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The U.S. needs to invest in training incumbent workers for an inclusive economic recovery

  ·   By Katie Brown and Katie Spiker
The U.S. needs to invest in training incumbent workers for an inclusive economic recovery

The pandemic has caused a major economic shift for businesses and workers. Countless companies have had to quickly upskill their workers, equipping them with the skills they need to pivot to digital or remote services.

As a result, the importance of efficiently and effectively training and onboarding workers with the right skills for the job has become an increasingly critical.

National Skills Coalition's latest report: It's Incumbent on U.S.: Leveraging federal policy to maximize investment in incumbent worker training and business’ pipeline development offers recommendations to Congress on how to address this pressing issue including:

  1. Creating a new Federal Incumbent Worker Training Fund under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to provide dedicated resources to states to fund partnerships between employers, education and training providers, and other stakeholders.

  2. Creating new "21st Century Extension Partnerships," aligning workforce and economic development strategies. These partnerships should provide technical assistance to small and medium-sized employers, coordinate funded training for businesses in the same industry, and efficiently encourage companies to adopt latest industry methods and technologies.

  3. Leveraging changes to the tax code to empower private investment in worker training for both new hires and the upskilling of existing workers.


Investing in incumbent workers is a critical layoff aversion strategy for small and mid-sized companies at a time of historic worker displacement and can be a path to better equity in the workforce.

The problem: Current economic and workforce development programs fail to support business engagement in training new or existing workers

Small and mid-sized business leaders often lack the tools necessary to develop a pipeline of skilled workers or upskill incumbent workers. Existing policies, however, fail to address this need.

The U.S. drastically underinvests in workforce policy meant to upskill and train workers already on the job, despite this being an effective and efficient way to connect learning to career pathways. Where we do invest public dollars, polices often lack alignment between economic and workforce development necessary to bring together programs meant to spur business innovation with those designed to help workers benefit from and contribute to that innovation. And finally, public policy fails to scale up or adequately leverage existing private investments in incumbent workers in a way that could maximize what businesses are already spending on their employees.

The solution: Policy change to maximize public and private investment in incumbent workers

Congress has the chance to reverse course and implement key policy changes that would support businesses and workers now and as our nation adjusts to the new realities of the post-pandemic world. Ideally, these policy changes should connect small and mid-sized businesses— particularly those in COVID-19 impacted industries—to public resources and to other companies in the same industry to scale solutions. And Congress must leverage private and public investments to maximize upskilling opportunities for both new and incumbent workers.

Read the full report today for more details on these recommendations.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Tax Policies, Work Based Learning, Future of Work

Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity, and Accountability.

  ·   By Andy Van Kleunen,
Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity, and Accountability.

As I draft this message with National Skills Coalition’s Board of Directors, I keep returning to this fact: The emotional, physical, and economic toll that the COVID-19 health pandemic has taken on our country can’t be overstated. Our coalition stands with the working people and local businesses who have been most impacted by the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The deeply inequitable consequences of this economic crisis for Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other communities of color, for immigrants, and for people with a high school diploma or less lay bare our nation’s history. A history of structural racism that kills people of color and robs them of their livelihood. A history of public policies that undermine the aspirations of working people who want to train for a better job. A history of economic recovery strategies that pick winners and losers rather than creating real pathways to prosperity for everyone.

But today, as the NSC Board, we come to you in a spirit of hope, responsibility, and determination with the release of Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity, and Accountability. This call to action offers a vision for the role that skills policy can play in an inclusive recovery. A recovery in which workers and businesses most impacted by this recession, as well as workers previously held back by structural barriers of discrimination or opportunity, are empowered to equitably participate in and benefit from economic expansion and restructuring.

Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery will guide our coalition’s work over the next two years. And over the coming months, we will share actionable legislative agendas and in-depth policy solutions that achieve the goals we put before you today. Solutions that state and federal policymakers can run with. Solutions based on the experience and expertise of our member businesses, labor-management partnerships, community organizations, community colleges, and education and workforce experts. Solutions that will require your advocacy to make them real.

America cannot train its way out of an economic crisis, nor can skills policy shoulder alone the weight of a more inclusive economy. Inclusive skills policy on its own will not dismantle structural racism, bring economic security to every worker, or ignite sustainable growth for every small business. A web of policies and practices contributes to these goals. But skills policy has an essential role to play and must be part of our nation’s path forward.

So it’s with a sense of hope, responsibility, and determination that we ask you to walk with us on this path and shape this journey.

In solidarity,

Andy Van Kleunen, CEO and Board member, along with the rest of the NSC Board

Scott Paul (Chair)

Alma Salazar (Vice Chair)

Jessica Fraser (Secretary)

Alice Pritchard (Treasurer)

Daniel Bustillo

Brenda Dann-Messier

Melinda Mack

Ned McCulloch

Girard Melancon

Rory O'Sullivan

Grant Shmelzer

Abby Snay

Van Ton-Quinlivan

Portia Wu

Posted In: Future of Work, Work Based Learning, Career and Technical Education, Higher Education Access, Federal Funding, Work-Based Learning, Postsecondary Education, Skills and Supportive Services, Upskilling

How states can rev up their recoveries through upskilling

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
How states can rev up their recoveries through upskilling

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted and accelerated two trends that were already occurring in the American workplace: First, the demand for new skills and competenciesincluding digital skills, from workers at every level. Second, the growing importance of investing in employer-based upskilling strategies that can help already-employed workers adapt to changing skill needs on the job, as well as new jobseekers who are preparing for employment at a particular company 

A new report from National Skills Coalition provides a roadmap for state policymakers and skills advocates eager to take action on these issues. Funding Resilience: How public policies can support businesses in upskilling workers for a changing economy details the strengths and shortcomings of state incumbent worker training funds, and makes recommendations for better state policies in this important area.   

