Letter: Help us preserve Workforce Investment Act funding

TO THE EDITOR: Budget negotiations in Washington, D.C., are in full swing, and the daily news updates from the capital illustrate how our legislators’ decisions are directly impacting us locally. The U.S. House of Representatives may eliminate the Workforce Investment Act, which puts both our national and local workforce development systems in jeopardy. Michigan Works! West Central receives approximately half of its funding from the WIA, and with that funding provides a one-stop collection of services to people who are looking for work, and to companies looking to hire. Michigan Works! West Central provides these services in one-stop centers located in Baldwin, Big Rapids, Fremont, Reed City, and Ludington. From January to December 2010, nearly 70,000 individuals came to our five service centers looking for employment and training assistance, which averages out to 300 residents visiting our centers each day we are open. Many of those people visited one of the 15 partnering agencies co-located at the service centers, such as Michigan Rehabilitative Services, Eagle Village, Hope Network, Trillium Staffing, Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency and Goodwill Industries, to name just a few. In these difficult economic times, we’ve all been touched by the effects of unemployment. If we’ve not experienced a lay-off or job loss personally, then we know of someone who has – a family member, a neighbor, a friend, or a co-worker. The House’s proposed legislation would eliminate more than $3.6 billion in funding effective July 1, 2011, as well as rescind $175 million for the current year. If the WIA is eliminated, and there is no workforce development system to rely on, what will be the result? It means that for anyone unfortunate enough to lose a job, there will be nowhere to go to get help. It means no more assistance with building a resume or posting it on the Michigan Talent Bank, no help with finding interviews, honing interviewing skills, or filling out applications. It means an end to assistance with upgrading essential employability skills, and no one-stop connection to community partners that are available to help in other ways after a job loss. It will also likely mean that three of our area’s five rural service centers would have to close, diminishing or altogether eliminating the capacity for cost-sharing between partnering agencies. Also, services to local employers would cease, making it difficult for them to find, hire, and train workers qualified for today’s higher-skilled positions, in what is becoming an even more competitive global market. We all know these are trying times and controlling the nation’s deficit is an absolute necessity. However, eliminating the WIA will cut the very programs that strengthen our workforce and ensure that businesses have access to the skilled workers they need to stay competitive and productive. The health and vitality of local business and industry, along with our schools and communities, will be put in further peril without the support WIA provides. We urge you to contact Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and Congressman Dave Camp or Bill Huizenga, at
www.contactingthecongress.org and tell them that the elimination of the WIA will have a long-term negative impact on their constituents and their communities. In tough economic times, we cannot afford to jeopardize opportunities to put people back to work.

SHERI THOMPSON, chair, workforce development board

LARRY EMIG, chair, local elected official

Michigan Works! West Central