Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the U.S. Department of Labor to immediately halt an enrollment freeze for students who apply to Job Corps, an essential job training program for youth in Upstate New York and across the country. The Iroquois Job Corps in Medina will experience an enrollment freeze effective on Monday, January 28. Schumer today sought answers after the national Job Corps office reported a $39 budget shortfall in 2011, and additional losses through 2012, and urged the DOL to do everything possible to avoid harmful programmatic cuts that hurt participants and hamper job training.
Schumer emphasized to the Labor Department that freezing enrollment at every Job Corps Center nationwide starting January 28th, without publishing an analysis of the direct causes of the shortfall, prevented choosing the least programmatically impactful way to solve the program's budgetary shortcomings. Schumer also pointed out that the decision would punish Upstate New York's high-performing centers, and could jeopardize local jobs. The Iroquois Center, founded in 1966, has a capacity for 255 students and is a major employer in Medina with 110 current workers. Schumer joined Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in calling on the Labor Department to provide details on the sources of the deficit, instead of needlessly harming centers in Western New York, Central New York, and the Capital Region.
"The national Job Corps office's decision to prematurely impose an enrollment freeze will harm New York's job-seeking youth and may not be the best way to address the program's budgetary problems," said Schumer. "The Labor Department must waste no time in evaluating the Jobs Corps budget shortfall and allow the hardworking instructors and staff at the Iroquois Center in Medina and Upstate New York's four other centers to continue pairing youth with well-paying vocations. The students and workers at our Job Corps centers should not have the rug pulled out from under them, while the national office gets their fiscal house in order."
Schumer highlighted that cost-saving measures impacting enrollment harms Upstate New York's youth, and hampers the nation's ability to maintain a competitive workforce. He urged the Department of Labor to exhaust more sensible measures, instead of an enrollment freeze that bars Upstate New York's youth from gaining valuable job training through the program. In order to better evaluate what the other options are, Schumer asked the department for a list of all the other cuts considered in addition to the enrollment freeze and the measures taken between 2011-2012 to mitigate the program deficit. In addition, Schumer requested the Department of Labor provide a summary of any and all deliberations taken within the Department, with other entities within the Administration, with contractors and operators, Congress and other experts.
Noting that an enrollment freeze should only be considered as a last resort to save the program, Schumer urged the Department of Labor to evaluate the problem from all sides and to entertain every other option before taking away this necessary resource from the thousands of low-income youth who may have no other means of training for a career. The Labor Department's original plan to address the $39 million shortfall was to reduce student enrollment by 2,909 across seven states. However, on January 18, 2013, the department announced it would freeze enrollment at all 125 Jobs Corps campuses, cutting off opportunities to tens of thousands of potential program participants, many of whom have nowhere else to turn for professional development. The department, which was entrusted with $1.7 billion a year in 2011 and 2012 in order to manage vital labor development programs like Job Corps, provided Congress and the public with no justification for broadly cutting enrollment other than the overall shortfall and failed to take action to permanently stabilize the financial condition of the program when the financial problems first started.
First introduced in 1964, Jobs Corps was designed to provide disadvantaged youth with the skills needed to obtain and hold a job, enter the Armed Forces, or enroll in advanced training or higher education. In addition to receiving academic and employment training, youth also engage in social skills training and other services to promote their overall wellbeing. Since then, Jobs Corps has established 125 campuses nationwide and been successful in providing social mobility for otherwise underserved youths. Upstate New York is home to five Jobs Corps campuses located in Otsego, Orleans, Albany, Sullivan and Chautauqua counties. Receiving funding from state and local sources as well as the federal government, these training centers are essential for developing local economies. The program creates skilled workers who can help drive businesses forward and benefit their respective communities as a whole.
A copy of Sen. Schumer's letter to Acting Secretary Seth D. Harris appears below:
Dear Acting Secretary Harris,
We are writing regarding the U.S. Department of Labor's oversight and administration of the Job Corps program. We have tremendous concern regarding the Department's decision to suspend all new student enrollments to Job Corps centers. This action will leave thousands of youth without access to the largest residential youth education and training program for disadvantaged youth age 16 to 24. We request immediate justification for the suspension of new enrollments and an accounting of the specific reasons for the ongoing funding shortfall.
As you know, the purpose of Job Corps is to provide disadvantaged youth with the skills needed to obtain and hold a job, enter the Armed Forces, or enroll in advanced training or higher education. In addition to receiving academic and employment training, youth also engage in social skills training and other services to promote their overall well-being. As you well know, Job Corps is a vital piece of our workforce development system and is often the only option for the youth who enroll.
During program year 2011, we were troubled to learn of a $39 million funding shortfall in the Job Corps operations account. Through a series of immediate and difficult cost-saving measures, and the transfer of funds from other Job Corps and employment and training discretionary accounts, the program year 2011 shortfall was addressed. While concerned about the administration of the program, we were somewhat heartened to learn the Department intended for these emergency actions to have minimal impact on Job Corps students and enrollment.
Recently, we learned the Job Corps operations account shortfall has continued in program year 2012. Our concerns were renewed when the Department informed us that Job Corps student enrollments would be reduced by 2,909 across seven states. Taken on its own, this reduction is an onerous cost saving measure. While we knew this enrollment freeze would adversely impact the opportunities for education and career training for our nation's disadvantaged youth, it appeared this action was necessary to address the shortfall. Yet, on Friday, January 18, we were notified that all new enrollments would be suspended at all 125 Job Corps centers until sufficient program savings were achieved. We are deeply troubled and disturbed the shortfall has not only continued in this program year but that the funding gap has increased. 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. 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. All other cost-saving measures ought to be exhausted before implementing measures adversely impacting Job Corps students or youth seeking enrollment in the program. The Office of Job Corps needs your leadership to permanently address the shortfall and to ensure this enrollment freeze is temporary and discontinued as soon as possible.
We request that you immediately provide us with:
1. detailed analysis and identification of the causes of the program year 2011 shortfall;
2. full accounting of the cost savings measures taken to address the program year 2011 shortfall;
3. full accounting of the permanent cost savings measures taken to address the program year 2011 and program year 2012 shortfall, to address fundamental budgetary shortfalls overall, and to improve program performance or management;
4. detailed description and analysis of the causes of the continuing shortfall in program year 2012;
5. full justification of the need to suspend enrollments, and whether reductions in slots or suspension of enrollments is anticipated to continue in program year 2013;
6. full description of every other cost savings option considered by the Department before the final decision to implement the January 28 suspension of enrollments and the justification for not choosing those options; and
7. summary of any and all deliberations taken within the Department, with other entities within the Administration, with contractors and operators, Congress, and other experts.
We request that you provide this information no later than February 7, 2013. If you are unable to address any of these issues, please provide detailed information explaining why the Department is unable to do so. We will continue to closely monitor the administration of the Job Corps program and the Department's oversight of Job Corps centers.