Uneven patchwork of policies leaves many workers and businesses out in the cold 

Even before the pandemic, the US was not investing nearly enough in proven strategies to help incumbent workers upskill and new workers enter jobs. Today, only thirty states provide any dedicated state funds for incumbent-worker training -- and among those that do, funding reaches only a tiny fraction of potentially eligible workers and businesses.  

Funding Resilience details the current landscape of state policies that support employers’ in-house upskilling efforts, and explains the major bottlenecks and barriers preventing widespread replication of effective practices. Some of these barriers can be addressed through simple revenue-neutral changes that will not affect state budgets, such as making application cycles more frequent to match the speed of business.   

An opportunity to strengthen policies as states launch COVID economic recovery efforts 

The report makes recommendations for how policymakers can take action to change the trajectory and equip more businesses to implement upskilling programs that respond to emerging labor market demands. These timely ideas are particularly relevant for policymakers spearheading COVID recovery efforts, especially given that many businesses will need support for rapid re-skilling as previously unemployed workers return to the labor market. 

To preview the report’s conclusion: States with existing incumbent worker policies should strengthen them, and those without such policies should advance them. Reinvigorating state incumbent worker training policies is necessary to ensure that the essential workers and industries that the United States depends on can flourish in a post-pandemic economy.  

Enthusiastic advocacy from businesses and workers – combined with the growing public recognition that existing workforce investments are simply not sufficient for the present moment – can provide the momentum necessary to galvanize policymakers to act.   

Get all the details in the full Funding Resilience report. 

Posted In: Federal Funding, Work Based Learning, Future of Work, Upskilling

Small business is at the heart of an inclusive economic recovery

  ·   By Rachel Vilsack,
Small business is at the heart of an inclusive economic recovery

No sector was immune to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and recession. But the path to economic recovery will look different on an industry-by-industry basis – some of the jobs lost or furloughed due to the pandemic will simply not come back, some small businesses are struggling to remain afloat, and the outlook on how long it will take business to return to normal grows more uncertain. 

Good skills policies for an inclusive economic recovery must incorporate the needs of businesses so that investments in education and training are tied to labor market demand and leverage best practices, like work-based learning, to train workers for skilled positions.

Sector recovery so far

Payroll employment gains occurred over the last three months, with month-over-month comparisons illustrating what industries are coming back online as states progress along their reopening plans. Yet the announcement of an economic recession with a February 2020 peak in economic activity – coinciding with a near economic stoppage in March – makes for a complex story in how far this recovery must go to regain the 13 million jobs still lost.

Here are some notable highlights in industry employment between February and July 2020:

  • Professional and technical services, down 1.6 million jobs – This industry spans high-skill professional business services – like information technology, engineering, and marketing – to company headquarters and a range of office and administrative services to support businesses. While workers in professional occupations were more likely to telework during the pandemic, the temporary help services sector saw the greatest job losses over the last three month as hiring paused and staffing services were not needed.

  • Retail trade, down 913,000 jobs – Like the leisure and hospitality sector, retail trade businesses were halted in the early months of the pandemic. One notable exception was grocery stores that continued to add jobs to their payroll over the past few months, as these jobs were deemed essential. Yet the headlines have been filled with large retail chains cutting stores or closing altogether. Without retraining and other supportive services, some adults will find it difficult to compete in a labor market saturated with job applicants, especially when one in three retail workers lack digital skills.

Finally, while no sector experienced job growth between February and June 2020, utilities (8,000), mining (93,000) and information (330,000) had the smallest national job losses.

Businesses can drive industry recovery

While the pandemic disproportionately impacted businesses in certain industries, there has also been varying effects by business size. Small businesses are essential to our economy, providing vital services and employment opportunities to local communities and residents. They were also most heavily impacted by the economic disruption of the last five months. Estimates of small business closures already surpassed the 100,000 mark and the number of small businesses open at all was still 20% below their pre-pandemic levels, as of mid-July.

Businesses are an integral part of an inclusive economic recovery. Through local and regional industry sector partnerships, small employers – along with community colleges, the workforce system, unions or labor-management partnerships, and community organizations – can take a leadership role in shaping re-training strategies to meet their skill needs while providing pathways for workers to good jobs in demand. This work already naturally begun during the pandemic to support employers who faced shortages for frontline health workers. And these partnerships should expand to other sectors who need skilled workers and for local businesses who want to advance the skills of their existing workforce to respond to workplace challenges associated with technological change.

An inclusive economic recovery for small businesses must include investments to ensure they – and the communities they call home – return stronger than their pre-pandemic economic conditions. This includes skills policies that provide displaced workers with the occupational mobility to move from contracting industries to skilled jobs in growing ones, supports participation in local sector partnerships, and provides small firms with publicly subsidized on-the-job training, work-based learning, and upskilling for their workers.

