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Promoting Skills and Training for Low-Income Workers

Secretaries Vilsack and Perez announced $200 million for projects to help participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program improve skills and find jobs.

Last year, the President directed Vice President Biden to lead a review of federal job training programs in order to identify and implement steps to make these programs more “job-driven” and responsive to the needs of employers. The idea was that -- even as the economy continues to recover, with more open jobs than at any point since 2001 -- we need to do more to make sure that we are giving workers the skills they need to compete for those jobs. This is core to the President’s vision for “middle-class economics,” in which Americans who are unemployed or in low-wage jobs have the opportunity to train and find jobs that create pathways to the middle-class.

Friday, as part of this effort, Secretaries Vilsack and Perez announced $200 million for projects designed to identify the most effective strategies to help participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) improve their skills and find jobs.

These pilot projects will test a range of strategies to determine the best ways to help SNAP participants get and keep good jobs – which is the right way to help them move towards self-sufficiency and ultimately reduce SNAP program costs, rather than across the board cuts. Over 80% of SNAP recipients are seniors, children, disabled individuals, or people already working but earning such low wages they still need help affording food. Across the board cuts -- like recently proposed block grants -- means slashing already-low benefits for these recipients, or cutting some of them off of the program altogether. A better way to save money in the SNAP program is to focus on the less than 20% of recipients who are struggling to find work and help them get a good job.

In doing so, the pilots announced last week build on the Vice President’s report released last July, which included a job-driven checklist that is being embedded in our core workforce programs and is being applied to all competitive job training grants moving forward -- representing about $1 billion a year in Federal funding.

The SNAP education and training pilots awarded last week feature job-driven strategies such as intensive sector-based approaches in which training programs are developed with a group of regional employers hiring in similar occupations. The program also supports career navigation models that help workers understand the fields where available jobs are located and work-based learning.

For example, in California, the County of Fresno will pilot a comprehensive two-generation approach that includes training paired with coaching on parenting skills, nutrition and health, and financial literacy designed to ensure that the program helps both parents and their children.

Illinois will build on a small-scale program for disadvantaged workers, spreading this to seven regions and testing the results. The program uses holistic assessment to place participants in either an accelerated and integrated adult education program, a bridge program from basic skills to technical training, or directly into technical training and a work-based learning pathway.

These pilots are creating robust networks that connect community-based organizations, local workforce boards, American Job Centers, community colleges, career-technical schools, adult education providers, and other service providers.

The pilots also reflect some of the best practices that the Administration is promoting related to the President’s upskilling initiative -- which is about equipping front-line workers who are currently employed with the skills and opportunities they need for advancement, without needing to leave their jobs to go back to school. Several grantees, are developing accelerated learning and bridge programs that equip low-wage workers with technical training required for in-demand, better-paying jobs.

In January, the Administration announced commitments to promote upskilling by a coalition of business organizations and 30 leading employers. Others are ready to join and in the coming weeks, we will be convening employers, labor leaders, foundations, educators, and tech innovators, who are making new commitments to front-line workers’ training and advancement, at the White House to share best practices and develop local and national partnerships. The Administration has also proposed a $200 million American Technical Training Fund that would help to expand and scale accelerated programs for Americans to upgrade their skills for middle-class jobs in high-demand fields.

The awards announced Friday are an important step in developing and testing the most effective strategies to help low-income workers find work and progress into better-paying jobs and careers. This is vital to the work of growing the economy in a way that supports the middle class and those still working to get there.

Cecilia Muñoz is Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Jeff Zients is the Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy.