Office (253216)
Credit: Pixabay

In the past month, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has announced that the nation’s capital has lifted the label from the U. S. Department of Labor as a “high-risk” partner in job training and employment programs and “at-risk” in unemployment insurance programs. The District had carried these risk designations since 2012, but in the past 18 months, concentrated efforts led by the Department of Employment Services earned removal of the designation.

From high-risk to high-performing

The key to the District’s turn-around is a concerted effort between the public and private sector, but it would not have happened without critical federal investment. The “high-risk” status was conferred because funds were being under-utilized. Services for our youth, in particular, were called out in 2015 by the Labor Department when officials wrote to the District that “low enrollments, under-expenditures and poor performance have been endemic in the [federally] funded youth program.”

Redirecting federal dollars toward smart investments such as our youth, the District sought measurable performance in service delivery across the entire suite of workforce services. Ultimately, federal grants and programs helped DOES serve nearly 103,700 jobseekers and increase the total number of youth served to 38,000, highlighted by an increase of more than 400 percent through our federal programs. We helped close to 50,000 District residents find work through FY17, generating more than $1 billion in total wages for residents who engaged with DOES, while achieving an 85 percent retention rate in adult federal programs.

No time for federal budget cuts in our workforce

As law makers juggle competing priorities in an effort to avoid another federal shutdown, now is not the time for the severe cuts outlined in the federal administration’s proposed budget. As currently proposed, the cuts are catastrophic. They would severely affect employment services, training and skills augmentation efforts, and completely eliminate federally funded senior programs. These cuts are on top of an already “baked in” budget decrease within the continuing resolution.

Although we are still evaluating the fiscal impact on our programs, it is clear that these cuts will have a deleterious impact on District residents. Cuts to the Senior Community Service Employment Program are projected to $500,000 and will affect both full-time employees and 38 current participants (with potential funding for a maximum of 50). We also believe that our OSHA education program grant will be affected, and the program’s funding of $470,000 will disappear, along with the employees who are funded.

The District will be most affected by proposed cuts to Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, where cuts of 21 percent would severely reduce operations. The proposed decrease of $2.6 billion:

• eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps low-income seniors find work;

• closes poor-performing centers for Job Corps, a job-training program for disadvantaged youth;

• eliminates grants that help nonprofit groups and public agencies pay for safety and health training; and

• expands efforts to reduce improper payments made to people receiving unemployment benefits.

With this proposed budget, the federal government would cut at least 33,000 jobs nationally, with approximately 16,000 cuts in D.C., and more than 1,000 local private sector jobs will be lost among our corporate partners. These cuts project a loss of more than $1 billion in GDP from the District, more than $25 million in tax revenue annually and hundreds of jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector.

I was recently elected secretary of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, and I can offer that workforce agencies across America have concluded that the proposed cuts will have similarly disastrous effects in their states. Factor in the U.S. Department of Labor’s September jobs report— announcing the first decline in seven years—and these cuts could signal a tipping point in the wrong direction. The District of Columbia has learned some hard lessons. We value the investment in federal workforce programs, and we have shown, when used wisely, just how effective these funds can be. Now is not the time to cut them.

Odie Donald II is the director of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services and the secretary of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.