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In Jefferson City, Blunt Pushes Workforce Development Programs

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Tim Bommell
Missouri House Communications
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told state lawmakers on Wednesday there needs to be a focus on workforce development programs.

Senator Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, was the first in his family to go to college.

Yet the good economic news in the state, and especially his hometown of Springfield, has him championing other routes than four-year degrees, such as certificate programs and associates degrees.

“When you get unemployment under four [percent] and growth near four [percent], something big is happening,” Blunt said. “The mayor of Springfield told me that in October that their unemployment rate was 1.9%. This is an economy where a lot of people are getting hired without the skills they need to get hired.”

The circumstance presents a “moment of opportunity” for lawmakers, Blunt told members of the Missouri House of Representatives on Wednesday. While he did the four-year college route, as did many of the lawmakers listening, he said there may have been too much focus on getting a four-year degree.

“One of the things I think we need to do a better job of, and you and I can work on this together, is creating a greater sense early for people of the kind of job they might like to have,” Blunt said. “If there has been a change in the last 20 years, it’s probably been the opportunity of jobs that don’t necessary need that college degree but need the skill set to get that job.”

Gov. Mike Parson, also a Republican, has made workforce development a priority in this legislative session, proposing grants for lower-income adults who are getting degrees that fill a skills gap. He also wanted to expand and rename the Missouri Works program, which helps businesses cover the cost of on-the-job training. The legislation to do so has stalled.

Blunt said he generally doesn’t give advice to his legislative colleagues in Jefferson City, adding there is plenty for him to focus on in Washington, D.C.

“But hopefully this is a moment that we will take advantage of in our state,” he said. “If you look at what’s happening in health care, in world food demand, in the geospatial community, you could make the case that those are all really good for us if we just make a few of the right decisions right now, and I’m sure that’s what the governor and the General Assembly are wrestling with right now.”

Missouri River flooding

Blunt urged Democrats in the U.S. Senate to stop delaying a disaster relief bill that includes funds for farmers in northwest Missouri. He accused them of using the measure to attempt to get additional dollars for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico that President Donald Trump has already said he opposes.

“‘There’s still billions of dollars available to Puerto Rico,” he said. “It’s time to stop playing politics, get the recent disasters where they also qualify for disaster aid and move on.”

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.