Haphazard cuts to already-underfunded job training programs are preventing community organizations from providing local companies with the workers they need, Focus: HOPE’s Ryan Dinkgrave said Wednesday at a briefing on Capitol Hill organized by NDD United.
Dinkgrave’s organization, Focus: HOPE, provides a variety of anti-poverty services to vulnerable people in the Detroit area who wish to better themselves, and sequestration impairs his organization’s ability to train adult students for long-term, sustainable careers. Focus: HOPE’s programs are being “reduced in duration, reduced in the depth of skills taught, and reduced in the opportunities to impart work-readiness and career-navigation lessons that are critical to long-term success of those individuals,” he said.
The cuts have concrete, disruptive impacts on the organization’s ability to feed area industries with the skilled workers they need. “We’re not just training somebody to perform a task and have a job, but to have a career in which they can advance and be a long-term employee for your business and a long-term self-sufficient citizen able to provide for their family,” Dinkgrave said, stressing the difference between short-term vocational training courses and longer-term career programs. Detroit factories need trained Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machinists, but with funding cuts Focus: HOPE is no longer able to provide that level of training. “I can maybe get a 10- or 12-week training program funded,” Dinkgrave said. “That’s great, that gets you a machine operator. But it’s not a full CNC Machinist. That person is eventually going to need more training if they’re ever going to advance in that career.” Hundreds of CNC Machinist jobs in the Detroit area are unfilled as a result.
Dinkgrave said Focus: HOPE has also laid off support staff and instructors. “These are people who chose to be here. They’re not raking it in here,” he said, describing how some use their own resources to help students with transportation, clothing for interviews, or tutoring on off hours. That dedication isn’t invincible, though, and as budget cuts pile up “there comes a point where you break, where you can’t do it anymore, whether it’s financially, emotionally, psychologically.”
Workforce development programs amount to just 0.42 percent of all federal spending at present, Dinkgrave said. Unlike business travelers and other squeaky wheels, the career-minded unemployed people who enroll in workforce training programs haven’t escaped sequestration’s across-the-board cuts. Two-thirds of the programs surveyed by the National Skills Coalition in July said they would have to turn away people who would normally be admitted. More than a third of workforce training programs expected to lose a full 25 percent or more of their funding, and half expected to lay off staff.
While sequestration was initially intended to be so painful that Republicans and Democrats would strike a long-term budget deal in order to forestall the cuts, the GOP has come to not only accept sequestration cuts but call them a victory. Congressional conservatives shifted from trying to put blame for the policy on President Obama’s shoulders last winter to crowing about it as “one of the good things” that Congress has done.
For the nearly 60,000 low-income children who lost Head Start spots and over 650,000 Department of Defense employees who were furloughed, sequestration has been less than good. Elderly cancer patients who were denied chemotherapy by the thousands, the 140,000 poor folks who lost their chance for housing assistance, and the tens of thousands who depend on domestic violence organizations that lost funding likely also view sequestration differently.
Sequestration will bite even harder next year, not only because the law is designed to impose new cuts each year that it is in effect, but because programs do not have the budget leeway some used to dull the pain of last year’s automatic cuts. The NDD United report notes that continuing sequestration means sending these programs into the field with a full 18 percent less funding than they had in 2010, without any evidence that demand for those services has declined by a commensurate amount.
For people running workplace training programs like Dinkgrave, such cuts mean spurning one of the country’s biggest sources of economic potential. “Un- and underemployed people are not in that situation by choice. Instead of a burden, they should be seen as a great and untapped resource that can help grow our economy and global competitiveness,” he said, calling non-defense discretionary programs “the keys to the locks that are holding back individual and collective success and prosperity.”