Job Corps enrollment freeze ends

Funding backer U.S. Sen Bob. Casey calls move good news for students in state and across country.

By:  Andrew Seder

BUTLER TWP. — The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a directive that lifts enrollment freezes nationwide for its Job Corps program effective immediately. This will affect four centers in Pennsylvania, including one in Butler Township.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has been calling for an inspector general’s investigation into the programs’ funding shortfall and held a Senate hearing on the issue, lauded the announcement.

“This is good news for students in Pennsylvania and around the country as they seek skills needed to successfully enter the workforce. It is disturbing that financial mismanagement led to a three-month enrollment freeze that prevented students from attending Job Corps and led to job loss at local Job Corps centers,” Casey, D-Scranton, said.

The program, one of the nation’s largest job-training initiatives for low-income youths and young adults, has centers in Philadelphia, Lopez, Pittsburgh and the Keystone Job Corps Center in Butler Township, where at-risk young adults, ages 16-24, receive worker training so they’re able to compete for jobs.

According to data released by Casey’s office, at the Keystone Center alone 396 students who applied and were accepted for enrollment have since been told there’s no space due to the funding cuts. The lack of students also would have resulted in the loss of employment for 176 staff members at the center.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced in January it was freezing all new enrollments at 125 Job Corps centers nationwide due to a projected $61.5 million budgetary shortfall in 2012. The freeze was expected to last until at least June 30.

But those plans changed recently, according to the Department of Labor, which issued a statement Monday afternoon confirming the reopening of enrollment has been ordered.

“The suspension of enrollment has been difficult for students and families, and the department is committed to ensuring that this important program is administered efficiently by ETA (Employment and Training Administration) and in the best interests of students and families,” acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris said.

Casey and others still want to know what created the shortfall, and in past comments on the matter hinted that mismanagement might be at play.

“I am deeply troubled by these cuts, particularly since this is the second year in a row where the program has suffered from a major financial shortfall. This kind of repeated problem raises serious questions about the management by the Department,” Casey wrote in a letter to U.S. Inspector General Daniel R. Petrol, calling for an investigation.

On Monday, after learning the program’s enrollment freeze has been lifted, Casey said he is still seeking answers.

“There are still many unresolved issues to ensure that financial management is improved and the highly successful Job Corps program can serve our communities effectively and efficiently,” Casey said.

“I will continue to monitor the implementation of reforms as well as the upcoming Inspector General report.”