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Administration reorganization would eliminate critical workforce and education programs and expand ineffective work requirements

Earlier today, the Trump Administration released a proposal to restructure the federal government that includes merging many of the functions currently handled by the Departments of Labor and Education into a single Department of Education and the Workforce. The proposal would also establish a standing Council on Public Assistance tasked in part with administering a “uniform work requirements” policy across several federal programs.

This proposal is unlikely to gain traction in Congress, as legislators have rejected earlier calls by the administration to both cut funding for critical workforce and education programming and to expand ineffective work requirements. However, it reflects the continued push from the administration to eliminate vital workforce and education programming and to implement detrimental and ineffective work requirements across safety net programs.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes these efforts to expand work requirements, which have demonstrated little impact in increasing employment or reducing poverty but have led to reduced access to critical income supports for millions of low-income workers and their families. We also strongly oppose efforts to eliminate or consolidate federal workforce and education programs that have helped U.S. businesses and workers obtain the skills and credentials needed to succeed in today’s economy. We look forward to working with the Administration and Congressional leaders to support constructive and meaningful policies that invest in our nation’s greatest asset – our workforce.

Read a statement on the reorganization from NSC CEO Andy Van Kleunen here.

Proposed Changes to Departments of Labor and Education

The proposal would merge the Departments of Labor and Education into the Department of Education and the Workforce, explicitly eliminating “overlapping” programming and funding sources.

The newly established Department of Education and the Workforce would be comprised of four subagencies:

The K-12 agency would move administration of the K-12 system from the Department of Education largely in the same form they are now. This agency would include the Offices of Elementary and Secondary Education and English Language Acquisition.

The American Workforce and Higher Education Administration would merge the functions currently administered by DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, Women’s Bureau, Veterans’ Employment & Training Services and Office of Disability Employment Policy with Ed’s Office of Postsecondary Education and Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education. Continuing the administration’s focus on apprenticeship, the proposal would also task this sub-agency with administering an Apprenticeship and Impact Fund. Under the proposal, this agency would be broken in to a series of “components”:

  • Higher Education
  • Disability Employment
  • Adult Workforce Development
  • Youth Workforce Development
  • Veterans Employment Office

The Enforcement Agency would merge DOL’s current enforcement agencies including Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program, Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and Wage & Hour Division with Ed’s Office of Civil Rights. Justification for this proposal relies on the fact that these divisions represent half of DOL’s workforce. 

The Research, Evaluation and Administration Agency would merge current sub-agencies with evaluation and research components, including Ed’s Institute with Education Sciences. The proposal would move the Bureau of Labor Statistics to the Department of Commerce.

While National Skills Coalition agrees that federal workforce, education, and public assistance programs could be better aligned, we do not believe that this goal is furthered through wholesale consolidation and cuts to these programs.  Congress has taken significant action to strengthen coordination of federal investments – most notably through the bipartisan passage of the the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014 – and states and other stakeholders have undertaken major updates to their workforce development strategies and policies to reflect this greater emphasis on alignment. The proposed reorganization provides limited details on funding levels for programs that would be retained and provides limited guidance on how the administration would be better positioned to coordinate programs and activities through the proposed consolidation process.

The administration has called  for elimination of programming in their Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and 2019 budget requests and recent Executive Orders including those on apprenticeship and  safety net programs. Funding for workforce and education is still far below historic levels and below the level of investment necessary to meet worker need or business demand, but Congress has largely rejected the administration’s attempts to cut these programs in the last two years and has actually increased funding for many workforce and education programs, reflecting the strong bipartisan support for these investments.

Proposed Changes to Safety Net Programming

The proposal would also consolidate U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the current administrator of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment & Training (E&T) program, into the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) administrator. The proposal would also create a new Council on Public Assistance to administer work requirement policy across a range of safety net programs, including SNAP, TANF and Medicaid.

This proposal continues the administration’s push for expanded work requirements in a number of federal policies, consistent with an Executive Order the President signed in April and proposals in both the FY 2018 and 2019 Presidential Budget Requests to reduce funding for these programs. The Senate Agriculture Committee rejected an expansion of SNAP work requirements in their bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Farm Bill, marked up just last week. While the House Farm bill would expand work requirements, it seems unlikely that any final Farm Bill will reflect this approach.

Posted In: Career and Technical Education, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training

Senate Agriculture Committee releases Farm Bill draft

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba,
Senate Agriculture Committee releases Farm Bill draft

Proposed Bill Rejects Expanded Work Requirements, Provides New Pilot Grant Funding

The Senate Agriculture Committee today released a discussion draft of their Farm Bill reauthorization legislation. Unlike the highly partisan bill introduced earlier this year by the House Agriculture Committee – and voted down by the full House in May - the “Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018” rejects efforts to expand ineffective work requirements for individuals receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provides new funding to support innovative state efforts to expand training for SNAP recipients.

