Employers play key role in moving low-income residents to family-wage jobs

Investing in employees is crucial for businesses. Providing people with training and services that enable them to become self-sufficient pays dividends and meets a critical need in filling the open positions of our local businesses. Making the connection between people and companies is one of the ways Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW) supports our region.

A resource we rely on is Economic Security for All (EcSA). EcSA is an Employment Security Department (ESD) initiative that enables local workforce boards like WSW to flexibly apply grants to help people get training to move into the workplace while also helping them meet their basic needs for food, housing and transportation. When we support people in these ways, we see thriving families and individuals moving to financial self-sufficiency and growing businesses that can expand and promote their current workers.

EcSA is critical and has been a tremendous success. Because employer engagement is integral, the Legislature granted the state’s Local Workforce Boards nearly $10.3 million to increase business outreach The success of EcSA speaks for itself. In the first year:

  • More than 1,285 low-income Washington families were served, many of whom were people of color and people from traditionally underserved communities.
  • 424 families with annual incomes of less than $10,000 reached self-sufficiency, increasing their median annual income to $44,762.

Despite its success, EcSA lacks formal legislation, leading to uncertainty for our community. House Bill 2230 aims to rectify this, ensuring the program’s continuity and effectiveness.

Tracy Doriot, owner of Doriot Construction in Vancouver and a WSW board member, joined me and other leaders, business owners and clients in Olympia on Jan. 24 to testify before the House Human Services Committee about how House Bill 2230 and EcSA benefit his business and its employees.

He told the committee, “This program is perhaps the most important linkage between private industry and those that need jobs.” He added that coordination between groups like WSW and those who need to upskill to get jobs that provide living wages and better lives is one of the best things we can do to markedly change lives in our community.

We agree. All of us recognize that poverty is a barrier to success. EcSA provides resources for individuals and families from historically underserved communities to move out of poverty and achieve self-sufficiency.

When the bill passed the House on Feb. 13, the prime sponsor echoed this in a news release: “…These grants are designed to help families with low incomes become more self-sufficient and focus especially on supporting people of color and rural residents. …Establishing the Economic Security for All grant program to promote financial stability helps our neighbors climb out of poverty and is smart stewardship of taxpayer dollars.” Unfortunately, lack of funding is hindering access. Last year roughly 3,000 individuals across the state were placed on a waitlist or could not be served due to lack of available funds. To close that gap, we are asking lawmakers to approve additional funding this year. This investment would meet the full funding we requested in 2023 to help us serve more people and connect more employers with skilled workers.

Together, the bill and funding will continue to build a thriving economic ecosystem that supports strong families, businesses and communities. We hope our community will join us in supporting this work and the EcSA program that is so critical to the success of our residents and businesses.

Miriam Halliday is the chief executive officer of Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), a nonprofit and the Local Workforce Development Board for Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum counties. The workforce system that WSW leads equips youth and adults for employment and self-sufficiency and connects local businesses to a highly-skilled workforce.

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