Take action

With unprecedented job loss due to the pandemic, displaced workers need a legislative response that invests in our recovery to reskill displaced workers for new jobs in growing industries and support businesses who want to upskill workers still on the job. Yet, the Senate’s recent package includes $1 billion in workforce funding, or only about $20 of re-employment support for each person laid off during the recession.

Stimulus investments also need to help keep workers on the job and empower businesses to upskill current workers with the digital and occupational skills necessary to succeed in 21st century careers. We are calling on Congress to invest $1 billion in a new Incumbent Worker Training formula fund that supports bringing industry partnerships to scale and empower incumbent worker training. 

Make your voice heard: investments in our public workforce system and industry partnerships are necessary for businesses to be a part of an inclusive economic recovery.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Work Based Learning, Sector Partnerships
New report charts path to reemployment for workers left behind by nation’s pandemic response

The recent health crisis - and unprecedented, rapid job loss associated with it - has illuminated how unprepared the United States is to help workers who lose their jobs reskill to prepare for and successfully enter new employment. Policy responses to the current crisis – while critical – have fallen short of addressing challenges workers and businesses face. In a new report, National Skills Coalition outlines an aligned, comprehensive, reemployment accord to respond to current challenges and prepare for an inclusive economic recovery that addresses prior policy shortcomings and moves all workers and businesses towards success in the 21st century.

This path forward, outlined in A 21st Century Reemployment Accord, includes four key pieces:

  1. Expand access to skills training by making workers who lose their jobs eligible for a Dislocation Training Account, providing up to $15,000 in public funds to invest in training through an apprenticeship program, with a community organization or at a community or technical college. Studies suggest financial concerns are the largest barrier to workers succeeding in training. Reskilling for jobs of the twenty-first century will require short and longer-term training, frequently outside of traditional degree programs, yet today’s workers are often unable to access public funds to support training for quality non-degree credentials.

  2. Launch a federal “Reemployment Distribution Fund,” providing access to income support, through robust unemployment insurance and wage-replacement subsidies, that mitigate the financial impact of job loss on workers, their families, and communities. An initial investment of $20 billion as well as sustainable funding, should empower states to draw down funds to cover the length of training and job search necessary for workers to access a job of the twenty-first century. A first step for Congress to accomplish these goals would be to expand Trade Adjustment Assistance to cover a far larger set of workers, such as those who lose their jobs permanently due to automation.

  3. Create a network of “Twenty-First Century Industry Partnerships” among businesses, education providers, the public workforce system, and community organizations to ensure the significant public and private investments necessary to respond to worker dislocation caused by technological changes in the workplace align with employment opportunities in in-demand industries. Industry and sector partnerships are a best practice across the country but need to be expanded to more industries in more local areas to reach the scale necessary to respond to challenges associated with technological change in the workplace. This expansion will mean a dedicated federal investment.

  4. Maximize eligibility for and access to other support services under existing federal programs for workers during the reemployment process. Barriers to accessing childcare, transportation, and other support services — such as eligibility that doesn’t permit workers to access subsidies while in training programs, underfunding that leads to long waiting lists, or the fact that our social safety net programs reach too few people — make it harder for workers to succeed in training programs necessary for reemployment. To maximize retention and success in a new job, these services should be available to workers during the transition period in a new job, as well. Any federal response to job loss caused by technological change needs to provide workers with access to comprehensive, robust support services that improve worker success and retention.


The new report is the second in several publications National Skills Coalition is releasing this summer detailing recommendations for an inclusive and equitable economic recovery from Covid-19. Read the full brief for more detail on how to modernize reemployment to serve workers and businesses.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, Work Based Learning, Future of Work
Digital literacy skills are necessary for an equitable economic recovery from Covid-19, new report finds

A new report from National Skills Coalition provides recommendations for policymakers on how to ensure that businesses and workers have the digital literacy skills needed for an equitable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and recession. In-demand careers increasingly require digital literacy skills, including essential frontline occupations such as home health aides and janitors. For many occupations, digital skills are now entry-level competencies for new hires and incumbent workers alike. Digital skills investments must help to build broad-based foundational skills as well as more occupationally specific skills needed for the workplace.

The new brief, Digital Skills for an Equitable Recovery, is the first in several publications National Skills Coalition will release this summer detailing recommendations for an inclusive and equitable economic recovery from Covid-19.

While digital skill gaps exist in every industry and every demographic group, workers of color are disproportionately affected, in large part due to structural factors that are the product of longstanding inequities in American society. As public policy decisions have played a key role in forming skill gaps, including those that are racially inequitable, they must now be an integral part of the solution. Thus, Digital Skills for an Equitable Recovery outlines key recommendations for federal policymakers, as well as a new definition to describe occupational digital literacy and problem-solving skills.

Read the full report today.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Work Based Learning

The 4 Workforce Issues Congress Must Address in the Next Stimulus

  ·   By Katie Spiker,
The 4 Workforce Issues Congress Must Address in the Next Stimulus

Over the past 5 months, Congress has passed three Covid response packages, the House has advanced a fourth (the HEROES Act), and the House and Senate have started their annual appropriations process. In each of these cases, Congress has undervalued skills training programs as an important element of both addressing our current crisis and its current and future economic impact.

As lawmakers negotiate what is likely to be the final coronavirus stimulus package this year, they must recognize that new jobs – and public investment in job creation – are a critical part of our response to the largest economic downturn in the past century. It will be necessary to ensuring employment opportunities for workers most impacted by the health crisis and its economic impact – people of color, those without a high school diploma, and those who were already disconnected from work or school prior to the downturn.

