Jobs program to focus on young, for now

Butler County officials are concerned about how they will implement an unfunded mandate intended to help young people secure employment when the program is expanded to the entire population.

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No new money was allocated for the program that targets youth ages 16-24 when Gov. John Kasich inserted it into his budget bill two years ago, and the complexion of the program has changed with revised deadlines and populations served.

Only 75 youths are eligible for the program right now, but once it is opened up to the entire population there could be funding issues, according to Ray Pater, the county’s Job and Family Services executive director.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing. I’m just hoping the funding does work out,” Pater said. “If it is eventually opened up to the entire population I love the idea, but I’m worried about the funding.”

Kasich's budget bill — the vehicle that set the program in motion — established a deadline of December 2015 for county JFS agencies to target workforce, education and training services for teens and young adults ages 16-24. Implementation of the one-stop-shop plan for the rest of the impoverished population was to be this July.

That deadline changed, with the date for implementing the program for young adults switched to July 1 while the rest of population was put on hold.

“The Comprehensive Case Management and Employment Program was designed so it could be expanded to include other populations at a later date,” said Joe Keeling, communications director for the state JFS office. “At this point, there is no timeline for expansion as we are focused on the successful implementation of the program for 16-24 year olds.”

Butler County JFS Assistant Director Jerome Kearns originally identified about 180 youths who must be given a comprehensive case management plan. Now that the program is a month old, and further clarifications have come from Columbus, Kearns said they will be giving "individual opportunity plans" to 75 youth, but that number is subject to change.

“There’s been a significant reduction based on the information we were provided,” Kearns said about the large difference in participation totals between now and April. “It is 16-to-24-year-olds who have a work requirement, and not everybody has a work requirement.”

The bill does not include new money for these initiatives; rather it reallocates $310 million in state and federal funds. Butler County’s allocation for the new program is just over $3 million and Warren County, where the poverty level is low, will receive $870,379.

U.S. Census Bureau estimates showed Butler County’s poverty rate in 2014 was 14.6 percent, slightly lower than the 14.8 percent national average. Meanwhile, Warren County had the lowest poverty rate, 4.5 percent, among 39 Ohio counties surveyed. The survey included counties with a population of 65,000 or more.

Karen Whittamore, director of the OhioMeansJobs-Warren County job center, said the county initially identified only one youth who would be eligible for the program, and have had two or three people come in and start the process. But she said that doesn’t mean trying to implement the program hasn’t been arduous.

“As far as the information and understanding of the program, it’s been a little bit rocky,” she said. “You get the feeling that maybe this was rolled out before it was ready. We just have to keep working with the state on trying to figure things out.

“The two, possibly three (youth) we’ve had come through, we’re finding the initial paperwork is taking an excessive amount of time.”

There is also a glitch in the program, which is funded by the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), in that Ohio is imposing the required 20-hour work week mandated by TANF on WIOA recipients who have no hourly mandate.

Adam Jones, administrator of the Butler, Clermont and Warren county investment board, said the 20-hour work requirement could effect program participants.

“When they have to go to school, because that’s what we do, we try to get people enrolled in school so they can get the skills,” Jones said. “So they’ve got schooling, they’ve got maybe day care issues and they’ve got everything else going on in life. Something’s gotta give.”

Shelly Hoffman, communications director for Kasich’s Office of Human Services Innovation, said the agency is in the process of ironing out this wrinkle.

“Ohio is the first state to integrate public assistance and workforce funds to support a single youth employment program and it is not unexpected to have an item or two to work out as we pull two programs with different federal requirements together,” she said. “We are working through this matter with the Department of Labor.”

Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association, said because funding wasn’t available until July 1 many counties didn’t have money to hire people or contract services in advance. Butler County will eventually have three people handling the program and the coordinator.

Statewide, he said everyone has their programs in place and people trained and it has been a “pretty quiet transition.”