Bipartisan Legislation to Update Critical Workforce Programs on Its Way to the President

Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), by a bipartisan vote of 415-6.

WIOA is a bipartisan, bicameral compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee last July. The bill was developed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative John Kline (R-MN), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX).

WIOA, which now heads to the President for signature, reauthorizes and updates existing federal workforce development programs, including the Rehabilitation Act which provides for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services for people with disabilities. WIOA focuses VR outcomes on competitive, integrated employment and promotes greater emphasis on transition services for youth with disabilities through emphasis on coordination between VR and other agencies including school systems, extending the initial time period for VR supported employment services (from 18 to 24 months), and modification of eligibility determination to promote access to VR by people with the most significant disabilities.

Over the last few years, reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act has been a top priority for The Arc’s public policy agenda. The Arc advocated for many improvements to the system now incorporated under WIOA. These improvements are consistent with its past and current position statements on Employment. Additionally, The Arc joined with other national disability groups to express strong support for WIOA.

The Senate Passes Bipartisan Legislation Seeking To Update Critical Workforce Programs

On June 25, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), by a bipartisan vote of 95 to 3. Amendments proposed by Senator Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Lee (R-UT) failed to be adopted.  The bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives for approval, would reauthorize and update existing federal workforce development programs, including the Rehabilitation Act which provides for vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. Specifically, WIOA focuses vocational rehabilitation outcomes on competitive, integrated employment and promotes greater emphasis on transition services for youth with disabilities.

WIOA represents a compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in July of 2013. The proposal was developed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative John Kline (R-MN), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX). The Arc supports this bipartisan, bicameral legislation.

Bipartisan, Bicameral Proposal to Reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act Announced

Last week, a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers announced that they have reached a deal to modernize the nation’s workforce development system through new legislation, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).  The bill would reauthorize and update existing federal workforce development programs, including the Rehabilitation Act which provides for vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. WIOA represents a compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in July of 2013. The proposal was develop by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative John Kline (R-MN), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX). With regard to the Rehabilitation Act, like S. 1356, WIOA focuses vocational rehabilitation outcomes on competitive, integrated employment and promotes greater emphasis on transition services for youth with disabilities. To learn more, view the one-page summary, a statement of managers and detailed summary , and the legislative text. The Senate and House are expected to consider WIOA in June. The Arc supports this bipartisan, bicameral compromise.

Senate HELP Committee Marks Up Bill to Reauthorize Workforce Investment Act

On July 31st the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up S. 1356, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013, approving the bill by a vote of 18 to 3.  This bipartisan legislation would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, including the Rehabilitation Act. Proposed changes to the Rehabilitation Act would provide greater emphasis on community employment outcomes as well as on services to help youth with disabilities transition from school to work. Additionally, the legislation proposes moving the Rehabilitation Services Administration from the Department of Education (ED) to the Department of Labor (DOL); transferring the Independent Living program from ED to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the Administration for Community Living; and shifting the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research from ED to HHS. Visit the Committee website to view video of the mark up.

New Governor’s Report; Senate Takes Action on Workforce Investment Bill and Rehabilitation Services Commissioner Nomination

The summer winds down with several important new developments related to the employment of people with disabilities.

1. National Governors Association Issues Report on Employment for People with Disabilities

At the National Governors Association (NGA) meeting on August 2, 2013, outgoing NGA Chair Governor Jack Markell (DE) wrapped up his year-long Chair’s Initiative, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.” The initiative focused on “the employment challenges that affect individuals with intellectual and other significant disabilities and the role that both state government and business can play in facilitating and advancing opportunities for these individuals to be gainfully employed in the competitive labor market.” At the NGA meeting, Governor Markell released a final Blueprint for Governors summarizing the initiative’s activities, findings, and recommendations. The blueprint presents five topic areas with examples of actions governors can take in each area:

  • Make disability employment part of the state workforce development strategy.
  • Find and support businesses in their efforts to employ people with disabilities.
  • Be a model employer by increasing the number of people with disabilities working in state government.
  • Prepare youth with disabilities for careers that use their full potential, providing employers with a pipeline of skilled workers.
  • Make the best use of limited resources to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Governor Markell appeared recently on the PBS NewsHour to talk about the initiative and Blueprint.

