By JIM ABRAMSAssociated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - House Republicans are pushing legislation that would end or consolidate dozens of overlapping job-training programs to make it easier for job seekers to gain the skills they need.
It's a goal shared by President Barack Obama, but the GOP bill faces the same partisan differences that hobble much of what comes before Congress.
Obama, in his State of the Union address last year, said he wanted to "cut through the maze of confusing training programs" so people have a direct path to the help they require. That, Republicans said, is what their SKILLS Act does, eliminating or consolidating 35 federal programs and creating a Workforce Investment Fund that will act as a single conduit of support for employers and job seekers.
The bill is expected to pass Friday, but with few Democrats voting for it and the Democratic-led Senate unlikely to consider it in its current form.
House Democrats, who have introduced their own legislation to streamline the job-training process, complained that they were denied any input in crafting the legislation. They walked out of an Education and the Workforce Committee meeting last week when Republicans were voting to send the bill to the full House.
The White House on Wednesday voiced strong opposition to the GOP bill, saying that while it takes some positive steps, it eliminates or consolidates many programs for some of the most vulnerable, including veterans, youth, those with English language problems, people with disabilities and ex-prisoners.
The bill amends and reauthorizes the 1998 Workforce Investment Act, which set up business-led workforce investment boards around the country to determine local job-training needs and sought to establish one-stop career centers to assist those wanting information or training.
But the Government Accountability Office said in a 2011 report that nine federal agencies were spending about $18 billion a year to administer 47 training programs - not all under the WIA jurisdiction - and that almost all of these programs were offering services similar to those provided by other programs.
Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., cited a study finding that in 2011 some 1.8 million people left three of the larger WIA programs serving adult workers, dislocated workers and youth, and that only 250,000 of those, 14 percent, completed the training.
Among programs being repealed under the bill are those targeted at veterans, Native Americans, ex-offenders, seasonal farmworkers and youth.
The SKILLS Act - the name stands for Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills - also ensures that two-thirds of the members on the local workforce investment boards are employers, up from the current half, and gives more power to governors to decide on the location of programs in their states and further consolidate programs. It freezes current spending for the act at about $6 billion a year for the next seven years.
The bill "encourages these programs to focus on in-demand jobs in industries so that participants will be able to succeed in the workplace upon completion and ensures that funds are spent directly on services rather than administration of bureaucrats," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.
Democrats and labor groups objected to giving employers two-thirds majorities on the boards, saying that would silence the voices of unions, community colleges and others representing special interests.
The AFL-CIO and other labor groups, in a letter to Kline, also warned that combining funding streams into a single Workforce Investment Fund would make programs more vulnerable to funding cuts and gives states more discretion to pick participants according to the ideological predispositions of their governors.
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