Guest Column: YouthBuild Rockford threatened by federal, local action

March 13, 2013

Editor’s note: The following was sent in an e-mail to The Rock River Times. It is reprinted here, with permission, as a guest column. YouthBuild Rockford is asking supporters to send letters to federal and state legislators in support of the program. Click here to view a sample letter to Congress. Click here to view a fact sheet. Click here to view the “Top 10 reasons to support YouthBuild.”

By Kerry Knodle
Executive Director, YouthBuild Rockford

If you are receiving this e-mail, you are or have been a friend and supporter of the YouthBuild Rockford program, which has served young adults in Rockford and Winnebago County since 1994. Now, we need your help once again to prevent this valuable program from being eliminated.

What has happened:

1. At the local level, the Workforce Investment Board recently decided to abandon the way it has funded youth programs in the past, in favor of an entirely new model which will result in a TOTAL LOSS OF WIA FUNDS FOR THE YOUTHBUILD ROCKFORD PROGRAM (more than 25 percent of current funding).

2. At the state level, funding for the Illinois YouthBuild Act was eliminated in 2009. We currently have two bills in the General Assembly to restore a modest level of state funding, which could potentially be matched 3:1 by federal funds.

3. At the federal level, as you can see below, House Republicans are fast-tracking the SKILLS Act, which would eliminate the YouthBuild program ENTIRELY from the federal budget, where it has been funded since 1992.

4. The recent sequestration will cut another 5 percent from the current pool of available federal funds, meaning that only about 45 programs nationwide would receive funding this year (out of more than 280 programs).

In Rockford, since our program began, we have received well more than 5,000 applications for the YouthBuild program from young men and women who seek pathways to self-sufficiency, yet funding limitations have allowed us to serve only about 17 percent of those who apply. Losing this valuable resource would be devastating.

Even if the SKILLS Act fails, our program will run out of funds by June 30 this year. We are applying for federal funds, but an award is far from guaranteed.

How can you help:

We are reaching out to our supporters and asking that you send a letter, call or e-mail our Congressional Delegation to ask for an amendment to the SKILLS Act to remove YouthBuild from the consolidation plan. I have attached a sample letter, along with a fact sheet.

In addition, we are asking you to contact our state legislators and ask that they support S.B. 1811 and H.B. 2650 in the Illinois General Assembly.

Thank you in advance for your help and support, and if you have questions or need further information, please let me know. Please forward this to anyone you think might be willing to help as well.

SKILLS Act fact sheet

Earlier this morning, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce marked up and passed The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803).

As with all legislation, there are provisions that are easy to support and provisions that are troubling. The SKILLS Act would consolidate 35 programs into a single $6 billion Workforce Investment Fund. Consolidating programs, or block granting, as it is commonly known, has long been used as an excuse to cut funding for programs. Cuts to workforce programs as a result of this consolidation have specifically been mentioned by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and others in previous budgets considered by the House.

Consolidated programs in the Skills Act include WIA Adult, Youth, Dislocated Workers, SCSEP, Migrant & Farm workers Program, SNAP E&T and Wagner-Peyser. The SKILLS Act also:

• Requires two-thirds business majority on state and local workforce investment boards (WIBs). NAWDP has long maintained that WIBs should be business-led, but has not advocated for a specific percentage.

• Eliminates provisions relating to automatic and temporary designation of local workforce areas and authorizes any state to be designated a single state workforce area based on a few factors.

• Adds new language that provides for the funding of one-stop infrastructure costs, which was one of NAWDP’s priorities.

• Increases competition for one-stop operations by eliminating the current option to designate one-stops operators through agreement between local boards and three or more partner programs.

• Eliminates requirements that local board include representatives from local educational entities, labor organizations, community-based organizations, economic development agencies and one-stop partners.

• Eliminates current priority of service requirement for recipients of public assistance and low-income individuals.

• Authorizes local WIBs to conduct incumbent worker training programs and requires that participating employers to pay a proportion of training costs.

• Requires local WIBs to hire a veteran employment specialist to assist veterans.

• Eliminates provisions to establish establishment of youth councils.

In an act of protest over the partisan nature of the development and debate on the bill, Democratic members of the committee walked out in protest during the hearing. Reps. John Tierney, D-Mass., Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, and George Miller, D-Calif., released the following statement that said, in part:

We didn’t come to this decision lightly. Unfortunately, we viewed boycotting this proceeding as our only alternative after many months of repeatedly requesting bipartisan negotiations and being rebuffed by committee Republicans. The Republican bill has scant support and has garnered significant opposition. Democrats can only come to the conclusion that this bill is being advanced for political reasons, not to make the workforce investment system work better. It would have been a dereliction of duty to continue to participate. …”

You can read the entire statement at http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/press-release/committee-dems-walk-out-workforce-training-bill-debate-vote.

Additional Republican amendments were offered and accepted. Text is not quite available on those, but I will share as soon as they are made available. In general, amendments would prohibit any funds being used for lobbying purposes or to support a congressional candidate, establish a state incentive fund to providers (with a specific emphasis on community colleges) who exceed performance, and would re-establish H1-B training programs.

Next steps:

A vote by the full House of Representatives is expected as early as next week. No action has been scheduled over in the Senate, where this type of bill is expected to meet strong opposition.

S.B. 1811 and H.B. 2650 fact sheet

Support H.B. 2650 and S.B. 1811, the $1.5 million YouthBuild appropriation funding jobs and training programs for at-risk Illinois Youth.

What does Illinois YouthBuild want?

Since the enactment of the Illinois YouthBuild Act (at 20 ILCS 1315/1 et. seq.) in 1997, a small number of Illinois programs were funded on a discretionary basis by the secretary of Illinois Department of Human Services until this funding was cut completely in 2009. In 2007, the act was amended to make YouthBuild a mandatory program, subject to appropriation. Substantial state support is seen as a wise investment of public dollars. During the last decade, declining federal and local support, combined with the loss of a state allocation, has resulted in the closing of eight Illinois YouthBuild programs, including five in Chicago. It’s time to reverse this trend, and invest in a proven strategy with strong and verifiable, evidence-based results. Our communities want these programs, and our young people deserve them.

From the March 13-19, 2013, issue

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