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Mr. DINGELL. Madam Chair, I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 803, the SKILLS Act.
What we have before us today is another sorry excuse at legislating dressed up as compassionate conservatism. The SKILLS Act will ensure that disadvantaged populations, like youth, minorities, older workers, and the disabled, continue to suffer disproportionately in hard economic times. These are precisely the jobseekers whom the workforce investment system was designed to serve, but the practical effect of the SKILLS Act would be to reduce their access to programs meant to help them find meaningful employment.
Madam CHAIR, the SKILLS Act's justification as a rationalization of worker training programs is nothing more than lip service to the real needs of chronically unemployed Americans. It consolidates 35 separate programs into block grants and attaches few, if any, strings to their use by state governors. In point of fact, the SKILLS Act is an extension of House Republicans' plans for Medicare and Medicaid, which would amount to a decrease in disadvantaged Americans' access to important services. Moreover, the SKILLS Act freezes the Workforce Investment Act's authorization level through 2020, an amount already demonstrated to be woefully inadequate to the needs of the unemployed.
It also grieves me that H.R. 803 eliminates separate training funds for youth programs, eliminates the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program, and eliminates the priority of service delivery for low-income adults or out-of-school youth. These people should be at the front of the line, yet the SKILLS Act cuts them out completely.
Finally, the SKILLS Act severely restricts the participation of unions, community-based organizations, and community colleges on state and local workforce investment boards. Collectively, these organizations have nearly unparalleled experience in proper workforce development and must be a part of any worker training plan.
Madam Chair, H.R. 803 is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. It will not prevent the further erosion of our labor force. The SKILLS Act is another expression of Republican indifference to the crumbling infrastructure that once made this country great. Some things are worth substantial investment, and that includes our workforce. If we don't heed this call, our country will become a second-rate economic power at best.
I urge my colleagues to vote down the SKILLS Act. I further encourage my colleagues to support the Democratic alternative to this bill, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013, and in so doing demonstrate a clear commitment to getting our workforce in shape for the 21st century.
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