AUGUSTA, Maine — Tens of thousands of Mainers are out of work. Federal cuts to job training programs have resulted in fewer people getting training for new jobs, and it could get worse as Congress considers deeper cuts.
“We have seen significant cuts in all of these training programs,” said Maine Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass. “We are trying to reduce the impact on actual training programs by reducing administrative costs, but we can only do so much.”
The adult training program was cut to $2.6 million this year from $3.2 million last year. That has resulted in a drop from 2,877 Mainers being served to 2,295.
Another program for “dislocated workers,” or those that have lost their jobs due to unfair trade practices of other countries, is budgeted at $3.4 million this year, down from $4.5 million in 2010. That has reduced the number of workers getting training from 1,524 to 1,482.
Most of the training programs are aimed at providing several weeks of training for specific skills, such as a commercial driver’s license or certification to operate a forklift or other specialized piece of equipment needed by a company.
“We know there are jobs out there if people can get the training they need,” Winglass said. “We are working hard to get those without a job the skills they need to go to work.”
But the Maine Department of Labor is being criticized by organized labor for their approach to the federal cuts that seeks to reduce administrative costs.
Maine AFL-CIO spokeswoman Sarah Bigney said the administrative costs the labor department is seeking to cut are staff in local areas that are working with the unemployed to find them jobs.
“These are essential programs to getting workers back on their feet after they lose their job,” she said. “The work force investment boards do crucial work for Maine workers, to help them find jobs. We should be expanding them not reducing them.”
Bigney said reducing the boards will not improve the program, it will make it worse. She said the demand for training already far exceeds the ability of the Department of Labor to provide training, and proposed federal cuts will further reduce training opportunities.
“Congress should be providing more training money, not less,” Bigney said. “We know there are jobs available, but not the workers with the skills needed for those jobs.”
Second District Congressman Mike Michaud agrees. He said there should be more funds for training programs but that will be difficult with budget cuts needed to reduce the federal budget deficit.
“I hope we can at least keep flat funding this year,” he said. “We can’t afford the $2 billion cut the House Republican leadership has proposed.”
Although it is early in the budget writing process, the Senate Appropriations Committee has so far approved level funding. At some point, the differing funding levels will be discussed at a conference committee and a level set.
“I have talked with employers across the district that tell me they have jobs to fill, but they cannot find the works with the skills they need,” Michaud said. “We should invest more in job training to get the economy going again.”
Michaud said the Obama administration has proposed some re-organization of the training programs to reduce administrative costs and the complex eligibility requirements of many of the programs.
Winglass said some specialized programs such as the Trade Adjustment Assistance program provide several services for workers such as child care and allow some to get a two- or four-year college degree. He acknowledged the number of training programs provided by the federal government and administered by the state can be overwhelming to the out-of-work Mainer seeking help.
“Believe me, it is frustrating,” Winglass said. “We want to help people get the training they need and get to work, and there are so many different rules on who can get the help they need.”
Michaud said the goal of the merger of several programs that Obama has proposed would be to simplify eligibility and allow broader access to workers. He said making the programs more efficient and less bureaucratic will not solve the problem.
“We really need to invest more in these programs and put people to work in jobs that are going unfilled today,” he said.