AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage wants more federal funds used to help unemployed Mainers shifted to job training, a move some local labor officials say would take money from individualized career counseling, hurting vulnerable job seekers.
LePage’s administration last week submitted his plan that demands that locally run workforce boards spend 70 percent of federal workforce funds on job training, Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman Laura Hudson said Monday. The U.S. Department of Labor has 90 days to review the governor’s proposal, which concerns about $8 million in federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding.
LePage has long complained that Maine’s three workforce boards spend too much on bureaucracy, even as leaders of the boards note that federal law limits them from spending more than 10 percent of funds on administrative costs.
Separately, proposals by the Republican governor to consolidate the three boards into a single agency have been rejected by the administrations of both President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama.
Leaders of Maine’s workforce boards say LePage’s latest proposal would take funding from career counseling and other services required by federal law that don’t count as job training. The boards largely spend their money on worker training costs, such as tuition, as well as case managers, counselors, leases and utilities.
LePage’s proposal would cut support services for job seekers who are laid-off, chronically homeless, recovering from addiction, veterans, English language learners, ex-offenders or living with disabilities, said Joanna Russell, executive director of the Northeastern Workforce Development Board, which is responsible for Maine’s workforce system in northern and eastern Maine. She estimates about 2,200 Maine workers received help from the workforce boards last year.
“Decisions to hold back workforce funding and then to place impossible requirements on the local boards does not bode well for us as we try to develop a workforce and to meet employers’ needs across the state,” she said.
The state could dip into another roughly $3 million pool of federal funding that covers basic job search help, said LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz.
“These funds are already available and the counseling can be provided in concert with job training as needed,” Rabinowitz said.
Russell cautioned that Maine must meet federal requirements to provide individualized career assessments, job search help and follow-up.
The Maine State Workforce Board, which oversees the state’s entire workforce system, in January voted in support of LePage’s plan to spend more on training.
A federal judge that month ordered the LePage administration to release millions of dollars of federal workforce funds that a southern Maine workforce board said LePage withheld for months. Russell and other leaders of Maine’s workforce boards said they laid off staff due to the withheld funds.
The governor told federal officials last fall to stop sending Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds to Maine.
“The current system is fraught with redundancies and waste, and I have tried for nearly seven years to reduce overhead and administrative costs so that more funds can go directly to the constituents we are trying to put back to work,” LePage wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “I will not continue to participate in a system that wastes money.”
Hudson didn’t say whether the state submitted critical public comments to the U.S. Department of Labor, which also didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.