Enacted in 1998, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) is long overdue to be reauthorized. Once Congress reconvenes on May 4, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is expected to consider two bills, a Republican version – H.R. 4297; and the Democrats’ alternative – H.R. 4227, that propose to reauthorize the 14-year-old law.
Especially in an election year, the partisan differences are likely to take center stage, with the elephant in the room being that the Republican version proposes to consolidate 27 job training programs into a single one-size-fits-all block grant, while the Democrats’ version would maintain, yet improve, most existing programs. Despite that, the two bills are aligned in a number of ways. For example, they seek to simplify performance measures, dedicate funding for training, and require mandatory partners to contribute resources to support one-stop career centers.
During a committee hearing last week, Republicans and Democrats alike agreed that there are many areas of agreement in their respective bills. This is a sliver of hope that members of the committee may set election-year politics aside in order to develop a bipartisan bill that reflects these important areas of agreement and builds upon the strengths of the workforce system.
When Congress reconvenes on May 4, the Committee is expected to mark up a WIA reauthorization bill. With unemployment rates still stubbornly high, Goodwill is urging Congress to develop a bipartisan bill that has true potential to move quickly through the Senate and be signed by the president.