Additionally, incoming NGA Chair Governor Mary Fallin (OK) has announced that her Chair’s Initiative will also focus on employment: “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.”

2. Senate HELP Committee Marks Up Bill to Reauthorize Workforce Investment Act

On July 31st the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up S. 1356, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013, approving the bill by a vote of 18 to 3.  This bipartisan legislation would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, including the Rehabilitation Act. Proposed changes to the Rehabilitation Act would provide greater emphasis on community employment outcomes as well as on services to help youth with disabilities transition from school to work. Additionally, the legislation proposes moving the Rehabilitation Services Administration from the Department of Education (ED) to the Department of Labor (DOL); transferring the Independent Living program from ED to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the Administration for Community Living; and shifting the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research from ED to HHS. Visit the Committee web site to view video of the mark up.

3. Senate Confirms Janet LaBreck as Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Department of Education

On August 1st the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Janet LaBreck, who had been nominated by President Obama to serve as Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in February. According to a biography released by the White House:

“Janet L. LaBreck was the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), a position she held since 2007. Ms. LaBreck joined the MCB in 1985 as Consumer Advocate. She has served in a number of positions at the MCB since then, including Independent Living Coordinator, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, and Regional Director of Central Massachusetts. Since 2005, she has worked as an Adjunct Professor at Assumption College, where she teaches courses in rehabilitation of the blind and case management in rehabilitation. She was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the New England College of Optometry. She received a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.Ed. from Springfield College.”

Senate Holds Full Committee Hearing on Reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act

Last week, the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions held a full committee hearing on “Developing a Skilled Workforce for a Competitive Economy: Reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act.” The hearing covered reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act as well as the Rehabilitation Act which authorizes vocational rehabilitation, supported employment, and other vital employment services for people with disabilities. To review testimony as well as archived video, visit the committee website.

House Approves the SKILLS Act

The House approved the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803; introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)) by a vote of 215 to 202. The legislation would consolidate 35 major workforce development programs, include most major programs authorized under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), into a Workforce Innovation Fund that would provide funds to state and local workforce investment boards for employment and training programs. States would have the option of consolidating additional programs into the Workforce Innovation Fund; however, states could not consolidate Vocational Rehabilitation programs authorized under the Rehabilitation Act. The bill would also consolidate the Projects with Industry and State Supported Employment Services Programs into the existing Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) State Grants program. The Arc opposes this legislation. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

House Introduces and Marks Up Legislation to Reauthorize WIA

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce marked up the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803; introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)). The legislation would consolidate major workforce development programs, include most major programs authorized under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), into a Workforce Innovation Fund that would provide funds to state and local workforce investment boards for employment and training programs. Additionally, the bill would consolidate the Projects with Industry and State Supported Employment Services Programs into the existing Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) State Grants program. States would have the option of consolidating additional programs into the Workforce Innovation Fund; however, states could not consolidate Vocational Rehabilitation programs authorized under the Rehabilitation Act. The bill is similar to legislation introduced by Rep. Foxx in the 112th Congress. The bill was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce in addition to the Committees on the Judiciary, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, Energy and Commerce, and Transportation and Infrastructure. The Arc opposes this legislation.

The Committee on Education and the Workforce marked up the bill on March 6. The 23 Republicans on the Committee voted to approve the bill; however, the Democrats on the Committee walked out mid-debate in protest of what they viewed as a partisan process. Visit the Committee web site for more information and archived video.

Legislation to Reauthorize WIA Introduced in House; Markup Set for March 6th

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has introduced the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803). The legislation would consolidate and streamline 35 workforce development programs and would create a Workforce Innovation Fund that would provide formula funds to state and local workforce investment boards for employment and training programs. States would have the option of consolidating additional programs into the Workforce Innovation Fund; however, Vocational Rehabilitation programs authorized under the Rehabilitation Act could not be consolidated. The bill is similar to legislation introduced by Rep. Foxx in the 112th Congress. The bill was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce, which has scheduled a markup for Tuesday March 6th. Visit the Committee web site for more information and for live video the day of the hearing.