Corbett cuts seen as wounding job seekers

Posted: May 11, 2012

THE STATE WANTS unemployed people to get jobs. But does it care if the jobs are dead-ends?

For the past year, the Corbett administration has quietly cut funding for Pennsylvania’s jobs programs. It’s also been de-emphasizing training and education. Critics say this is not a recipe for success.

Philadelphia’s jobs programs, which provide services like literacy classes, job training and resume coaching, have lost about 50 percent of their funding due to state cuts and the loss of federal stimulus dollars. The state offers the programs to welfare recipients and other members of the public to improve their chances of finding employment.

Community Legal Services attorney Michael Froehlich said the cuts will force more people into dead-end work. He argues that people who lack training certifications or degrees are more likely to wind up in minimum-wage, unstable jobs.

“The Department of Public Welfare emphasizes getting a job, any job, even if that job just means that you’re back on the welfare rolls within months,” he said.

Alexis Bethel, a 21-year-old with a toddler, is receiving welfare benefits. Last year, as a requirement of her benefits, she was instructed to look for work. She decided to enroll at Sanford-Brown Institute to become a medical assistant, but found she couldn’t count her class time toward the hours she’s supposed to spend looking for a job.

So she dropped out and is now working for a private security firm. She wants to go back to school, though.

“Think about the long run,” she said.

The same budget crunch has led to the closing of three state-run workforce-development centers, also known as EARN centers, in Philadelphia.

“The funding for workforce development and literacy is so diminished that I feel it’s really going to harm the city because there’ll be fewer people prepared to take jobs,” said Carol Goertzel, former head of a now-shuttered EARN center.

But Anne Bale, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare, said some literacy programs were cut simply because they didn’t produce clear results.

“We stopped funding it because it had limited outcomes and did not necessarily translate into jobs,” she said. “Our focus is jobs.”

Bale added that the state is aimed at “moving clients rapidly into employment and off of assistance.”

Mark Edwards, president of Philadelphia’s Workforce Development Corp., which is charged with overseeing the state’s jobs programs, argued that the system is now spending its money more wisely by funding training programs that are linked to jobs now available in the city.

Edwards also said that the workforce-development system is undergoing a massive restructuring that will make it more efficient. He acknowledges that cutting services isn’t ideal and said he doesn’t think that jobs programs can survive additional cuts.

“Certainly we’d like to have more money,” he said. “But as a result of the current funding cuts, we had to make the adjustment that we had to make.”

Holly Otterbein writes for It’s Our Money, a joint project of the Daily News and WHYY funded by the William Penn Foundation, that works to shed light on where your tax dollars are going.

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