By Ken A. Epstein
The City of Oakland is almost two years behind in spending its federal jobs money for unemployed workers and is rushing to spend $200,000 and maybe more before June 30, when it will have to send unused funds back to the state, which oversees the jobs program, according to a city official.
“We’re reaching a time when we not only have to just obligate those funds but spend them by June 30, or they state will take them away, and we don’t want to go there again,” said Al Auletta, a workforce development manager under City Administrator Deanna Santana.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee, Auletta asked council members to pass a resolution to allow the Oakland Private Industry Council (PIC) to help additional laid-off (displaced) workers and spend the money by the deadline, he said.
“The purpose of this action is to make sure that we are thoughtful, effective and timely in the use of these funds. We have a real need in the One-Stop Career center for dislocated worker training,” Auletta said.
“We appreciate the PIC for coming forward. We gave the opportunity to other adult service providers, and they declined, because they had funding they hadn’t spent yet.
“We still think there may be other funds at risk,” he said. “We still need some more time to figure out if that is the case. We’re hoping that it is not.”
The failure to spend the 2010-11 federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) jobs money can be tracked back to 2009-2010 when the city received federal stimulus funds.
The city had to spend the stimulus money by a federal deadline, which resulted in the city’s decision not to expend regular WIA funds within the usual timeframe. The city has sole authority to decide which funds to use and when to use them.
Because of the timetable for using stimulus money, the regular WIA funds “were pushed into the next fiscal year, and they have a two-year life cycle,” Auletta said.
The city’s review of unspent funds are “indicative of our due diligence,“ according Karen Boyd, spokesperson for the City Administrator’s Office,
“We began the process of reconciling unexpended funds in February to ensure that we are able to disperse funds and thereby provide services to the community by the June 30 deadline,” she said.
Bill Patterson, a longtime WIB member and leader of the Oakland NAACP, says he is happy that the city has been forthright about the urgent need to spend the money and has sought the help of agencies to get itself out of the jam.
At the same time, however, he sees this latest crisis as the result of continuing problems in the city’s administration of job funds.
“The PIC is bailing the city out again. They have done it in the past, and they did it again,” said Patterson. The whole program has not worked well since the administration of it was taken over by the city in 2011.
“It’s been more of the same, ever since the Dellums people were doing it.”
“We’re behind in contracting for services and in spending. Jobs programs, especially small nonprofits that serve youth, have suffered because they have not been paid,” Patterson said.
As part of the fallout, programs for young people in West Oakland and Spanish-speaking youth in central East Oakland have fallen by the wayside, Patterson added.