The US House voted this week to reauthorize a federal jobs act that would open up opportunities for a handful of individual states to consolidate and simplify the way safety-net programs are administered.

HR 6655, a Stronger Workforce for America Act, revises the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act for the first time since 2014. The bill would give four states leeway to explore a “One Door” safety-net reform strategy similar to Utah’s model enacted in the 1990s. Utah consolidated federal workforce development and social safety-net programs into a single state entity and fully integrated the welfare system into workforce development programs.

Under the current version of WIOA, states are barred from implementing such reforms. Utah was grandfathered in and is the only exception.

Advocates of One Door reforms argue that the current social safety net is challenging to navigate and keeps recipients stuck in generational dependency. Recipients choose to work less or shy away from marriage in order to avoid losing benefits, resulting in high rates of single-parent households.

Under HR 6655, the five-year innovation waiver is only available to states with populations of less than six million and a labor force participation rate below 60%. According to the Alliance for Opportunity, currently only nine states fit the bill: Louisiana, West Virginia, Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Maine, Kentucky, and New Mexico.

The bill contains another potential pathway toward a One Door model as well. Three years after enactment of the law, any state’s governor can consolidate workforce programs into one entity, but doing so would require the approval of half of the chairpersons of local workforce boards. Right now in North Carolina, there are 20 such boards scattered across the state.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina’s 5th congressional district is the primary sponsor of HR 6655.

“American workers built this great nation. They deserve nothing but the best opportunity to succeed as rapid changes in the modern economy necessitate new skills in order to keep pace … [this bill] is a promise that as the economy changes, we will always ensure that workers have an opportunity to gain the right skills for the job,” Foxx said during debate on the House floor.

US Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and US Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, have introduced bills in each chamber that would go even further than the WIOA reauthorization that passed the House this week. Their bills would free up all 50 states to explore One Door reforms.

The US Census Bureau reports that 129 million Americans lived in a house receiving one or more means-tested safety-net benefits in 2022. The federal government spends over $1 trillion on these programs each year.

North Carolina lawmakers could convene a study committee to examine the ways One Door reforms could be implemented in the Tar Heel State.

North Carolina has 300,000 open jobs while around 1.4 million individuals are on food stamps — known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — and around 2.5 million are on Medicaid.