|Secretary Herman Praises Innovative Local Partnershipts To Meet
Workforce Development Challenges
By Sean Berg
Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman spoke at the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference about the importance of working in partnership at the local level to move people from welfare to work, to provide opportunities for young people to move into the economic mainstream and to prepare workers for the 21st century. Mayors are constantly working to facilitate collaboration among businesses, the workforce investment system and community organizations to provide the best solutions to local labor problems including moving individuals from welfare to work. Because the economy is changing so rapidly, and because it is so strong, the federal government realizes that now is the time to redefine solutions to the welfare problem. Recognizing that "the old ways wont work in the new economy," Secretary Herman said that "President Clinton and Vice President Gore are redefining our relationship with local communities." Changes are everywhere. Local systems are now working to not only find jobs for welfare recipients, but also ensure their ability to keep the jobs and improve their lives. "In short, we are building on ideas at the community level to build a stronger American community," said Secretary Herman.
In order to give everyone an equal opportunity, everyone must have resources available to learn job skills, find affordable child-care, access public transportation and enter a substance abuse treatment program. According to Secretary Herman, "one key ingredient is successful implementation of the most sweeping job training reform in a generation - the Workforce Investment Act." The Workforce Investment Act is the new law that will "redefine our (the federal governments) relationship with local communities."
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, along with the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties, has been working with the Department of Labor to create legislative language and regulations that will give local stakeholders the ability to use federal funds without a lot of red tape. Between July 1st this year and July 1, 2000 all state and local communities will move from the old order (Job Training Partnership Act) to the new Workforce Investment system. The new law is designed to minimize federal regulation of local programs while providing maximum flexibility to localities in addressing their constituents workforce investment needs. Secretary Herman believes that "we need to focus on the whole person, and we need to engage the whole community."
The Department of Labor is focusing on three main areas of workforce development: flexibility at the local level; holistic solutions to keeping a job, such as more child-care, transportation, substance abuse treatment and housing; and helping absentee fathers reconnect with their families by providing special training and assistance. With more and more of the nations poor living in cities, mayors have a unique responsibility to turn the Labor Departments initiatives into real, positive change for those still living on welfare. This is no easy task. Many of the people still on local welfare rolls fall under the "hardest to serve" category and need the most individualized, intense training to make them employable.
The Labor Department is addressing this problem through the Welfare-to-Work initiative, which provides $3 billion to affect real, positive change. Funds have been awarded through a competitive process directly to communities and 44 states are now participating in the formula grant process. Eighty-five percent of formula funds go directly to local communities. With the Labor Department granting the flexibility the communities need to establish successful programs, "its no surprise that the business-led Welfare-to-Work Partnership has signed up 10,000 businesses and theyve hired 400,000 workers." President Clinton has proposed the continuation of the Welfare-to-Work initiative with a $1 billion investment to ensure services for those remaining welfare recipients who have the greatest challenges to employment.