Contact Your Federal Legislators to Save Workforce Funding

Computer trainingWorkforce development programs are an important part of the nation’s economic recovery and job creation efforts—working with employers to train workers for existing and emerging high-demand jobs. Yet the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the House Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations bill, HR 1, which completely zeros out all funding for Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Adult, Dislocated Worker and Youth state and local employment and training programs, a cut of over $3.6 billion for the coming year (beginning this July). Other programs targeted for deep cuts or elimination include Perkins Career and Technical Education, YouthBuild, Job Corps, green jobs training, reintegration of ex-offenders, and Community Service Employment for Older Americans. HR 1 is now being considered by the Senate. During the week of March 21, members of both the House of Representatives and Senate are scheduled to be home for a District Work Period. Thursday, March 24th has been identified as “Workforce Day of Action,” to ensure all Members of Congress and their staff are made aware of the importance of the nation’s workforce development system. Employers, workers, educators, providers, and others who understand the value of these programs must join together in this effort.

Nearly 14 million Americans remain unemployed as of February, with over 40 percent unemployed for six months or longer. As of January, more than 633,000 Illinoisans are out of work. Many are unable to return to their prior jobs because those occupations no longer exist; unfortunately, these workers and many others lack the skills and education needed for today’s 21st century economy.

The workforce development system has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years as demand for education and training skyrocketed during the recession. Over the past program year, the WIA system served over 8.4 million jobseekers in the U.S. and helped 4.3 million gain employment. In Illinois, 173,109 jobseekers were served by the WIA system in the past program year. Since the beginning of the recession in 2007, WIA participation rates in Illinois have increased 25.1% for adults and 24.6% for youth who are seeking employment, education, training and work experience (percent increase calculated from the PY 2007 DCEO IL Workforce Development Annual Report and the PY 2009 DCEO IL Workforce Development Annual Report). Despite funding remaining stagnant at 2008 levels, nationwide WIA participation rates increased 234 percent

If HR 1 becomes law, the cuts will result in:

  • Closing of 3,000 One-Stop Centers that serve millions of jobseekers in need of career guidance, training, and employment services.
  • 276,000 youth will lose access to employment, education, training, and work experiences under WIA youth programs (over 13,000 youth in Illinois); more than 7,000 low-income young people will lose access to services under YouthBuild; 10,000 more will lose access to services under Job Corps.
  • Over 14 million students enrolled in school-based career and technical education programs supported by Perkins will see services and opportunities cut or even eliminated.
  • As many as 50,000 low-income seniors will be denied part-time community-service jobs under the elimination of the Community Service Employment for Older Americans program.
  • And veterans who receive priority services under WIA will have to find other sites to get the help they need to successfully transition to civilian jobs.

This national effort is led by the National Skills Coalition and others. To prepare for a meeting or site visit with Members of Congress, read the National Skills Coalition’s Workforce Day of Action: How to Prepare memo for more specific information.

The nation’s workforce investment system has played a vitally important role in helping Illinois’ and America’s workers find new jobs or to get the training they need to make career changes in a very tough economy. Today, more than ever, federal policy must support investment in the skills of the American workforce to help support the nation’s economic recovery and job creation efforts. Reducing our investment in workforce development, basic skills and postsecondary education will have an immediate impact on jobseekers looking to increase their skills for available jobs, and on employers seeking skilled workers.

Now is not the time to eliminate the nation’s primary system for getting people back to work. Tell your Members of Congress where you stand on workforce development cuts. Click here to contact your Illinois Senators at their district office. Click here to contact your Illinois Representative at their district office.

For more information, contact Wendy Pollack, Director of the Women’s Law & Policy Project.



Put Illinois to Work--The Real Story

The Chicago Tribune’s story about the end of the Put Illinois to Work program (“Quinn to end temporary jobs program next month”) supports the Tribune’s editorial narrative that government programs are wasteful and ill-conceived, but only by putting the program in a false light. The Tribune incorrectly assumes that the goal of Put Illinois to Work was to place the participants in permanent jobs, and then it criticizes the failure to achieve that goal.

Put Illinois to Work has provided temporary jobs to 25,000 Illinois parents and youth who have been unable to obtain employment in an economy where there are five job-seekers for every job. Most of those temporary jobs have been in the private sector.

The premise of the Tribune’s story is that the program has failed in its “ultimate goal of workers getting full-time employment.” The Tribune cites no authority for its assertion that this is the program’s ultimate goal—it just says it was the program’s “idea.”

