By Lindsay Blumer
WRTP | BIG STEP President & CEO
Last week I had the honor and privilege of speaking at the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Workforce Summit at the White House, hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris, Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, and White House ARP Coordinator and Special Assistant to President Biden Gene Sperling. Amidst the governors, mayors, commissioners, and workforce development professionals who spoke passionately about how ARP funds supported folks and communities during our most vulnerable pandemic moments, I was struck by a recurring theme throughout the Summit: stewardship.
All of us who spoke on the White House stage that day told stories, imparted lessons learned, and shared best practices, but the unspoken words were clear: We know the heaviness of being stewards of public, tax-payer money and we take on that responsibility and that heaviness because we know it comes with the ability to literally save lives.
ARP funds have been maligned for months—blamed for inflation and ridiculed for being wasted on administrative inefficiencies. While I can only speak for the funds WRTP | BIG STEP has received, I anecdotally know what our lives are like as entities that are ARP funds recipients.
We spend inordinate amounts of time not allocated or charged to ARP funds discussing best practices, testing outcomes, gathering data, speaking with participants, engaging in continuous improvement, and ensuring the training, education, and supportive and placement services our participants receive are of the highest quality. We work with partners on our own time, not touching federal resources, to make sure our trainings our mission-aligned, our work is rooted in equity and inclusion, and we are incorporating trauma-informed practices. We send messages in the early hours and late evenings to check on our participants, students, and co-workers who brave long days.
I was genuine in my words at the White House—ARP funds do not disappear into administrative coffers. We take very seriously the trust that is put into our organization to support folks to and through apprenticeship. We feel the weight of accountability because it is imperative for us to do so when there are people who want and need to work and employers who want and need workers to keep our economy running. Then—and only then—do we activate ARP funds to directly, very directly, assist, support, train, and place folks who would not otherwise have access to these important career steps.
We cannot do this work alone. With the support of our union partners, high-road employers, and a network of community-based organizations, we are able to offer distinct and innovative pathways to family-sustaining waged careers: careers with integrity. We do this in partnership with you, the state, and our nation because doing the hard work—and being accountable for it—is the right thing to do.
As always, at WRTP | BIG STEP we are honored to do the work that drives our community and our nation, which is the work that ARP funds support, and we won’t stop until there is access and integrity in that work for all of us.