As currently drafted, the Senate bill largely maintains existing eligibility and work registration requirements for SNAP recipients, including specific hourly requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (commonly referred to as ABAWDs). This is in sharp contrast with the House bill, which called for expanding work requirements to a significantly broader population of SNAP recipients – a proposal the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would result in as many as 1.2 million individuals losing access to SNAP benefits on a monthly basis by 2028.   

The bill would extend current funding authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill for ten state pilot projects testing innovative strategies for connecting SNAP recipients to employment. The current grants were awarded by the Department of Agriculture in 2015 and funding was set to expire in September of this year, so the extension will give these states additional time to continue services for program participants.

The Senate bill would also authorize $92.5 million for each of Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020 for new rounds of SNAP pilots (for a total of $185 million), which would largely be subject to the same requirements as the original pilot grants, though the bill signals preference for programs that are voluntary for SNAP work registrants, as opposed to so-called “mandatory” programs. This is an important distinction because many states and other stakeholders have found that voluntary programs have better outcomes than mandatory programs that require participation as a condition of maintaining SNAP eligibility. The bill would encourage the Department of Agriculture to focus new pilot funding towards programs that are serving individuals over the age of 50, formerly incarcerated individuals, individuals participating in substance abuse treatment, homeless individuals, persons with disabilities, and other individuals with substantial barriers to employment.    

The bill would establish a new definition of “workforce partnerships” as a type of eligible training program that can help SNAP recipients meet work requirements. These new partnerships could be by employers, employer associations, or non-profit organizations, and would be subject to relatively limited reporting requirements compared to other types of programs. However, as currently drafted these programs would not be eligible to receive SNAP E&T funds, which may limit takeup rates.

While the proposed legislation does not adopt all of National Skills Coalition’s reauthorization recommendations – particularly our proposals to eliminate separate work participation requirements for ABAWDs and expand access to federal reimbursements for certain training expenses for SNAP recipients – National Skills Coalition believes the current Senate draft is significantly better than the House version and represents a reasonable step forward for SNAP E&T.    

The Committee is scheduled to mark up the draft bill on Wednesday, June 13th, with possible action by the full Senate later this month, though what comes next is unclear. The House bill failed last month in part because of disputes between House Republicans on how to proceed on unrelated immigration legislation, and House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway (R-TX) has been pushing for another vote on his bill once that matter is resolved. If the House does pass their version, it would require the two chambers to resolve the differences between the two bills, which are currently far apart on a range of issues.  NSC will continue to monitor developments with this process and provide updates to the field as new information becomes available.


Posted In: SNAP Employment and Training
House Farm Bill undermines proposed SNAP E&T increase with expanded, ineffective work requirements

Correction: The original post included incorrect information regarding time limits for individuals subject to work requirements and changes to WIOA state plan and partnership options; the post has been updated to address these errors.

The House Agriculture Committee yesterday released draft legislation – the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) - to reauthorize a range of federal agriculture and nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The bill would expand funding for the SNAP Employment & Training (E&T) program, but undermines this investment with sweeping changes to SNAP eligibility that would likely result in millions of Americans losing access to basic food assistance.

The Good – Increased Investments in Employment and Training. The Farm Bill was last reauthorized in 2014 following a lengthy and difficult debate, with the original House version also calling for draconian eligibility changes that were ultimately rejected. The final 2014 legislation include a number of policy changes to strengthen and improve SNAP E&T, including restoring state Employment and Training Program grants to $90 million (from a cut to $79 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012); establishing new performance reporting requirements for SNAP E&T recipients; and investing $200 million in pilot grants to help ten states expand and improve their SNAP E&T programs.

The draft bill would build on some these important improvements in SNAP E&T, significantly increasing the state administrative grant program from the current $90 million for FY 2019, to $250 million in FY 2020, to $1 billion for FY 2021 and subsequent fiscal years. The minimum allocation for states would be increased from $50,000 to $100,000. The bill would eliminate grants that allocate $20 million per year to states that provide guaranteed access to employment and training services for individuals at risk of losing SNAP eligibility (often referred to as “pledge” states), and would replace this language with a new reservation of not more than $150 million per year that would be set aside for eligible training providers identified under section 122 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).The bill would also maintain the current “50-50” program that allows states and service providers to be reimbursed for certain costs of operating SNAP E&T programs. These proposed increases to SNAP E&T funding reflect growing bipartisan consensus on the value of investments in training and education to reduce poverty and help low-income individuals succeed in today’s labor market.

The bill would also amend current language relating to employment or training activities that can be used to satisfy eligibility requirements to include subsidized employment, apprenticeship, and unpaid or volunteer work, although the last category of activity is limited to six months out of any twelve-month period.

The Bad – Harsh and Unrealistic Work Requirements.While these changes represent an important step forward, the draft bill would significantly undermine any gains by expanding the number of SNAP recipients who would be subject to harsh new work requirements.

