Benton-Franklin Workforce Development Council gets federal allocation

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 19, 2013 

The Benton-Franklin Workforce Development Council will be able to help more people find jobs in the coming months thanks to federal dollars.

Thursday, the Washington State Employment Security Department -- which is charged with distributing federal money to various workforce councils throughout the state -- released its list of allocations.

The Benton-Franklin Workforce Development Council, which operates WorkSource Columbia Basin, will receive $2 million to cover expenses from July 2013 to June 2014. That's $86,000 more than the agency received last year.

"In the economic environment we're in, not getting a cut is a plus. This is the first time in three or four years we didn't get a reduction in funds," said Cos Edwards, executive director and CEO for the development council in Kennewick.

Of the 12 WorkSource development areas in the state, funding was cut for 10. The Olympic Workforce Development Council also was allotted $2 million, which is about $32,000 more than the year before.

The Eastern Washington Partnership Workforce Development Council, which has an office in Walla Walla, received $1.5 million, about $121,000 less than last year.

The money comes from the federal Department of Labor through the Workforce Investment Act. The total appropriation for the state for the coming year is $45 million, about $3.8 million less than in July 2012.

WorkSource Columbia Basin will put the money to work doing what it -- and other workforce councils in the state do: helping people complete a course of study and get training, assisting with transportation and clothing for job interviews and providing job counseling and skill assessments.

"These are all things we do currently," Edwards said. "But the extra money will allow us to say 'yes' when otherwise we'd have to say 'no' because of a lack of funds."

He said he's grateful for the extra money but says, in reality, it's a mixed bag. Because when the state makes allocations it considers population, the percentage of low-income people and the regional unemployment rate.

"Our need in Benton and Franklin counties continues to remain fairly high," he said. Nearly 500 people a day walk through the doors of the WorkSource office in Kennewick.

"That $86,000 is not going to be the pivot the Tri-City economy turns on," Edwards said.

But studies prove, he said, that if a dollar is given to WorkSource to invest in training, it doesn't take long for it to flow back into the economy. People using WorkSource resources go back to work more quickly and at a higher rate of pay than those who don't, he said.

As welcome as the allocations are, the future of the funding is a worry for all WorkSource agencies.

"We do not have alternate sources of funding. The stream of federal dollars from the Department of Labor is the trough from which we all feed," he said. "I'm not nave enough to expect a repeat of this year's increase."

Looking ahead, Edwards said he's investing time and energy into finding alternate funding for the future, just in case.

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