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DelBene bill would expand apprenticeship opportunities

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 7, 2024) — U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1st) introduced legislation Friday to boost participation in apprenticeship programs by creating exemptions for apprenticeship income from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) eligibility criteria.

Registered apprenticeships are a proven path to good-paying jobs and financial stability. However, many apprenticeship programs involve classroom training periods where apprentices do not receive wages, posing significant financial strain, especially during the first year. This makes it difficult for some to stay in the training program.

The Apprenticeship Opportunity Act would require states receiving TANF block grants to disregard income earned during the first year of an apprenticeship when determining eligibility for cash assistance. This will allow people to continue supporting their families and receive TANF while engaged in apprenticeship training. Failure to comply will result in a 1% reduction in the grant payable to the state for the following fiscal year.

“The Apprenticeship Opportunity Act would level the playing field and offer workers a fair opportunity to pursue valuable skills training without sacrificing the critical support needed to help pay rent or keep food on the table,” DelBene said. “By exempting apprenticeship income from TANF eligibility criteria, we’re not only empowering workers but also strengthening our workforce and fostering economic growth in our communities.”

“Union apprenticeship programs are robust, time-tested, and family-supporting avenues to the middle class for workers of all backgrounds – or at least they should be. Unfortunately, many federal government policies actively hinder apprentices, especially those in their first year, from securing this promise,” said April Sims, President, Washington State Labor Council. “While we as a labor movement ensure that apprentices earn wages while they learn – thus reducing or often eliminating the need for student loans – it is this very notion that acts as a barrier to workers transitioning into a new trade when they temporarily need access to the social safety net to bridge the gap between their old job to this new, life-changing opportunity. We applaud Congresswoman DelBene’s introduction of the Apprenticeship Opportunity Act to remove these harmful obstacles, which will open the door to thousands more of our siblings who want to earn a better life.”

“Our construction apprenticeship programs are making great gains in diversifying apprentice populations and our future workforce, and Congresswoman DelBene’s bill will remove a huge barrier to recruitment and retention. This policy change will allow those receiving public assistance the opportunity to choose an apprenticeship pathway without being penalized and will expedite their attainment of a self-sustaining career,” said Mark Riker, Executive Secretary, Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council.

“Congresswoman DelBene’s bill represents a crucial step forward in supporting apprenticeship expansion, particularly in high-skilled sectors like aerospace engineering. By disregarding income earned during the first year of apprenticeships, this legislation incentivizes participation and removes financial barriers for aspiring aerospace engineers. It’s a win-win for workers and industry alike, paving the way for innovative training programs and bolstering U.S. competitiveness in the global aerospace market,” said Brandon Anderson, Legislative Director, Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001.

The Apprenticeship Opportunity Act is cosponsored by Reps. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) and Terri Sewell (D-AL).

The full text of the legislation can be found here.

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