For Workforce Stakeholders, It’s March Madness

Calendar showing the month of MarchFor workforce stakeholders, March has been an eventful month. Early in the month, Congress failed to avert automatic spending cuts, commonly referred to as “sequestration,” from taking place. This cut is resulting in a 5 percent cut to job training and other programs that allow Goodwill® to do more to help people to find jobs and advance in careers. Further, the cut will feel deeper since it is being applied late in the fiscal year. But more about that later.

Next, largely along party lines, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803). The bill proposes to consolidate the bulk of the nation’s network of job training and employment support programs into a single block grant to states. It is yet unclear how the Senate intends to address proposals to make changes to the nation’s job training programs.

On the heels of the SKILLS Act’s passage by the House, President Obama nominated Thomas Perez to serve as the new Secretary of Labor. If confirmed (which is far from certain), Perez is expected to help the president pursue his agenda of expanding voting rights, raising the minimum wage and overhauling immigration laws. During his tenure as Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Perez helped to increase the minimum wage in the state, and reportedly enjoyed broad union support.

And lastly, the Senate passed a temporary spending measure (H.R. 933) yesterday to fund the federal government through the rest of fiscal year 2013. The bill would set discretionary spending at $1.043 trillion; however, the automatic cuts would allow it to drop to about $984 billion. The House is expected to quickly approve the spending measure before adjourning to observe Easter and Passover.

As the saying goes, March goes “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” But not so in this case: budget proposals were recently introduced in both the House and Senate. The House version raises concerns because it proposes to reduce federal investments in non-defense discretionary programs over the next 10 years by $1.1 trillion below the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act.

What does that all spell for job training? U-N-C-E-R-T-A-I-N-T-Y.  And don’t expect answers just because we’re flipping a page on the calendar. Next month, the president is expected to unveil his long-anticipated FY 2014 budget proposal, likely adding new variables to the already murky equation.

Meanwhile, local Goodwill agencies remain on the front lines of the economic recovery, investing 82 percent of the $4.4 billion it raises in its retail stores and other business enterprises to assist people to overcome their employment challenges despite the stubbornly bleak job market and the uncertain environment.

What is certain is that the effects of sequestration are expected to be felt over time, rather than overnight. With sequestration taking affect and unemployment expected to increase to more than 9 percent as a result, Goodwill’s mission will become even more important. And with the workforce system’s resources and capacity reduced, Goodwill’s challenge will become more difficult as it works to pick up the slack.

How are you experiencing the effects of sequestration? Have you had to lay off workers? Has your business slowed? Have you had to limit the number of people you can serve? Please comment and let us know.