ICYMI: Rep. Bobby Scott pushes bill that would include workforce training in federal education grants

Daily Press, Kelsey Kendall

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott said he has high hopes a bill that could expand the Pell Grant to cover short-term workforce training programs will receive bipartisan support and become a reality.

Scott unveiled The Job to Compete Act on Friday, which aims to make it easier to access post-secondary programs that don’t lead to a college degree.

“If all it leads to is a good job, you can’t use the Pell Grant,” said Scott, the ranking Democratic member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. “I think people generally agree that that’s not right.”

The federal Pell Grant is typically available for students pursing undergraduate degrees and display great financial need. Awards can be used to cover expenses including tuition, fees and room and board.

The Workforce Pell Grant would be for students enrolled in an eligible program, have not received a graduate degree and also meet the eligibility criteria for the Pell Grant. Scott said the goal is to provide opportunities to those who might struggle to afford these programs to get certificates. In families where it can be difficult to come up with a few hundred dollars in an emergency, accessing training programs that could cost a few thousand could be out of reach.

The goal is to contribute to the local workforce in manufacturing, healthcare and more. Scott said it is getting more common to need certificates beyond a high school diploma.

Scott said increasing access to program by helping overcome those financial roadblocks would not only help those individuals find good paying jobs, it would also help local businesses find skilled workers. There is some local funding for this endeavor, but Scott said investment in this area has “gone down significantly over the years.”

The biggest hurdle Scott sees for the legislation moving forward is figuring out how to ensure the Workforce Pell Grant would only be used for quality programs and not “storefronts” that “deal out worthless certificates.”

Scott worked with representatives last year to get a similar bill passed, but it failed to pass in both chambers. This year, Scott said he feels confident in the bipartisan support the Jobs to Compete Act will get in order to support a skilled workforce.