Youth Jobs Bill Finally on ‘Fast Track’

Bill Alexander
July 1, 1998

A less emotionally charged atmosphere has at last settled around the Workforce Bill that has been rattling around Capitol Hill for nearly six years. The legislation will set the rules for virtually all of the estimated $1 billion in federal money aimed at youth employment and job training (excepting the $1.2 billion for Job Corps). A last-minute move by the Senate to make vocational education a separate bill — to beat off attacks from conservative House conferee members — has put the Workforce Bill on the “fast track,” according to Capitol Hill insiders.

A Senate version, The Workforce Investment Partnership Act, had passed in May, combining some 70 education, job training, and year-round and summer employment programs for youth and adults into block grants to state and local governments. But the Senate removed the vocational education portion recently after pressure from conservative groups — led by Tom DeWeese of the Virginia-based American Policy Center and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum — and after Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, let it be known that he would not go to the conference committee with vocational education and job training in the same bill.

The bill gained dubious interest in 1996 when now-retired Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) regarded its passage as her “legacy.” She and Goodling, the Republican sponsor in the House, were stunned when 50 House Republicans bolted from the ranks after being lobbied by Schlafly, who decried what she called the “Big Brother” intrusion “that will decide what children are taught and what jobs they may take after school.”

At that time, Goodling said he wouldn’t allow Schlafly to categorize the legislation as “a Communist conspiracy.”

That was then, this is now: Goodling, 70, is bidding for a 13th term. At his side is Schlafly, whose Eagle Forum has endorsed him for re-election.

A temporary casualty of the bill’s tardiness this year may be the Clinton administration’s $250-million youth employment initiative. Inserted into the bill last year, the initiative targets out-of-school youth in inner-city and rural Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities. If authorizing legislation to release already appropriated funds is not acted on before July 1, the likelihood is the Youth Opportunity Grants component of the bill will have its deadline extended to September 30.

“This is the political equivalent of playing the game of chicken,” Alan Zuckerman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Youth Employment Coalition, said about the possible delayed release of the funds. “It is a dangerous game. Where else are these kids going to turn?”

House and Senate sources say their working relationship is “far better” than it has ever been on a bill which has been derailed year after year. Conferees are putting out the word that it will be enacted later this year. But the political and ideological bickering have taken their toll on the front lines.

“We’re 80 percent wiped out,” said Rose Amador of the Center for Training and Careers, Inc., in San Jose, Calif., “Job training for at-risk youth here, who have a 40 to 50 percent school drop-out rate, is simply not being addressed. . . The money has dried up.”

Bernice Lever of Arizona Call-A-Teen Youth Resources, Inc., is perplexed: “It’s about not knowing which way to prepare. We were supposed to have a bill last year. It scares me.”

Others have made adjustments. The Senate version of the Workforce Bill now calls for the replacement of Private Industry Councils (PICS) with Workforce Development Boards. “A number of PICs around the country have already changed their names,” said Joe Puhalla of the Prince George’s PIC in Landover, Md. “They’re now known as Workforce Development Boards.

Another bill provision did cause Puhalla concern. State governors would be empowered to say yes or no to all workforce funds. “We have worked too long and hard with local authorities to forge a strong local role,” Puhalla said. “Giving governors autocratic authority is problematic.”

Alexander, Bill. "Youth Jobs Bill Finally on ‘Fast Track’." Youth Today, July/August 1998, p. 51.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.