U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has scheduled a congressional hearing next Tuesdayto look into the funding shortfall that’s caused a suspension in new enrollment for Job Corps centers nationwide, including the Keystone Job Corps Center in Butler Township.
The program, one of the nation’s largest job-training initiatives for low-income youths and young adults, has four centers in Pennsylvania where at-risk young adults, ages 16-24, receive worker training so they’re able to compete for jobs.
During a conference call Monday, Casey, D-Scranton, said he will convene the Senate’s Health, Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, of which he’s the chairman, to look into the matter. That hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. in Washington.
According to data released by Casey’s office, at the Keystone Center alone 396 students who applied and were accepted for enrollment have since been told there’s no space due to the funding cuts. The lack of students also will result in the loss of employment for 176 staff members at the center.
In Pennsylvania, the freeze will cause more than 400 layoffs and impact 1,300 prospective students at the centers in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Butler Township and Lopez, Casey’s information shows.
Casey said the aim of the hearing is to probe what he called an unexplained shortfall from the Department of Labor that has caused the enrollment freeze and job cuts .
According to The Washington Post, more than 70 members of Congress from both parties, including Casey, have written to the Labor Department requesting explanations for the program’s shortfall.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced in January it was freezing all new enrollments at 125 Job Corps centers nationwide due to a projected $61.5 million budgetary shortfall in 2012. The freeze is expected to last until at least June 30.
Casey, and others, want to know what created the shortfall and in past comments on the matter hinted that mismanagement might be at play.
“I am deeply troubled by these cuts, particularly since this is the second year in a row where the program has suffered from a major financial shortfall. This kind of repeated problem raises serious questions about the management by the Department,” Casey wrote in a letter to U.S. Inspector General Daniel R. Petrol, calling for an investigation.
Casey said an audit has been initiated but he’s not certain it will answer all of the questions he has, including: Why did this shortfall occur?
Who’s responsible for it?
What steps, if any, can the department take to start enrolling students again?
What steps can be taken to make sure such a shortfall never happens again?
What’s more alarming to him is that those involved in the program have told him they suggested ways to offset the shortfall without such drastic cuts but the department didn’t implement them.
“It’s not only disturbing to me, but it’s mystifying,” Casey said.
He said he expects answers to most, if not all, of his questions at the hearing, which he called “a first step in providing a measure of accountability at the Department of Labor for this shortfall.”
Donna Palermo, the director of the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, applauded Casey’s action and said the center has meant a lot for the students who are trained there and the community as a whole.
“Although I have not heard any good reasons why this program should be cut, I do know how devastating those cuts would relate to (the center) and their students, faculty and the greater Hazleton community. The students that are receiving an excellent education and skill sets (there) are … at-risk students, and for many, this facility and its training means a great deal to them.”
State Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, said he’s concerned about the impact the cuts would have on the at-risk youth that rely on these centers.
“I applaud Sen. Casey for drawing attention to the adverse effects of the federal funding shortfall for the Job Corps program. In a recent forum that I hosted at the University of Scranton Dr. Paul Harrington of Drexel University reported the disproportionate negative impact a down economy has on younger workers and he also reported that there are thousands of young people completely disconnected from any type of school or work. These are the at-risk kids that Senator Casey and I are concerned about and its programs such as Job Corps that can turn lives around and give our young workers the skills and the confidence they need to succeed,” Blake said.
State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, said she is “a strong supporter of the Job Corps, as I have seen first hand the positive impact it has had on the young people who reside and are educated at the Butler Township facility.” She added that “I support our federal representatives in their fight for Job Corps preservation.”