Harkin Leads Bipartisan Effort to Update Workforce Development Bill, Improve Employment and Training Opportunities for People with Disabilities

May 21, 2014 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate’s HELP Committee, has led a bipartisan, bicameral effort to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which will update workforce development systems in states, including Iowa, as well as dramatically improve employment training and opportunities for people with disabilities. Agreement on the legislation was announced today by a key group of Democratic and Republican legislators in the Senate and the House, including Harkin, and will now go before both houses of Congress for approval. 

“Access to training, education, and employment services opens doors to the middle class for workers in Iowa and across the country and helps strengthen the economy. This bipartisan, bicameral reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act will help ensure that all workers—including those with disabilities—can access these opportunities, while providing for better coordination and value to our workforce development system,” said Harkin.

“This bill also makes groundbreaking changes that will raise prospects and expectations for Americans with disabilities, many of whom, under current law, are shunted to segregated, subminimum wage settings without ever receiving the opportunities and skills to succeed in competitive, integrated employment,” added Harkin, who was the Senate author of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. “It will stem the flow of young people into segregated employment by requiring that they be given experience in integrated settings, and require state Vocational Rehabilitation programs to work with individuals to develop an individual employment plan and support them in integrated work settings. This bill truly represents the spirit of bipartisan compromise and cooperation, and I applaud my colleagues on the HELP Committee and on the Education and Workforce Committee for their perseverance and commitment to updating this critical law. I urge senators on both sides of the aisle to support this bill.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, overdue for renewal for more than a decade, is legislation that will reauthorize the public workforce development system. It emphasizes access to real-world training opportunities by increasing the ability of local boards to use on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, and customized training. It includes a strong focus on sector and career pathway strategies, prioritizes services for disconnected youth, and strengthens the connection between adult education, postsecondary education, and the workforce.

As the Senate leader on policy issues impacting people with disabilities, Harkin spearheaded the effort to make important and long-overdue updates to the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (VR), included as part of WIA. The bill emphasizes competitive integrated employment as the first and best choice for people with disabilities and directs 15 percent of VR funds to assist with transitioning young people with disabilities to the workforce. It increases pre-employment transition services to include experience in competitive integrated settings through internships, part-time jobs and summer jobs, and requires state VR agencies to presume all individuals with disabilities who want to work can do so with the appropriate supports and services. Read more about the bill here.

If passed by both houses of Congress, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will mark the 18th bipartisan bill to pass the Senate—and the 14th bill signed into law—during Harkin’s tenure as HELP Chairman in the 113th Congress. Read more about the bills here.

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