The House bill would expand hourly work requirements to a broader population of SNAP participants, would eliminate the current three-month grace period, and would effectively eliminate state flexibility to operate SNAP E&T programs on a voluntary basis – a key element of successful E&T programs across the country – instead mandating that all non-exempt participants engage in work or a training program in order to retain eligibility.

This is a major change from current law, which does not generally impose specific hourly requirements on SNAP participants, except for individuals known as Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs), who are individuals between the ages of 18-49 who do not have dependents, and who are not disabled.

ABAWDs are currently limited to three months of benefits in any 36-month period in which they do not participate in at least 80 hours of work or other qualifying activities. The House bill would expand hourly work requirements to a broader population of SNAP participants, and wouleffectively eliminatestate flexibility to operate SNAP E&T programs on a voluntary basis – a key element of successful E&T programs across the country – and instead mandates that all non-exempt participants engage in work or a training program in order to retain eligibility. It also proposes stringent penalties for non-compliance with work requirements: a first violation would result in the loss of SNAP eligibility for twelve months, and a second violation would result in the loss of eligibility for 36 months.

The bill proposes to provide some protections for individuals by requiring a new mandatory level of service for all individuals who are subject to the expanded work requirements, including required case management services with individualized service plans. In some ways, this would be an improvement over current law, under which ABAWDs are not automatically guaranteed employment and training services, but there would be significant concerns about the capacity of states to provide meaningful levels of service. It is estimated that these new work requirements could impact up to seven million individuals per year, which will likely create significant capacity challenges for states seeking to create sufficient work or training opportunities for impacted participants; the most recent data for the federally-funded workforce system indicates that Title I-funded programs only served 6.8 million participants in Program Year 2015, meaning this expansion of work requirements could effectively double required service levels through the American Job Center network and other system partners. In addition, the new rules would require substantial new administrative capacity at the state and local level to help monitor and track individual participation in qualifying activities, making these programs far more cumbersome and costly for stakeholders to run.

While H.R. 2 does authorize a two-year transition period for states, and does provide some welcome resources for SNAP E&T, it is unrealistic to expect states to develop and implement high-quality workforce programming for this many individuals, particularly given the long-term decline in funding for WIOA training and adult education programs over the past two decades.

The Unknown – Where This Bill is Headed. The draft bill was introduced on a largely partisan basis, and it is not expected that Agriculture Committee Democrats will support the bill when the committee “marks up” the legislation, which may happen the week of April 16th. While the lack of Democratic support would likely not prevent committee passage, there is some question whether the House would be able to pass the legislation in its current form: House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is urging members of her caucus to strongly oppose the bill if it comes up for a floor vote, and the conservative House Freedom Caucus has not yet indicated whether they will support the bill. Senate Agriculture Committee members have also indicated that they are less likely to pursue major changes in any farm bill they might introduce later this year, and it is almost certain that Senate Democrats would reject legislation that expanded work requirements for SNAP, making it difficult to advance legislation that would attract the 60 votes necessary in that chamber.

Further complicating the conversation, the Trump Administration has signaled their interest in pushing forward with potential regulatory changes that may lead to harsher work requirements across a range of public assistance programs, including SNAP: the White House issued an Executive Order earlier this week calling on federal agencies to review programs under their jurisdiction to identify opportunities to expand work requirements, and the US Department of Agriculture in February requested comments on potential changes to state waivers to current ABAWD time limits.

National Skills Coalition opposes the proposed legislation as currently drafted, and urges the committee to reject the proposed changes to SNAP eligibility and instead use this reauthorization process to build on the successes of the 2014 improvements to SNAP E&T. In an economy where more than 80 percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary education and training – and as many as half of all long-term SNAP participants have less than a high school diploma – it is more important than ever to make sure that all workers and businesses have access to the skills and credentials that are needed to sustain economic growth. National Skills Coalition released recommendations in November 2017 that the committee could consider as they seek to build employment opportunities through the Farm Bill; and we look forward to working with committee members to revise the bill to better reflect the needs of today’s labor market.

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training
Trump releases executive order calling for work requirements, elimination of workforce programs

Last night, President Trump signed an Executive Order calling for new work requirements across a broad range of means-tested public assistance programs, and further calling for the consolidation or elimination of federal workforce development programs.

The order criticizes federal public assistance programs, suggesting that they “trap” individuals in poverty, and requires the Secretaries of the Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education to undertake a review process over the next 90 days to a) review all current regulations and guidance relating to waivers or exemptions to work requirements in programs under their jurisdiction; b) review all public assistance programs that do not require work as a condition of eligibility, and determine whether a work requirement could be imposed; and c) review all public assistance programs that do require work as a condition of eligibility and determine whether enforcement of those requirements is consistent with a set of “economic mobility” principles set forth in the order. Upon completion of the review, the agencies must submit recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget for regulatory and policy changes to programs that will strengthen work requirements; agencies must then take steps to implement those proposed changes within 90 days of submitting the recommendations.

