City Councilmembers this week reluctantly approved a new Oakland Workforce Investment Board (WIB) budget for 2015-2017 that will make drastic cuts in jobs and job training programs for youth and unemployed adults.
Unhappy with the cuts to services for jobseekers, councilmembers also voted to hold a meeting before Sept. 30 to revisit and amend the WIB budget submitted by city staff.
Councilmembers on the city’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee said at their Tuesday meeting that they had no choice but to temporarily pass the budget in order to keep the flow of funds for jobs and training programs from being interrupted.
The proposed WIB budget will now go to the full council for approval.
Councilmembers said they want to meet in the fall to discuss the concerns raised by community members and representatives of nonprofits that operate programs in the community.
The top concern of the speakers at Tuesday’s CED meeting was that the WIB is making deep cuts in its budget and program that are not justified by the tiny reduction of federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) jobs funding that pays for Oakland’s programs.
According to WIB Executive Director John Bailey, while the federal money was only reduced by 1.3 percent compared with last year, the WIB budget is reducing money for youth by 15 percent and funding for adult programs by up to 24 percent.
Another major issue is that the city diverts too much of the money to pay for its administrative staff. Speakers at the meeting complained that the city takes 32 percent off the top for overhead, and the city makes no contributions to support the programs.
Pressed for specifics by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, Bailey could not explain why so much of the job funds are used to pay for city staff.
Councilmembers said they want the WIB to come to the fall meeting with a detailed explanation of how it spends the money that is diverted from direct services to Oakland residents.
Speakers also complained that the WIB does not provide adequate opportunity for the public to participate in the budget process, saying that public meetings are held at 8:30 a.m., making attendance impossible for many people who work or who are looking for work.
“It doesn’t make any sense that Oakland has its funding cut by less than 2 percent, and the service providers will be reduced by 15 to 24 percent – this budget is the antithesis of the values expressed by this council,” said Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council.
Speaking at the meeting, Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee, said that when her husband was unemployed, he went to many job agencies and got a runaround. But when he went to the PIC, he was listened to, treated humanely and helped.
The city needs to support these services that are more effective than 100 new cops to combat crime and support unemployed workers and their families, Brooks said. “Or are we going to keep repeating this pattern of murder, incarceration and demoralization?”
The WIB board is dysfunctional, said community member Carroll Fife. “I have been barred from attending these meetings, and service providers say they feel they will be retaliated against if they speak up.”
Defending the work of the board was WIB Chair Agnes Ubalde, vice president and community development officer of Wells Fargo Bank.
“Our board is transparent. Our budget process is open,” she said.