Kicking Horse Job Corps gets kicked by budget cuts
Poor ETA financial planning causes Kicking Horse Job Corps to furlough employees and suspend enrollment of new students
By Lailani Upham
Kicking Horse Job Corps, located south of Ronan, faces job furloughs and lower student enrollment due to a budget shortfall that has affected 125 other job corps centers across the nation. (Sarah Sandoval photo)
RONAN — Kicking Horse Job Corps center will not be accepting new students until the end of June due to a “cost savings measure” ordered from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The student enrollment and staff member numbers are estimated to drop by 50 percent by the end of June, according to Kicking Horse Job Corps Contractors Representative, Joe Dupuis.
The decrease in numbers are not tailored to KHJC only but to all 125 centers across the nation due to the national Job Corps operating budget exceeding millions of dollars in the 2012-2013 budget.
According to Department of Labor officials, the program was projected to exceed its operating budget by about $61.5 million. Job Corps’ requested operating budget for 2013 was about $1.5 billion, a decrease of about $24 million from 2012. The program also faced a $39 million shortfall in program year 2011.
The Department of Labor announced to all Job Corps that an enrollment freeze happen to cut costs in an effort at closing a hefty budget shortfall.
At this point, the reason for the Department of Labor’s shortfall of the Job Corps’ budget is not clear.
However, this particular cut is not related to $85 billion in automatic federal cuts known as sequestration, says Dupuis.
The suspension of enrollment began on January 25 and is expected to go until June 30.
The budget program year runs from July 2012 to June 2013. KHJC’s effort to help reduce the cost will contribute to staff members to be furloughed all the way up until June 30, according to Dupuis.
It is unknown whether the furloughed employees will be able to return after June 30 due to not knowing what will happen at the national level, says Dupuis.
Since the announcement of over-obligated appropriated funds, KHJC has gone down from 79 staff members to 72; and from a 224-student population to 190, according to Dupuis.
A total freeze on accepting new students is a first in the 50-year history of the program, according to LaVera Leonard, president of the National Job Corps Association.
Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., called on the agencies inspector general to investigate “serious questions about the management by the department.”
“If there were mistakes made that led to this problem, the ones losing out here are going to be young people at risk,” Casey stated in an interview with The Associated Press last month. “Apparently, Labor Department officials were admitting that they made some kind of mistake with the budget” to people working at the Job Corps centers, Casey added.
According to an Associated Press release last month, Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio said the Job Corps began taking steps last year to reduce operating costs, such as curtailing contracts, reducing administrative costs and slashing the national TV advertising budget.
“Unfortunately, the savings from these efforts have not been sufficient to meet the budget demands of the current program year,” Fillichio said. “The decision to suspend enrollment was not made lightly.”
Lawmakers in the House and Senate are currently investigating the $61.5 million shortfall and hearing was held on Tuesday, March 12.
Casey called the department officials, Assistant Labor Secretary Jane Oates; Antoine Dixon, national director of Job Corps; and Elliot Lewis, Assistant Inspector General to testify at the hearing and give a more detailed explanation before the Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, in which he chairs.
“If steps could have been taken to avoid this result, we should take them,” he stated last week in a press conference call. “What I’m going to be asking the Department of Labor is: How did this shortfall occur? Who’s responsible?”
According to a letter Oates sent last month to former subcommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray, R-Wash., along with 15 other senators, including Casey, she attempted to explain the problem by attributing the growth in expenditures after the delayed openings of three new centers in program years 2010 and 2011, and “serious weaknesses in financial management processes that led to a failure to identify and adjust for rising costs in a timely manner.”
She wrote that cost measure implemented by Job Corps management and federal Employment and Training Administration “were not aggressive enough to allow the program to stay within budget.”
Oates added in her letter that, “In retrospect, it is clear that we did not act as quickly or as decisively as circumstances required.”
The Job Corps began in the 1960’s and serves 60,000 students each year with an annual budget of $1.7 billion.
The goal of the national program is to steer at-risk youth from ages 16 – 24 into productive career paths through supervised dormitory housing, meals, medical care and counseling. Students graduate from two months to two years and are helped in the transition to a new career or furthering the training at higher education institute.
Kicking Horse Job Corps Center is operated by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. KHJC is the first center to serve the Native American population needs.