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Mr. BLUMENAUER. Madam Chair, I am voting against H.R. 803, ``The SKILLS Act,'' because it significantly limits the important role that community colleges, labor unions, and local community leaders play in assessing workforce needs and delivering important workforce development resources. It also ignores the unique needs of many individuals who are disadvantaged in the workforce and represents a step backward from current policy.
Effectively investing in workforce development programs that train workers to compete in an ever changing and increasingly technology-based job market is essential to improving quality of life, rebuilding our fragile economy, and bolstering our competiveness over the long-term. Decisions about the best way to channel resources to ensure success should represent a wide variety of perspectives. While industry and local elected officials have an essential role to play in these conversations, this legislation favors the private sector while unnecessarily limiting the participation of institutions that offer workforce training programs, of groups representing workers rights, and of organizations advocating for minority and underrepresented groups.
The legislation also consolidates workforce and training programs into state-level block grants designed to serve everyone. There are many groups that face unique challenges to obtaining employment, such as veterans, minorities, workers with disabilities, and young people. It is important that we ensure these groups have access to Workforce Investment Act programs, and consolidating programs into a block grant runs the risk of overlooking these unique needs.
Many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree that the Workforce Investment Act needs reform. This is why I support H.R. 798, which would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act while strengthening partnerships between employers, community colleges, labor unions, and other stakeholder groups. It also streamlines and coordinates workforce programs without eliminating the important focus on disadvantaged groups.
Unemployment remains stubbornly high across the country. As we slowly continue to recover from the economic recession, it is essential that we make smart investments in workforce development. In Portland, Oregon, our region saw 155,900 people use workforce services in 2012, with 68,000 completing workforce programs, and 35,400 being placed for work. Under the guise of streamlining programs, H.R. 803 runs the risk of reducing these numbers, limiting access and limiting the effectiveness of our investments in Oregon and around the country at the exact time we should be increasing access to and enrollment in workforce training programs.
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