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New York state funds “community navigators” project for low-income immigrants

A recent Request for Applications (RFA) from the New York State Office for New Americans represents an innovative approach to improving low-income immigrants’ access to career pathways and other workforce and social services for which they are eligible.

The RFA proposes to use just over $1 million in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds to support full-time Community Navigator staff positions at 14 organizations.  Grants of approximately $75,000 are expected to be made to each selected organization. Once awarded, the year-long grants may be renewed for up to two additional years, subject to the availability of funds.  

Per the RFA, the goal of the project is to “maximize the participation of low-income immigrant community members in New York State’s civic and economic life.” The project is not intended to directly provide services. Rather, each community navigator will function as a sort of air-traffic controller, overseeing a corps of volunteers in their local region who will help eligible immigrants to discover and access already-existing services. Navigators will also be responsible for a set of convening and coordinating activities meant to deepen local understanding of immigrant integration, particularly around workforce and economic issues.

Why the project was created

The New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) explains the rationale behind this project in the introduction to its RFA:

There is a chronic lack of accessible information about publicly available services and programs in low-income immigrant communities throughout New York State. Low-income New American communities in New York State often lack reliable information regarding workforce development opportunities and other opportunities open to all New Yorkers to fully participate in our State’s civic and economic life. Meanwhile, the complex relationship between immigrants and government has further left newcomers at a deficit for reliable, trusted information.

Taken together, this has left New York State’s new American population ignored for career pathways, vulnerable to financial frauds and at an access deficit for possible ladders of opportunities. Dedicated outreach and community welcoming efforts are needed to help low-income immigrants gain access to the same opportunities available to all others in the State and country. To address this need, the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) is seeking local leadership to coordinate and conduct outreach to low-income immigrant communities, and to create a grassroots community navigators program to help low-income New Americans.

Who is eligible to apply

Organizations eligible to apply for these funds include Community Action Agencies and other nonprofits who meet the New York State definition of community-based organization (CBO).

Notably, this statewide initiative is not limited to New York City. Just three of the anticipated 14 grantees will be located in the city. The other 11 grantees will be spread out across the remainder of the state, including two dedicated to the upstate area known as “North Country.”

What activities are required under the project

Each grantee organization will be required to carry out a similar slate of activities. These activities will be led by the full-time staff member (“Community Navigator”) funded under the grant. They include:

  • Establishing and leading a monthly Immigrant Integration Roundtable in their local community
  • Conducting a survey of local immigrants regarding important economic and workforce issues facing immigrants in the region, and producing an accompanying research report
  • Collaborating with nonprofit and other partners to develop and implement 10 employment/workforce development workshops and other events each year
  • Developing and overseeing a program to recruit and train community members to become volunteer Community Navigators assisting low-income immigrants in accessing services and resources for which they are eligible
  • Creating curricula and providing bimonthly trainings for volunteer Community Navigators

Each grantee’s staff member will also be responsible for hosting Community Conversations about immigrant integration, leading quarterly tours to help local stakeholders learn more about immigrant integration issues, and coordinating the dissemination of relevant announcements to ethnic media outlets.

How success will be measured

Grant applicants are required to demonstrate that their funded work will address one or more of the CSBG National Performance Goals and Indicators. Most relevant from a workforce perspective is Goal 1: “Low-income people become more self-sufficient.”

Indicators collected for this goal include individuals who obtained or maintained a job; obtained wage or benefit increase; achieved “living wage” employment; obtained skills/competencies required for employment; completed Adult Basic Education or High School Equivalency and received a certificate or diploma; or completed a postsecondary education program and obtained certificate or diploma.

The broader context for this project

New York is one of a handful of states in recent years that have created Offices for New Americans. Such offices are intended to improve the integration of immigrant newcomers into the fabric of their communities, and often focus on economic and workforce-related issues.

Among the activities undertaken by the New York State ONA include the funding of 27 ONA Neighborhood-Based Opportunity Centers around the state, and of legal counsels that will provide legal technical assistance to ONA Opportunity Centers. The ONA also supports activities that are specifically workforce-focused, including a program to help immigrants with STEM backgrounds to find skill-appropriate jobs in the U.S.

Posted In: Adult Basic Education, Immigration, New York
California releases policy brief on serving English learners in the workforce system

A recent brief from the California Workforce Development Board and the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency is providing guidance for the state’s local workforce agencies on improving services to English language learners (ELLs).

The brief, released in January, provides local workforce stakeholders with detailed examples and resources to inform their development and implementation of local/regional WIOA plans.  While focused on California, many of the recommendations in the brief are equally applicable to other states and localities.

