Workforce Development and Training Opportunities
Strengthening the workforce and preparing workers for today’s—and tomorrow’s—economy is integral for the nation’s economic success. Creating opportunities for improving employability and enhancing the workforce was a focus among state policymakers from across party lines. Legislatures in 25 states passed 44 bills related to workforce development and training opportunities.
Iowa (H 559) authorized its Economic Development Authority to provide financial assistance to qualifying apprenticeship sponsors for apprentices who will be employed in the state. To expand the state’s workforce development programs, Florida (H 1507) created the Office of Reimagining Education and Career Help to increase the level of collaboration and cooperation among businesses and education. The office is charged with establishing criteria and goals for workforce development and diversification, providing strategies to align and improve efficiency in the workforce development system and streamlining the clinical placement process for students, hospitals and other clinical sites.
Similarly, Colorado (H 1264) expanded access to funds for workforce development programs, and Arkansas (H 1875) reduced barriers to apprenticeship programs. These states’ strategies were different, but the goal was the same. Colorado created a cash fund for workers, employers and workforce centers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and negative economic impacts. While Arkansas established the Earn and Learn Act to allow participants to earn a paycheck while fulfilling licensing requirements and gaining on-the-job training.
In Oregon, policymakers prioritized workforce collaboration and continuous improvement to help get people back to work. Oregon (S 623) required the State Workforce and Talent Development Board to collaborate with local workforce agencies and development boards to establish the Committee for Continuous Improvement. The committee is charged with assessing the effectiveness of Oregon’s public workforce development system by a) identifying and eliminating barriers that impede access to workforce programs and services by those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, b) improving employment experiences and access to workforce programs for people in disenfranchised communities, and c) improving alignment between state agencies and nonprofit organizations that provide culturally specific and wraparound services.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Food insecurity dramatically increased in recent years and was a focus for some state legislatures in 2021. Strategies for reducing food insecurity included bolstering workforce development, establishing incentives for using SNAP benefits—particularly for healthy or local food—and expanding access for recipients. Legislatures in 18 states passed 32 bills related to SNAP and economic mobility.
Nebraska (L 108) combined efforts to strengthen the state’s workforce and provide food assistance by allowing participants in employment and training pilot programs to maintain SNAP benefits while seeking employment with higher wages. Meanwhile, California (S 609) enhanced the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as CalFresh, by expanding eligibility. The bill adds adult education and career technical education programs to the list of programs eligible for employment and training exemptions.
Arizona (S 1845) requires its Department of Economic Security to plan, prepare and develop a program that incentivizes SNAP enrollees to purchase healthy foods. The incentive program matches up to $20 for SNAP enrollees and allows recipients to purchase Arizona-grown fruits and vegetables at farmer's markets, farm stands, mobile markets, community supported agriculture sites, grocery stores and convenience stores.
Similarly, Hawaii (S 512) expanded the state’s Double Up Food Bucks program by removing a $10 per visit per day limit on the dollar-for-dollar match. The bill also makes fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins sold at farmers' markets, grocery stores and other direct food retailers accessible to families receiving SNAP benefits. Another strategy state legislatures used was to expand foods SNAP recipients can choose from. Maryland (H 101) established the Heat and Eat Program within SNAP to expand food access and options for eligible recipients.
In Missouri (H 432), lawmakers took a different approach by establishing the Protection of Vulnerable Persons Act. The bill revises the Missouri Farmers' Market Nutrition Program to expand food voucher eligibility to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children under 5 years of age who are at nutritional risk. This act also reauthorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) farmers' market pilot program until Aug. 28, 2027.
Lack of access to a bank account, affordable credit and other financial services is a major economic barrier for millions of families. Utilizing a checking and savings account can help facilitate homeownership, small-business development, increased savings and heightened economic security. Legislatures in 18 states passed 28 bills related to the intersection of economic mobility and credit, lending and banking.
Beginning in the 1930s, maps were created for mortgage lenders to inform them of potential areas of investment. Historically, neighborhoods comprised of minority populations were outlined in red, representing what was categorized as higher lending risks on mortgages for lenders. This practice of redlining lead to the denial of credit based on the location of property and was prohibited through the enactment of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. To help close appraisal gaps that occur in historically redlined neighborhoods, Maryland (H 1239 / S 859) created the Appraisal Gap From Historic Redlining Financial Assistance Program which provides financial assistance to affordable housing developers working in low-income census tracts.
Some states enacted legislation to improve access to education financing and address the impact of student loans on homeownership. Connecticut (HB 5610) requires the state’s Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority to study the feasibility and implications of expanding access to student loans for people with a high debt-to-income ratio, low credit scores or insufficient credit history, and those who have been previously denied a loan. Maine (S.P. 562) now requires its Housing Authority and Finance Authority to study and implement programs that promote homeownership by reducing borrowers' education debt.