Statement of the National Youth Employment Coalition on HR 7309, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022

Statement of the National Youth Employment Coalition on HR 7309, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022

On Tuesday, the House Education and Labor Committee passed HR 7309, a bill to reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). 

The National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC) improves the lives of the millions of young people who are out of school and out of work. We do this by improving the effectiveness of the organizations, and the systems, that serve these “opportunity youth.” We collect, study, and support the implementation of best practices, all with a strong equity focus.

An NYEC working group recommended changes in 2021 that would open the door to employment for more young people and enhance equity in the workforce system. Our proposal would focus WIOA funding on the young people who most need services, align services with their needs, and scale up efforts to better match the unprecedented scale of need. NYEC also offered extensive comments on the Committee’s discussion draft. Improving WIOA is a small piece of the systemic overhaul required to expand opportunity for all young people, but getting this bill right is a needed step. 

HR 7309 takes up some of NYEC’s recommendations. We support Chairman Scott’s effort to include provisions of the Opening Doors for Youth Act (ODFYA), which would expand the availability of summer and year-round employment for young people. We also support the increase in allowable spending on transitional jobs to 40 percent, the long-overdue authorization of the Reentry Employment Opportunities program, and efforts to enhance worker voice in system governance.

We remain concerned that, as drafted, the bill will detract from the comprehensive services defined in the WIOA Youth formula program by dividing up youth-focused funding and granting unnecessary transfer authority. We recommend that Chairman Scott authorize funding for the WIOA Youth program at levels equal to or greater than those in the Chairman’s own discussion draft, starting with $1,853,300,000 for fiscal year 2023. We recommend that the bill authorize funding for the new Section 130 at levels equal to or greater than those in the Chairman’s own bill, the Opening Doors for Youth Act of 2021 (HR 4403). 

The bill must focus more on addressing the mental health of young people, a persistent barrier to their ability to succeed in education and employment. The recent Surgeon General’s advisory only underlined what we already knew, that the pandemic has deeply affected young people. We are grateful for the bill’s acknowledgement of the importance of trauma-informed care in the workforce system, but we must go further. We recommend, at minimum, including dedicated funding to infuse mental-health services in workforce offerings. Local plans must also detail their strategies for addressing mental health amongst youth. 

Finally, the process that led to the markup on Tuesday shut out important voices. We have enjoyed a productive relationship with the Committee’s talented staff. Thomas Showalter, NYEC Senior Advisor, testified before the Committee less than a year ago. Nevertheless, the discussion draft appeared with no notice and a short turnaround for feedback. As HR 7309 moves to the House floor – and as Congress considers other matters related to education and youth employment – we urge Congressional leaders to establish more inclusive and equitable processes for considering these important matters.

While we cannot support the bill that the Committee has passed, we look forward to continuing to work with Committee members and staff to expand opportunities for young people to connect with education, find employment, and attain economic mobility.