These recommendations are especially important given the relatively low number of ELLs who participate in WIOA-funded training services. Just 1.5 percent of such participants nationwide are ELLs, and the number rises only slightly to 4 percent for California. In comparison, ELLs comprise a full 10 percent of the US workforce.*

Of special note to immigrant workforce advocates are three items:

First, the brief includes a recommendation from the State Board that local boards work with WIOA Title II and California Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) providers to convene an ad hoc committee on immigrant and ELL workforce issues, noting:

These ad hoc committees can help strategize how to better serve local and regional ELL individuals and identify ways adult education partners and community-based organizations (CBOs) can braid resources to provide supportive services to program participants.

The State Board further recommends that ad hoc committees build on existing organizational structures, as appropriate, to avoid duplication of effort.  

This recommendation is significant because it acknowledges the importance of collaborative planning and braiding resources across the adult education and workforce development worlds, factors that are crucial to ensuring that jobseekers and adult learners get access to the full range of support services needed to successfully achieve their goals.

Second, the brief emphasizes the importance of demand-driven employer engagement, particularly with regard to identifying businesses whose need for bilingual employees or workers with international trade experience can be met by qualified immigrant jobseekers.

This recommendation is particularly relevant because it helps stakeholders to flip the conversation from a deficit-oriented model into one that recognizes the assets that many immigrant jobseekers bring to the table.

Finally, the brief urges workforce boards to consider the pipeline that brings ELL participants to job training programs and “examine [their] recruitment and intake processes to ensure that ELL individuals are able to get the information and tools needed to learn about their educational and vocational options and start them on a career pathway.”

This recommendation is especially valuable because it addresses a common concern among immigrant and adult education advocates: that entrance requirements for job-training programs may unnecessarily exclude or screen out qualified immigrant or ELL applicants.

Other resources provided in the brief include:

  • Statistical information on the demographics of immigrant and ELL jobseekers and workers in California, and links to resources on how many immigrants and ELLs may qualify for WIOA-funded services
  • Affirmation of work-authorized immigrants’ eligibility for WIOA Title I services, including young immigrants who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Links to relevant federal policy guidance are provided. (NSC has written frequently about this issue, including in our policy Q&A on Dreamers and WIOA.)
  • Resources and program models that can ensure that immigrants with credentials from abroad can access English language instruction and find skill-appropriate employment.
  • Reminders on CA state requirements for addressing ELL needs and incorporating partners from immigrant-serving organizations and the adult education field as part of local WIOA planning.
  • Examples of partnerships between immigrant and/or adult education service providers with local workforce systems, such as this one in Lancaster, PA. The brief also encourages partnerships with public libraries, labor-management partnerships, and other stakeholders.

Among the program models featured in the brief are several that have been previously spotlighted by National Skills Coalition, including Building Skills Partnership and the Seattle Ready to Work program.


*Source: NSC analysis of data from the WIASRD Data Book and US Census Bureau/American Community Survey. 

Trump Fiscal Year 2018 budget blueprint calls for steep cuts in training, education

Earlier today, President Trump released his Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget blueprint, also known as a “skinny” budget, outlining a set of proposals that would increase overall funding for defense programs while cutting approximately $54 billion in non-defense programs in the coming year. While the document is relatively  light on details – a full budget proposal is expected later this spring - the proposal contains significant cuts to the Departments of Labor and Education.

The blueprint calls for $2.5 billion in cuts to the Department of Labor, or about 21 percent below current funding levels. The proposal specifically identifies about $500 million in cuts through the elimination of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) – which is currently funded at around $434 million – and elimination of programs under the Bureau of International Labor Affairs and training grants under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The proposal does not provide clear guidance on where the remaining $2 billion in cuts would be made, but it indicates that there are likely to be major cuts to workforce and Wagner-Peyser Employment Service formula grants under WIOA, stating that more responsibility for these programs will be shifted to “States, localities, and employers.” The blueprint also indicates that some savings will be achieved through closing lower-performing Job Corps centers, though actual funding decreases are not specified.

Oppose these cuts by taking action!

Given that combined funding for WIOA Title I training grants and ES formula grants is roughly $3.4 billion, this suggests potential cuts of up to 50 percent to these critical programs. Coming on top of years of disinvestment – state formula grants for Title I of the Workforce Investment Act and WIOA have been cut by nearly 40 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2001 – these cuts, if enacted, would have devastating consequences on state and local workforce systems and would severely limit the ability of jobseekers and businesses to get the necessary skills to compete in today’s economy. It is particularly disappointing to see these cuts proposed after Congress overwhelmingly passed reauthorization of WIOA in 2014, and states and local communities have undertaken significant efforts to modernize their workforce and employment services in response to the new requirements of the law.

