Off the Job
State audit finds fault in county’s job placement program.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
While economists have called the country’s slow economic rebound a jobless recovery, Monterey County has been putting people back to work. But some of the county’s most effective programs to train dislocated workers are now facing scrutiny by the state Employment Development Department.
In an audit report released in November, the EDD claims the Workforce Investment Board, the workforce training and assistance program that operated under the county Department of Social and Employment Services, violated guidelines with its handling of federal funds.
The audit identified nearly $857,000 in unallowable expenses in 2009-10, including nearly $175,000 paid to the department’s former director while he was on administrative leave (see story, below), as well as funds that went to train workers for skills they already had.
“Participants were placed in jobs for training they did not need since they already had the skills and experience,” the audit states. “It is illogical to send dislocated workers back to an industry from which they were laid off.”
But Elliott Robinson, director of Social and Employment Services, says auditors are taking an unreasonably narrow view. “You have to be sensitive to conditions,” he says. “We want to help people re-enter the job market that exists here today.”
In his written response to the audit, Robinson cites success stories of workers whose earnings increased after training. In one case, after she was laid off as a hospital receptionist, a 20-year-old high school dropout interned as an OB/GYN office assistant; her meager unemployment earnings jumped to $46,000 a year.
“Without the internship, it is unlikely that she would have been considered for the job due to her low educational attainment,” Robinson wrote.
Erik Cushman, the Weekly’s publisher and WIB chair, says the program was effective and upheld the U.S. Congress’ objectives. “Oversight of federal money is appropriate, and this money was used exactly as it was intended,” Cushman says. “I think the data supports the fact that the money was spent in a meaningful and appropriate way.”
John Chamberlin, a Portland-based consultant contracted to craft nearly a dozen responses to stimulus fund audits, including Monterey County’s, says the majority of the costs are legitimate and proper. But auditors were unmoved by the county’s response.
The audit hones in on only a small portion of the $7.1 million in stimulus money that arrived, according to a federal formula, and found fault with less than 3 percent of the 3,000 workers the WIB served in 2009-10 with its more than $14 million operating budget. But the final outcome of the audit – which Robinson plans to appeal – could force the county to dial back its innovative internship program.