Congressional Briefing on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in states and territories

With Congress considering a possible reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the National Governors Association’s Task Force on Education, Workforce, and Community Investment held a virtual briefing in June for House and Senate congressional staff. Congressional staff heard from Governors’ offices about how WIOA is working in their state or territory, where it might be falling short, and what Congress should consider in a potential reauthorization.

NGA staff kicked off the briefing by highlighting two key NGA resources.

One is a publication produced by NGA’s Center for Best Practices, titled, “How Governors Can Execute Their Vision For Workforce Development: Policy Levers Available Through The Workforce Innovation And Opportunity Act.” This document can be thought of as a WIOA 101 for Governors’ offices, as it outlines how Governors can advance their workforce priorities through WIOA.

NGA staff then shared NGA’s main policy document related to WIOA, titled, “Governors Principles to Renew the Federal Workforce System.” The main thrust of the Governors Workforce Principles document is to preserve and strengthen the role of Governors as central figures within their state or territory’s workforce system by preserving and strengthening the role of Governors in WIOA.

U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Governor Albert Bryan’s Director of State-Federal Relations, Teri Helenese, shared that USVI has the lowest unemployment rate in over 30 years under his leadership. Helenese shared a quote from Governor Bryan about the importance of getting a job: “When you get a job, your whole future changes…You have income coming into your family. You get a sense of purpose. You’re able to create yourself, buy a home, get a new car, move to a different economic level. You connect. You’re a part of society. You belong to something.”

Next up, congressional staff heard from Matt Reiber, Workforce and Education Policy Advisor to Idaho Governor Brad Little. Reiber highlighted Idaho’s status as one of the fastest growing states in the country, which comes with the challenge of finding skilled workers. Reiber stressed the importance of access to workforce training programs that result in high-paying jobs and a marketable set of skills to enable workers to be full participants in the labor force. In Idaho, Governor Little is doing just that through the Idaho LAUNCH grant program, his top workforce initiative.

Next, Jess Kostelnik, Senior Policy Advisor on Workforce to Colorado Governor and NGA Vice Chair Jared Polis did a deep dive on WIOA, sharing with congressional staff some of the key aspects in which WIOA is working, not working, and what Congress should consider in a possible reauthorization.

Kostelnik explained that the Governor’s Reserve funding, which reserves for the Governor’s discretion 15 percent of a state’s WIOA Title I allotment in each of the Youth, Adult, and Dislocated Worker programs, is critical for Colorado’s workforce system. In Colorado, this funding is often used to plug gaps in funding for local workforce centers and also broader statewide strategies, like sector-based partnerships and industry-specific initiatives.

In addition to the Governor’s Reserve fund’s importance, Kostelnik also pointed to Colorado’s status as a Wagner-Peyser demonstration state, which is something Colorado would like to see codified in a WIOA reauthorization. As a proud local control state, Kostelnik said that the staffing flexibility granted by the Wagner-Peyser demonstration status allows Colorado to blend merit staff with state and local staff to better integrate services at the local level, while maximizing WIOA funding for service delivery. Kostelnik also pointed to challenges with WIOA funding and how funding is allocated, reporting requirements, and infrastructure funding agreements, which collectively tie Colorado’s hands in how they administer WIOA effectively.

Finishing the briefing off was Nick Moore, Director of Education and Workforce training to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Moore echoed similar sentiments about WIOA, while underlining an Alabama-specific approach. Governor Ivey’s goal is for Alabama to exceed the national labor force participation rate and increase the postsecondary attainment rate. In order to increase Alabama’s labor force participation rate by one percentage point, more than 40,000 non-working Alabamans would need to find work. For Moore and his colleagues in Alabama, this is where WIOA is falling short – despite their best efforts, Alabama saw 4,191 individuals exit training in program year 2022 at a cost of $7,656 per trained individual and $14,115 per trained individual who was still employed one year after exiting the WIOA system. In other words, if every individual who successfully exited training through WIOA got a job in a given year, the net impact would be an increase to the labor force participation rate by .1 percentage point.

Getting more Alabamans through the door and into a job is complicated by the fact that more than 40 percent of Alabama’s Title I funding has been cut since 2018 due to the funding formulas for the Youth, Adult and Dislocated Worker programs. Alabama’s reduction in funding comes despite Congress increasing funding for each of the three programs by a combined $150 million since 2018. With diminishing resources in Alabama, Moore alluded to the challenge of continuing to operate brick and mortar service delivery and the need to be more digitally based. Aside from being financially difficult to maintain, Moore conveyed that those facing first and last dollar barriers may not have their basic needs met as they lack the time and resources to visit multiple points of service over several days.

Moore focused on a few specific examples of where WIOA reauthorization could be most effective. Echoing Kostelnik’s comments about merit staff flexibility, Moore reminded staff that it will be very difficult to have more entities like libraries and community colleges operate points of service delivery if states and territories have to provide Wagner-Peyser services with state merit staff. Moore also emphasized the need to have more regular, formula-based funding for data infrastructure to build up state capacity and meet the basic research and evaluation requirements that WIOA requires. Finally, hitting on an issue that is being closely followed in reauthorization, Moore suggested making the process to redesignate local areas more efficient and establish a process for the Governor to redesignate those areas and have a more streamlined option to pursue single area designation for the state.

Over the course of the hour-long briefing, nearly every corner of WIOA was covered, and staff from across the House and Senate listened in and joined the discussion. NGA will continue to work with Governors’ offices and its congressional partners as Congress continues discussions on WIOA reauthorization.