New bill would enable a tax-free upskilling fund for workers

Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Chris Coons. D-Del., are preparing to introduce a bill that aims to address the sweeping workforce changes that have been brought about by recent technology by giving workers an easier means of paying for retraining programs.

The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act, announced Nov. 16 and scheduled for formal introduction after the Thanksgiving holiday, instructs the Department of Treasury to allow for the establishment of tax-preferred savings accounts for employees and their employers to save money for retraining and upskilling programs in emerging fields.

“Lifelong learning is quickly becoming a necessity for American workers. We need to make sure Americans are able to retrain and upskill throughout their career, so they can thrive in the modern economy,” said Warner in a news release.

“This will not happen on its own. It requires a serious investment to help workers pay for the education and training necessary to modernize their skills — by employees, by employers and by the government. The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act represents that serious investment.”

The fund is designed for low- to middle-income U.S. workers who are 25 to 60 years old, make under $82,000 and want to seek training from any federal- or state-recognized post-secondary credentialing program.

The digital, fast-changing nature of today’s economy has significant consequences for workers. More than ever before, individuals will need to acquire new skills over the course of their careers,” said Coons.

“The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act empowers workers, with help from government and employers, to take charge of their future by actively planning, saving for, and completing the training programs they need to thrive in this economy.”

To promote contribution to the fund, the bill would authorize the federal government to match employee and employer contributions to the fund up to $1,000.

So a worker who contributes $500 to the fund with an employer match of an additional $500 would ultimately receive $1,000 in government matching.

“Education and training shouldn’t stop after high school or college. We need to provide workers with new opportunities to add or update skills throughout their careers,“ said Alastair Fitzpayne, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative said.

“Creating a culture of lifelong learning is critical to building a skilled and resilient workforce. By incentivizing workers, businesses and government to co-invest in education and skills training, Lifelong Learning and Training Accounts will help workers continue to develop skills and better manage their economic future.”

The accounts would be managed by states and designed to encourage employees to regularly use the available balance for continuous training, rather than rack up large sums.

The Trump administration has recently pursued initiatives for upskilling and retraining the federal workforce to fill roles in IT and cybersecurity, but has not proposed establishing funds for such programs.

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