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Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Chair, I rise today in opposition to H.R. 803, the ``Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act, or SKILLS Act.''

While H.R. 803 rightfully reauthorizes the Work Force Investment Act (WIA), it does so while adding destructive provisions that undermine the very core goals of the legislation. As an alternative, we ought to consider H.R. 798.

Moreover, despite some of the rhetoric coming from the proponents of H.R. 803, one need only read the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Report to know that this bill does not save the American taxpayers anything.

The Workforce Investment Act was signed into law by President Clinton in 1998, and provides a framework for our nation's workforce preparation and employment system. It was designed to help American workers advance their careers while satisfying the needs of U.S. businesses. The idea was a simple yet effective one: to train American workers for the jobs that businesses demand.

Despite partisan resistance nearly every step of the way, our current economic policies have put us on the right path toward economic growth, with 260,000 jobs added and unemployment falling to 7.7% during the month of February.

Today, while the American people are demanding that Congress act to facilitate the creation of even more new jobs, H.R. 803 would take us in the opposite direction by freezing investment in job training and other WIA programs for seven years, from Fiscal Year 2014 through Fiscal Year 2020.

It is inconceivable that at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work, this bill proposes to cut funding from the very programs that would help give the Americans the skills they need to secure jobs in our changing economy.

Moreover, WIA funding has already been cut in half since 2001. After more than a decade of placing funding for WIA on the backburner, now more than ever is the time to invest in American workers to assist them in securing their economic futures.

Worse still, H.R. 803 effectively consolidates 35 programs under the WIA into a single block grant, despite the lack of any independent evaluation of whether such a consolidation would be beneficial. Currently, the programs are individually tailored to meet the needs of different types of workers, including adults, youth, farmworkers, dislocated workers, and other disadvantaged populations.

However, by consolidating these programs into one lump sum block grant, diverse groups of workers with different skills and different needs would be forced to compete with one another for the same resources.

The youth employment rate remains unacceptably high, and the SKILLS Act would force young aspiring workers to compete with adults for the resources of a single fund focused on serving the needs of adults.

If enacted, H.R. 803 would allow state officials to choose to reduce or eliminate programs that support some of our nation's most vulnerable populations who derive the most benefit from the programs.

H.R. 803, if enacted would have a disparate impact on youth, persons living in high-poverty communities, minorities, women, seniors, persons with disabilities, those recently incarcerated, single parents, veterans, those who lack English proficiency or do not have a high school diploma or GED.

Perhaps the most appalling part of H.R. 803 is that it eliminates the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program, which is specifically tailored to help disabled veterans.

Veterans who return home to the country that they sacrificed for deserve to have a program dedicated to helping them overcome their challenges in obtaining employment as a result of injuries sustained while serving.

Eliminating the program without providing disabled veterans with an alternative that contains accountability measures that preserve their unique interests is categorically unacceptable.

I urge Members to alternatively consider H.R. 798, the ``Workforce Investment Act of 2013,'' which modernizes the Workforce Investment Act to improve the nation's workforce investment infrastructure.

H.R. 798 is focused on focusing on finding workers jobs and careers via strategic partnerships with in-demand sector employers, community colleges, labor organizations, and nonprofits.

The American people want tangible solutions; not another ideologically partisan bill that harms the very people who can least afford it during an economic recovery.

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. I thank the distinguished ranking member of this committee, and I thank the floor managers. I particularly thank Mr. Hinojosa for his long service on workforce issues and about higher education issues to the proponent of the amendment. Certainly, we know that reporting is important.

What I want to focus on, Madam Chairwoman, is what America is all about. We are, in fact, the land of opportunity and dreams. We are the richest country in the world, and our benefit and our success has come because we have invested in people. As we watched the Depression and the era of World War II and our soldiers coming home, prosperity began when we gave them the GI Bill; and here we are today, trying to undermine under H.R. 803 the very opportunity in States for those people who are still seeking to climb the ladder.

By block-granting these 35 programs and shifting to our State governments individual programs that are to serve our adults and youth and farm workers and dislocated workers, we are going down a road of no return. We are eliminating the priority of service delivery for low-income adults and out-of-school youth. We are eliminating the thought processes that are necessary to know what rural neighborhoods or communities and urban communities need.

Texas is one of the largest States in the Union, and I can assure you that eliminating separate training funds for youth programs is devastating. It was devastating when we lost the summer youth job program, which I'd always said would have been a more effective program if you'd joined it with training. In our local communities, that's what we did--we joined summer youth jobs with training. Now you're telling us that we will be eliminated from doing that.

Rather than suggesting that the problems of this deficit are always on the least, it would be best for us to chronicle how we got here--billions of dollars in the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, Medicare part D, the bailout.

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. I thank the gentleman.

It is important to support the Democratic alternative, which streamlines and improves the coordination of training programs, which puts the dollars in community associations that are there on the ground.

Madam Chair, America is not good with this bill, H.R. 803, but it is good with the Democratic alternative, which invests in people and makes America great.

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