Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) today voted against H.R. 803, the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act. The SKILLS Act eliminates several workforce investment programs designed to help veterans, the elderly, young workers, and other underserved constituency groups find work. The bill also eliminates the requirement that community colleges serve on Workforce Investment Boards. Bonamici voted to support a substitute amendment, and went to the house floor to call for a bipartisan approach.
"This partisan bill takes a one size fits all approach -- freezing funding, eliminating programs that help veterans, the disabled, young workers, and older Americans find work, and ending the requirement that community colleges serve on workforce investment boards," Bonamici said. "The bill also fails to address the skills gap. When I talk to high-tech businesses large and small in Oregon's Silicon Forest, they often say that there are job openings but not enough qualified workers. It's time to set ideology aside, and work together so that the best ideas rise to the top."
A provision Bonamici authored, the Workforce Infrastructure for Skilled Employees (WISE) Investment Act was not included in the SKILLS Act, but was included in a substitute amendment offered by House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA). The provision is designed to help connect the needs of small businesses and other stakeholders with the training programs available through community colleges and elsewhere. The substitute amendment was not approved. Bonamici plans to continue gathering support for the WISE Investment Act, which she reintroduced earlier this year.
The SKILLS Act block grants 35 workforce and training programs, which were designed to serve diverse communities, but it has not been shown that these particular programs would benefit from consolidation. Under the one-size-fits-all SKILLS Act, people with disabilities, youth, older Americans, women, English language learners, disabled veterans, and low-income workers would be at high risk of losing access to services.
Additionally, the SKILLS Act freezes investment in job training and other Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs for seven years, from Fiscal Year 2014 through Fiscal Year 2020. Despite increased reliance on WIA services, funding has been cut in half since 2001.
The Workforce Stakeholder Group, a coalition of 32 groups ranging from the National League of Cities to the National Disability Rights Network, opposes the SKILLS Act.