Last Thursday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee met to mark up and amend the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012, H.R. 4297. This Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization bill sought to update Department of Labor programs that historically have provided funding for older youth afterschool and summer programs, which served more than 370,000 mostly low income and minority youth last year alone. The committee voted to report the bill to the House on a party-line vote of 23 to 15.
According to its authors, this WIA reauthorization bill consolidates and eliminates what have been deemed as duplicative and ineffective programs; and block grants the Workforce Investment Fund to provide flexibility for states to determine proper use of funds. In response to this Republican-backed proposal, Democrats John Tierney (D-MA), George Miller (D-CA) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) proposed H.R. 4227, which maintains set-asides for disadvantaged populations; continues to provide supportive; integrated employment opportunities for the disabled; and, while it makes minor consolidations, keeps the nationally effective individual programs funded.
The stark differences between the two approaches resulted in a tense markup. Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) proposed a Manager’s Amendment as a substitute for the original bill.. Perhaps in an attempt to address concerns expressed by youth advocates, including the Afterschool Alliance, the Manager's Amendment added provisions to protect support for youth programs. This substitute would: require state and local workforce investment boards to describe the strategies and services they will use to assist at-risk youth and out-of-school youth provisions in workforce development program activities; increase the state set-aside for statewide activities from 5 percent to 10 percent; prohibit funds allotted to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 from being consolidated by the governor into the Workforce Investment Fund; require state and local boards to better coordinate workforce development and literacy programs with nonprofit organizations in the community, including public libraries; and expand the Statewide Adults with Barriers to Employment Grants to include at-risk youth. This amendment was adopted on a voice vote. While a series of amendments were proposed by both Democrats and Republicans, few were passed by the committee and most failed on a party-line vote. One exception was an amendment proposed by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) that would increase the amount set aside for Native American communities from 1 percent to 2 percent. Among the amendments that failed to pass were those by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would have supported the summer youth jobs program, and one by Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) that would have restored the successful YouthBuild program at a national level.
The future of the bill remains unclear. It would need to pass the full House—and even then, prospects in the Senate are murky. Given the barriers in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that have prevented previous consideration of the WIA bill drafted by Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY), it is unlikely that the 112th Congress will reauthorize WIA before the end of the session late this year.