Iowa Workforce Development officials can move ahead with closing
37 36 of the agency’s 55 field offices around Iowa, thanks to a line-item veto by Governor Terry Branstad. State lawmakers included language in the economic development appropriations bill to require Iowa Workforce Development to maintain its current number of field offices through the 2012 fiscal year. However, Branstad rejected that provision yesterday:
“This item would prohibit Iowa Workforce Development from putting forth an enhanced delivery system that broadens access to Iowans across the state in fiscal year 2012,” Branstad said. “In order to develop a sustainable delivery system in light of continually fluctuating federal funding, the department must put forth a system that embraces the use of technology while providing enhanced benefits through maximum efficiencies.”
Branstad said Iowa Workforce Development has more than 190 “virtual access point workstations” in over 60 new locations throughout the state to increase access to these critica services. He says Iowans are already using the expanded hours of operation, six days a week.
“At my direction, IWD will have hundreds of additional virtual access points by the end of fiscal year 2012,” he said.
I doubt many unemployed Iowans would consider a computer terminal “enhanced” access, compared to an office staffed by a real person explaining the available services.
Controversy over shutting down these offices nearly derailed the Iowa Senate confirmation of Teresa Wahlert. Opposition from lawmakers of both parties didn’t persuade her, although two of the 39 field offices originally targeted will be spared. Iowa Workforce Development started closing some of its field offices even before legislators had adopted a final budget. In early July, the agency laid off 13 employees as part of the planned reorganization. Iowa Workforce Development Communications Coordinator Katie Hommer communications director was unable to tell me today when the agency will finish shutting down the offices slated for closure. She said staff are still going through the signed budget, which they only just received.
Hommer also did not know whether enough funds were provided for the agency to keep open its New Iowan Centers, which offer specialized services for recent immigrants. Those centers are currently located in Muscatine, Ottumwa, Marshalltown, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa City, Des Moines, Sioux City, Storm Lake, Council Bluffs, Mason City and Denison.
On a related note, Branstad’s love for streamlining government doesn’t extend to the U.S. Postal Service, which may close as many as 178 Iowa post offices. The downsizing is part of a plan to eliminate 3,700 of nearly 32,000 post offices nationwide. Branstad has repeatedly criticized plans to eliminate rural Iowa post offices, and yesterday he told Radio Iowa that the postal service is not using “common sense.” He wants the independent federal agency to explore alternatives to closing offices that small-town residents rely on.
Conservatives talk a good game about running government like a business, but a private business with declining revenues could never afford to operate retail outlets in as many locations as the U.S. Postal Service. The independent agency gets almost all of its revenues from postal fees (not federal budget allocations). As Americans send fewer paper letters and documents, postal service revenues have declined.
Branstad and his wife own 12 Iowa buildings that are leased to the U.S. Postal Service. So far only one of those, in Lohrville, is on the list of post offices to be closed.
UPDATE: Iowa House and Senate Democrats will reach out to Republicans to convene a special legislative session “with the sole purpose of overriding Governor Branstad’s line-item vetoes of legislation prohibiting the closure of the [Iowa Workforce Development] offices.” Details are in a press release I’ve posted after the jump. That document lists all the towns that would lose Iowa Workforce Development offices, as well as the county unemployment rate in each area.
SECOND UPDATE: Sounds like Republicans are not game for a special session to deal with this narrow issue. I’ve added Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley’s statement below.
THIRD UPDATE: Only 36 field offices will be closed, because federal funding came through to keep the Webster City office open. The closure of the Electrolux factory has been a particular hardship for Iowans in the local area. After the jump I’ve posted an Iowa Workforce Development press release, which lists all the cities and towns that will have the “regional integrated one-stop offices,” as well as all the localities that will lose their field offices.
Meanwhile, Iowa House and Senate Democrats formally called for a special session on July 29. Republicans are not interested. Expect these office closures to become a campaign issue in a bunch of statehouse races next year. The Golden Dome Blog found a video of Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds praising a “phenomenal” and “user friendly” workforce development office during last year’s gubernatorial campaign.
Democratic State Representative Dave Jacoby serves on the Iowa Workforce Development Board and is angry that board didn’t get to weigh in on whether these field offices should be closed.
Iowa Legislature News Release
July 28, 2011
Senator Mike Gronstal: 515-205-1004
Representative Kevin McCarthy: 515-360-8241
Legislators consider special session on Workforce Offices
DES MOINES – Legislators are considering further steps to keep Workforce Development field offices open, including the possibility of a special session with the sole purpose of overriding Governor Branstad’s line-item vetoes of legislation prohibiting the closure of the offices. Democrats plan to reach out to their Republican colleagues starting today to consider the possibility for the special session.
“We passed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to save the Workforce Offices,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. “With more than 100,000 Iowans out of work, this is no time to close offices that assist those searching for jobs, preparing for interviews and improving their skills, while also helping businesses find qualified employees.”
