EXETER—Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed paid a visit to the Exeter Job Corps Center this past Friday, speaking with students and other administrators about the work placement program’s importance in the local community and also the potential cuts which the federal government is predicting due to fiscal mismanagement.
“One of Job Corps’ initiatives is to make sure our outreach efforts with elected officials are very strong,” said Mark Riolo, the center’s director. “We like to showcase our students and, for the most part, most who have visited us in the past are pretty impressed.”
“We want to make sure that those officials, particularly in Rhode Island, understand that the decisions they’ve made to get the program going here has translated into a lot of success,” he added.
The Exeter Job Corps Center, which opened in 2004, currently enrolls approximately 200 students, aged 16 to 24, who receive free job training in a number of fields, such as hospitality, manufacturing, and healthcare. According to Riolo, the center ranks 18th among 125 institutions across the country, providing students with a clear pathway into gainful employment.
“We are very connected within the Rhode Island community and labor force,” said Riolo. “All of our technical programs have a base of employers [with which] our graduates participate in internships and base learning.”
“These relationships ideally translate into long-term career opportunities, and our connection with local industry leaders is very important for our students,” he continued. “Without them, we would be flying blind, essentially.”
On Jan. 18, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the overhead agency for the Job Corps program nationwide, sent a letter to all Job Corps centers warning about the potential for an enrollment freeze, which subsequently began on Jan. 28 and may continue until the end of the program year on June 30.
Reed, alongside fellow Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman James Langevin, have since sent letters the DOL, expressing concerns regarding shortfalls in Job Corps’ operations budget that have prompted savings through a possible enrollment freeze.
“I am really impressed with the work the students and staff here at Exeter’s Job Corps Center are doing,” said Reed last Friday. “This is one of the best Job Corps in the country and has helped many young people get back on track, learn new skills, and build careers.”
Reed’s January letter stated that in 2011, Job Corps had a shortfall of $39 million that was seemingly addressed, but financial problems continued into 2012.
“It is deeply disconcerting the Department has failed to identify the specific causes of the budget shortfall, failed to provide detailed justification to Congress of the need to suspend enrollment, and failed to take action to permanently stabilize the financial condition of the program,” read the letter. “Having entrusted the Department with $1.7 billion in each of the fiscal years 2011 and 2012 to serve 120,000 students, we are dismayed by the Department’s management of the Job Corps program.”
“Cost saving measures effecting enrollment harms our nation’s disadvantaged youth, our workforce, and our nation’s ability to rebuild a competitive economy,” it continued. “All other cost-saving measures ought to be exhausted before implementing measures adversely impacting Job Corps students or youth seeking enrollment in the program.”
On Tuesday, March 12, Jane Oates, Assistant Secretary for the Employment and Training Administration at the DOL, presented the organization’s motivations behind the enrollment freeze to the Senate Employment and Workplace Safety Sub-committee. She cited growing expenditure costs dating from 2011 until present day, poor program planning and inexact decision-making in terms of cost saving as reasons for the enrollment freeze.
“The decision to temporarily freeze Job Corps enrollment nationwide was extremely difficult,” said Oates. “It came after we implemented many alternative cost-savings measures, albeit insufficient ones. We also considered other alternatives before deciding to implement the temporary enrollment freeze, but ultimately rejected these and other options because of their more harmful effect on the Jobs Corps program.”
“The Department deeply regrets the current situation facing the Job Corps program,” she continued. “I personally take responsibility for not acting more quickly to ensure that the program was operating within its appropriated levels.”
Oates continued to say that underperforming centers throughout the country may be shut down as another cost-saving measure, although specific savings cannot be calculated until centers are actually closed.
In January, the Exeter Town Council send a letter to the DOL, expressing their opposition to the enrollment freeze and other potential cuts.
“If [the freeze] remains in effect, the impact will be quite devastating,” said Councilman Calvin Ellis at January’s regular meeting. “No new students will come in and some of the program’s current students and staff will have to go.”
“There have been other freezes that have lapsed in 20 or 30 days in the past, but none this drastic,” he added.
According to Reed’s office, the DOL’s inspector general is conducting a review of its internal controls to uncover the foundational problems resulting in the Job Corps’ sustained shortfall. The Rhode Island senator has been a strong advocate for the job training program, securing approximately $15 million since 2004 in order to support its initiatives and outreach.
“Our students are vested in making better choices in their lives and reaping the benefits of our program,” said Riolo. “We focus on each kid, one by one, and they are getting work when they leave here, which is a good sign. Hopefully, that will continue.”