Johnson, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Expand Pell Eligibility for Training Programs

WASHINGTON – Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta aims to help close the skills gap to address a shortage in workers.

Johnson, R-6th, joined U.S. Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Michael Turner and Mikie Sherrill to introduce the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students – or Jobs – Act. This legislation would expand eligibility for federal Pell Grant programs to individuals interested in pursuing short-term, high-quality education and training programs.

The legislation, if approved, would “support individuals who are eager and ready to better their lives and enter America’s growing workforce,” Johnson said in a news release announcing the bill.

“We have a serious workforce problem in America. But the road to entering our workforce with a meaningful career doesn’t always have to start with obtaining a traditional four-year degree at a university – a path that often burdens students with thousands of dollars in student loans,” Johnson said. “There are enough open jobs nationwide to employ every American seeking work, but not every applicant has the necessary skills to fill in-demand jobs.” 

Rochester, D-Delaware, is the founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Future of Work Caucus. She says one of her top priorities is making sure young people are prepared to do the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow, which begins by ensuring that they have access to high-quality education and job training programs.

“Right now, we have more job openings than folks looking for work,” Rochester said. “By expanding Pell Grant eligibility, the Jobs Act expands opportunities for students, especially low-income individuals, to gain valuable, transferable skills to help them secure good-paying jobs and will help us address the workforce shortage impacting industries across the country.”

The Jobs Act would amend the Higher Education Act by extending Pell Grant eligibility to qualified programs that are between 150 and 600 clock hours and at least eight weeks in length, according to the release. The bill amends the Higher Education Act by adding two additional categories that would qualify for Pell Grants: “eligible career pathway program” and “eligible job training program.” Both categories include specific criteria that must be met by a program to qualify. 

This includes certifying that the training provided by the program is aligned with the requirements of high-skill, high-wage or in-demand industries in the state or local area and that upon completion of the program, the student will have a postsecondary credential recognized by local industry.

“As America builds its next generation economy, Ohio is a top destination for investment because of our existing and future workforce,” Turner, R-10th, Ohio, said. The state’s postsecondary institutions already offer programs that provide a path to a good career, and the Jobs Act expands Pell Grant eligibility to certificate and apprenticeship programs, “which will help connect students who have financial needs to the opportunities available in Ohio’s – and America’s – near future,” he said.

“Our bill to expand Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality skills and job training programs will help more New Jerseyans obtain fulfilling careers and support employers in their efforts to find skilled talent,” Sherrill, D-11th, N.J., said. “It is critical that we work across the aisle and find bipartisan solutions, like the Jobs Act, to meet the demands of a 21st-century economy.”

The bill is endorsed by the National Skills Coalition, American Association of Community Colleges, Jobs for the Future, IBM, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Association of Community College Trustees, Cengage, Higher Learning Advocates, Advance CTE and the Association for Career and Technical Education.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.