“We should continue to make sure Iowans and communities have the resources they need to get back on their feet and recover from the national economic recession,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “That’s the job we were sent to the Statehouse to do.”
Governor Branstad line-item vetoed language in Senate File 517 that required the state to maintain the current number of Workforce Development field offices. In his veto message, the Governor said he intends to proceed with his plan to close at least 36 Workforce Offices around the state and replace them with library kiosks.
“Most of the offices Governor Branstad wants to close are in rural areas,” said Representative Roger Thomas, ranking member of the House Economic Development Committee. “Many of them are in communities with the highest unemployment rates that are most in need of job-assistance resources.”
“Governor Branstad is basically telling Iowans struggling to find work that they should ‘go to the library and look online,’” said Senator Dotzler, chair of the Senate Economic Development Budget Subcommittee. “I worked as a machine operator for years, and I’m telling you that when an entire community is facing layoffs, it’s not that easy.”
“At the local Workforce Office, an expert will help you come up with an individualized strategy for getting back on your feet, whether it’s enrolling in a certificate program at a community college, writing a resume or learning how to interview for a job,” said Representative Kirsten Running Marquardt, ranking member of the House Economic Development Budget Subcommittee. “This is about jobs.”
“Normally we would wait until the next legislative session in January to respond to the Governor’s veto, but with more than 100,000 Iowans out of work, this is an urgent situation,” explained Senator Steve Sodders, chair of the Senate Economic Development Budget Committee. “The Governor is ready to break leases and shut the doors on these offices. We need to discuss what we can do to prevent that.”
In addition, Representative Dave Jacoby, a member of the Workforce Development Board, plans to reach out today to his Republican colleagues on the board to support the call for a special session.
Article III, section 2, of the Constitution of the State of Iowa provides that members of the legislature may convene a special session if two-thirds of each house signs a petition. A veto override also requires support from two-thirds of each chamber.
A table of the Workforce Offices that Governor Branstad hopes to close and the unemployment rates in each area is below.
June Unemployment (%)
Fort Madison or Keokuk
Note: July unemployment numbers are not yet available.
Statement from Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, July 28:
DES MOINES – Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) today responded to Senate Democrats calls for a special session by saying that if they want an expensive special session, the agenda must include substantial action to help bring more jobs to Iowa instead of continuing their obstruction of pro-jobs legislation:
“Senate Democrats spent the last six months during the third longest session in history obstructing badly needed jobs legislation and pro-growth policies and suddenly now want an expensive special session?
If a special session were to occur, the agenda will have to include passing comprehensive property tax reform for all classes of property, rule and regulatory reform to remove some of the onerous barriers job creators are facing and putting in place the kinds of real education reforms that are needed give our kids the tools they need to succeed in this competitive global economy.”
Iowa Workforce Development news release, July 29:
Iowa Workforce Development Implements Enhanced Delivery System
DES MOINES – Iowa Workforce Development announced the revised workforce delivery system based on the new model of Local Access Points and Regional Integrated Centers on Friday.
“Multiple factors require Iowa to develop a new workforce system that is sustainable for the long term,” stated director Teresa Wahlert. “By ensuring that more Iowans have an opportunity for services in their own communities, we can provide services faster and more efficiently to more Iowans on a timely basis.”
Iowa’s current system has 55 field offices. The new, enhanced system will provide 16 regional integrated one-stop offices in Burlington, Carroll, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Creston, Davenport, Decorah, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Mason City, Ottumwa, Sioux City, Spencer and Waterloo. Additionally, there will be three satellite locations in Fort Madison, Iowa City and Webster City, and hundreds of locally enhanced access points through armories, private colleges, community action agencies, community colleges, County Veterans Affairs Offices, courthouses, public libraries and others. Currently, more than 60 access point locations are operational with over 190 workstations. This enhanced system will have greater availability to the public with evening and weekend hours, something not available in the current delivery model. Additionally, IWD will continue to enhance technology based services throughout the new system for the benefit of all clients. The workforce system will transition throughout late 2011 in two phases to ensure a process that meets the needs of training and set-up for each locally enhanced access point.
Offices transitioning in Phase One include: Algona, Atlantic, Boone, Centerville, Charles City, Cherokee, Clarinda, Denison, Emmetsburg, Estherville, Fairfield, Glenwood, Harlan, Humboldt, Iowa Falls, Keokuk, Manchester, Maquoketa, Mt. Pleasant, New Hampton, Oelwein, Orange City, Osceola, Oskaloosa, Pella, Perry, Pocahontas, Red Oak, Shenandoah, Washington and Waverly.
Offices transitioning in Phase Two include: Ames, Clinton, Muscatine, Newton and Storm Lake.
The Department expects the transition will be completed by December 31, 2011 and will affect 70-95 employees across the state.
Iowa Workforce Development and partners, provide comprehensive workforce services within the integrated IowaWORKS offices. 24/7 access to employment services, unemployment filings, job postings and more is available at www.iowaworkforce.org