Congressional Roundup

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Job Training

Senate sponsors of legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act do not expect the full Senate to make many changes to youth-related programs when the legislation comes to the floor.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the bill (S 1627) unanimously Oct. 2. Senate action is possible before the end of the first session, but is more likely sometime in January, Senate aides said.

The National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC) said it was encouraged by the Senate committee’s bipartisan action on the bill, and is particularly hopeful that the Senate will retain the committee’s spending ratio for programs for in-school and out-of-school youth. Current law requires that 30 percent of the funds be spent on out-of-school youth, but the Bush administration proposed that services be directed primarily to those youth.

As approved by the committee, the Senate bill would require state and local governments to spend 40 percent of their funds on out-of-school youth and 60 percent on in-school youth. The House version (HR 1261) would require local programs to use at least 70 percent of their funds for out-of-school youth.

During House consideration of the bill, the NYEC argued that in-school youth should remain eligible for job-training activities. The organization, along with key House Democrats, said the job-training programs would help keep many at-risk students in school.

“Serving both in-school and out-of-school youth is critical. Business members of [Workforce Investment Boards] and youth councils are engaged because they want to have an effect on schools,” the NYEC said in a prepared statement. “In-school youth must be able to continue to access WIA funds.”

The Senate version does not include funding levels for the bill overall, reverting to language that would authorize “such sums as necessary.” The House bill would authorize $1.25 billion for fiscal 2004, which started Oct. 1. The act was funded at $1 billion in fiscal 2003.

Both versions of the bill would make Youth Advisory Councils, which represent youth on local Workforce Investment Boards, an option for states. The NYEC and other youth-labor groups want the councils to remain a mandatory component of the councils. (See “Congressional Roundup,” June.)

In addition, both versions would replace the Department of Labor’s Youth Opportunity Grants with National Challenge Grants to encourage innovative programs.

The Senate bill also would include a provision to authorize $10 million annually for a training program for youth migrant and farm workers.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), ranking committee Democrat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Following passage on the Senate floor, the bill would move to a House-Senate conference to work out differences between the two chambers.

Community Service Block Grants

The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved legislation (HR 3030) Oct. 1 that would reauthorize the Community Service Block Grants program through fiscal 2009.

The bill includes several provisions intended to increase the accountability of the program. It also includes new language to encourage mentoring programs for low-income youth.

The bill leaves states with significant ability to determine how the money is used at the community level to combat poverty.

“The CSBG program is a federal program that is truly a block grant to the states, allowing them to establish and operate anti-poverty programs that meet the unique needs of their low-income communities, families and individuals,” Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), chairman of the panel’s education reform subcommittee, said in a statement after committee action.

As has been the case with numerous bills related to social services, committee members squared off over restrictions imposed on faith-based organizations that receive funds. Democrats unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have barred religious organizations that receive grants from basing employment decisions on religion. Democrats are expected to offer similar amendments on the House floor.

Overtime Pay

Youth workers worried about losing their eligibility for overtime pay might be able to breathe a little easier.

During its consideration of a fiscal 2004 spending bill (S 1356), the Senate adopted an amendment by 54-45 that would prevent the U.S. Department of Labor from changing laws that determine what types of employees are eligible for overtime. The House followed on Oct. 2 by instructing its members on the House-Senate conference committee that is considering the appropriations bill (HR 2660) – which covers the departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services – to take the Senate’s position.

Although Democrats claimed victory, the nonbinding nature of the House vote left that victory uncertain. President Bush has threatened to veto the measure if it contains the Senate prohibition on the change in regulations, and conferees are not required to abide by the House vote.

Adoption and Foster Care

The House passed a bill (HR 3182) by voice vote Oct. 8 that would reauthorize a program that rewards states for encouraging families to adopt children, especially older youth who are hard to place.

The legislation would pay states a bonus for each child adopted above the prior year’s levels. The rate is $4,000 per child, plus $4,000 for each child 9 or older and $2,000 for each child with special needs. The cap is $8,000 per child.

The program would be authorized at $43 million per year from fiscal 2004 through fiscal 2008.

Since the law was enacted in 1997, the federal government has paid states about $160 million in adoption bonuses. The Senate must still act on the bill.

Homeless and Runaway Youth

President Bush signed the Runaway, Homeless and Missing Children’s Protection Act (PL 108-96) into law Oct. 10. The act authorizes both the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and the Missing Children’s Assistance Act.

The new law authorizes up to $105 million annually for runaway and homeless youth programs, an increase of about $17 million over fiscal 2003.

The law authorizes programs to provide food, shelter and other services to runaway and homeless youth. It also allows funding for the administration’s initiative to establish maternity group homes for young mothers and their children.

The law also authorizes $20 million a year for activities of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an increase of $10 million.