Local Job Providers Call for WIB Overhaul

Jul 12, 2013

By Ken A. Epstein

A group of local nonprofit job agencies, calling themselves the Oakland Workforce Development Network, are calling on the City Council to reform the way the Oakland Workforce Investment Board (WIB) spends federal money for jobs and job training.

“Although … some aspects of the city’s stewardship of this system have improved, there are still very significant structural, egal and sustainability issues that the council should be aware of. These are issues that put the City of Oakland at risk,” said Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council.

The agencies are asking the city to stop taking 32 percent of the federal jobs budget off the top for administrative services. The WIB, which has included  $1.5 million that remains unspent from last year as part of the new budget, says it is taking only 24 percent.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the city’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee, the nonprofit agencies said they are supporting the WIB’s new $4.8 million budget despite its flaws, due to the “the extreme urgency of (federal) job training funds being made available in a timely manner.”

Gay Plair Cobb

Noting the unacceptably high unemployment rates of Black and Latino populations in Oakland, Cobb said, “These funds are intended to serve those in need of training services, your constituents.”

The agencies also are calling on the council to begin contributing city money to supplement diminishing federal funds. Though Oakland takes overhead from federal the Workforce Investment Act funds, it contributes no resources – unlike other government jurisdictions, according to the agencies.

In addition, the agencies say the city should direct the WIB to stop developing its budget and spending priorities in ad hoc meetings that are not public. “All meetings of the WIB (should) be properly noticed and open to public participation,” the agencies wrote in their statement distributed at the CED meeting.

Among those agreeing with the reform recommendations were Lao Family Community Development, Spanish Speaking Citizens Foundation, Pivotal Point Youth Services, Oakland Private Industry Council, School Boardmember Jumoke Hinton Hodge and PUEBLO.

LaTronda Lumpkins, executive director of Pivotal Point, was critical of the failure of the 2013-2015 budget to fund services to

foster youth, Latino youth in central East Oakland and young people in West Oakland.

Agreeing, Hinton Hodge said she was particularly concerned about the lack of services in West Oakland. “I am very dissatisfied with this (budget),” she said.

While federal jobs funding to Oakland has decreased by 9 percent, the city is increasing its costs to the program, said Kathy Chao Rotherg of Lao Family.

“It’s going to (mean) cuts to the streets, to the jobseekers and to providers in the community,” she said.

In regard to slow payment to job providers, “Our own organization was impacted two years in a row,” said Chao Rothberg. One year the city owed the agency $188,000, a nine-month delay, and another year $100,000, a 12-month delay, she said.

“Who is going to be serving West Oakland youth and Latino youth. Who is going to be taking care of these young people?” asked Karina Najera, interim executive director of Spanish Speaking Citizens Foundation.

Responding to the criticisms, John Bailey, executive director of the Oakland WIB, said the WIB’s work has been reviewed by the Department of Labor and the state, and never has the level of administrative overhead been raised as a concern.

Council President Pat Kernighan said she considered the speakers from the agencies to be “disingenuous” about wanting to get money onto the streets when “so many steps have been taken to delay this process and to derail it.”

Karina Najera

Responding Councilmember Larry Reid, chair of the CED committee, backed the agencies’ reform recommendations.

“Though you may not support this,” he said to Kernighan, “I am supporting it.  If you look at how we pass out the money on the street, it has been a very slow process.

The city must do what it can to make sure that service providers are able to do their work in a timely fashion, he said.