WorkSource Columbia Basin deals with budget cuts

While WorkSource Columbia Basin has been preparing to help laid off Hanford workers find new jobs, it has been dealing with budget cuts of its own.

The Benton-Franklin Workforce Development Council, which operates WorkSource Columbia Basin, received yet another budget cut for the fiscal year that started July 1.

The $1.59-million grant announced Monday from the federal Department of Labor is down by $231,000 from last year, said the state Employment Security Department.

That is about half of the development council's 2008 budget of $3.2 million, said Cos Edwards, executive director and CEO for the work force development council. A decade ago, the council's budget was $5.1 million.

"This is not new territory for us," he said. "We had been experiencing cuts for some time now."

WorkSource Columbia Basin provides services including counseling, skill assessments, job-search help and training to laid-off workers and low-income workers.

It is a partnership with the state Employment Security Department, Columbia Basin College, the state Department of Labor & Industries and DESI, a company that offers the Job Corps program.

What is different with this funding cut was the timing.

The development council had to absorb the cut during the first three months of the fiscal year, which started July 1, Edwards said. That meant training services were not available from July through September in the adult and dislocated worker programs.

The adult program is geared to help low-income unemployed workers, while the dislocated worker program helps laid-off employees but does not have income guidelines.

WorkSource staff still tried to engage job seekers, but Edwards said there isn't money available to help underwrite the cost of short-term training and certification for jobs such as forklift drivers or cosmetologists until October.

The training must be in a career where available jobs are expected in the area when the training is complete, he said. Career Path Services of Spokane provides the training aid.

Most people dramatically underestimate the severity of the economic conditions in the Tri-Cities, Edwards said.

While it is true that local unemployment remains above the state average, it is still higher than it was three years ago, he said.

Benton County's unemployment rate increased from 4.9 percent in July 2008 to 6.9 percent in July 2011 and Franklin County's rate jumped from 5.6 percent to 7.7 percent in the same time frame, according to the state Employment Security Department.

In both counties, that is about 3,400 more people who are unemployed in 2011 compared with 2008.

On average, about 500 people walk through the doors of WorkSource daily to receive services, Edwards said.

And more are expected as about 1,870 workers will be laid off as of Sept. 30. That includes Hanford workers laid off in the spring and at the end of the month, as well as layoffs by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

In the past three months, WorkSource Columbia Basin has been preparing for those who will need job search help after Hanford layoffs.

A $178,000 Department of Labor Rapid Response Grant will help WorkSource start helping laid off employees as soon as possible, Edwards said. That interaction is already beginning this week.

That funding will help with the adult and dislocated worker programs, where the bulk of the cuts occurred, said Edwards, who received help from WorkSource after he was laid off at Hanford about 10 years ago.

And although the Hanford layoffs have triggered the grant, it can be used for non-Hanford workers who meet the criteria, he said.

The development council is also applying for a National Emergency Grant with the Department of Labor, Edwards said. If that is received, it could help extend services into 2013. The development council has asked for $1.3 million.

Edwards said they also are looking at how to provide the same services with less money.

The council has started an assessment, he said. The staff-driven analysis will consider wait times, what is provided and what has the greatest value to job seekers. Customer comments also will be considered.

"We are always juggling," he said.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com