Gov. Evers invests $130M in federal funding to address workforce challenges

NOW: Gov. Evers invests $130M in federal funding to address workforce challenges

GREEN BAY Wis. (CBS 58) -- Gov. Tony Evers announced he will invest $130 million in federal funds into grant programs aimed at addressing workforce challenges facing the state that has worsened since the pandemic.

Gov. Evers $130 million plan includes three new programs, Workforce Innovation, Worker Advancement, and Worker Connection all aimed to improve Wisconsin's workforce. Evers' announcement comes as Republican lawmakers and the state's chamber of commerce have urged him address what they call a workforce crisis in Wisconsin.

  • $100 million Workforce Innovation grant program to encourage regions and communities to develop leading-edge, long-term solutions to the workforce challenges the state faces in the wake of COVID-19;
  • $20 million toward the Worker Advancement Initiative, which will offer subsidized employment and skills training opportunities with local employers to unemployed individuals; and
  • $10 million for a Worker Connection Program which will provide workforce career coaches who will connect with individuals attempting to reengage in the workforce post-pandemic

“These programs will allow us to invest in regional solutions, help businesses find workers, and provide support to our friends and neighbors who are getting back on their feet," said Evers.

Under the workforce innovation grants, three state agencies Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and Department of Administration will work together to administer $10 million in grants to 10 projects across the state.

In order to apply for the grants, local and regional collaborations will submit a proposal that "represent innovative thinking, data-driven planning and leverage existing infrastructures to connect the dots for post-pandemic workforce solutions," according to the governor's press release.

Missy Hughes, Secretary and CEO of the WEDC, said the new grants will give communities and industries the flexibility to respond to their specific workforce challenges and find solutions.

“A region could address childcare or transit issues—whatever they know as their top priority to respond to the continuing workforce impacts of COVID-19,” Hughes said.

Beyond using the money for immediate workforce needs, Hughes said it can be spent on areas that suffered from the pandemic, such as childcare, transit, worker attraction and retention, or housing.

Under the worker advancement initiative, subsidized employment opportunities will be offer with local businesses who have yet to reach hiring levels they once had pre-pandemic. It also focuses on employers who were struggling to find workers prior to COVID-19.

The governor also introduced a worker connection program that will help the unemployed work with career advisors to find a job. It will also offer training centered around jobs in demand what employers require for the position.

All of the grants will be funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act. 

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), who have asked to meet with the governor to discuss workforce solutions, oppose his approach calling it a "disjointed plan" that fails to ensure the state attracts and retains workers. 

"(Evers) disjointed plan looks like it spends a whole lot of money without doing a lot," said Nick Novak, spokesman for WMC. "What we really needs is a statewide effort that will bring people here to Wisconsin to retain and train folks we already have here."

The governor's workforce plan also comes two weeks after he vetoed a Republican bill that sought to eliminate a weekly federal unemployment bonus of $300 on top of what recipients already receive. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) was highly critical of the Evers plans to help the workforce and deciding to veto the bill. 

"Now two weeks after vetoing our bill, Governor Evers predictably chose a path that spends more money, takes more time, and grows government," said Vos. "The governor has a personal piggy bank of federal COVID stimulus dollars and thinks by spending $130 million on even more government programs that will be enough incentive to get people to come back to work."

Republican lawmakers and WMC believe taking away the additional funds is one way to encourage more people to go back to work, but Evers opposed the measure arguing there's not enough data to prove the enhanced benefits are causing a worker shortage.

Evers also included $9.7 million in his budget proposal to create 48 full time position for a worker pilot program through DWD to help those seeking jobs overcome barriers to employment. However, the proposal was stripped out of the budget by Republicans on the budget committee. 

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