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Saturday Soapbox: Now is the time to invest in Washington’s economic recovery with local

Katie” has a history of homelessness and substance abuse. A single mother, she tried going to college to change her life, but her pattern of poor decisions got in the way.

Fortunately, Katie connected with a local nonprofit, got into treatment and temporary housing. She is now in recovery and has been placed in a permanent housing situation with her son. She is also back at Yakima Valley College making good grades and finally providing her son with stability.

The help Katie received was made possible by investments in the local workforce system — tax dollars at work empowering community-based organizations to aid economic recovery. This statewide collaboration of local workforce development councils, serves nearly 78,000 Washingtonians annually and helps 15,000 businesses fill vacant jobs.

Today, thousands of people are still out of work for various reasons — lack of affordable child care, fear of COVID exposure for themselves or their families, and many don’t know where or how to get the skills necessary to compete for living-wage jobs.

At the same time, businesses are struggling to fill 200,000 vacant jobs across the state, impeding economic recovery.

Now is the time for lawmakers in Olympia to invest in local workforce solutions. The South Central Workforce Council recommends a $50 million state Workforce Innovation Fund. Lawmakers should take advantage of infrastructure that exists — established funding, community partners, WorkSource centers and industry relationships — and build on it to maximize scale and impact.

There have been no designated workforce investments through the Federal CARES Act or the American Rescue Plan. Existing federal funds are not flexible, not nearly enough, and ill-equipped to meet current demands caused by the pandemic, which would leave behind 90% of those in need.

Our state can’t afford to leave people like Katie behind. By investing in these local solutions, legislators can put a down payment on equitable economic recovery for stronger communities.

Amy Martinez is the CEO of the South Central Workforce Council. She provides primary support to the South Central Workforce Council business-led board of directors and local elected officials regarding workforce, education and training issues in Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania and Yakima counties.

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