The order also states that “the Federal Government” should review current federally funded workforce development programs and, where more than one agency administers a program or programs that are “similar in scope or population served,” those programs should be consolidated under the agency that is ‘best equipped to fulfill the expectations” of the program. In addition, “ineffective” programs should be eliminated.

The White House has already taken several steps to encourage work requirements in public assistance programs, including urging states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, and requesting public comments on potential regulatory changes under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would reduce state flexibility around work requirements for certain SNAP recipients. The President has also included recommendations for funding cuts and program changes to public assistance programs in his budget proposals for both Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and FY 2019, as well as steep cuts to federal workforce programs, although Congress largely ignored those recommendations, and in fact increased funding for key workforce programs in the recent FY 2018 omnibus appropriations package.

Congressional Republicans have also been aggressively promoting the imposition of work requirements across a means-tested federal programs: the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow that is widely expected to lay out the case for stronger work requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and the House Agriculture Committee is expected to release a Farm Bill reauthorization legislation as early as this week that calls for much more stringent work requirements on SNAP participants.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes these efforts to expand work requirements, which have demonstrated little impact in increasing employment or reducing poverty, but have led to reduced access to critical income supports for millions of low-income workers and their families. We also strongly oppose efforts to eliminate or consolidate federal workforce programs that have helped U.S. businesses and workers obtain the skills and credentials needed to succeed in today’s economy. In the coming weeks, we will be highlighting opportunities for state and local advocates to weigh in against ineffective work requirements, and encouraging policymakers to focus instead on strengthening access to education and training to move more low-income workers into well-paying jobs and out of poverty.

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training
NSC urges department of agriculture to reject proposed restrictions on SNAP recipients, focus on skills instead

On Friday, National Skills Coalition submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the agency to reject changes to eligibility for certain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and encouraging the agency to focus instead on strengthening efforts to expand skills opportunities under the SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program.

The comments were submitted in response to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) released by USDA on February 23, which sought input on state flexibility to request waivers from the time limits that generally apply to individuals who are receiving SNAP and are classified as “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs). Under current law, ABAWDs can receive SNAP benefits for more than three months in any 36-month period only if they work or participate in some form of training or work program for at least 80 hours per month. States can request waivers for areas where unemployment exceeds 10 percent or can otherwise demonstrate that there are not sufficient jobs in the area to provide employment opportunities. As of the fourth quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, 33 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands had ongoing waivers that applied to the whole state or areas within the state.

The ANPRM suggests that states may be using ABAWD waivers “in ways that do not strengthen the goal of helping SNAP recipients find and keep work when jobs are sufficiently available,” and seeks public comment on options for limiting state flexibility for waiver requests to align with President Trump’s proposals around restricting SNAP eligibility in his FY 2019 budget proposal.

NSC’s comments express concerns about the proposed changes signaled by USDA in the ANPRM, noting that many SNAP recipients lack the skills and credentials necessary to get and keep family-supporting jobs, and encouraging the agency to instead build on current efforts to expand access to high quality education and training through the SNAP E&T program. In particular, NSC calls for USDA to expand technical assistance and guidance to states through the SNAP to Skills initiative; encourage the development of apprenticeship and work-based learning opportunities; and analyzing performance data collected under the new SNAP E&T outcomes reporting system to better inform states efforts with vulnerable sub-populations of workers. NSC also urges the agency to work with Congressional leadership to advance key policy changes through the upcoming “Farm Bill” reauthorization, including increased resources to states and other stakeholders to expand skills-based SNAP E&T models, and elimination of the burdensome ABAWD time limits altogether. These legislative proposals are consistent with policy recommendations that NSC developed with state and local leaders on our Safety Net and Skills Advisory Panel, and which were released in December 2017.

It is unclear whether the agency will actually seek to introduce more formal proposed rules, or when such rulemaking might occur. The House Agriculture Committee is expected to consider a Farm Bill reauthorization later this month - likely on a partisan basis – and it seems unlikely that the agency would try to make significant regulatory changes in advance of any final legislation.

While text of the House bill has not been released, it is expected to call for stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients, but also provide additional resources for SNAP E&T. Committee Democrats have signaled that they are unwilling to agree to new work requirements, which means that without significant changes the House bill would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate, where 60 votes would be needed to pass the legislation. NSC will provide updated analysis of the House bill as new information becomes available.


Posted In: SNAP Employment and Training

The 2018 Skills Summit and the future of work

  ·   By Jessica Cardott
The 2018 Skills Summit and the future of work

(Main photo: Skills Summit’s Indiana Delegation with Sen. Todd Young)

This year’s Skills Summit, NSC’s big tent convening, took place February 5-7 with nearly 350 stakeholders from 36 states. Attendees were invited to reflect on the policy successes of the past year and visualize the future of America’s workforce.