But permanent employment was never the program’s objective. Rather, the main goal, at which it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, was to create temporary jobs that would provide participants with income and job skills and keep them off welfare. Another main goal was to provide economic stimulus by putting money in the pockets of people who would spend it. In this economy, where there are few permanent jobs to be had, obtaining permanent jobs was a by-product but not a main goal of the program. 

The program in part has filled a need created by limitations in the unemployment insurance program. More than one-third of unemployed workers do not qualify for unemployment benefits when they lose their jobs because they did not work long enough, they worked part-time, or for other technical reasons.

The story also failed to mention that for an investment of $10 million in Put Illinois to Work, Illinois was able to leverage $200 million in federal funding—$1 for every $19 in return. Had Illinois not availed itself of this federal funding, it would have gone to other states.

Federal funding ended September 30 not because “the money ran out” but because of pre-election maneuvering in Congress. This left Governor Quinn with a choice—pull the plug on the program or keep it going for two months in hopes that Congress would extend the program during the lame duck session in November. Governor Quinn decided to extend the program based on strong indications that Congress would extend federal funding. And Congress probably would have done so had Senate Republicans not refused to consider any other legislation until tax cuts for millionaires were extended.

This left Governor Quinn with another choice—end the program on November 30 as scheduled or have the decency to extend it through the holidays. He chose common decency.

In this time of scarce resources, when it’s necessary to have an honest debate about the merits of funding government programs vs. cutting spending, let’s have that debate based on the facts. 

A version of this article was published in the Chicago Tribune's Voice of the People on December 21, 2010.


Put Illinois to Work Program Extended Through January 15 by Governor Quinn

On November 30, the day that the Put Illinois to Work (PITW) program was scheduled to end, Governor Quinn announced that he has extended the program through January 15. PITW provides $10/hour private and public sector jobs to approximately 25,000 low-income, unemployed Illinois workers. “I am extending this program today to keep thousands of people in Illinois at work through the holiday season,” said Gov. Quinn. 

Until September 30, PITW was largely paid for by the federal government with a funding stream created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Congress, however, failed to extend that funding beyond September 30. Just before PITW was originally scheduled to end on September 30, Governor Quinn extended the program through November 30. Extending PITW for another six weeks until January 15 will cost Illinois approximately $50 million in state general funds. PITW is a partnership between the Illinois Department of Human Services and Heartland Human Care Services.


The State of Illinois Is Putting Illinoisans to Work--Government Program a Huge Success

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), otherwise known as President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, included a small funding stream that states can use to create a subsidized jobs program for parents in low-income families who have been displaced from employment by the recession or otherwise are in need of employment. This spring, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) produced a plan to utilize these stimulus dollars and received immediate federal approval of its plan. IDHS dubbed its new jobs program “Put Illinois to Work.”

Three months have now passed since the Put Illinois to Work program began in early April, and it’s fair to say that it has been a monumental success in helping to solve our state’s #1 problem--getting people in Illinois back to work. It has done so at little cost to the state by creatively harnessing the federal funding stream created by ARRA. Illinois has done what the anti-government chorus considers the impossible, working closely with the private sector to get a large-scale government program that produces jobs up and running quickly and efficiently. 

Put Illinois to Work provides jobs that pay $10 per hour for 30-40 hours per week of work. As of today, there are over 18,000 people in Put Illinois to Work jobs. Employers have created 35,000 work slots, more than double the state’s original goal of 15,000. The program has been so popular that with over 60,000 job applicants, IDHS has had to close intake to the program.

The state has invested $10 million to leverage a federal investment of $200 million--a $20 return on every $1. Employers’ training and supervision expenses are considered an in-kind contribution under federal law so these workers come at no cost to the employer. In addition to earning badly needed income, workers with thin employment histories are building up their job skills and resumes. IDHS anticipates that thousands of Put Illinois to Work participants will receive continuing offers of employment when the program’s funding runs out.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) emergency contingency fund (ECF)--the federal fund that pays for Put Illinois to Work--expires on September 30, 2010.  State subsidized employment programs like Put Illinois to Work enjoy wide bipartisan support in the United State Congress (a rare thing these days). The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a one-year extension of the TANF ECF. A similar measure was uncontroversial in the U.S. Senate but was included as part of the unemployment extension legislation that recently failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. 

The Shriver Center and many other advocates are undertaking intensive efforts to get Congress to find another way to extend the TANF ECF for one year beyond September 30, 2010. For the sake of the tens of thousands of low-income Illinoisans who need and want to keep these $10 per hour jobs, let’s hope that these efforts are successful.