his top priority, affirming that the important work of Goodwill® in providing job training and workforce development to those who face challenges to employment. Increasing apprenticeships, investing more in STEM education and career and technical education are among the strategies named. In Indiana, the Governor proposed to expand the Workforce Ready Grant program which helps adults to complete degrees or certificates in high-demand industries and to double the funding for the Employer Training Grant, which provides financial support to Indiana companies to hire, train and retain adults to fill job openings
Other common themes of interest to local Goodwill organizations include investing in education, infrastructure (particularly in rural areas and including rural broadband expansion), and criminal justice reform (from reducing sentences, improving prison facilities, to providing workforce readiness programs to individuals while they are incarcerated). Several Governors mentioned the need to occupational licensing reforms for those with criminal backgrounds.
Among the populations served by Goodwill, unfortunately people with disabilities and older workers were the two mentioned least collectively in the speeches. However, the Wisconsin Governor pledged to include a $600 million increase to special education and Washington noted the need to invest in more behavioral health professionals so the state can then focus on finding room for people at new community-based facilities closer to their homes. On the other hand, the needs of veterans and individuals experiencing homelessness were commonly discussed. Many also discussed those helping those with substance abuse issues, particularly those dealing with opioid addiction and mental health treatment, especially in schools.
When discussing the need for mental health supports, the Wyoming Governor recognized the work of one of our fellow nonprofit agencies, Volunteers of America. Governor Gordon stated, “Through improved coordination of these nonprofit, public, and private programs, we can provide better mental health services in the places where people live. We can save lives and even potentially reduce the overall cost of mental healthcare. One of those organizations is represented here today. Volunteers of America is an organization, which operates successful substance abuse facilities in Sheridan and Riverton, and provides services for veterans and those less fortunate. I mention VOA because it’s an example of the multifaceted approach we can take to addressing complex social problems such as community mental health care, prison overcrowding and homelessness.”
Some Governors touched on labor issues including paid family leave in Connecticut and increasing minimum wage in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Nevada. Beyond minimum wage, the Nevada Governor perhaps covered the bulk of the issues of concern to Goodwills including advanced in technology, the desire to “be ground zero for the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will come with blockchain technology”, affordable housing, increases in career and technical education, tackling substance abuse, eliminating wait lists for services for children with autism, supporting veterans, reducing recidivism, and acknowledging the contributions Dreamers make to communities.
While some of the political rhetoric made it very clear if the Governor was speaking in a “blue” state or a “red” state there was a common theme of using bipartisan approaches, collaboration across all stakeholders, and the need to work together. Several of the state leaders also remarked about the diversity within their legislatures and leadership while the Oklahoma Governor recognized a need for more diversity. You are a stakeholder within your state and should look for opportunities to engage around the issues of importance to you and your community, your local Goodwill agency, and the individuals served.