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EDITORIAL: Pell Grants for workforce training

EDITORIAL: Pell Grants for workforce training

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PHOTO: Germanna

VIRGINIA Sen. Tim Kaine has a better idea for Pell Grants. Actually, he had it two years ago, but it seems like an even smarter move now.

The federal grants, which do not need to be repaid under most circumstances, have long been a godsend for college students who display extreme financial need and are pursuing a bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree.

Kaine would like to open up the grants to people who need help in the kind of training that doesn’t lead to a degree. He and Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman have reintroduced a bill that was first floated in 2019. The JOBS (Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students) Act would make training programs and other short-term credential programs eligible for Pell Grants.

As they are now defined, the Pell Grants only apply to programs more than 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length, which disqualifies many students who are taking job-training programs.

According to Kaine’s office, the Virginia Community College System has identified some 50 programs that would benefit from the act in fields such as manufacturing, energy, health care and information technology.

While continuing unemployment claims have fallen from a high of almost 25 million last May to about 4.4 million, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt. The jobless rate is still as high as it’s been since 2014, when we were recovering from the Great Recession.

The hospitality industry has been especially hard-hit. There are a lot of openings out there that require something other than a college degree, and the bill Kaine and Portman authored will make that option possible for many.

Virginia is already working in that direction. Re-Employing Virginians received $30 million in funding from the federal CARES Act, and almost 38,000 Virginians had inquired about the program as of Feb. 23.

Many of these courses are offered through the state’s community college network, including our own Germanna Community College on its myriad campuses. In addition, the Virginia Ready Initiative, a nonprofit, has started programs to match employers with job-seekers, working with the community college system’s credentialed courses.

It’s a hopeful sign that Kaine’s bill is co-sponsored by 22 Republicans, 27 Democrats and both independents, in addition to Kaine and Portman. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner is one of the co-sponsors. That’s more than twice the co-sponsors the bill received when it was introduced in 2019, before COVID-19 made unemployment a more important issue.

There are jobs out there going unfilled. There are workers who need a new direction. Institutions like Germanna have the courses that are needed. The JOBS Act, by redefining Pell Grants, will go a long way toward filling those jobs and giving Virginians and others a path to the future.

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