In response to the coronavirus pandemic, three bills and a second round of funding for the third bill, the CARES Act, have now been passed by a bipartisan Congress and signed by the President. These bills focus primarily on:
- Assisting individuals and families through expanded coverage and higher benefits through the federal/state unemployment insurance system and direct payments to taxpayers
- Assistance to businesses devastated by the impact of the disease on their workforce and social distancing rules
- Support for the health care system
Advocates for workforce development had hoped for funds to address worker skill shortages and to prepare for the reopening of the economy. However, they have seen only a relatively small addition to the National Emergency Grant fund operated by the U.S. Department of Labor.
A fourth bill, if it can muster sufficient support in the U.S. Senate, might change the prospects for the workforce system. Democrats in the House of Representatives are now working on a proposal that will likely exceed $1 trillion. Current plans call for investing about $15 billion in programs authorized by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), including $2.5 billion each for local Youth, Adult and Dislocated Worker programs.
This time around, however, finding consensus among the White House, Senate and House might prove more difficult than was the case with previous bills. Key concerns center on the growing federal deficit and on disagreements about the wisdom of a few of the proposals likely to be in the House version of another massive spending bill. Congressional insiders tend to think that a further spending bill will emerge over the next several weeks but perhaps a bit smaller than the one House Democrats are looking for.