To fill those jobs, though, Congress will need to do something policymakers have yet to accomplish up to this point: adequately investing in skills so workers can access and succeed in in-demand careers.

Any Covid response package needs to include key investments necessary to helping workers reengage in the workforce, upskill, and be successful in these newly created jobs. Here are the four workforce issues Congress must address in the next stimulus package:

Issue 1: Reskilling workers who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 for industries that are hiring

While some of the 40 million workers who have lost their jobs over the past few months will return to the same job or industry once communities begin to reopen, a significant number of workers will need retraining to successfully transition to in-demand occupations in other fields. And, an overwhelming majority of workers recognize the value of – and prefer – short-term training programs to make this transition efficiently.

Federal funding for skills training has seen substantial cuts over the last two decades

Unfortunately, federal investments in skills training have been cut by nearly 40% over the last two decades. Our public workforce and adult and postsecondary education systems can help connect workers to this kind of training but need investments today to make that possible.

Solution: Congress must invest at least $2.5 billion each in formula grants for Adults, Dislocated Workers, and Youth under WIOA, at least $1 billion in our Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, and $1 billion each in both Career and Technical Education and Adult Education.

Contact your Representatives today and tell them to invest in our recovery NOW by investing in America's workers

Issue 2: Upskilling workers who are still on the job so they can maintain employment and advance in their industries

To address the current economic crisis and minimize further job loss associated with future economic impacts of Covid-19, we need to invest in keeping workers on the job and empowering businesses to upskill current workers with the digital and occupational skills necessary to succeed in 21st century careers.

Current WIOA Incumbent Worker Training is difficult to scale without adequate business engagement. We need industry partnerships that bring together businesses, education providers, the workforce system, and community organizations to build capacity for businesses to both be engaged in developing training offered by education providers and in training workers on the job.

Solution: Congress must invest $1 billion in a new Incumbent Worker Training formula fund that supports these industry partnerships to scale and empower incumbent worker training , as well as $1 billion in grants to support digital literacy skills for the 1/3 of our workforce who needs digital skills.

Issue 3: Adequately preparing workers for in-demand jobs by supporting partnerships between educators, community organizations, and local business

To address our unprecedented unemployment, empower businesses to safely and rapidly reopen, and ensure that workers with the greatest skills needs – who are also most likely to have lost their jobs during this crisis – have access to the kinds of programs that lead to family sustaining jobs, we need to support partnerships between education providers, community organizations, and the industry partners that are hiring.

Solution: Congress must invest $2 billion over the next four years to provide capacity for our country’s network of 1,050 community and technical colleges to better partner with businesses to rapidly upskill and reskill workers to meet current industry demands.

Issue 4: Connecting workers to long-term careers by training and deploying a contact tracing workforce to slow the spread of the virus

The U.S. is estimated to need 100,000 contact tracers to respond to our current crisis, a role that does not require a four-year degree. By connecting our workforce system with our public health system, we can train workers to fill those roles with a focus on workers from communities hardest hit by the current crisis – communities of color.

We need to invest public dollars in training workers, ensuring they have digital skills, and support services necessary to succeed in roles necessary to track and contain the spread of Covid-19. By connecting those workers to long-term employment once the current health pandemic subsides, Congress will both speed up an efficient, safe and effective reopening of our economy and address the disproportionate impact workers of color have experienced from this crisis.

Solution: Congress must invest at least $500 million in preparing, supporting, and advancing the careers of a contact tracing workforce.

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Despite many opportunities to help workers access the skills they need during this pandemic, Congress has fallen short on investments that would connect them to family-supporting, in-demand jobs.

Without public pressure, the current – critical, but far from sufficient – proposals could be slashed to even lower levels in order to reach a bipartisan and bicameral agreement on a Covid response package. Members of Congress need to hear from workforce, education, labor, business, and other advocates today that investments in skills are necessary for an inclusive economic recovery.

Contact your Representatives today and tell them to invest in our recovery NOW by investing in America's workers

Posted In: Federal Funding

Federal government allows use of TANF, SNAP E&T, WIOA funds to support digital inclusion

  ·   By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock,
Federal government allows use of TANF, SNAP E&T, WIOA funds to support digital inclusion

The rapid shift to online services caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the barriers to digital inclusion faced by millions of US workers and jobseekers. Even as adult education organizations, community colleges, and workforce development providers have converted their programs almost overnight into distance learning or other virtual services, a significant percentage of their constituents have been unable to access those services because of such barriers.

New guidance from the federal government can help skills advocates to improve digital access and equity for adult learners and workers. In particular, several federal agencies have clarified how existing policies can be used to remedy technology gaps faced by many US jobseekers and workers.

What are barriers to digital inclusion?

Key elements of digital inclusion, sometimes described as the three legs of the stool, are: 1) home broadband internet access; 2) access to up-to-date digital devices; and 3) digital literacy skills. Individuals face barriers when they lack one, two or all three of these elements due to their income levels, geographic location, and other structural factors such as racism. (This last issue is explored in more depth in NSC’s recent Applying a Racial Equity Lens to Digital Literacy fact sheet.)

In a Covid-affected world, skills advocates have documented ways in which each of these barriers is preventing people from gaining access to crucial services. For example, both teachers and students -- especially those in rural areas -- are struggling with lack of access to affordable broadband internet. Individuals are sometimes resorting to sitting in parking lots to use a library or school Wifi signal to teach or participate in classes.