The blueprint also includes approximately $9 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, or 13 percent below current funding levels. The budget would apparently maintain current discretionary funding for the Pell Grant program, but would cut about $3.9 billion in unspent prior year funding. Adult education programs under WIOA Title II and state formula grants under the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act are not referenced, which would seem to suggest that these programs will be level funded in the more detailed budget proposal that will be released later this spring. Funding for some smaller ED programs aimed at supporting working adults and other low-income students, like the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants program, TRIO programs, and Federal Work-Study is either eliminated or significantly reduced.

Other departments that would be cut include the Department of Health and Human Services, which would see a reduction of $15.1 billion or nearly 18 percent relative to current levels, including the elimination of the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) program; and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which would be cut by $6.2 billion (13.2 percent), including the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes efforts to further reduce federal investments in job training, postsecondary education, and other human services programs. On Tuesday, NSC joined with more than 30 other national organizations as part of the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce on a letter  to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney, strongly encouraging him to ensure that the final budget proposal rejects unnecessary cuts to workforce and education, and instead support meaningful investments in the skills of U.S. workers and businesses.

Workforce advocates have an opportunity to weigh in as well. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) have just released a “Dear Colleague” letter to the House appropriations subcommittee that will be overseeing final FY’18 funding decisions for Labor, Education, and HHS programs, and calls for increased funding for critical workforce programs.

Please take a moment to send a message to your Representative urging them to sign on to the Dear Colleague, and show their support for the vital work that workforce, education, and human services programs are doing across the country. 


Posted In: Federal Funding
NSC joins national organizations to call for FY 2017 workforce funding

This morning, National Skills Coalition joined with more than 30 other national organizations as part of the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW) to send a letter to Congressional appropriators urging them to maintain or increase funding for key education and workforce programs as part of any final Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 appropriations bill.

Most federal programs are currently being funded under a “continuing resolution” (CR) that was passed by Congress in December, and which temporarily extends funding at FY 2016 levels through the end of April. The CR was necessary because Congress was unable to complete work on most of the twelve regular appropriations bills before the December deadline, and because the incoming Trump administration had requested a delay on final spending decisions until spring to allow the White House to weigh in on funding priorities.

Both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees did pass Labor-HHS-Education bills last year, with the Senate committee approving its version in June and the House approving its slightly different version in July. However, neither bill was approved by the full House or Senate. The CIAW letter urges appropriators to work from the proposed levels in the committee-approved bills, adopting the higher of the House or Senate funding proposals where the two bills differ.

National Skills Coalition will continue to work with the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce and with our state and local partners to urge lawmakers to support critical investments in the skills of workers and businesses. With the return of strict budget caps and the threat of further funding cuts in coming years, it is more important than ever to ensure that lawmakers understand the value of federal workforce and education programs.    

California sees worrying drop in immigrant “Dreamers” applying for financial aid

New figures from California show a stark drop in the number of students applying for new or continuing financial aid under the so-called “California Dream Act.” The legislation allows eligible undocumented individuals who have graduated from a California high school or meet other requirements to apply for state financial aid to help them access higher education.

The drop in applications was steep enough to concern the California Department of Education and California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), which have issued a joint letter urging school officials to encourage eligible students to apply before the March 2 deadline.

The letter acknowledges that undocumented individuals may be confused by recent events regarding immigration at the federal level, and emphasizes that the California Dream Act is state legislation and entirely separate from the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The letter also addresses fears that students may have about their safety of their own or their family’s personally identifying information. It details the privacy protections in place in California, stating that “[t]he information provided via the California Dream Act Application is used solely to determine eligibility for state financial aid and is not shared with any other governmental agency,” and emphasizing that “students need to be reassured that the CSAC will take all available legal precautions to protect this information.”

The Los Angeles Times highlighted the dropping numbers in a February 23 article:

The drop in applications is even more striking considering that the [California Student Aid Commission] recently made changes to give students more time to apply. Last year, students only had from January through March 2 to submit requests for college aid. During that period, 13,200 students filed for first-time Dream Act grants, and 20,962 asked to renew their funding.

This year, officials opened up applications for Dream Act and other scholarships in October. But as of Feb. 17, only 8,668 students had applied for new grants, and 11,429 had applied for renewals.

California is one of a number of states that have passed such “state-level Dream Acts,” also referred to as “tuition equity” legislation. These laws do not allow an undocumented person to change his or her immigration status. Rather, they allow undocumented youth who have graduated from high school in a specific state to be eligible for in-state tuition rates at that state’s colleges and universities. (In states without such policies, undocumented students typically pay more expensive out-of-state or international student rates.)

In some cases, these state tuition equity policies also allow undocumented youth to receive state-funded financial aid. Such financial aid plays an important role in equipping young students to pursue their educational ambitions, because undocumented youth are not eligible for federal financial aid.

The National Immigration Law Center tracks the current status of tuition equity legislation and access to student financial aid across different states.