The latest COVID relief legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Trump on December 27th, despite more than eight months of haggling and drama, hastily unveiled, too small, and yet also predictable. It closely resembles a proposal from Senate Republicans months ago. Packaged with FY21 regular federal appropriations – also near levels agreed to months ago – the 5,500-page bill was presented to members of Congress mere hours before votes began. As Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said, “This process by which members of Congress are asked to defer blindly to legislation, negotiated entirely in secret by four of their colleagues [the leaders of the parties in the two chambers], must come to an end.”
One of my hopes for 2021 is a federal government more responsive to its citizens and more responsible in its practices. When we proposed our COVID recommendations in April, we were told time was of the essence, that a bipartisan deal was coming together quickly. It was not, but perhaps a positive outcome of the new Administration and a new infusion of relief will be more time for and openness to considering the true ramifications of the current triple pandemic, of at least 3 in 10 young people being disconnected.
Martha Ross and I wrote a piece that went up last week proposing an Education and Employment Promise for the 2020s. The elements will be familiar to most of you, and the framework of the proposal is similar to others over the decades. Perhaps in 2021 it, or something like it, can get a fresh hearing. Perhaps we’ll see a real reassessment of what a post-pandemic job should look like. Perhaps our communities will come together to find healing in their own ways (thank you for the brilliant ideas posted during our closing plenary this month).
I am grateful that in 2021 we were able to continue producing meaningful products for the field in spite of the pandemic. We recently released a toolkit describing effective partnerships between workforce development and juvenile justice agencies. We are finalizing recommendations for WIOA reauthorization, crafted by a work group that has been meeting diligently each month throughout 2020. Perhaps new kinds of collaborations, and a new approach to federal workforce legislation, can also get a fairer hearing in 2021.
I am grateful to the hundreds of you who attended our virtual All Youth Connecting and Annual Forum convenings in 2020. We had nearly 800 attendees for those two events. In spite of the pandemic, we hosted dozens of sessions this month, as well as action hours where young people presented their ideas, and even virtual happy hours. (Please complete the feedback form if you have not already.) These are all testaments to your commitment to learn from and share with your colleagues – as well as reflections of the craving for connection that many of us felt this year. I hope that someday soon we’ll be able to gather in person.
Early next year we will release a new strategic roadmap for NYEC (you can get a preview here), the product of three working groups that have been meeting throughout the pandemic. Working off the ramifications of the Great Recession, our roadmap is intended to set priorities for the next 10 years – the minimal period over which we will be seeing the effects of this year’s economic disruption. I and many others in our field are working on recommendations for the Biden-Harris administration – related to employment for opportunity youth, subsidized jobs, making the federal government a more responsible employer, transforming our workforce system, and other topics – many of which will be public at the beginning of the year. As all of this comes out, I hope you’ll stay in touch with me, with Rashaun, and with NYEC’s board members, about where our field is headed – and needs to head – in the new year and new decade.
The most important thing you can do to support NYEC is your membership: Rashaun will be in touch about renewing your membership early in the new year. Please respond as soon as you are able. And if you have any questions about whether your organization has paid for 2020, please contact Rashaun at Rashaun.Bennett@NYEC.org. Thank you.
Many of you have buoyed me at key moments this year. Seeing you grow new facial hair, try out new work-from-home fashions, apply whimsical Zoom backgrounds, and experiment with ever more creative virtual icebreakers has not replaced seeing you in person, but it has kept me grounded in the rich community of NYEC. I wish you all a restful holiday break. Let’s try this again next year!