What we’ve achieved, what remains to be done

Attendees prepared for advocating on Capitol Hill with two days of rigorous policy deep dives into the Skills for Good Jobs Agenda. The agenda was developed by the Coalition in late 2016 to provide a strategic skills policy roadmap for the incoming administration. Our last year of advocacy has made significant impact, with 8 of the 12 legislative proposals of the Skills For Good Jobs Agenda being currently introduced in Congress, with one of those key policies – the JOBS Act – receiving vocal support from the administration as well.  With bipartisan support on the majority of these bills, the Skills for Good Jobs Agenda is well positioned to shape our nation’s skills policies.

Members of Congress show their support

Rep. Drew Ferguson (GA) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR) discussing the PARTNERS Act (HR 4115)

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1st) and Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA-3rd) took the stage together on the second day to share why they came to be bipartisan co-sponsors of the PARTNERS Act. Both legislators shared their personal commitment to the work and reflected on how support for industry partnerships works as a bipartisan effort.

Sen. Hassan at the Expanding Postsecondary Pathways for Working Adults Hill Briefing

Timing was everything at the Skills Summit this year. Sen. Hassan (D-NH) announced the introduction of the Gateway to Careers Act in the company of Summit attendees during the Skills Summit Hill briefing on expanding postsecondary career pathways for working adults. The House of Representatives version of the BUILDS Act was introduced by Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI-10th) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH-13) during the Summit as well.

Looking into the future

The content of the Skills Summit offered practical and actionable strategies to move policy on Capitol Hill, but also left room for thinking about the United States’ workforce development path more broadly.  NSC Chief Executive Officer Andy Van Kleunen facilitated a plenary on the future of work with leaders in the field including Denis McDonough, former White House Chief of Staff for the Obama Administration, Portia Wu, the Director of Workforce Policy at Microsoft, Scott Paul, the President of Alliance for American Manufacturing, and Van Ton-Quinlivan, Vice Chancellor of Economic and Workforce Development for California’s Community Colleges.


Video of the Future of Work plenary can be found here.

Attendees concluded the Skills Summit by bringing their local stories to Capitol Hill. Altogether, Summit-goers logged over 200 individual meetings with legislative offices.  In the history of the coalition’s advocacy, we’ve never gone to the hill with a more cohesive menu of actionable ideas, incorporating post-secondary education, industry partnerships, data transparency, immigration and welfare supports into our strategic recommendations. In today’s divisive political climate, the bipartisan nature of the Skills for Good Jobs Agenda offers a clear path to growing the economy by investing in people, so that every worker and every industry has the skills to compete and prosper.

Champions and sponsors

NSC recognized coalition members whose talent and dedication allow us to move the needle on skills policy:

  • Our Skills Champion award for outstanding federal advocacy went to Pat Steele of Central Works Iowa.
  • The Power NAP-per award for outstanding contribution to an NSC National Advisory Panel (NAP) was given to Mark Kessenich of WRTP/BIG STEP, Wisconsin.
  • Our Road Warriors award for tireless advocacy in the face of a commute to DC was given to WES Global Talent Bridge in New York.
  • Kwee Lan Teo of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Texas was given the Taking Care of Business award for mobilizing the business voice to advocate for skills policy.
  • The Partners in Crime award was given to National Council for Workforce Education for their inspired collaboration with NSC throughout 2017.

NSC would like to thank this year’s Skills Summit sponsors, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Siemens Foundation and Walmart.  Without their support, this event would not be possible.

Posted In: SNAP Employment and Training, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Tax Policies, Sector Partnerships, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Work Based Learning, Workforce Data Quality Campaign

Focus on skill building, not work requirements

  ·   By Melissa Johnson
Focus on skill building, not work requirements

On Monday February 12, President Trump introduced his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019. Though a mixed bag for workforce programs, the proposal notably calls for the establishment or expansion of work requirements in federal housing aid and food assistance programs. This comes on the heels of a federal invitation to states to apply for waivers to implement work requirements for Medicaid health insurance. Waiver requests by Kentucky and Indiana have already been approved.

National Skills Coalition opposes these outdated and ineffective proposals to establish or expand work requirements in public benefit programs. Work requirements have not been effective at connecting people to family-supporting jobs or lifting them out of poverty. They can actually be counterproductive, since they encourage workers to take low-wage jobs rather than building skills and credentials that can help them compete in today’s economy. There’s also no evidence that work requirements help meet employers’ need for skilled workers. And they can create red tape for community colleges and training organizations that need flexibility to train people for jobs in our rapidly changing economy.

Rather than imposing work requirements on people with few financial resources – and putting them at risk of losing food, health care, and housing which make training more possible – federal and state policymakers should focus on strengthening workers’ access to education and training aligned with the needs of local and regional employers. In this way, workers can build the skills they need to earn family-sustaining incomes and businesses can hire workers with the right skills.

This message was recently echoed at NSC’s legislative briefing on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T), held in conjunction with the 2018 Skills Summit. The briefing illustrated NSC’s SNAP E&T Reauthorization Recommendations through the stories of professionals who work with SNAP recipients every day. Leaders from JVS Boston, Portland Community College, and Seattle Jobs Initiative spoke about the need to focus on training clients for in-demand jobs. Spending administrative time and resources tracking compliance with a weekly work requirement would detract from that goal, they said.

