Renewable learning funds

The Problem

Most public training and employment programs focus on getting unemployed workers into entry-level jobs. However, for the tens of millions of Americans working full time yet living in poverty, their income can make them ineligible for training and education scholarships or other forms of tuition assistance funded by federal programs like those named below. This creates a funding gap for adult low-wage workers looking to upskill to enter higher paying, higher quality jobs.

Federal programs that full-time workers living in poverty may be ineligible for are Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Title I programs (WIOA), Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program employment and training (SNAP E&T).

Why This Matters

In the same way that local governments administer small business revolving loan funds, workforce and economic development agencies can create renewable learning funds to finance the path to quality jobs for low-wage workers in their communities. Such funds can bridge gaps in public sector funding to ensure that workers have access to the support they need for education and training regardless of their eligibility for government social service programs.

The Solution

In response to funding shortages and limitations on helping incumbent workers through existing government workforce programs, a handful of workforce regions and national workforce organizations are building “renewable learning funds” to finance upskilling programs. These programs have income-based loans or similar products that pay for training and wrap around services up-front at no-cost to the worker. The worker only repays the fund if they complete the program and make well above a specific amount, typically well-above the living wage.

These government and philanthropic-funded training funds are part of larger efforts to reform worker education finance, working toward more accessible, affordable, and accountable options for trainees in the face of crushing student debt obligations. This job quality intervention provides a step-by-step guide for workforce and economic development agencies interested in establishing a renewable learning fund to help low-wage workers with few affordable financing options access high-quality upskilling programs.