Senate Approves Workforce Innovation Act

By Bill Leonard Jun 26, 2014

The Senate passed legislation on June 25, 2014, that is designed to simplify federal job-training programs and reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (H.R. 803), or WIOA, which had been stalled for more than a year in the Senate, was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 95-3 after senators hammered out a compromise.

The House of Representatives approved the measure in March 2013. However, the Senate agreement amended the bill, so the legislation must now return to the House for final approval.

The Senate’s changes were not drastic, according to Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chief sponsor of the bill, and several sources said that passage in the House appears likely.

“This legislation will make the system more responsive and accountable, and I look forward to prompt passage of these needed reforms into law,” Foxx said in a news statement released after the Senate vote. She and other GOP leaders indicated that the House could begin debating after the July 4th holiday.

According to a congressional summary, H.R. 803 focuses on reducing unemployment by streamlining a complex web of federal workforce training programs under the WIA. The legislation reduces the size of workforce boards that administer the training programs and requires the boards to work more closely with local employers and be more responsive to employers’ needs.

In addition, the bill reauthorizes employment centers that help job seekers with resume writing, job searches, English as a second language instruction and on-the-job training. H.R. 803 also renews the U.S. Department of Education’s Gear Up grants, which have the goal of improving college access for disadvantaged youth.

The WIA was originally passed in 1998 and was set to be reauthorized five years later. However, every effort on Capitol Hill to reauthorize the legislation since 2003 has stalled. Yearly budget deals and continuing spending resolutions passed by Congress have extended the funding for the workforce training programs and grants regulated by the WIA. Business leaders and advocacy groups have urged Congress to pass a reauthorization saying that a revamp of the law is long overdue.

The Business Roundtable and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) have called for passage of H.R. 803. SHRM on June 11, 2014, sent a letter to leaders in both houses of Congress urging approval of the bill.

“Business Roundtable CEOs commend the Senate’s passage of this important legislation that will narrow the skills gap and prepare American workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” said Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens Corp. and vice chair of the Business Roundtable’s Education and Workforce Committee, in a news statement.

The White House has indicated that President Barack Obama will sign the bill into law if it gains final approval from the House.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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