NSC also convened its Safety Net and Skills Policy National Advisory Panel for the first time ever at the 2018 Skills Summit. Over the coming year, the advisory panel will help guide NSC’s work on the intersection of the safety net and skills policy and connecting public assistance recipients to skills and training opportunities. Recently, this work has included a series of federal policy recommendations in the Skills for Good Jobs agenda, TANF and SNAP E&T reauthorization recommendations, along with state-level policy and practice materials. The panel will help NSC promote voluntary, job-driven skill-building as a key element of public benefit programs.

NSC looks forward to enriching the conversation about how federal and state policies can accelerate the transition from poverty to earning family-supporting wages. We believe ensuring that workers and industries have the skills they need to compete is a key component of this transition. Our National Advisory Panel will help us advance the discussion about using public benefit programs as tools to help workers obtain these skills.

Posted In: SNAP Employment and Training

White House budget promotes some workforce priorities, but includes drastic cuts to key programs

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba, Katie Spiker, and Katie Brown
White House budget promotes some workforce priorities, but includes drastic cuts to key programs

On February 12th, the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Presidential Budget Request, providing a mixed bag of funding increases and cuts across a range of federal workforce, education, and human services programs.

The annual budget request comes at an unusual moment in the Washington calendar, with Congress still trying to finalize spending levels for FY 2018. Congress last week passed a two-year bipartisan budget agreement that would raise defense and non-defense budget caps for the next two years by nearly $300 billion, including increases to non-defense spending caps of $63 billion for FY 2018 and $68 billion by 2019. Last week’s agreement also authorized a stopgap Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded through March 23rd as lawmakers work to complete FY 2018 spending decisions under the increased caps.

Because the President’s budget released today was developed before last week’s budget deal, it does not include funding at levels that are consistent with the new caps; instead, the Administration is touting broad cuts to non-defense programs – a total of $3 trillion over ten years – as a highlight of the FY’19 budget. While Congress is unlikely to adopt the President’s recommendations in their current form, today’s budget does put additional pressure on appropriators to consider at least nominal reductions in funding to discretionary programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, despite strong bipartisan support for these critical programs.

The budget request does include some good proposals around workforce and education, including a recommendation to expand Pell grants to short-term programs and additional funds for apprenticeship. The White House also released an addendum to their previously prepared budget request, in response to last week’s Congressional budget agreement, in which the administration appears to recommend spending an addition $1.3 billion in FY 2019 non-defense discretionary funds on WIOA formula grants – effectively overriding the $1 billion proposed cuts in the original budget request.

The budget request and addendum continue an inconsistent narrative from the administration on the importance of workforce and education programs. The proposed cuts aren’t surprising given an administration focus on eliminating federal workforce and education programs, and yet the President has touted the importance of job training as recently as his State of the Union a few weeks ago and proposed a renewed focus on expanding apprenticeship in his infrastructure principles released just this morning.

NSC continues to advocate for adequate investment in key workforce and education programs and the consistent inconsistency from the administration only reinforces the importance of weighing in with your policy makers to ensure they understand how vital workforce and education programs are to your communities, your work, and the President’s priorities.

Department of Labor. Overall, the President’s budget calls for $9.4 billion in funding for DOL, a cut of 21 percent relative to current funding levels. While recognizing the millions of workers in need of training and openings with U.S. businesses, the budget frames these cuts in the context of an effort to “consolidate and reorganize Federal workforce development programs.”

 The request calls for cuts of approximately $1.08 billion across the three state formula grants under Title I of WIOA. The formula funding levels in the request represent about a 40 percent cut, which NSC and Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce have detailed would a devastating impact on local areas provision of WIOA funded services. These cuts are exacerbated by other cuts proposed in the request – the administration would eliminate the Indian and Native Americans national grant program, the Senior Community Services Employment Program (SCSEP), the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker program, and Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants. The administration would direct the Secretary of Labor to set aside 1.5 percent of WIOA adult formula funds to support Indian and Native American programs and justifies the elimination of SCSEP because adults served under that program could be eligible for programming funded by WIOA adult formula dollars.

The administration requested a nearly 40 percent cut to the Wagner-Peyser Employment Service under WIOA Title III, and proposes refocusing Job Corps programs on older youth.

Despite their overall reduction in requests for workforce funding, the administration continued their focus on apprenticeship requesting $200 million for expansion of the new “Industry-Recognized” apprenticeship program created by the President’s Executive Order last summer, specifically to health care, information technology, and advanced manufacturing jobs.

The budget request includes full funding at authorized levels ($450,000,000) for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Training program, proposing a legislative adjustment that would “refocus” TAA training on apprenticeship and work-based learning strategies.

The budget request also includes $130 million in funding for Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments (RESEA), consistent with an extension of the program included as part of the February 9th bipartisan budget agreement.

