AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday called “almost criminal” the fact that last year only 20 percent of federal job training funds for Maine was spent on actual job training.
On Friday, some of those who manage the funds countered that the governor made assumptions about their work from a snapshot of statistics that doesn’t tell the whole story.
LePage made the comment during a speech at an Eggs and Issues breakfast sponsored by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. He was talking about ways to improve efficiency and referenced a report he received on the state’s four Local Workforce Investment Boards, which are funded through the U.S. Workforce Investment Act.
Those boards work with local nonprofit agencies on job training and other support services for Mainers who are looking for work.
The numbers raised some red flags, LePage’s spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Friday.
In 2010, the four boards collectively received $5,567,842 and spent only $838,589, or about 15 percent, on training and support services, according to information provided by the governor’s office. The rest was spent on staff salaries and administrative overhead. In 2009, the state received $5,299,197 for the program and spent $1,205,144, or about 23 percent, on job training.
Additionally, the success rates for the programs seem low. Information provided by the governor’s office shows that of the 2,497 program participants in 2010, only 1,102, or 44 percent, were placed in jobs. In 2009, about 48 percent of participants were placed in jobs.
“I don’t think you can dispute the numbers and what the last two years have shown is this program needs some work,” Bennett said.
LePage and Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass met with directors of those four boards later Thursday. LePage’s message was clear: work with my staff to make those programs more efficient.
But board representatives said the governor did not have all the information.
“He’s looking at numbers that say 80 percent of money goes to administrative costs. Here’s the thing: A lot of things that federal regulations require, things like core and intensive services, don’t show up as training services,” said Jim Baumer, director of business services for the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board, which serves Androscoggin, Franklin, Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset counties. “We’d love to just plug all the money into training, but in some cases we have leases and obligations that we can’t walk away from.
“It frustrates me that [the governor] is painting us as the bad guys. He’s trying to simplifying a pretty complicated operation.”
As for the success rates, Baumer said the governor again is not looking at the whole picture.
“If everyone who walked in the door needed no services and could just hook up with a employer, we’d be at a 100 percent,” he said. “But that’s not the case.”
Asked whether the governor regretted calling out the four boards before he met with their directors, Bennett said, “the governor says what’s on his mind.”
She also said part of the problem is the previous administration had a different vision for how these programs would use the U.S. Workforce Investment Act dollars.
“We’re working on some new guidelines,” she said.
Joanna Russell, director of the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board that serves Penobscot, Piscataquis and Hancock counties, was careful not to criticize the governor but agreed with Baumer.
“It was a good, productive meeting, but frankly, I don’t think the governor had all the information,” she said, but added, “We didn’t walk away feeling unheard.”
The Local Workforce Investment Boards serve as conduits or fiscal agents for work force training that is carried out largely by other agencies. In Aroostook County, it’s the local community action program. In Bangor, it’s Eastern Maine Development Corp.
The work of the four regional boards is overseen by the Maine Jobs Council, which also advises the governor and Legislature on policy matters.
Ryan Pelletier, who directs the Aroostook and Washington Counties Workforce Investment Board, said he believes he’s doing a lot of good work with the resources he has.
“I think the governor feels that more money needs to be directed to actual training and that’s a good goal. We want that too,” he said. “But it’s really not as simple as that.”