Over the past three years, with the benefits of right-sized regulatory reforms, the tax cuts, and restructuring of our tax system in the 2017, jobs were being created and our economy was heavily in need of well-trained motivated workers. Record low unemployment in Arkansas resulted in the need for new strategies to enhance our workforce.
In 2015, I founded the Congressional Skilled American Workforce Caucus, for which I serve as Co-Chair. In my work with this Caucus, I have found that we need to encourage students to stay in school and graduate. I support skills-training initiatives that benefit high school students and high school graduates, who don't believe that a four-year college degree is right for them straight out of high school. Those students need to get more skills and the opportunity for training in order to fill the job openings in Arkansas.
We also need those mid-career men and women who feel stuck in their current opportunity to have the opportunity to learn new skills and successfully shift their career goals. For example, I met a former homebuilder who wanted a career restart following the 2008 recession. He is now a radiation technologist with a major healthcare system, and his two paid apprenticeships and additional training allowed him to make that change while earning important income for his family.
I support public assistance policies that encourage work during the transition from dependence to independence because it provides an income and it facilitates dignity through work. Solid work requirements for all able-bodied people on welfare will lift people out of poverty. This is been proven time and time again.
For those transitioning out of incarceration, it's not enough just to give them a change of clothes, a bus ticket, and some cash. Ex-offenders need transitional housing and skills development as well as support for any addiction-related challenges that they face. The President has lead in this area by signing the First Step Act into law. This important criminal justice reform law creates a process for every federal parolee to get the job skills and set transitional plans before they shift back to society.
Arkansas has had many leaders in this important work before I ran for Congress in 2014. I was inspired by the leadership of then-President Fitz Hill at the historically black college in central Arkansas, Arkansas Baptist College. Dr. Hill showed me the tremendous work he was doing to help those parolees plan for a better life. I continue to engage and support policies in Congress that enhance the ability of HBCUs to support training and education programs. In each Congress I've introduced the Shift Back to Society Act, which encourages the Justice Department to support our HBCUs to help provide transitional education for those returning to the community from incarceration, and, for the past four years, this provision has been included in the annual funding bills.