Department of Education. Under the President’s proposed budget, The Department of Education is funded at $59.9 billion—which equals an $8 billion or 12% overall reduction from the 2018 annualized Continuing Resolution (CR) level. This request includes the cancellation of $1.6 billion in unobligated balances in the Pell Grant program, although the FY’19 addendum would not include this rescission.

Higher Education Act:

Pell Grants – Under the President’s budget, discretionary funding for Pell grants is maintained at a level of $22.5 billion. Combined with mandatory funding, the maximum award for FY’19 stands at $5,920 per-student, per-year. While the budget contains no financial changes to the Pell grant program, it does propose expanding Pell eligibility to high-quality, short-term programs that provide students with a credential, certification or license in an in-demand field. This suggested policy change is in line with the Higher Education Act reauthorization principles released by the White house late last year.

NSC has consistently advocated for the extension of Pell eligibility to short-term programs that are proven to be rigorous and of high-quality. This priority is reflected in our Skills For Good Jobs Agenda  and is embodied in Congress by the JOBS Act—bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH). Although the President’s budget does not contain specific policy guidelines, NSC is encouraged by the push to make postsecondary education more accessible for all students.

Federal Work Study – The budget contains a significant 75% cut to the Federal Work Study (FWS) program. The request justifies this substantial decrease by proposing to dramatically reform the FWS to support workforce and career-oriented training opportunities for low-income undergraduate students rather than “subsidizing employment as a means of financial aid.” This provision is consistent with the reforms made to the FWS program in the House proposed PROSPER Act, which would reauthorize the Higher Education Act if signed into law. The PROSPER Act, however, contained a $6 million increase for the program.

Adult Education: Notably, the President’s budget proposes a 15% cut to adult education state grants which are authorized under WIOA Title II—a number that is consistent with last year’s suggested cuts. These grants help provide foundational skills and English literacy instruction to over 1.5 million individuals. If enacted, these cuts would be detrimental to individuals in need of foundational skills to succeed in our 21st century workforce.

Career and Technical Education (CTE): In stark contrast to the President’s 2018 budget request which proposed a 15% cut to CTE state grants, his 2019 proposal contains level funding ($1.1 billion) for CTE—and refers to this funding as an important component of the President’s job creation agenda.

The budget proposes a range of program eliminations under the Education Department, most notable the elimination of the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) which support low-income postsecondary students, and the cancellation of the State Longitudinal Data Systems grants that support state investments in educational data alignment.

Department of Health and Human Services

The Administration’s budget proposal for Health and Human Services proposes legislative changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that would result in cuts to the current block grant program of about ten percent relative to current levels (from $16.3 to $15.1 billion) and would eliminate the TANF contingency fund, resulting in combined cuts of about $10 billion between 2019-2023. However, the budget also includes some proposals that may help to support better connections to education and training, including a proposed requirement that states spend at least 30 percent of combined federal and state funds on work, education, and training activities; work supports, including child care; and assessment/service provision for TANF eligible families. The budget also proposes to replace the current caseload reduction credit with an “employment credit” that rewards states for placing individuals in work; eliminating the separate two-parent work participation rate; and allowing states to count individuals who do not meet the monthly work participation requirements to count for partial credit towards a state’s overall requirements. It is unclear whether Congress will seriously consider changes to TANF this year, but this language does appear to be consistent with a broader Administration focus on expanding work requirements for low-income individuals on public assistance.

Department of Agriculture

Unlike last year, the President’s budget does not include proposals to shift a significant percentage of overall costs for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) onto states. However, the budget does propose some legislative changes to SNAP, including restricting state waivers for time restrictions on Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs) to counties with at least ten percent unemployment; eliminating the “15 percent” exemption that allows states to exempt certain ABAWDs from time limits; and a proposal to convert part of the SNAP allotment from electronic benefits into USDA “Food Packages.” The budget would cut overall funding for SNAP by more than $200 billion over the next ten years if all proposed changes were enacted.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes the cuts to workforce, education, and human services programs proposed in the FY 2019 Presidential Budget Request. At a time when U.S. businesses continually cite to the need for skilled workers to compete in a global economy – and when millions of workers need training to reach these skill levels and get and keep family-supporting jobs – we must invest in vital workforce, education and human services programs. Disinvestment harms our local communities, businesses and workers. NSC calls on Congress to reject the President’s proposals and continue our bipartisan commitment to investment in skills. 



FY 2019 – Authorized Levels

Current Levels – FY 2017 Omnibus

FY 2019 Presidential Budget Request

Change from Current – 2019 Budget Request

Department of Labor

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I – State Formula Grants





WIOA Adult





WIOA Dislocated Worker






WIOA Youth





Wagner-Peyser/Employment Service Grants






Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grants





Apprenticeship Grants





DW National Reserve





Native American Programs





Ex-Offender Activities





Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers










Senior Community Service Employment Program


$433, 535,000


-$433, 535, 000

Trade Adjustment Assistance





Department of Education

Career and Technical Education State Grants





Adult Education and Family Literacy State Grants






Federal Work Study





*Actual outlays for TAA for 2017 were $391,419,000. The program is authorized for up to $450,000,000 and the 2019 Presidential Budget Request includes funding up to the authorized level.

