Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) earlier this month to reauthorize and restructure the programs originally created through the Workforce Investment Act in 1998. The legislation consolidated the 15 existing federal training programs; creates common measures for core programs for both adults and youth; mandates single unified state plans; and authorizes appropriations through 2020.
More importantly, the legislation makes important changes to the existing system that recognize the unique challenges that the many homeless or formerly homeless individuals face when trying to access workforce training programs and employment opportunities. The vast majority of tenants in supportive housing has experienced homelessness or housing instability in the past and often faces a multitude of complex challenges – very low income coupled with serious and persistent issues that may include a mental illness, physical disability, developmental disability, substance use disorder, HIV/AIDS, and/or other chronic illnesses. Despite such challenges, research confirms time and again that most residents in supportive housing, including those with serious mental illnesses, have both the desire and the capacity to work when given the opportunity, support and services to do so.
The final bill makes important changes to the existing structure that create unprecedented opportunities for supportive housing and other advocacy organizations to engage state and local officials to craft workforce strategies that aim to improve employment for homeless and other vulnerable populations. Some key changes include:
- State and local plans. WIOA requires a single, unified State plan covering all core programs authorized under the bill. The plan must describe the State’s overall strategy for workforce development and how the strategy will meet identified skill needs for workers, job seekers and employers. The plan must specifically provide information on strategies the state will use to serve individuals with barriers to employment. Local plans must comply with the state plan.
- Individuals with Barriers to Employment Definition: This term is broadly defined to encompass individuals who are homeless, low-income, youth who are in or aged out of foster care, ex-offenders, long-term unemployed and persons with disabilities.
- Improved Performance Measures: WIOA changes performance measures and state reporting requirements that may mitigate disincentives to serve populations with significant barriers to employment or those that need intensive services. Unfortunately, the bill eliminates incentive grant funding that has been used in the past to support innovative strategies to provide job skills training and employment opportunities for vulnerable populations.
- Use of Funds for Supportive Services: Allows the use of funds to provide supportive services for individuals participating in service programs that are unable to access supportive services – such as child care, access to transportation, dependent care- elsewhere.
- Use of Funds for Transitional Employment: Allows local workforce investment boards to use 10 percent of funds to provide transitional jobs for individuals with barriers to employment to help establish a job-history and develop on-the-job related skills.
CSH applauds the bi-partisan, bi-cameral effort to reauthorize the nation’s workforce development programs and supports the changes made to increase access for hard-to-serve populations and the long-term unemployed. Once WIOA is signed into law, our real work begins to engage federal, state and local agencies to seize the opportunity this legislation offers for improving employment prospects for the most vulnerable populations.
CSH is committed to elevating the supportive housing industry to new levels of innovation with a focus on moving beyond stability. This means leading an industry-wide agenda focused on tenants above all, driving opportunities for recovery, personal growth, economic advancement, and lifelong success. We look forward to working with our national and local partners to ensure implementing agencies deliver the full promise of WIOA reforms for homeless and other vulnerable populations.