Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 18-3 to advance bipartisan legislation (S. 1356) to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). WIA was enacted in 1998, and has not since been reauthorized. As a result, the law is long overdue for an update. Goodwill supports the bill as written and is urging the Senate to quickly bring the bill to the Senate floor.
“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 (R-TN), ranking member of the 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 bill includes a number of such steps that Goodwill supports. In particular, the bill includes a provision (Section 511) that would transform the special minimum wage certificate from an employment placement tool to an employment, training and rehabilitation program. The provision would ensure that young people with significant disabilities have opportunities to experience an array of employment settings and are provided every chance to exercise informed choice.
We continue to support this concept and are agreeable to upward mobility employment plans and self-advocacy training – the type that many Goodwill agencies across the country already provide. The bill also includes language that would:
· Establish common performance measures.
· Enhance program alignment and collaboration.
· Expand opportunities for out-of-school youth.
Even though Goodwill supports the bill as a whole, we have some reservations about a new proposal within the bill to transfer the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to the Department of Labor. While it appears that the intention of the transfer is to improve program integration and alignment between the workforce and vocational rehabilitation systems, the move could compromise efforts to ensure a smooth transition for youth who are leaving special education and entering vocational rehabilitation. The transfer could also result in reduced resources to meet the specific needs of people with disabilities.
Next Steps and Prognosis
Yesterday’s action clears the way for the bill’s consideration on the Senate floor. Since Congress is scheduled to start a five-week district work period next week, it is not certain that Senate leaders will be willing to spend precious floor time to debate WIA over other pressing matters such as FY 2014 appropriations, automatic spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling.
Furthermore, the Senate version is drastically different from the House version (H.R. 803), passed in March largely along party lines. Whether the differences between the two versions could be reconciled is very much in question.