WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono voted today to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), bipartisan legislation to update the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998. The bill improves the nation’s workforce development system by streamlining programs, increasing efficiency and helping local businesses find workers with relevant skills. Hirono led a bipartisan coalition, including members of the Hawaii and Alaska congressional delegations, to send a letter in May to key committee negotiators that advocated on behalf of Native Hawaiian, American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
“The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is a strong investment in our nation’s workers, ensuring they receive the training and support they need to find and keep quality jobs. The bill supports key programs that provide resources to Hawaii organizations making a difference in communities, such as Alu Like and Maui Economic Opportunity,” said Hirono. “Additionally, I was proud to lead a bipartisan coalition to help preserve and protect programs for Native Hawaiian, American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
The Hirono coalition achieved the following wins for Native Hawaiian and mainland Native communities in the final bill:
- Keeping U.S. Department of Labor Indian and Native American Programs (INAP) - The Indian and Native American Programs (INAP) support organizations that provide training opportunities at the local level for Native communities, such as Alu Like in Hawaii. Hirono and her colleagues successfully fought back efforts to combine INAP and other programs into a single block grant program, which would have reduced funding and eliminated a number of benefits to Native communities. WIOA also preserves Native Supplemental Youth Services and the Native American Employment and Training Council (NAETC).
- New Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native Job Training Grant - The WIOA bill creates a new grant specifically for Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native job training programs. Senator Hirono worked to establish this new initiative, which had been championed by Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI).
Overall, the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act modernizes our job training system so Hawaii workers can gain 21st century skills and businesses can find the employees they need for today’s jobs. The bill:
- Allows workers to enter job-training faster and increases real-world job training alongside basic skills.
- Better targets job training with local business needs, including “Sector Strategies” that build increasing credentials within a sector, such as health care or Information Technology.
- Better targets job training with local business needs.
- Reduces paperwork and bureaucracy for state and county governments.
- Improves veterans’ access to training and credentials, through credit for prior military training, better veteran representation on workforce boards, better support for disabled veterans in Vocational Rehab and funding to help veterans navigate multiple programs.
- Preserves Job Corps and Hawaii’s high-performing Job Corps provider. Hirono has been a consistent supporter of Job Corps, a free education and job training program to help young people enter and stay in the workforce. Hirono has visited the Hawaii Job Corps centers, which have some of the highest levels of Job Corps performance for job placement and retention nationwide. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act ensures that Job Corps’ role is not weakened or consolidated into other programs.
- Preserves the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP), which provides competitive grants to organizations such as Maui Economic Opportunity to help migrant and seasonal farmworkers gain job skills and enter employment. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act preserves NFJP as a standalone program, rejecting efforts to turn the program into a block grant that would have offered no guarantee of support for this vulnerable community.
- Preserves the YouthBuild program, a competitive grant program serving at-risk youth who are high school dropouts or exiting foster care or juvenile detention. The program helps these youth earn a GED, high school diploma or industry credential. The City and County of Honolulu has won over $1 million per year in competitive grants through this program.
- Improves services for people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education’s (USDOE) Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) currently serves people with disabilities from education through adulthood. Hawaii’s Division of Vocational Rehab and many nonprofit providers were vocally against efforts to move the administration of the program to the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), where the program could have too narrow a focus on earnings and job placement, without focusing on education and quality of life with a disability. The updated bill keeps RSA in USDOE, and will include more emphasis on helping young people with disabilities gain support they need as they transition into the workplace.
- Prioritizes youth funding for youth with highest need, including out-of-school and at-risk youth.
The WIOA bill has been endorsed by many national organizations representing business, labor, education, people with disabilities and veterans. For a summary of the bill, click here.
Job-seekers or businesses looking for workers can visit one of Hawaii’s federally-funded One-Stop Centers here.