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Employee training programs suspended by WorkPlace as sequester delays funding payment

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Businesses in Jefferson and Lewis counties seeking aid from the WorkPlace employment agency in Watertown to train employees will be turned away until October.

That’s because the federal government budget sequester has forced the agency at 1000 Coffeen St., whose fiscal year starts in July, to wait until the start of the federal fiscal year in October to receive funding needed for training programs.

The delay will mean dislocated workers and other employees seeking to enroll in training programs will have to sit on the sidelines this summer until they are eligible to enroll.

“It’s especially painful for us because we’re not able to offer anyone training this summer,” said Cheryl M. Mayforth, executive director of the WorkPlace. “Individuals that would normally go into training through the summer months are not going to be able to do that. And when you’re looking at dislocated workers, we can’t offer them on-the-job training to get back to work.”

Ordinarily, the agency receives 25 percent of its annual federal funding during its first quarter, from July through September; it then receives the remaining 75 percent in October. But sequestration tipped that formula askew this year. The agency received only 7 percent for the first quarter and will collect the remaining 93 percent in October.

The amount of federal funding to be received by the agency in 2013 under the Workforce Investment Act will not be affected by the automatic spending cuts.

To help employers hire dislocated workers, the agency pays qualifying employers 50 percent of the training wage paid to employees. That assistance can be provided for up to $3,000, or 26 weeks, per employee during the training period. It can be applied toward in-house training or courses offered by Jefferson Community College and the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Charles H. Bohlen Technical Center.

Some of the programs with high enrollment at JCC and BOCES start in early September, Mrs. Mayforth said. But those who wish to enroll in those programs won’t be eligible for aid. Federal law prevents the agency from accruing expenses for its training programs until October.

Based on previous enrollment numbers, Mrs. Mayforth estimated that about 100 people in Jefferson and Lewis counties won’t be able to enroll in training programs this summer because of the agency’s funding situation.

Some unemployed people could run out of time to enroll in training. The federal government now grants 26 weeks of unemployment assistance for people seeking jobs, which cannot be extended. With enrollment in training programs delayed this summer, Mrs. Mayforth said, some employees won’t be eligible to collect unemployment by the time aid is available. Workers must be actively collecting unemployment, or qualify as a displaced worker, to qualify for the training programs.

“For some people, if they want to go to school for training, they’d have to wait until January,” she said. The impact of the sequester “is that you’re putting people’s lives on hold. Some of these people need training but don’t have the time to wait that long.”

When federal funding for the agency’s fiscal year kicks in this fall, however, WorkPlace will have the ability to provide more financial assistance for employers to train displaced workers than it did in 2012; federal funding allocated for dislocated workers increased by $81,445, or 28 percent, from $288,452 to $369,897.

“This is the first bump in funding in probably a half dozen years, and it’s because we have a lot of dislocated workers” in the region, Mrs. Mayforth said. “The windfall is a good thing, but we’re not going to see it until October. This funding impacts people who need to upgrade their skills to retain another job, and it’s a hiring incentive for employers to take on these individuals.”

Compared with 2012, federal funding for the agency’s on-the-job training programs for unemployed adults who aren’t displaced workers in 2013 decreased by $7,536, or 2 percent, from $339,746 to $332,210. Funding for on-the-job youth training increased by $10,290, or 3 percent, from $330,082 to $340,372.

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