The Importance of a Federally-funded Job Training System

Workforce development programs – whether the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, the Job Training Partnership Act, the Workforce Investment Act or the current Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – have a long history in this nation, and have always had bipartisan support.

The problem is that at a time of very low unemployment, the need for an effective and well-funded federal job training system may be greatest.  

More recently, however, budget constraints at the federal level have kept funding for workforce development programs well below what most job training experts believe is necessary, and historically low unemployment rates have been used as an excuse to recommend that workforce development funding be cut each fiscal year.

The problem is that at a time of very low unemployment, the need for an effective and well-funded federal job training system may be greatest.  

Here’s why.  

First, the federal government is the most effective distributor of funding for programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Every state and every workforce development area is assured of receiving funds that reflect the numbers of unemployed adults, dislocated workers, and youth in need of job training assistance. Left to be funded by the states or localities, there is a significant chance that the funding of these programs will be less likely, and even if states choose to fund the program, the funding will prove irregular at best with some states making substantial investments while others may make no investments at all.

Second, while unemployment is at record lows, underemployment is at record highs:

  • Approximately 21 million or 14 percent of all working Americans are at a job for which they are overqualified.
  • An estimated 4.5 million or three percent of all Americans are working part-time but would prefer to work full-time.
  • Eighteen million, or 12 percent, of all Americans are working two or more jobs in order to make ends meet.

Third, the workplace and the nature of work are evolving rapidly. In the last few years we have seen a substantial increase in the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems.  More progress has been made in the past five to eight years than in all the previous 50 years and the changes that are occurring today are very different than the automation cycles that occurred in the 1950s, 1980s, and 1990s. During those cycles the perception was that we were automating mechanical, clerical and routine work, and that automation in those cycles was designed to help workers be more productive and to reduce some of the hard physical labor often required in manufacturing, construction and related types of jobs.

The fact is that our nation suffers from a skills shortage.

Today, however, the machines we are building seem capable of doing wholly new things. They appear to have their own cognitive and knowledge skills, and are capable of machine learning.

The fact is that our nation suffers from a skills shortage. Yes, we have more college graduates than ever. Yes, we have more community college graduates than ever. But all too often, key industries in our country are unable to find enough sufficiently trained workers to perform the jobs they have because there is a mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills employers need. And this gap is likely to grow over time unless we make the right kinds of investments in workforce training that address the problem.

According to the National Skills Coalition, we can close this gap by “adopting policies that support sector partnerships and career pathways, and by making job-driven investments [and using] data to better align workforce and education investments with employer skill needs.”

To that end, a workforce development system that is funded at the federal level to meet these needs can help address this ongoing problem, and ultimately remedy it.  

Next week:  Why a Regional Job Training System Makes the Most Sense

Earth Day 2019: Regional Councils are Gearing Up for Bike to Work Events

Happy Earth Day! Regional councils across the country are celebrating today by spreading information on environmental issues and earth-friendly activities.

One of the activities that councils are promoting today is bicycle commuting. National Bike to Work Day will be held May 17th, and many councils have biking events planned either on the 17th or another date in May and June.

As both transportation and environmental planners can tell you, transportation leaves a significant environmental footprint. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions originate from the transportation sector.

Each commuter who chooses to bike to work and keep a car off the road lowers emissions. Each individual trip adds up, and studies indicate that even a moderate increase in biking trips can create a significant regional impact.

Check out the events below to see how regional councils are planning and supporting regional Bike to Work and Bike Month initiatives.

Hosting your own Bike to Work event? Send your stories to eli.spang@narc.org or use the hashtag #RegionsLead on social media!

Regional Bike to Work Events:

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)

On May 17, MWCOG’s Commuter Connections program is partnering with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association for their annual bike to work event. The first 20,000 Bike to Work registrants will receive an event T-shirt that they can pick up at one of the 115 pit stops that will be set up throughout the greater DC area. The pit stops will offer refreshments and a raffle for a new bike. More information can be found on the event site.

Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG)

Colorado’s weather can be unpredictable in May, so the State of Colorado declared the fourth Wednesday of June as Bike to Work Day (June 26). DRCOG’s Way to Go program convenes city and county governments and local organizations to plan the event, which aims to educate commuters on the benefits of biking. The event features pit stops, food, group rides, apparel, and awesome posters.  

Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC)

HGAC holds a Bike to Work event on May 16, and also celebrates the entire month of May as Bike Month. As commuting only makes up a portion of all trips, H-GAC also uses Bike Month to encourage other biking trips to go to schools, libraries, and restaurants; and to visit friends and family.

North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG)

NCTCOG also celebrates Bike Month. This includes a Bike to Work Day on May 17 and multiple local Bike to Work and Bike with the Mayor events. NCTCOG also uses Bike Month to encourage use of TryParkingIt.com, their ride-match and trip-logging program, which helps commuters in the region match up with transit, biking, and walking buddies.

More Uncertainty for Capital Investment Grants (CIG) in 2019 and 2020

Last Tuesday, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced a $1.36 billion allocation of Capital Investment Grant (CIG) funding. The money, drawn from streams of both fiscal years (FY) 2018 and 2019 allocated funds, will be directed at 11 existing projects and 5 new projects.

The announcement arrives amid criticism that the FTA has been slow to release funds. Transit advocacy groups like Transportation for America are vocally campaigning to speed delivery of allocated funds, claiming the Administration is intentionally stalling delivery.

In addition to criticism of delays, advocates have larger existential concerns regarding the program. The president’s FY 2018 and FY 2019 budgets excluded funding for new CIG projects and indicated a desire by the Administration to wind down the entire program.

The president’s recently released  FY 2020 budget and the Federal Transit Authority FY 2020 CIG recommendations include a billion dollar overall cut to the program, but also provide $500 million for new projects, the first new project funding since FY 2017. The Administration has reached a fork in the road and appears to be trying to go both directions.

CIG Background

The CIG Program, overseen by FTA, funds transit capital investments under three primary grant programs: Small Starts, New Starts, and Core Capacity. More information on the three programs can be found here.

Congress most recently authorized CIG under the 2015 FAST Act at $2.3 billion annually for fiscal years 2016 through 2020. As a discretionary program, CIG is subject to the annual appropriations process.

CIG Within the FTA Budget

Since the signing of the FAST Act, CIG dollars have constituted approximately eighteen percent of the overall appropriations provided for the FTA. As shown in Table 1 below, the president’s FY 2020 budget proposes cutting CIG funding by $1 billion. If enacted, this cut would drop the CIG’s portion of overall FTA funding to approximately twelve percent.

Winding Down the Program?

The Administration recommended massive cuts of $1.2 billion for FY 2018 and $1.0 billion for FY 2019. Congress ultimately appropriated CIG funds for FY 2018 and FY 2019 at authorized levels, but the Administration’s signaling on the program was clear: stop funding new projects and phase out existing work.

The FY 2019 FTA Annual Report on Funding Recommendations spelled this out. “For the remaining projects in the CIG program, FTA is not requesting or recommending funding. Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.” (emphasis FTA)

After Congress appropriated full CIG funding for FY 2019, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney responded with a letter stating that “the Administration believes the additional resources provided …would be better utilized by being allocated to the State of Good Repair Formula Program.”*

*For added context on administration positions regarding CIG funding: the Obama Administration recommended $3.5 billion of funding in FY 2017. Appropriators did not, however, follow this recommendation and funded the program at $2.4 billion, near its authorization level.

Breaking Down CIG Appropriations

The president’s FY 2020 budget includes limited detail of how the total $1.505 billion of recommended funding will be distributed between the different CIG programs. The only detail provided is that $995.29 million of the funding will be used for 11 existing projects and $494.85 million will be used for new projects under the three primary grant programs as well as the recently developed Expedited Delivery Pilot Program.

How Will FTA Distribute the $500 Million for New Projects?

Prior to FY 2018, money allocated to new projects was distributed among specific projects named within the president’s budget. As funding for new projects was not written into FY 2018 and FY 2019 budgets, there was no need to name projects.

The president’s FY 2020 budget proposal provides new project money, but like the FY 2018 and FY 2019 budgets, does not specifically name new projects. This lack of project naming, as well as the complaints made about slow fund distribution, has resulted in changes to the CIG selection process.

Without a clear pipeline for selection and fund distribution, Congress chose to set deadlines by which CIG funds need to be allocated. While solving the problem of fund withholding, these new deadlines also created a side effect: the Administration now treats readiness as a top criterion for project selection.

