By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst
The social and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic have highlighted significant disparities in how the workforce system serves marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, communities of color and people with low incomes. People with disabilities have remained engaged in the labor market throughout the pandemic and their labor force participation rate has not dropped appreciably. However, studies show that people with disabilities have experienced high percentages of employment changes and disruption (e.g., decreased pay, reduced work hours).
As communities emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, access to skills training and postsecondary credentials will be critical to facilitating an inclusive recovery. Recognizing this, Oregon Governor Kate Brown convened the Workforce and Talent Development Board and the Racial Justice Council in 2021. The Workforce Workgroup – as the collaboration came to be known – sought to develop a proposal for the 2022 legislative session that advanced equitable and racially just economic opportunity and education recovery.
The Future Ready Oregon Initiative – $200 Million in Workforce Investments
The efforts of the Governor’s Workforce Workgroup culminated in the Future Ready Oregon Initiative (Senate Bill 1545). The initiative was approved by the legislature and signed into law in April of 2022. It includes $200 million in funding to support comprehensive workforce investments aimed at advancing an equitable workforce system that better serves people of color, people with disabilities, people with low incomes, rural Oregonians, and other underserved populations.
The Future Ready Oregon initiative is funded through a combination of state and federal resources. State general funds were supplemented by American Rescue Plan Act dollars to expand existing successful workforce programs and create new, innovative workforce programs. Funded programs provide historically underserved groups with the education, training and resources they need to attain “family-wage careers.” The initiative includes people with disabilities among its listed priority groups. Provided below are programs funded by Future Ready Oregon that support people with disabilities.
Local Workforce Boards – $37 Million for the Prosperity 10,000 Program
Future Ready Oregon invests approximately $37 million in Oregon’s nine local workforce development boards to administer the Prosperity 10,000 Program. This program was established by House Bill 4104 (2022) and is intended to augment the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) Employment and Training program.
The Prosperity 10,000 program is designed to serve at least 10,000 low-income job seekers most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Oregonians who receive SNAP or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. According to a 2020 survey conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities adults with a disability were more than twice as likely to report difficulty paying for usual expenses (e.g., food, rent or medical bills) than adults without a disability. In addition, approximately 22% of SNAP recipients in Oregon are “non-elderly disabled” individuals.
The Prosperity 10,000 program will provide qualifying individuals with career coaching, occupational training and job placement services. Further, the program seeks to ensure that historically underserved populations, including people with disabilities, successfully complete the program. To facilitate this, priority populations can receive:
- Wraparound supports and services that help facilitate reengagement with the workforce, including, but not limited to transportation, childcare and rental assistance.
- Paid work experiences, including stipends, wages and other supports.
- Targeted recruitment and engagement efforts.
Grants to Local Workforce Development Boards – $10 Million for Benefits Navigators
The Future Ready Oregon initiative sets aside $10 million in grants to be awarded to local workforce development boards for the placement of workforce benefits navigators in WorkSource Oregon centers and community-based organizations. WorkSource Oregon is a free, one-stop career center for people with disabilities, veterans and people who are unemployed. Workforce benefits navigators will help priority populations, including people with disabilities, access workforce programs and apply for benefits and services that are available under these programs.
Workforce benefits navigators have already been placed at Oregon community colleges through House Bill 2835 (2021). Benefits navigators have helped students access SNAP food benefits, the SNAP employment and training program, housing assistance and other basic resources. According to Chemeketa Community College President Jessica Howard, workforce benefits navigators are a key strategy “to create an equitable recovery from the recent recession, particularly for Oregonians from rural, racially diverse, and economically challenged communities.”
Oregon Colleges and Universities – $10 Million to “Scale Up” Credit for Prior Learning
An additional $10 million in funds were allocated to scale up Credit for Prior Learning (CPL). CPL, as defined in Oregon House Bill 4059 (2012), refers to the “knowledge and skills gained through work and life experience…military training… and through formal and informal education and training from institutions of higher education.” The allocated funds are intended to scale up CPL by helping public institutions develop methods and refine processes for rewarding prior learning.
CPL can be an important steppingstone toward a college degree for individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that approximately 70% of people with no disability complete some college or earn an associate degree compared to 21% of people with a disability. Awarding credit for prior learning experiences can help close this gap by providing additional avenues through which students can fulfill their degree requirements.
Assessment and Accountability – $1.5 Million to Measure Impacts
To gauge the impacts of these investments, Senate Bill 1545 provides $1.5 million for assessment and accountability activities. This funding is intended to enhance the capacity of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to collect, integrate, analyze and report on key data. The Higher Education Coordinating Commission is tasked with reporting to the Oregon Workforce Talent Development Board, the legislature and the governor’s office on the state’s progress toward meeting key milestones and implementing plans for continuous improvement.
As state and local economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, policy makers can address employment barriers experienced by people with disabilities through instituting inclusive workforce development policies and programs. A recent CSG report developed in collaboration with the State Exchange on Employment & Disability titled Facilitating a Safe and Inclusive Return to the Workplace: COVID-19 Policies and Guidance provides policymakers with policy considerations on this topic. For further resources and information on building a stronger, more inclusive workforce, please reach out to the disability employment policy team at CSG.