Louisiana is facing a workforce crisis. We have millions relying on safety net programs while employers struggle to fill open positions. The current maze of programs, while well-intentioned, isn’t delivering the results we need. Bold actions are needed to address the complex issues facing our citizens, and Governor Jeff Landry’s recent Executive Order creating the Louisiana Workforce and Social Services Reform Task Force is a crucial step forward. Coupled with the bipartisan federal bills currently in Congress, this initiative has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach workforce development and social safety nets in our state.

Our current system of safety net and workforce programs has failed to deliver adequate support to those who need them. As evidenced by the staggering statistics of 110,000 open jobs each month, persistently high reliance on food stamps (20%) and Medicaid (44%), and a sluggish workforce participation rate under 59%, it’s clear that the status quo is not working.

Recent audits have shown a significant lack of coordination between the agencies, programs, and case workers that have created a fragmented system that has failed participants. Individuals receiving services must navigate this maze on their own, filling out multiple applications, travelling to multiple locations, submitting similar information, and understanding all services available to them.

However, amid these challenges, there is a proven model for success. Utah’s integrated approach to services demonstrates how coordination can lead to better delivery of benefits and effective employment efforts. In the aftermath of the COVID shutdowns, Utah was able to directly connect unemployment insurance beneficiaries with reemployment training and services, thereby able to bounce back more quickly than most other states.

The need for reform is clear. However, federal laws, such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), currently impose restrictions that hinder states’ ability to integrate services effectively. However, as demonstrated by Utah’s unique status under WIOA, there is precedent for flexibility when federal lawmakers see fit.

Three states have recognized the need for such flexibility and integration on a broader scale. Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia have joined their efforts together, led by the Alliance for Opportunity to help introduce bipartisan federal legislation. Bills, such as H.R. 6655 and the One Door to Work Act (H.R. 6274 and S. 3825), authored by Senator Mitt Romney and Representative Burgess Owens, aim to remove the barriers that prevent states from adopting similar models. These bills offer a path forward to empower states to integrate safety net and workforce systems, ultimately moving more citizens out of poverty and into meaningful employment and self-sufficiency. However, there is no need to wait for Congress. There are still actions the task force can take to maximize opportunities to improve coordination, efficiency, and outcomes under current law. At the same time, taking steps toward full integration in the event federal barriers are removed.

A coalition letter signed by 41 groups underscores the widespread support for these legislative efforts. Leaders from diverse backgrounds and organizations recognize the urgent need for reform and the potential benefits of a unified approach to workforce development and social services. Their collective voice sends a powerful message to Congress: it’s time to act.

Governor Landry’s Executive Order aligns with this momentum and demonstrates leadership in addressing the state’s workforce challenges by establishing this task force to design and implement a as much program coordination as possible under current law. While at the same time preparing to fully integrate all social safety net and workforce services in the event Congress acts.

The Task Force, composed of 17 members representing various state agencies, legislative bodies, and stakeholder groups, has been charged with the researching, data-collection, analysis, and development of recommendations for the integration of workforce, social services, education, childcare, and healthcare programs. This mandate reflects a commitment to evidence-based decision-making and thoughtful policy reform. This comprehensive approach acknowledges the interconnected nature of these services and the need for a unified vision to address the needs of Louisiana’s citizens effectively.

As we navigate the challenges ahead, it’s imperative that we remain committed to the principles of innovation, flexibility, and collaboration. By supporting Governor Landry’s Executive Order, advocating for federal legislative reform, and recognizing the efforts of the coalition groups, we can build a workforce system that empowers all Louisianans to self-sufficiency. The task ahead of us won’t be easy, but with determination and vision, we can create a future where every Louisiana citizen has the opportunity to flourish.