When it comes to device access, numerous providers have shared stories about how jobseekers and adult learners are attempting to participate in classes despite having out-of-date technology, being forced to share a single tablet computer or smartphone with other family members, or having devices that do not include unlimited data plans.

Finally, the pandemic has also heightened the challenges for individuals who did not have strong digital literacy skills pre-Covid. National Skills Coalition analyzed the digital skill gaps of US workers in a recent report, The New Landscape of Digital Literacy.

(Further resources on digital inclusion issues are available through the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Digital US coalition, of which NSC is a member.)

What federal policies can support greater digital inclusion?

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program can be used to support certain digital inclusion efforts, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. In particular, 2013 federal guidance explains that “A State may use Federal TANF funds or State "maintenance of effort" (MOE) expenditures to purchase computers, provide training and cover the cost of Internet access for eligible, needy families.”

Notably, because states are allowed to set different eligibility criteria for various benefits or services under TANF, the guidance also notes that “The criteria for helping families purchase computers and/or access the Internet could be broader than the criteria used for cash assistance. For example, a State could make computers and Internet access available to all families with incomes below 150 percent of the poverty line.”

HHS issued updated TANF guidance pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. While this guidance is not specific to digital inclusion issues, it does once again affirm the broad flexibility and discretion that states have in determining how best to use their TANF funds.

Similarly, US Department of Agriculture has clarified that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment & Training (SNAP E&T) funds can also be used to support digital inclusion. Guidance issued in April 2020 explains that if the pandemic has caused SNAP E&T providers to move to online services, “States may use SNAP E&T funds —50 percent Federal reimbursement funds or direct Federal grant funds — to purchase laptops or other computer equipment that may be loaned to E&T participants.”

Importantly, the guidance also notes, “States must follow Federal cost principles regarding disposition of equipment.”

In addition, the  US Department of Labor’s Employment Training Administration (ETA) has issued guidance for federal workforce grant recipients as part of a Spring 2020 Coronavirus FAQ. The guidance clarifies that “Grant funds can be used to purchase supplies or equipment to assist in providing program services and training in a virtual setting during this time. […] Laptops and tablets usually fall within the definition of supplies, which do not need grant officer approval.”

The guidance also links to relevant sections of federal regulations that define the terms “supplies” and “equipment.”

Finally, skills advocates can take advantage of opportunities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to tackle the third leg of the digital inclusion stool – digital literacy. In particular, WIOA Title II (also known as the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act) lists digital literacy as an allowable activity.

More information about digital literacy in this context is available from the US Department of Education via a 2015 fact sheet from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE).   

Using CARES Act funding to support digital inclusion

The federal CARES Act passed by Congress in March 2020 included $150 billion in funding for state, local, and tribal governments. Some local governments have announced plans to use these funds to support greater digital inclusion. For example, San Antonio’s City Council is considering a stimulus package comprised of CARES Act and local funds that would invest $27 million in digital inclusion efforts, primarily focused on home broadband internet access for low-income households.

National Skills Coalition is continuing to monitor developments in how federal policy can be used to support digital inclusion and equity. Stay tuned for further policy recommendations on how policymakers can support digital equity as part of an inclusive economic recovery.


Posted In: Federal Funding

HEROES Act fails to reach scope and scale Covid-19 crisis demands  

  ·   By Katie Spiker, Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, Katie Brown, Kermit Kaleba, and Rachel Vilsack 
HEROES Act fails to reach scope and scale Covid-19 crisis demands  

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES, Act falls far short of the investments necessary to address the unprecedented unemployment levels as well as the current and future industry demand for skilled workers. The $3 trillion bill includes only $2.75 billion in workforce funding, significantly lower than the $15 billion in funding that was called for by National Skills Coalition, our partners in the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce, and the nearly 500 organizations who signed a letter to House leadership earlier this week. 

Even taken together with very small skills-related investments in the earlier Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March, the HEROES Act fails to invest in workers or businesses at the scale or scope necessary in the face of the current crisis.  

The package includes $500 billion for states and $375 billion for cities to respond to the crisis, which had been a top priority for governors and mayors. It also extends increased support for workshare programs and federal contributions to unemployment insurance payments of up to $600 per week per worker through January 2021. Under the CARES Act, these payments are set to expire in July 2020.  

While necessary, these components of the bill are far from enough to address the needs of workers, businesses, or communities. Instead, the legislation continues Congressional undervaluing of the public workforce, postsecondary, and adult education systems in tackling unprecedented levels of unemployment and preparing workers to respond to current demands in industries like health care, manufacturing and transportation, distribution, and logistics.  

NSC sought to directly address such shortfalls by calling for a $15 billion workforce investment, which is consistent with funding levels called for by Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) along with several other House Democrats in the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act. 

These workers are at the frontline of responding to the current crisis – health care professionals working around the clock to keep us healthy; grocery store clerks stocking shelves and people in transportation and logistics shipping needed supplies, electricians, mechanics, and HVAC technicians keeping our utilities running.  

These men and women in skilled positions, many of which don’t require a four-year degree, have always been the backbone of our economy and this crisis makes that even more clear. But many of these industries were struggling to hire workers before the pandemic and increased demand to respond to Covid-19 only exacerbates the challenge.   

