While the draft state plan addresses the needs of different populations of low-income workers in many ways, it does not give express preference to these populations, beyond Title I funding, especially in cases where the state does not have sufficient resources to meet the full need. We urge the State Workforce Investment Board to make explicit the WIOA’s articulated priority for low-income individuals.
Dear State Workforce Development Board,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the State Workforce Development Plan developed in accordance with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
The Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic research organization. We advance public policies that help Maine people prosper in a strong, fair, and sustainable economy.
MECEP congratulates the State Workforce Board and its many stakeholders on the development of a comprehensive, forward-looking plan designed to enhance job quality for Maine workers and their families in a stagnant economy.
We were heartened when, in 2014, Congress passed WIOA resulting in the first new federal workforce law in 16 years and one that reflects a very different labor market than existed when it passed the previous Workforce Investment Act in 1998. Today’s WIOA places priority on serving low-income adults and youth and provides explicitly that recipients of public assistance and other low-income individuals merit priority in cases of limited funds.
It is therefore important that Maine’s unified state plan establishes policies and provides guidance to ensure that resources are allocated and services are delivered in accordance with this legislative priority and that appropriate priority is given to increasing the education and skills of low-income workers.
While the draft state plan addresses the needs of different populations of low-income workers in many ways, it does not give express preference to these populations, beyond Title I funding, especially in cases where the state does not have sufficient resources to meet the full need.
We urge the State Workforce Investment Board to make explicit the WIOA’s articulated priority for low-income individuals.
MECEP further suggests that the State Workforce Development Plan:
- Encourage employers to offer their workers flexibility in the interest of improving their education level. Family leave, flexible scheduling, and cost-sharing policies can be transformative for working Mainers seeking to improve their skills.
- Identify ways to complement work and training requirements of public assistance programs such as SNAP. Reduce barriers for people on public assistance to access the workforce development system.
- Enhance coordination with and funding for programs that provide nonacademic supports to low-income college students (i.e. Competitive Skills Scholarship Program, ASPIRE, and Parents as Scholars).
- Further emphasize the role that cost plays as a barrier to college enrollment and completion. College debt is undoubtedly a crushing burden for many new graduates seeking employment; however, the prospect of incurring debt often discourages potential students from even pursuing a college education.
- Establish a separate education goal for Maine adults with some college credits, but no degree. This would be a corollary to the proposed quantifiable state goal related to degree and credential attainment.
- In addition to increasing access to English language courses, promote strategies that will capitalize on existing language skills in the workforce by connecting companies that do business abroad to workers with second language skills for example. In addition to New Mainers of various nationalities, Maine has a population of second-, third- and even fourth-generation Franco-Americans with retained French-language skills.
- Further address the unique barriers faced by Maine’s rural and “rim” counties ―especially access to transportation, sound infrastructure, and good communications (including high-speed internet access) as a means to support both workforce and economic development.
- Develop specific performance measures to gauge success for Mainers of particular races and ethnicities in overcoming employment barriers. Sixty-nine percent of black Mainers live below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level; their unemployment rate is twice that of white Mainers. Latinos and Native Americans in Maine face similarly high levels of disadvantage.
- Recognize the barriers faced by Maine’s Franco-American community. Ten percent of adult Franco-Americans and Acadians in Maine do not have a high-school diploma or GED (twice the rate of White non-Franco Mainers). Similarly, one in five Francos or Acadians has some college education but no degree. English-language proficiency may account for some of this trend, but the 2012 State Taskforce on Franco-Americans also identified a sense of non-inclusion among Franco-Americans at Maine Colleges.
We would like to take the opportunity to commend the Board for the plan’s inclusion of:
- “One-stop shops” for workforce training and development. One of the scarcest resources for low-income workers is time, and workers should be able to access opportunities without chasing a variety of paper trails at numerous state agencies.
- Improving the coordination between state educational agencies, especially the University System and Community College System. Students are perennially frustrated at the lack of reciprocity across, and even within, the systems.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment. We appreciate your consideration of the issues we have raised.