Fast Facts

The Department of Labor has awarded grants to help states address the opioid crisis through training and employment services. State officials told us that job seekers who are in recovery may have additional challenges with finding employment, in part, due to employers’ concerns about potential criminal histories, relapse, and social stigma.

To help meet the training and employment needs of those in recovery and potential employers, state officials said they need

clearer expectations around their role in addressing the opioid crisis

more information on lessons learned and successful practices

Criminal Histories May Deter Potential Employers of Those in Recovery

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What GAO Found

Workforce officials GAO interviewed in four of the 10 states receiving targeted Department of Labor (DOL) grants as of March 2019 said they were using Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding to help meet the unique needs of those affected by substance use disorder (SUD). These officials, who said they had limited experience serving those affected by SUD, worked with required organizational partners and hired specialists to assist job seekers and to provide intensive job readiness services. However, these efforts are relatively new and outcomes are not yet known. Workforce officials GAO interviewed in two selected states without targeted grants said they had viewed SUD primarily as a public health issue, but had recently taken some steps to address it. For example, one state added a workforce subcommittee to an existing opioid task force.

State and local workforce officials in all six states identified a range of challenges they face in addressing the needs of SUD-affected job seekers. For example, criminal history or a lack of transportation may make it difficult for these job seekers to obtain and maintain employment. Officials said another challenge is finding employers who are willing to hire those in recovery. They stated that employers are concerned about the risks to their businesses, such as potential employee relapse and possible negative reaction from customers. Officials were seeking more information and assistance to help address such concerns.

Criminal Histories May Deter Potential Employers from Hiring Those in Recovery

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DOL officials said they support SUD-affected communities mainly by providing information to states that apply for and receive targeted grants. However, officials in two selected states expressed uncertainty about DOL's expectations of states in serving the needs of SUD-affected job seekers and potential employers. Officials in another state said they were unclear on whether they could use non-targeted funds to continue targeted grant activities. GAO's review of related DOL guidance found that it does not provide specific information on expectations of states or the use of WIOA funds outside of targeted grants to address this issue. Further, while DOL has disseminated some information on serving job seekers with SUD (such as in quarterly calls with grant recipients), it does not plan to share information that grantees submit to the agency, such as lessons learned and successes, with all states. Doing so could help states meet the training and employment needs of those in recovery, and the needs of potential employers.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017. DOL has awarded grants to help address this crisis.

GAO was asked to examine how WIOA-funded programs are addressing the employment and training needs of those affected by SUD. This report examines (1) how workforce agencies in selected states are using WIOA funding to address employment and training needs, (2) challenges agencies face in addressing employment and training needs, and (3) how DOL is supporting communities affected by SUD. GAO interviewed officials in four of the 10 states that received DOL grants in the early award rounds (as of March 2019)—Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Washington—and two that did not—Alabama and Arizona; reviewed related documentation and relevant federal laws and regulations; and interviewed DOL officials and researchers, selected for their knowledge about these issues.

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GAO recommends that DOL clarify (1) its expectations of state workforce agencies and (2) how WIOA funding can be used in addressing the needs of those affected by SUD and potential employers, and share information with all states on lessons learned and promising practices. DOL agreed with our recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Labor The Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training should clarify DOL's expectations of the role of state workforce agencies in addressing the employment and training needs of those affected by SUD and how non-targeted WIOA funding can be used to assist job seekers and employers. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
DOL agreed with this recommendation and, in July 2021, DOL's Employment and Training Administration issued a Training and Employment Notice with the purpose of providing information to states and local areas regarding the role of the public workforce system in addressing the economic and workforce impacts associated with the high rate of opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. The Notice addressed three main strategies for the workforce system, including examples from recipients of targeted grants and activities that are allowable under WIOA.
Department of Labor The Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training should share information from targeted grantees with all state workforce agencies, tribal governments, and outlying areas regarding lessons learned and promising practices in addressing the needs of job seekers affected by SUD and potential employers. (Recommendation 2)
DOL agreed with this recommendation, and ETA officials stated that they plan to share the evaluation of the Phase 1 grants widely when it is available in fall 2021, including any resources or tools developed by Phase 1 grantees. In the meantime, ETA officials have created resources that are available to all states based on its experience administering some of the targeted grants. For example, ETA has published a related literature review and companion resource guide. ETA officials also reported hosting a webinar on promising practices for local workforce boards; staging in-person and virtual presentations regarding the role of American Job Centers is addressing SUD; and sharing examples of practices, partnerships, and resources in a Training and Employment Notice.

Full Report

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