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Obama and Biden announce 500 million in economic opportunity job training grants

President Barack Obama with the help of Vice President Joe Biden announced the latest effort in his economy opportunity program a competition for $500 million in grants for job training programs on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at Community College of Allegheny County in Oakdale, Pennsylvania. At the event Obama delivered remarks where he also announced according to the White House a "$100 million competition for American Apprenticeship Grants"

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announce two grants for jobs training programs and apprenticeships at Community College of Allegheny County in Oakdale, Pennsylvania, April, 16, 2014
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

At the announcement event Vice President Biden introduced President Obama who delivered remarks that included the standard elements he repeats when speaking about any aspect or initiative that is part of his economic opportunity program. The jobs training program is part of President Obama's four part economic opportunity program that aims at giving all American an equal chance to reach the middle-class regardless of socio-economic background. The program consists of creating good paying jobs, technical job training programs, education initiatives from Pre-K to college, and fair wages including equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage.

President Obama expressed the reason why he chose to make the announcement from Community College of Allegheny County, saying; "CCAC is an outstanding model of the kind of job-driven training we're trying to encourage all across the country. You're doing something right that is making a difference in people's lives - and we want to spread the word."

The president has been touting technical job training programs and two-year community college degrees as alternatives to the traditional four-year college degree. Obama reiterated this point again in his remarks; "When it comes to training our workers not all of today's good jobs require a four-year college degree. But I promise you, there's not a job out there that's going to pay a lot if you don't have some sort of specialized training. So our best bet is keeping ahead in the skills race." The program is closely linked to the president's Youth CareerConnect grants program for high school education that aims to redesign the high school curriculum and links education to actual career skills to either prepare students directly for careers or for college programs.

President Obama first announced his job training initiative in his 2014 State Union Address. The president put Vice President Biden in charge of the program, which is according to the president an "across-the-board reform of all of our federal training programs to make sure they've got one clear mission: Train Americans with the skills employers need." According to the fact Sheet released by the White House entitled "American Job Training Investments: Skills and Jobs to Build a Stronger Middle Class" the initiative will "help individuals get trained with skills businesses need now and then placed in good, middle class jobs."

Further describing how to they are going to achieve and institute the initiative Obama stated; "We are supporting partnerships between employers and local governments and nonprofits to help unemployed workers who've been sidelined for too long, help them get the skills that they need, help to connect them to the jobs that require those skills. We're working with a bipartisan coalition of governors and mayors across the country to make job training partnerships a reality for more Americans."

President Obama explained the point of the grant program and competition, stating; "We've asked more community colleges to do what you've done here at Allegheny, and that is to figure out what skills local employers are looking for, and then partner with them to help design the curriculums and to prepare the students for those jobs. We want a seamless progression from community college programs to industry-recognized credentials and credit towards a college degree." Then the president announced the job training grant funding, declaring; "And today I'm announcing that we're going to award nearly $500 million to those institutions who are doing it best in all 50 states -- using existing money to create opportunity for hardworking folks like you." American Association of Community Colleges (AAOC) revealed that the funding was approved by Congress in 2009, and this is according to ABC News "the fourth installment of $2 billion."

Secondly, President Obama announced an additional $100 million for another grant competition, American Apprenticeship Grants. Obama explained that "these are awards that are going to expand the kinds of apprenticeships that help young people and experienced workers get on a path towards advancement, towards better jobs, better pay, a trajectory upwards in their careers."
Apprenticeship Grants according to the White House will expand apprenticeships and give American workers the experience they need for many jobs, most graduates go on to earn a $50,000 starting salary.

The job training and apprenticeship grants are part of President Obama's pledge to make 2014 a year of economic action, to push through legislation by executive actions and decisions when Congress refuses to act. As he does in almost every speech President Obama attacked the Republican controlled House of Representatives for not passing legislation he wants. He has stepped up his attacks during this midterm election year. Obama in his not so subtle attack on the GOP, said; "America has got a choice to make. We can do nothing -- which is the strategy that some folks in Washington seem to have."

The House GOP however, has already passed a job training bill in March 2013 to revise the existing programs (HR 803) sponsored by Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act. The bill "streamlines" job training programs. The bill would provide job training to 3.7 million Americans unemployed for longer than 27 weeks. According to Roll Call the bill "would consolidate about 35 of 47 federal job training programs." Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-OH spokesman Brendan Buck commented on the president's initiative stating the GOP's bill would be "more effective in helping out-of-work Americans get the training they need and the good-paying jobs they want."

The bill passed in 2013 in the House, but the Senate has since let it languish while they work on the own bill. The Senate's own bi-partisan job training program bill is a "reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220)." President Obama praised Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA and House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-MN for their work authoring the Senate jobs training bill. The House's Skills Act however, has gotten a new lifeline as it is being considered by the House GOP as a provision to pass the long-term jobless unemployment benefits extension bill passed earlier this month by the Senate.

President Obama concluded his remarks, stating the bottom line for the job training initiatives and his economic opportunity program is that he "want[s] that for every American. Everybody who works hard and takes responsibility deserves a chance to get ahead. That is what this country is built on. That's what the moment requires. That's what Congress should be working on. That's what Joe is working on. That's what I'm working on. That's what you're working on. And if we keep on working, we're going to move forward."

Obama and Democrats have chosen economic opportunity as their key issue in the midterm election campaign. The Democrats are on the edge where they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. They already realize regaining control of the House of Representatives is virtually impossible at this point. Presidents often see their parties lose seats in the second midterm elections of their terms, and Obama and Democrats are trying to curb that precedent. However, the economic opportunity program has not energized the base and voters as much as the Democrats had hoped. President Obama will no doubtably continue his campaign rhetoric as the year progresses, boasting of his administration's accomplishments, focusing on economic issues important to the Democratic base and included in the Obama budget and attack, attack and mock the Republicans hoping it will be enough to keep the Senate come November.

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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.