Beyond the immediate workforce shortages, we must also be prepared to invest in skills training to support our eventual economic recovery. As evidenced by the 33 million workers who have filed for unemployment since the crisis began, workers need not just basic income support, but also assistance finding new jobs and gaining skills to work in those jobs.  

Our nation’s workforce, postsecondary, and adult education systems stand ready to assist in getting U.S. workers and businesses the skills they need for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s recovery, but Congress has yet to live up to its commitment and make necessary investments.   

National Skills Coalition looks forward to working with Senators to ensure any response to the HEROES Act addresses shortcomings in this initial legislation. As part of these efforts, NSC and our partners in the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce are collecting signatures on a letter to send up to Senate leadership and appropriators, urging necessary investments in workforce as part of any future stimulus bill.   

Sign your organization on here!  

In depth analysis

Department of Labor

The HEROES Act would provide $1.6 billion in state formula funding under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I, with $485 million for adult programs, $518 million for youth, and $597 million for dislocated workers. It includes $400 million for Dislocated Worker National Reserve grants and $25 million for the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker programs.  

While overall workforce funding levels are far from enough, the bill does include critical programs necessary to respond to the current crisis, including $500 million in funding for training, support services, and career pathway connections for building a Coronavirus Containment Corps (CCC) of contact tracers and case managers. This is consistent with a proposal released by Congressman Andy Levin (D-MI) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). 

The CCC proposal, part of a $175 billion Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, would allocate funds to states, based on a formula that takes in to account the number of contact tracers necessary within the state, to grant to local workforce boards and, with 20 percent of the funding, community based organizations with experience working with the public health system. 

The CCC proposal would fund training, support services for workers in that training and once they begin their jobs, and would require 30 percent of funding to be set aside to connect workers in contact tracing jobs with long-term employment once the need for contact tracers declines. National Skills Coalition will release an episode of our podcast, Skilled America, featuring Congressman Levin and workforce practitioners preparing workers for these contact tracing positions, on May 21st.  

The bill also included $25 million for Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Susan Harwood safety training grants, which fund training and education to help workers and employers identify and prevent workplace safety and health hazards. This allocation is a significant increase over the $10 million the program as appropriated for FY2020. Past grants in this program have played an important role in supporting skill-building for frontline workers in several essential industries, including many immigrant and limited English proficient workers.  

In addition to funding, the bill provides states and local areas with flexibility to spend funding through the end of 2022 and calls on the Department of Labor to release tools to help programs transition to virtual and online learning.  

Department of Education

HEROES Act includes $90 billion for state Education Stabilization Funding, a second round building on funding included in CARES. Of this funding, and like CARES Act, the bill targets nearly $30 billion to postsecondary institutions, allowing funds to spent on both institutional costs and general expenditures and direct grants to support students during the crisis and for activities authorized under several statutes, including Perkins Career and Technical Education and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act.   

HEROES also includes a provision that explicitly prohibits the Department of Education from imposing any restrictions on student eligibility for direct grants from higher education institutions, except for a requirement that students be enrolled at that school. This prohibition would be retroactive to the CARES Act as well. It is consistent with NSC recommendations urging the Department of Education to roll back its April 21, 2020 guidance, which limited eligibility for direct grant funds to only those students who are eligible for Title IV financial aid under the Higher Education Act. This new provision ensures that a much broader set of students are eligible for aid, including those in short-term training, those with Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status or undocumented status, working students who have been displaced from their jobs as a result of Covid-19, online students, and adult education students attending community colleges.   

The bill explicitly allows local funds to be spent to expand access to online learning and services that help both faculty teach online courses and students succeed in this kind of instruction, consistent with NSC advocacy to expand support for worker and student digital literacy skills. Given the urgent importance of digital skills in enabling individuals’ access to training, supports and employment opportunities during the current crisis, investments in digital inclusion are of the utmost importance.  These investments should include internet access – such as the initial emergency investments in broadband included in the bill – digital device access, and digital literacy skill-building. While all three elements of digital inclusion are important for all workers, they are especially important in ensuring that the pandemic does not widen existing racial equity gaps in digital literacy.  

Adult Education

On the adult education front, the HEROES Act fails to make any additional investments in WIOA Title II, also known as the Adult Education and Literacy Act (AEFLA). While AEFLA programs are one of many allowable uses for state stabilization funds, the lack of dedicated funding for adult education in the HEROES bill is a substantial oversight that does not reflect the urgency and importance of the role that many adult education providers are playing in upskilling and reskilling frontline workers as the pandemic unfolds. State unemployment data shows that workers with a high school diploma or less make up a significant proportion of workers laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic.   

The bill does provide some legislative flexibility for states’ use of existing WIOA Title II funds, allowing program administration and state leadership funds to be used to support the transition to online service delivery. It also includes a provision that -- within 30 days of the bill’s passage -- the Secretary of Education must provide states with strategies and virtual proctoring tools they can use to assess adult learners’ progress as part of WIOA performance accountability.   

Department of Homeland Security

The HEROES Act would take two powerful steps in recognition of the crucial role that immigrant workers are playing in the US economy during the current pandemic.  First, the bill would automatically extend the work permits of just under 1 million immigrants who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Currently, these workers have work permits that last for 1-2 years, with various expiration dates starting as soon as this month. Many are employed in key industries such as healthcare, transportation, and warehousing.  

