The Build Back Better Act: Community Colleges, Workforce Development, and Worker Protections

Blog Post
Nov. 20, 2021

In an early morning vote on Friday November 19th, House Democrats came together and passed the Build Back Better Act. This historic $1.8 trillion investment in the country’s social infrastructure—childcare, education, job training, healthcare, paid leave—is long overdue and has the potential to lay a new foundation for a better, more inclusive economy.

As the bill travels from the House to the Senate, here is a quick summary of some of the key investments it would make in community colleges, workforce development, apprenticeships, care workers, and worker protections.

Community Colleges

Following the Great Recession, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program empowered many Americans to upskill or retrain for a new field and find footing in a tough labor market. BBB includes a $1.2 billion investment in the TAACCCT program, and given what our research shows about how effective TAACCCT was in supporting participants’ program completion and improved labor market outcomes as the country moved out of the Great Recession, we believe this would be a wise investment.

Colleges would apply for grants through a competitive process, with funding broken up into $300 million per year from 2022-2025. Individual colleges could receive grants of up to $2.5 million, while consortia of colleges could get up to $15 million. Grantees would have to use at least 15 percent of funds for student supports, such as child care, transportation, emergency grants, or advising/navigation services. Beyond that, grantees could start or scale up programs with labor market relevance, much like the original TAACCCT.

An even larger investment in community colleges that will help these institutions make significant progress in building their capacity to support learners pursuing additional training is the $5 billion in funding for Community College and Industry Partnership Grants. This program would be administered by the Department of Education in coordination with the Department of Labor and like TAACCCT, institutions or consortia of colleges would apply for grants through a competitive process. These much-needed resources can be used to improve articulation agreements, bolster student support services, purchase equipment for training programs, or build and strengthen industry or sector partnerships.

Workforce Development and Apprenticeships

On the whole, BBB will provide $20 billion for youth and adult workforce development initiatives authorized by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This includes a $1.5 billion investment over five years in youth workforce activities. This new funding must be used with existing WIOA formulas, which gives priority to out-of-school youth and those with barriers to employment, but can be leveraged to provide in-school youth and out-of-school youth paid work experiences and partner with community-based organizations to support out-of-school youth, including those residing in high-crime or high-poverty areas. BBB also provides $1 billion over five years for adult employment and training activities, such as on-the-job training, career and support services, and individual training accounts. State and local workforce development boards can allocate 40 percent of these funds for incumbent worker training to low-wage workers.

BBB authorizes $2 billion over five years for national dislocated worker grants. This discretionary funding is offered to states and communities to support individuals who have either been laid off or have received notice of employment termination. Of this amount, 40 percent (instead of the 10 percent authorized under WIOA) can be used for subsidized employment, a proven strategy for helping individuals, particularly those with barriers to employment, find work, build an employment history, and gain self-sufficiency.

The bill also invests funding for several other WIOA programs, including adult education and literacy services ($700 million), Job Corps ($500 million), YouthBuild ($15 million), and Wagner-Peyser Employment Services ($400 million), which connects job seekers to employers in need of talent. Additionally, BBB also calls for a $4.6 billion discretionary grant program under WIOA to support the development of sectoral and industry partnerships.

Due to the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 crisis, apprenticeship is taking on even greater importance as a strategy for building a healthy, inclusive economic recovery and stronger, more resilient communities. BBB would invest $1 billion for Registered Apprenticeship (RA) programs and pre-apprenticeships that provide a path to RAs and youth apprenticeships that offer high school students postsecondary training and employment opportunities with progressively increasing wages. The bill specifies that $500 million of this apprenticeship investment must support programs serving high numbers of individuals with barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities, or nontraditional apprenticeship populations.

Finally, BBB would also dedicate $600 million over six years for secondary and postsecondary career and technical education programs under the Perkins Act and another $100 million for innovation and modernization grants to support evidence-based and innovative CTE strategies that better prepare students for success in the labor market.

Care Workers and Worker Protections

Direct care workers have historically been vastly underpaid and undervalued, and BBB takes steps to improve the quality of these jobs. These workers, whose responsibilities may include caring for older adults, people with disabilities, or those in need of palliative care, would benefit in many ways from provisions in the bill. Of note, the bill includes a $1 billion program that would award competitive grants to a range of institutions, including institutions of higher education, to support and promote retention of these truly essential workers. Grantees may use funds to develop and operate initial or ongoing training for direct care workers, including paying wages to workers while they participate in education and training opportunities funded by this grant program.

Federal agencies tasked with enforcing labor laws and protecting workers have seen declining resources for years, translating into less ability to carry out their missions. This is especially apparent in the case of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), responsible for creating and enforcing worker safety and health standards. Going into the pandemic in 2020, OSHA had the fewest inspectors on staff in 45 years. This meant less capacity to inspect meat and poultry plants that had become COVID-19 hotspots, and which were already dangerous places to work even before the pandemic. Moving forward, BBB will strengthen the capacity of worker protection agencies to address labor violations, improve working conditions, and enhance worker power and well-being.

Under BBB, OSHA will receive a $702 million increase to bolster its inspection and enforcement capabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division will receive a $405 million investment, strengthening its ability to enforce workers’ rights and tackle minimum wage and overtime violations as well as worker misclassification. BBB also provides $350 million over five years to build up the capacity of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which protects the rights of private sector workers to organize and advocate for improved working conditions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, tasked with enforcing civil rights and protecting workers from discrimination, will receive a $321 million funding increase over five years.

BBB also ramps up the civil penalties these worker protection agencies can impose against employers for labor violations. OSHA will now be able to impose a maximum penalty of $700,000 for willful and repeat violations of worker health and safety standards, up from $136,532. In a victory for workers and labor more broadly, the NLRB would be able to impose civil monetary penalties of up to $100,000 on employers that violate existing unfair labor practices under the National Labor Relations Act. This provision is part of a larger piece of legislation currently stalled in Congress, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize, unionize, and bargain collectively.

The Build Back Better Act could undergo further changes as it makes its way through the Senate, and while its legislative path is narrow, it would make investments in our country that are sorely needed and long overdue. New America urges Congress to bring these investments to the American people.

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