No state has escaped the impacts of the COVID-19 Recession. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states are facing budget shortfalls of $480 to $620 billion through 2022. This follows on the heels of significant state spending cuts in 2020, “further slowing the economy and likely worsening structural inequities by race and income,” writes CBPP Vice President for State Fiscal Policy Michael Leachman.
Federal fiscal relief will be essential for states to start building toward an inclusive economic recovery. In September, NSC released Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity, and Accountability. And earlier this month, NSC released a set of proposals for achieving this vision at the federal level.
But an inclusive economic recovery won’t rest on federal policy alone; state policy has an essential role to play. States will be forced to make policy decisions in 2021 that will determine the economic fate of millions of workers and small businesses, including decisions that impact the ability of unemployed residents to train for jobs in new industries as well as those created by federal stimulus efforts.
And since the pandemic hit, NSC has been working with our 20 state SkillSPAN coalitions and soon to be 15 state BLU affiliates to develop and advocate for inclusive skills policy as central to state recovery efforts.
State Coalitions Launch Campaigns for Inclusive Recovery
In this context, NSC’s SkillSPAN coalitions and Business Leaders United state affiliates are working to shape state recovery efforts through coordinated state advocacy and campaigns.
As early as April, the Skills for California SkillSPAN coalition released their policy recommendations for responding to the COVID-19 crisis. The coalition also sent a letter to California’s Future of Work Commission that supports their commitment to racial equity and a high road economy and offers 5 workforce development strategies for consideration in their final recommendations.
“Skills for California is calling on the state’s leaders to use every policy lever possible to immediately protect and support our most vulnerable workers, communities, and small businesses” read a statement from the Skills for California Leadership Council. “As the state charts a roadmap for recovery, we urge policymakers to create a better and fairer economic future for all Californians.”
In September, the Invest in Skills New York (ISNY) SkillSPAN coalition (convened by New York Association of Training & Employment Professionals and JobsFirstNYC) released a set of policy recommendations representing deliberate, bold, and transformative actions Governor Cuomo and state legislators can take to reshape New York’s labor market. The coalition’s roadmap includes immediate (2021), short term (2023), and long-term actions (2025).
“This crisis has afforded New York a real shot, and an imperative, to be deliberate about how we rebuild our labor market and workforce,” said Melinda Mack, co-chair of ISNY and executive director of New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals. “Tapping into New York’s leading experts, the NYS Workforce Strategy Group has laid out pragmatic, actionable and achievable steps that will ultimately help New Yorkers get back on their feet and access better jobs.”
And in October, the PROSPER Georgia SkillSPAN coalition (convened by Georgia Budget and Policy Institute) and NSC’s Georgia BLU affiliate (convened by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Atlanta CareerRise) released a shared vision for the state’s post-pandemic economy at the launch of their campaign to engage local, state, and federal leaders in making decisions that support an inclusive economic recovery for workers and businesses.
“We’re excited that we have SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU Affiliates sitting at shared tables developing coordinated state policy agendas and advocacy strategies,” said Jessie Leslie, NSC’s Managing Director for National Networks. “That kind of collaboration is going to be essential to build the political momentum for strong state economic recovery policies.”
Throughout October and November, NSC hosted the Skills in the States workshop series to help SkillSPAN and BLU state affiliate coalitions unpack specific high priority skills policy topics and develop specific policy fixes to include in their advocacy. Participants also learned from peers leading coalitions in other states about ways to overcome anticipated roadblocks in their advocacy.
Workshop topics included state policies to support digital inclusion, strategies for using data to support greater workforce investments and outcomes, and leveraging existing funding streams and administrative advocacy for advancing inclusive skills policy.
The workshops helped coalitions better understand how to leverage and advocate for existing workforce funding streams to promote an inclusive economic recovery, including how to use state incumbent worker training funds, SNAP E&T, TANF, and discretionary WIOA funds to expand access to supports and re-training for people who’ve been hit hardest by the COVID recession.
“I liked talking to other sites,” said Jason Petrait Of Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County in Washington State. “I learned interesting things from SkillSPAN partners in Iowa and Wisconsin.”
“The enthusiasm and expertise that the SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU affiliates brought to these workshops can’t be overstated,” said Melissa Johnson, State Strategies Director for NSC. “This kind of cross-state knowledge sharing and strategizing is going to be essential for state policy wins that truly advance an inclusive economic recovery.”