Project Selection Criteria for CIG in FY 2020

FTA lists the following general guidelines for project selection:

  • Readiness of funding for CIG grant obligation by statutory deadlines;
    • Non-CIG funding committed,
    • Critical third party agreements complete,
    • Firm and final cost/scope/schedule,
    • Technical capacity of the project sponsor,
  • Geographic diversity of project for a national funding program;
  • Extent of overmatch proposed by the project sponsor; and
  • Extent of innovative funding proposed including value capture, joint development, and public-private partnerships.

Looking Ahead

The FY 2020 budget and appropriations process has only just begun, and the only certainty is that there will be more changes before any funding levels are finalized. While the Administration’s inclusion of $500 million for new projects is a notable shift in tone from FY 2018 and FY 2019, the overall cuts to the program prevent this new funding from serving as an endorsement of the program.

Transportation planners and officials hoping to have their project selected for CIG funds will need to continue to assess the ways in which selection criteria are affected by both the overall funding structure of the program as well as the Administration’s view of the program within the context of other infrastructure funding.

NARC will continue to track CIG funding during the budget and appropriations process, as well as during upcoming discussions on transportation reauthorization and the development of an infrastructure package.

Addressing Public Health Concerns Using Regional Solutions

Happy National Public Health Week! This annual week-long celebration, spearheaded by the American Public Health Association (APHA), celebrates the nation’s public health successes while calling attention to our most pressing health-related challenges.

In the words of APHA’s Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin: “We all have a responsibility to the health of our community and our country. We know our needs are as varied as our communities themselves.”

That is why the role of regional councils in public health is so critical. Their relationships with all the major stakeholders in their communities – local government officials, business executives, and nonprofit and community leaders – gives them a broad view of what the most pressing health concerns are today.

With their wide lense across communities, regional councils recognize that health intersects many areas of public life, including transportation, the economy, housing, energy, the rise of extreme weather events, and the environment. With their long-term planning strengths, these organizations can also identify and analyze what potential impacts that current public health issues could look like ten, twenty, and even thirty years from now.

As highlighted in NARC’s health one-pager, the work of regional councils around public health has been primarily driven by two considerations: 1) planning for future development to improve public health, and 2) mitigating the negative consequences of the existing built environment.

Many regional efforts overlap with this year’s themes for National Public Health Week: healthy communities, violence prevention, rural health, technology and public health, and climate change. Several more ways regional councils are improving health outcomes include:

  • Prioritizing transportation and pedestrian safety;
  • Improving air and water quality;
  • Increasing access to local, healthy food;
  • Providing safe, stable homes for families through affordable housing; and
  • Bringing community resources to those who need it most.

Here are just a few examples of the different ways regional councils are working to understand and address public health concerns in their communities:

  • The Metropolitan Area Planning Council works to integrate public health perspectives in all of their projects, from planning to data collection to policy development. Their public health work focuses on healthy community design; health and equity assessments; food systems and healthy food access; and local public health collaboration and shared services.

  • The Brazos Valley Council of Governments, supported in part by the Healthcare Connect Fund, has been deploying a private broadband network to connect rural hospitals, clinics, and schools that provide healthcare services. This will help drastically expand the healthcare options of the 62 percent of residents living in rural areas within the region. 

  • The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments recently published a report that aims to better understand health disparities in the region. They discovered that the health of a community is shaped less by healthcare and more by factors like income, education, housing, transportation, and the environment.

  • The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission has launched several transportation safety campaigns to keep motorists, bicyclists, and the public safer during their commutes. They have also developed air quality awareness campaigns to share ways residents can help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, improving the health of the region.

  • The South Florida Regional Planning Council – in conjunction with the Florida Institute for Health Innovation and the Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies – developed a report titled Health and Sea-Level Rise: Impacts on South Florida. The report mapped out zones most prone to sea level rise impacts, described associated public health risks, and identified the region’s most vulnerable communities to these sea level rise health effects.
  • The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments has developed the Green Infrastructure Vision for Southeast Michigan, which seeks to protect undisturbed areas, promote built infrastructure that improves water and air quality, and encourage outdoor physical activity and recreation. The plan highlights how green infrastructure improves not just the health of a region’s environment, but also the health of its residents.