Just as the federal Secretary of Labor prepared to calculate how deep cuts to New York's Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds would go–a measure called for in a federal spending bill passed in July–the House of Representatives approved a package last week virtually replenishing the slashed funds, and then some.
In its spending bill for the fiscal year that started September 30, the Labor Appropriations Subcommittee designated more than $5.5 billion for WIA, a federal job training and counseling program for the unemployed and workers looking to get new skills. The package is $300 million more than the request President George W. Bush made in March.
For New York State, that could translate into a $70 million increase over last year's budget–and it couldn't come sooner. “Any increase is good,” said Nancy Bieberman, president of the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation, which, due to financial difficulties, recently shut down its catering business and let eight employees go. “We don't have enough money to do the job, and the job just got much bigger.”
The decision marks a turnaround from policy decisions made earlier this year: In July, Congress voted to rescind more than $242.5 million in unspent funds from WIA's 2001 budget. With only 36 percent of its WIA allotment spent, New York was expected to be a big money loser. To make things worse, the Bush administration called for a 10 percent cut in the WIA budget for fiscal year 2002.
In the wake of increased layoffs resulting from the fall of the World Trade Center, however, lawmakers have renewed their support of the job-training act. If the Senate passes the House's proposal, which some insiders say is likely, New York stands to receive about $220 million, up from $156 million in 2001, estimates Betsy McCormack, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Labor. Of that, about 60 percent, or $132 million, would likely go to New York City, she said.
For some job training programs struggling to meet the terms of their stringent contracts, that's good news. The recent economic decline has created problems for nonprofits funded through performance-based contracts with the city and state. In many cases, such groups only get paid if their graduates hold down their jobs for certain periods of time. As some employers start cutting back, however, newly hired training graduates are often the first fired, leaving nonprofit job trainers short of funds. Noted Bonnie Potter of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, “With the contraction in the economy, [many organizations] are being hard hit in terms of placement and retention.”