Welcome to WORK IN THE CITY, the blog of the DC Jobs Council!
In this, our first post, we thought we’d tell you a story. It is not a terribly happy story, and it is complicated – but it is important this story be told. We hope that you can help us write the ending.
In May 2009, Councilmember Marion Barry, then chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Housing and Workforce Development (CHWFD), moved approximately $5.4M in local funds from the DC Department of Employment Services’ (DOES) budget to support job training programs offered by community-based organizations to those adults facing the highest barriers to employment. This funding would be used to train more than the 50,000 underemployed or unemployed DC residents who struggle every day to make ends meet. Language in the FY2010 Budget Support Act of 2009 specified how that funding was to be distributed and spent – on programs that trained hard-to-employ District adults for good, career-ladder jobs in industries with strong prospects for growth.
Finally, we thought, those who needed the most help were going to get it. Like most jurisdictions around the country, the District was going to put its own money into training its own residents for jobs. We hoped this effort would help address the unemployment rate, but also help us begin to change this statistic: more than 70 percent of jobs in the District are held by those who live outside of Washington.
With the horse-trading that is part of any District budget process, the amount that eventually made its way into the DOES budget for adult job training was $4.6M. That money was available to spend as of October 1, 2009.
It is now the beginning of August 2010. And none of the money has been spent. According to CFO$ource, the money is still sitting – unencumbered – in DOES’ account. No RFPs, asking for proposals from organizations that provide job training to District adults, have been issued.
When questioned by the current CHWFD chairman, Michael A. Brown, in May 2010, DOES Director Joseph P. Walsh promised that the $4.6M would be spent as intended – on job training for those adults facing the highest barriers. He explained that the local funds had not been spent yet because DOES was concentrating on spending federal funds allocated to the District through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – funds which had an earlier expiration date. But he assured Councilmember Brown that the local funds would be spent by fiscal year end, and as directed.
That was nearly five months ago. While DOES has issued grants based on four RFPs funded with federal money, we are still waiting for one RFP using local money.
This delay has not gone unnoticed.
During negotiations regarding the FY2011 District budget, several Councilmembers asked about the $4.6M. When informed that it had not yet been spent –and that DOES had not even indicated how or when it might be spent --two Councilmembers sprang into action.
Councilmember Kwame Brown, for example, proposed that DOES issue an RFP so narrowly drawn that only one nonprofit in the District is eligible for the funding. (This is not an uncommon practice in the post-Council-earmark era. We’ll leave a discussion of the pros and cons for another post.)
But the problem remains. Even a narrowly-drawn RFP has to be issued and proposals reviewed before even the $2.25M can be spent. And that has not happened.
And if the remaining money -- which could be as much as $2.35M -- is not spent, Councilmember Barry has plans for that. He has proposed to allocate the remaining funds to the Community College of the District of Columbia. While we welcome the institution – a very necessary component of a strong workforce development system -- a community college cannot substitute for a community-based job training provider for those District adults who need training most – those facing the highest barriers to employment, including low literacy levels, criminal records, and physical and mental health challenges. The Community College is not designed to meet the needs of these most challenged residents.
It is now the beginning of August 2010. Despite repeated requests to DOES, neither the DC Jobs Council nor several of its members have received any concrete answers as to plans for the $4.6M.
If a process is not implemented immediately, it is possible – even likely -- that funds set aside to help move the most vulnerable of DC residents into jobs will either disappear or be diverted.
The fiscal year ends in roughly 60 days. What do you think we should do next? How can we ensure a happy ending to this story for those who need resources the most?