Sen. Susan Collins and another legislator introduced legislation Friday to address recent management problems that led to a $60 million budget shortfall earlier this year that threatened the future of the federal job-training program known as Job Corps.
Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced the Securing Job Corps Centers Act, in what both said was an attempt to protect the federal training program. Job Corps is an educational and vocational training program administered by the Department of Labor that helps at-risk young people ages 16 through 24 by offering them education and training.
The Securing Job Corps Centers Act would create an advisory board responsible for working with the Department of Labor, which oversees the Job Corps program, to develop policy and programmatic recommendations related to the program’s administration. The advisory panel would provide a series of reports directly to the U.S. secretary of labor and Congress on budget and financial management protocols, cost efficiencies and maximizing the number of youth served. The bill would also require earlier notifications of management decisions at the Department of Labor that could affect student enrollments.
After discovering a $61.5 million shortfall earlier this year, the Department of Labor ordered a temporary suspension of new student enrollments as its way to address the matter. This was in addition to the $39 million shortfall in the previous program year. Labor officials said that several factors contributed to Job Corps’ financial problems, but the most significant was unchecked growth in expenditures due to serious weaknesses in the financial management processes. As a result, every Job Corps center operates at 21 percent to 25 percent below full capacity.
Collins said in a written statement Friday that the Department of Labor decisions had a terrible impact on the students and staff at Job Corps programs in Maine.
“It is clear that the Department of Labor has mismanaged this program, and students suffered the consequences,” she said. “There are two Job Corps centers in Maine that do excellent work to help young adults become productive members of society. The Penobscot Job Corps Academy and the Loring Job Corps Center have the capability to serve nearly 800 at-risk youth on a daily basis. These centers put these young men and women on a path to earning their high school diploma and to gaining the necessary skills to enter the workforce or the military or go on to college.”
McCaskill pointed out the need for oversight of the program.
“There has been financial mismanagement with this program — and that mismanagement has been exacerbated by a lack of adequate oversight,” said McCaskill, chairman of the subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight. “The program needs to be reformed, and it’s my belief that this bill will put it on the path to providing Americans with the expanded job opportunities many folks still need.”
Collins said that the shortfall forced Job Corps centers to furlough and lay off staff to reduce costs, which she said jeopardized the long-term sustainability of the centers and the work that they do.
The legislators said that an advisory board of experienced Job Corps operations experts, established under the legislation, would help the program and its new leadership recover from last year’s crisis and ensure that future Job Corps policy decisions are always guided by what is in the best interests of Job Corps students and communities.
“The entire Job Corps community appreciates the tireless commitment of Senators Collins and McCaskill to work with their colleagues from both sides of the aisle to ensure Job Corps continues to educate and train America’s next generation of workers and leaders,” said Aaron Grau, executive director of the National Job Corps Association. “Job Corps has served more than 3 million youth over the past 50 years, and strong champions such as Senators Collins and McCaskill will help protect and strengthen Job Corps for countless more youth, communities and taxpayers across the country.”
Collins pointed out that studies show that 85 percent of Job Corps graduates obtain a job, enroll in higher education or enlist in the military.
Officials at the Loring Job Corps and the Penobscot Job Corps Academy said Friday that they could not speak about the matter and referred all questions to the federal office in Boston.