Posted In: Federal Funding, Career and Technical Education, SNAP Employment and Training, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Higher Education Access, Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce
USDA releases broad farm bill reauthorization principles; touts work for SNAP recipients

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today released high-level principles for reauthorization of the federal Farm Bill, laying out the Trump administration’s priorities as Congress prepares to consider the first comprehensive update to the law since 2014. While not providing detailed recommendations, the principles document do signal that the administration is seeking changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would encourage stronger work participation from SNAP recipients.

Specifically, the document calls for the upcoming Farm Bill to “[s]upport work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for individuals and families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance,” and to “[e]ncourage state and local innovations in training, case management, and program design that promote self-sufficiency and achieve long-term, stability in employment.” It is unclear whether the agency intends to provide further details on what they are seeking in the Farm Bill, particularly with respect to changes to potential work requirements for SNAP recipients; the Trump administration recently announced controversial guidelines authorizing states to request work requirements for certain Medicaid recipients.

It is also unclear if the principles represent a significant change in direction from proposals outlined in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget, which including cuts of roughly $200 million over ten years to the overall SNAP program, as well as severe restrictions in benefit eligibility. The FY 2019 budget is expected to be released on February 12th, and may provide further guidance on the administration’s priorities.

The House and Senate Agriculture committees are expected to begin working on reauthorizing legislation as early as next month. The House nutrition subcommittee held four hearings on SNAP last year in preparation for the reauthorization process, including a July hearing on expanding career pathways for SNAP recipients, and has released a publication outlining some of the committee’s priorities, which include “creating a ladder of opportunity that rewards employment.” The Senate Agriculture Committee does not appear to be on the same timeline, but committee staff have indicated an intent to develop their own separate reauthorization bill later this year.

National Skills Coalition was actively engaged in the reauthorization of the 2014 Farm Bill, particularly in securing key improvements in the SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) program, including restoring funding for state grants to support administration of E&T programs, establishing a $200 million grant program to support innovative state pilot projects, and creating new performance reporting metrics to help states track employment and earnings outcomes for program participants.

NSC has worked with state and local leaders as part of our new “Welfare to Careers” National Advisory Panel to release new reauthorization recommendations for SNAP E&T, including rejecting stricter work requirements for SNAP recipients; expanding funding for innovative job training and education strategies; and strengthening alignment with other federal workforce and education programs to ensure that SNAP E&T participants have meaningful access to high-quality skills-based training that leads to family-supporting careers. We look forward to working with policymakers to advance these goals in 2018.  

Posted In: SNAP Employment and Training

Administration issues letter encouraging Medicaid work requirements

  ·   By Kermit Kaleba,
Administration issues letter encouraging Medicaid work requirements

Early today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a letter to state Medicaid directors encouraging states to consider imposing new work requirements on Medicaid recipients as a condition of eligibility or continued coverage under the program.

As outlined in the guidance letter, states are able to apply for “demonstration” waivers to federal Medicaid requirements that incentive work and community engagement for “non-elderly, non-pregnant adult Medicaid beneficiaries who are eligible for Medicaid on a basis other than disability.” The guidance follows a March 2017 letter to state governors that encouraged submission of waiver requests for a range of purposes, including the imposition of work or community engagement requirements. At least seven states have already submitted waiver requests relating to work requirements under the terms of the March guidance letter; none of these state requests have been approved, but it is expected that a request from Kentucky may be approved as early as this week.

The new guidance provides additional detail on considerations for states in developing and submitting waiver request relating to work. State requests should be intended to promote better mental, physical, and emotional health for Medicaid recipients, and may also have a goal of promoting poverty reduction for individuals and families. States have the flexibility to determine what activities other than employment can count for purposes of eligibility, including community service, caregiving, education, job training, and substance use disorder treatment. The guidance encourages states to consider aligning Medicaid work requirements with state work requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and notes that individuals who are compliant with work requirements under those programs must automatically be considered compliant with Medicaid requirements. States will not be permitted to use Medicaid funds to support employment or other work activities.

National Skills Coalition has long expressed concerns about work requirements under the TANF and SNAP programs, noting that there is little evidence that such requirements are effective at reducing poverty or promoting long-term, stable employment. While the inclusion of education and job training in the list of allowable activities is helpful, NSC cautions that absent sufficient resources and safeguards, expanding work requirements for vulnerable populations is likely to reduce access to critical health services without providing meaningful opportunities for career advancement. NSC will work with our new Welfare to Careers National Advisory panel and national partners to monitor state efforts in response to this guidance, and continue to advocate for more effective – and less potentially harmful - strategies to help low-income individuals transition into family-supporting jobs. 

Posted In: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP Employment and Training
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