AFTER PROTRACTED struggle with the ad ministration, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee squeaked under the deadline for reporting new legislation last week to deliver a job-training bill replacing the expiring CETA program. The bill reduces CETA to a shadow of its former self, but--with the exception of last-minute concessions extracted by the administration--the remaining funds are reasonably well spent.
The final matter blocking agreement was whether program funds could be spent on cash payments to needy participants so that they could keep bread on the table while being trained for jobs. The administration's adamant opposition to such an obviously sensible provision calls into question its interest in having a job-training program at all.
The administration has long insisted that the new program provide no funds for public service employment--the "make-work" jobs that the administration routinely excoriates. Never mind that the many charitable and governmental organizations that employed CETA workers now miss them sorely; if money is scarce, a case can be made that it will go further if spent on training the unemployed for jobs that, presumably, already exist.
There is also good reason to stop CETA's wholesale payment of training allowances--sometimes more than the minimum wage. It makes no sense to pay a school-age youth to take a training course when the alternative is unpaid attendance in a school classroom. And paying adult workers more to take training than they are likely to earn in entry- level jobs can keep them recycling through programs when they could be out working. But the near-total prohibition on stipends that the administration demanded--and the committee finally accepted--flies in the face of all the many lessons that have been learned about how to give the hard-to- employ a toehold in the labor market.
Numerous careful studies of the many kinds of local programs funded through CETA show-- despite their generally short duration and almost uniformly bad press--that on average they improved the subsequent earnings of participants. The programs that worked best, however, provided relatively long- term training--something that many low-income people can't afford without help in covering living expenses. One good way to provide that help is by mixing unpaid training with paid work--a setup that has the further advantage of demonstrating the usefulness of classroom lessons.
Assuming that the bill is approved by the full Senate--and that the budget impasse is resolved in a way that finds room for any job-training programs at all--these defects could be ironed out in conference with the House, where a more expensive and better-designed bill was reported earlier. That, however, would require a more flexible--and reasonable --posture on the part of the administration than it has thus far been willing to assume.