This provision is consistent with NSC’s recommendations in this area and represents a vital step as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the DACA program, potentially jeopardizing the status of hundreds of thousands of young people.  

However, even if this provision were to pass, it would represent only a temporary reprieve for those workers. A permanent solution will require the Senate to take action on HR 6, the Dream and Promise Act passed by the House in 2019, or similar legislation.  

A second immigration provision in the HEROES Act stakes out bold new territory in Congress. The bill would create a new temporary Deferred Action category covering millions of workers who are currently undocumented but are employed in occupations that are federally designated as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers. This category includes dozens of occupations in industries such as energy, wastewater management, law enforcement, agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, and more.  

Given the demographics of workers in those occupations, the new Deferred Action provision would likely cover a sizeable chunk of the roughly 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States. Workers would not need to file individual applications with the federal government in order to be covered by the designation and be considered legally work-authorized. 

The work authorization would last until 90 days after the end of the Covid-19 public health emergency, as declared by the US Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Unlike the DACA program, which was created by administrative action through the Department of Homeland Security in 2012, this new Deferred Action program would be authorized by Congress. 

Department of Agriculture

The bill would increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15% and the minimum benefit to $30 a month. HEROES waives all work requirements for SNAP benefits, consistent with NSC advocacy on the ineffective and harmful impact of work requirements. 

It also prevents the Department of Agriculture from implementing a new rule that would restrict eligibility for benefits for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDS).  NSC has advocated against restrictions imposed by the new rule on states’ ability to request waivers on time limits for ABAWDS receiving SNAP benefits.  Most non-disabled, working-age SNAP recipients do work - albeit in jobs that often do not pay sufficient wages, or offer enough hours, to move off of SNAP - but for the minority of those who do not, educational attainment gaps are likely a significant barrier to careers that provide a pathway out of poverty. 

A focus on rapid labor market attachment without a corresponding emphasis on upskilling opportunities for individuals subject to tighter work requirements will almost certainly lead to reductions in the number of ABAWDs eligible for SNAP, but will do little to address the skills needs of U.S. businesses or increase economic opportunities for SNAP recipients.  Especially given unprecedented unemployment levels associated with our current crisis, NSC strong supports any parameters Congress can provide to prevent the implementation of a rule that would make it harder for workers to access basic services and supports.  

Additional Provisions Supporting Workers and Families  

As a result of Covid-19, millions of individuals and families have lost access to supportive services, including childcare, housing and healthcare due to childcare center closures, widespread lay-offs and other pandemic-related barriers.  

The HEROES Act includes an additional $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, building on $3.5 billion in supplemental funding appropriated under the CARES Act. The bill also includes $175 billion in funding aimed at helping offset the cost of rent and mortgage payments for families. In terms of health benefits, the HEROES Act provides full healthcare premium subsidies through January 2021, to allow workers who have been laid off or have had their hours reduced to maintain their employer-sponsored coverage. 

 

Posted In: Federal Funding

Federal policy change leaves millions of students out of pandemic-related emergency aid

  ·   By Katie Brown, Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, and Amanda Bergson-Shilcock
Federal policy change leaves millions of students out of pandemic-related emergency aid

Across the US, countless individuals and families have been adversely affected by Covid-19, including the millions of workers and students enrolled in postsecondary programs. While Congress recently approved nearly $15 billion in postsecondary educational stabilization funding—part of which is designated for emergency grants to students—subsequent guidance issued by the Department of Education (ED) has excluded millions of working adults and other non-traditional students from relief.

National Skills Coalition calls on ED and Congress to course correct by taking swift action to ensure all current and future students—particularly those with the greatest financial need—have access to emergency grant funding, wrap-around services and tuition assistance during this pandemic and beyond.

Non-traditional students have historically been left out of federal higher education policy and the new guidance exacerbates that trend. By reversing course, federal policymakers can ensure that vital relief is reaching students who are in urgent need—many of whom are training for or already working in essential jobs.

Congress responds with CARES Act support for postsecondary institutions and students

To help offset the costs incurred by institutions of higher education as a result of COVID-19 and ensure supportive services remain available to students, Congress authorized a $30 billion Educational Stabilization Fund as part of the CARES Act—the third stimulus bill signed into law since the beginning of March. The CARES Act carved out $15 billion of this fund to go directly to institutions of higher education (IHEs), including community and technical colleges.

The CARES Act stipulated that once IHEs received their portion of stabilization funding, they were to disperse at least half of their total allocation to students in the form of direct emergency aid—including grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care. The other half of the funding could then be used by institutions to offset the costs of technological equipment and infrastructure, loss of revenue driven by decreased enrollment and employee retention.

Problematic guidance issued by the Department of Education

Shortly after the CARES Act was signed into law, ED Secretary DeVos sent a letter to IHEs stating that each institution was permitted to set their own parameters around individual student eligibility for direct emergency aid. This flexible guidance was welcomed by educational leaders—particularly community and technical college leaders who serve a high number of non-traditional students in need of wrap-around services.

However, on April 21, the Department reversed course and issued a FAQ document about emergency financial grants to students, which rolled back these flexibilities, stating that only students who were eligible for Higher Education Act Title IV federal financial aid under current law may receive emergency funding. The guidance further states that students who are eligible for aid include those who have filed a FAFSA, are eligible to file one, and are U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens.

