Youth workers and the youth they serve may lose their voices on local work force investment boards, as youth councils would be empanelled only at the discretion of states under legislation (HR 1261) approved in the House of Representatives last month.

“It’s important to have the voice of the people who are most directly connected to the people they are serving,” said Dorothy Stoneman, president and founder of YouthBuild USA. “I don’t think we should make the youth councils optional. If it’s really clearly a good thing to do, it really ought to be mandated.”

In approving the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act of 2003, the House also approved plans to eliminate Youth Opportunity Grants (YOG). The YOG program was initiated in 1998 “to saturate” high poverty rural and urban communities with resources to reduce youth unemployment. Funds were used for training, education and other youth development activities.

The legislation, approved 220-204 on May 8, would authorize $1.25 billion for youth training and support programs in fiscal 2004, an increase of $250 million over the fiscal 2003 appropriation. Twenty-five percent of future funds would be reserved for challenge grants for innovative programs, a provision which replaces the YOG program.

The House vote was a victory for the Bush administration, as the bill tracks closely with the White House plan to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act.

“Workers need our help now, and House passage of the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act is a giant leap toward getting them the employment and training services they need to better provide for themselves and their families,” Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a prepared statement.

The administration and Republican House members said the youth councils have not been effective or efficient. Many of them have indeed had trouble fulfilling hopes for how they would operate. (“Youth Employment Councils Wobble,” September 2002.)

Democrats objected to numerous provisions of the bill, but most vocally to language that would allow faith-based organizations that receive funds for job training to base hiring decisions on religion.

The provision is a component of the Bush administration’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative, an effort to open more federal grant programs to faith-based groups to provide social services. Democrats said the provision amounted to state-sponsored religious discrimination.

“Faith-based organizations should be allowed to do their work, but they should not be promoted to discriminate at the same time,” Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) said during debate.

Republicans said the provision is in line with current law.

“Faith-based institutions have a proven track record of helping people find jobs, but they are essentially barred from the current WIA system simply because they have religious identities,” said Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee. “These outdated barriers should be removed to ensure that every available resource is being committed in the effort to help Americans find jobs.”

Other youth-related provisions of the bill would allow states to spend no more than 30 percent of their job-training funds for youth who are still in school. It also would prohibit programs for students from being conducted during school hours.

Youth who receive services during school hours “are the very youth that are most likely to drop out if they don’t receive services,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee. “Services that would be dropped as a result of the Republican plan include summer employment opportunities, mentoring and job counseling.”

Republicans countered that current programs are spread too thin and that out-of-school youth needed additional help. “This bill promotes more productive development programs, while ensuring these training and employment programs are not substituted for school curriculum,” said Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

The legislation also would change the age range for youth participation to 16 to 24; the current range is 14 to 21.

“It seems to be a more accurate grouping of the age,” said Stoneman, who lobbied for the age change.

The age range for participation in a challenge grant program would be 14 to 19.

Overall, the bill would authorize more than $6 billion in federal job training programs for youth, adult and dislocated workers. The bill moves to the Senate, which has not yet held committee hearings or markups.

Missing and Homeless Youth

The House also completed action on a bill (HR 1925) to reauthorize both the Missing Children’s Assistance Act and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.

The missing children law helps police and families recover missing and exploited children, and provides support to run a national 24-hour hotline and for training and technical assistance. The bill would authorize a $20 million annual payment to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act supports community-based programs that provide basic needs to runaway and homeless youth and their families, including shelter, food, clothing, health care and counseling. The bill would authorize $105 million a year.

Both acts also fund preventative and educational programs, leading efforts intended to reduce the number of at-risk children nationwide.

The House approved the bill 403-14 on May 20.

The House also approved a bill (HR 1170) on May 21 that would require states to prohibit schools from requiring a child to take medication as a condition of enrollment. Committee members said too many families are being pressured to put their children
on Ritalin and other psychotropic drugs when such measures might not be medically warranted.

Libraries and Museums

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously approved legislation (S 888) last month that would reauthorize the Museum and Libraries Services Act. The bill would authorize $250 million for libraries and $41.5 million for museums in fiscal 2004.

A similar bill, approved 416-2 by the House in March, would authorize $210 million for libraries and $35 million for museums.

Charitable Giving

A bipartisan coalition of House members is seeking support for a bill (HR7) to create incentives to increase charitable giving. The bill is similar to the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act (S476) the Senate approved in April.

Unlike the Senate measure, the House bill would change how much foundations are required to give to charities in order to retain tax-exempt status. Current law requires foundations to give at least 5 percent of their assets to charity each year. Under the House proposal, foundations would no longer be able to count administrative expenses toward the 5 percent.

Like the Senate bill, the House proposal would let taxpayers who do not itemize their returns deduct a portion of their charitable giving, would allow tax-free contributions from Individual Retirement Accounts and would increase corporate contribution caps.
The bill was introduced last month by Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democrat Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee. There are an additional 63 cosponsors.

Andrew D. Beadle can be contacted at