Iowa could lose more than half of its Workforce Development centers

BY EDDIE KIRSCH | JUNE 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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Tony Anderson, 41, has been unemployed for several months.

But after walking out of the Iowa City IowaWorks office Wednesday, he now has a list of employment opportunities to pursue.

Soon, however, programs such as this across Iowa will dramatically shift their operations because of cuts in funding at a time when 6.1 percent of Iowans are unemployed.

Some say Gov. Terry Branstad is to blame.

“He wanted to do a political thing because the president is a Democrat and he is a Republican,” said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville.

The Iowa City IowaWorks is a field office of the Iowa Workforce Development — a state agency that provides services to employers, employees, and unemployed Iowa residents. Recently, the state agency has announced a plan to cut 37 of the 55 field offices statewide.

And while the plan will eliminate slightly more than two-thirds of the field offices, officials said it will also open several “points of access” in local communities, where residents can go to receive employment information.

“Our federal funding has been cut,” said Kerry Koonce, a Iowa Workforce Development spokeswoman. “The federal government has cut all workforce federal funding.”

She said this isn’t a political move but simply a cut in federal funding, noting it takes approximately $42 million to operate field offices of the Iowa Workforce Development alone. The plan will not only allow the agency to maintain services, it will also extend office hours, she said.

“In theory, more people have closer access,” Koonce said. “Expanding our office hours will expand availabilities.”

For now, Anderson said, his experience with the Iowa City IowaWorks has been positive.

“Overall, I think it works pretty good; they give me a helping hand here,” he said. “They’ve got the resources we don’t have. They help me find jobs.”

Anderson said he likes the support the office offers, because it is important for him to be able to meet with someone in person to help him through his unemployment.

“The best thing for us to do is to walk in somewhere where they can help us,” he said.

Jacoby said funding for an agency such as the Iowa Workforce Development is complicated, and support comes from both the state and federal government in a match system.

He argues that the funding to keep more field offices open is available, but the money just isn’t being allocated.

“The director has made a decision to close 37 offices. It’s the governor’s choice to do that,” Jacoby said. “There is enough money allocated from the Legislature and the federal government, but the governor declined $15 million.”

Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad, said Jacoby is incorrect.

“We’re expanding services, so he is mistaken. We are expanding it to more than 500 through community colleges, libraries, and extension offices. We are providing vastly more options,” Albrecht said. “This is an enterprising, smart deal. We turned [the budget cuts] into a positive.”

Koonce disagreed with Jacoby, saying there isn’t enough federal money to continue operations in the same way as the past, and there is a difference in priorities between some legislators and Branstad.

“We follow the governor’s priorities,” Koonce said. “Our goal is to serve as many people as we can. It is very costly to maintain a set system of bricks and mortars.”

But overall, Jacoby said the public-access services are already partners in the workforce system.

“The truth of the matter is that $15 million was available; it had to be applied for by a certain date, and the governor, Branstad, and the Legislature, Rep. Jason Schultz and Speaker Kraig Paulsen, did not apply for it,” Jacoby said. “There is no flip-flopping there.”

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