Adverse impact on adult and other nontraditional students

While this recent ED guidance may seem innocuous, in reality the decision to use Title IV aid as an eligibility requirement for access to emergency grants, is preventing millions of students from receiving vital pandemic-related aid.

Among the students who will not be able to receive emergency aid under ED’s new guidance are:

  • Students enrolled in shorter-term programs. Notably, many community and technical college students are ineligible for Title IV aid solely due to the types of courses they are choosing to enroll in. Under current law, students are only eligible for needs-based federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, if they are enrolled in a course that is at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks of instruction. This “seat-time” requirement often prevents students seeking high-quality, short-term education and training programs that lead to in-demand jobs from benefitting from federal tuition assistance, and will now also prevent them from receiving emergency aid.

 

NSC has long recognized the inequities students enrolled in short-term programs have faced and has advocated for the modernization of federal financial aid to be more responsive to the needs of today’s students.  Specifically, NSC has called on Congress to pass the JOBS Act as part of a comprehensive Higher Education Act reauthorization, which would make low-income students attending courses that are at least 150 clock hours over 8 weeks of instruction eligible for Pell grants, so long as the courses meet a number of quality assurance criteria laid out in the bill. While the JOBS Act has enjoyed bipartisan, bicameral support, it has yet to move forward in the legislative process; resulting in many underserved community college students weathering the storm of this pandemic without access to tuition assistance or federal emergency aid.

  • Students with Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)   status, or undocumented status. Hundreds of thousands of students in the US fall outside of the categories used to determine immigrant eligibility for traditional federal financial aid. Yet, these students are contributing members of their higher education communities, and many are working in essential jobs. Excluding them from emergency aid is a short-sighted decision that will have severe ripple effects on the lives and livelihoods of students themselves, as well as the enrollment numbers and economic stability of the institutions they attend.

 

  • Working students who have been displaced from their jobs as a result of COVID-19. To qualify for needs-based Title IV Aid under the Higher Education Act, students must demonstrate financial need. Financial aid administrators use several pieces of information to determine student need including taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits. Students who were working full-or-part-time while enrolled in a postsecondary program prior to COVID-19 may be deemed ineligible for emergency grants based on their pre-pandemic earnings or the fact that they are now receiving Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.

 

ED addressed this issue in 2009 during the Great Recession by issuing guidance to financial aid administrators that encouraged them to use their flexibility—also known as “professional judgement”—to exempt Unemployment Insurance (UI) payments from financial aid determinations. Many of today’s financial aid administrators may not remember the 2009 “Dear Colleague” letters (GEN 09-04 and GEN 09-05) and most students do not know of their ability to adjust financial aid eligibility based on their special circumstances—a reality that will leave many working students without access to emergency grants.

 

  • Students enrolled in postsecondary programs that are fully online. According to the Community College Research Center (CCRC), almost 13% of all community college students are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. Many of today’s students are balancing family and work obligations while working towards a postsecondary credential or degree, and online courses can provide them with increased flexibility. However, fully online students have been deemed ineligible for emergency aid based on the fact that these students did not rely on on-campus housing prior to the pandemic. This decision does not take into account the childcare, health care, and nutrition related needs of online students as they adjust to a new normal driven by COVID-19.

 

  • Adult education students attending community colleges. Many community colleges offer programs for adult students who have not yet earned a high school credential. These students may be pursuing sequential programs that allow them to build foundational skills before processing to credit-bearing courses, or Integrated Education and Training (IET) programs that allow them to quickly master foundational skills while earning an industry-recognized credential. In either case, these students are especially vulnerable to economic shocks or other pandemic-related disruption of the educational and vocational goals. Unless they have gained access through the “Ability to Benefit” provision, most of these students are not eligible for federal financial aid, yet they are a vital part of the pipeline of essential workers and future postsecondary students. Providing them with emergency aid is essential to helping them maintain momentum.


What actions are needed now?

  • The Department of Education should immediately roll back their April 21 guidance around pandemic-related emergency aid for postsecondary students. Postsecondary institution leaders have seen first-hand the adverse impact COVID-19 has had on the students they serve. To assist them in serving their most vulnerable students, ED should re-grant power to individual institutions and allow them to set their own parameters around individual eligibility for direct emergency aid, so long as these parameters advance equity and access.  


  • ED should re-issue guidance to financial aid administrators, reminding them of the flexibility to exempt Unemployment Insurance (UI) payments from financial aid determinations. This flexibility was provided to financial aid offices during the Great Recession in 2009 and considering the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on today’s students, it should be quickly reinstated.

 

  • Congress should ensure future stimulus bills include educational stabilization funding that explicitly mandates its availability to all students. As Democrats in the House work towards finalizing language for a CARES 2.0 package, policymakers in both chambers should advocate for additional educational stabilization funding that is explicitly inclusive of all students—regardless of the type of postsecondary program they are enrolled in or their immigration status.

 

  • Congress should support more of today’s students through federal policy by:
    • Passing the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6). This bill, which has already been passed in the House, would ensure a sustainable pathway to citizenship for DACA, TPS and undocumented students.
    • Passing the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 839, H.R. 3497). This bill bipartisan, bicameral bill would make students attending high-quality, short-term programs—including working adults and other nontraditional students—eligible for needs-based Pell grants.

 

NSC looks forward to continuing to work with Congress and the Administration to support education leaders and today’s students during this pandemic and beyond.

Posted In: Federal Funding
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