I want to thank the Washington Workforce Association for their leadership and ongoing commitment to the long-term economic prosperity of the Pacific Northwest. I also want to thank our state workforce board, and congratulate them on being honored this week by the National Association of Workforce Boards. I know your Chair, David Harrison is here with us, as is Executive Director, Ellen O’Brien Saunders.
And I want to welcome our friends from Oregon and California who are here with us today. It’s really great to see all of you here in Washington, DC.
You know, it’s very timely and appropriate that we’re here today in the hearing room of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Because, today no one argues with the idea that American prosperity and long-term economic security depend in large part on a highly skilled workforce. And it’s clear that, together, we must act strategically and aggressively to maintain a comprehensive, relevant, and easily accessible workforce investment system.
Today, I’d like to talk to you about how we can continue to work together to make that happen. I’d like to talk about the prospects for congressional reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), But first, I’d like to talk briefly about the impact of the president’s proposed budget cuts on workers and businesses.
You and I know the importance of a system that creates good jobs while providing the types of skilled workers businesses need to remain globally competitive.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Washington, DC, shares that vision. In fact, you’re in Washington, DC, at a very critical time for the programs we all care about. The president’s budget for FY ’06 would sharply reduce or eliminate the funding available to educate and train our workers.
And his proposal to consolidate federal job training programs would be a cruel bait and switch for America’s workers. He would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in funding – yet he claims you could train twice as many workers if you were only more efficient with your money!
But I know you are already serving twice as many workers in our WorkSource centers around our state, with far fewer resources than in the past. And I understand the demand for these training and re-employment services keeps increasing.
I also know federal funding cuts over the last couple of years have prevented thousands of workers in Washington state from receiving the training they need to secure the good-paying jobs available in our state.
And I’m aware that these proposed cuts and consolidations could not come at a worse time for workers in the Pacific Northwest.
In Washington state we have lost tens of thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs over the last four years. Our state’s unemployment rate has been among the highest in the nation over the last four years. And we know that 75% of our current workers will need to be retrained just to maintain the jobs they have. Yet this Administration continues to propose cuts to programs that are vital to maintaining a skilled workforce and a good quality of life.
These proposed cuts and changes to our federal job training programs also come at a time when the Workforce Investment Act is just beginning to hit its stride. I know because I’ve traveled across Washington state over the last year and I’ve seen firsthand the critical partnerships you’re forging between businesses, labor, community colleges and our workforce development councils.
Let me give you just two examples. Last summer I was in Southwest Washington meeting with representatives from Clark College to discuss their new Advanced Center for Transportation Technology. This state-of-the-art facility will help train truck drivers, railworkers, supply chain logistics professionals, as well as other high-demand workers, for good careers.
And just last week I visited the Tacoma-Pierce County Workforce Development Council to help launch Washington’s In-Demand Scholarship Program. This unique partnership between the Washington Workforce Association, the Washington State Labor Council and the Association of Washington Business will help train qualified and enthusiastic workers. Both of these partnerships will allow our businesses in Washington State to grow and remain globally competitive, and will provide young workers with the family-wage jobs they need to stay and raise their families in the Pacific Northwest.
So you’ve given me the success stories and the support I need in Washington, DC, to fight for funding and flexibility at the state and local level. And, this week, the General Accountability Office (GAO) will provide you with even more evidence that WIA is working. They’ll release the results of a survey which clearly demonstrates that employers find real value in the services provided by the Workforce Investment Act.
But, even though we know WIA is working, the truth is we need your energy, your hard work, and your determination because we still face significant challenges in reauthorizing it. As you know, in the 108th Congress we were able to work in a bipartisan fashion in the Senate to craft a bill that struck the right balance between the needs of stakeholders like business, labor, community colleges and the state and local workforce systems.
The Senate’s version of the WIA reauthorization bill:
- would have protected the role of local boards and elected officials in areas that are performing well, while allowing for change in those areas with low performance;
- it would have maintained the existing funding streams for adults, dislocated workers, youth and Wagner-Peyser;
- it would have encouraged innovative strategies for business, including the expanded use of incumbent and customized worker training;
- and it also would have reduced the number and type of reporting requirements to provide more flexibility for states.
So I believe that the Senate version of the WIA reauthorization bill made some very important improvements to our federal job training system -- without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I’d like to see a similar bill this year. But I know that depends on you. You get much of the credit for letting us know just what your needs were, and I’m counting on you to do that again this time around.
You’re on the front lines and you have the enormously important and difficult job of responding to the needs of thousands of laid-off and unemployed workers in the Pacific Northwest who want good jobs. You’ve truly done a great job, and I want to tell you today that I’m proud to have a relationship with all of you.
I look forward to continuing to work together – both during the reauthorization of WIA and in the appropriations process. I know that we can build a comprehensive education and workforce investment system that meets the needs of all Americans, and I’m going to continue to be your partner in the United States Senate.