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DelBene and Sewell Introduce Legislation Establishing Worker Access to Lifelong Learning and Training

Today, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL) introduced the Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act. This bill would create a tax-preferred savings account with a generous government match to assist low and moderate-income workers seeking to retrain or upskill over the course of their careers. This legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). 

Studies show that in the years ahead, more workers will be forced to learn new skills throughout their careers. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2020, more than one-third of the core skill sets of most jobs will be skills that are not considered crucial to today’s workforce. The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act would give workers a portable, government-matched savings vehicle for lifelong learning so they can continue to work and provide for their families.

“As our economy continues to change, workers must have access to the opportunities of tomorrow,” said Rep. DelBene. “Right now, many hardworking Americans don’t have the skillsets to transition into a new job. This legislation will give those folks the tools to retrain and learn new skills so they can keep up with advances in technology and earn a good-paying job. Investing in these workers and helping them further their education will yield benefits that help middle-class families thrive.”

“If we want to grow our economy and create better jobs for American families, we have to invest in our nation’s number one asset – our workforce,” said Rep. Terri Sewell. “That means providing our workers with opportunities to learn new skills and transition into competitive jobs in a changing economy. The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act gives working families the tools they need to save for retraining and continuing education over the course of their careers. For workers in Alabama’s 7th District and across the country, today’s bill represents a step forward in our fight for better jobs, better pay, and a better future for our families.”

“By 2030, up to one-third of American workers will need to retrain or change jobs to keep up with disruptions due to automation and a changing economy. That means lifelong learning will be the new normal for millions of Americans,” said Senator Mark R. Warner. “The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act represents the first major investment towards helping workers pay for the education and training necessary to modernize their skills, and I’m pleased that this important legislation is moving forward in the House of Representatives.” 

The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act creates employee-owned Lifelong Learning and Training Account (LLTA) savings plans. Contributions to an LLTA by low-to-moderate income workers or their employers are eligible for a dollar-for-dollar federal match of up to $1,000. The federal matching funds are directly deposited into the LLTA immediately after the contribution by the worker or employer. The worker then gets to choose how to use the LLTA funds, which can be applied towards any training that leads to a recognized post-secondary credential. 

For workers that need to contribute to the cost of updating their job skills, this significant federal investment can make a huge difference in whether or not these workers seek additional training. If employers are willing to match employees’ savings, the returns can be even greater—a $500 contribution by a worker would create $2,000 in training opportunities (a $500 match by the employer, and then a $1,000 match from the federal government.) The accounts are portable from job to job, and always under the workers’ control.

Contributions by workers and employers are after-tax dollars, but face no additional taxes on earnings if the LLTA funds are used for qualified training expenses. Eligibility is for workers age 25 to 60, with incomes of up to $82,000 per worker. States will manage the accounts. Accounts are designed to encourage the worker to use the funds to regularly update their skills, rather than build up large balances over many years. Restrictions are put in place to ensure that the government’s matching dollars go only to qualified training expenses.

The full text of the bill can be read here. 

DelBene serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and is Vice-Chair of the New Democrat Coalition. She represents Washington’s first congressional district.