Paul LePage's push to reform federal funds worries workforce boards

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Maine Governor Paul LePage talks with reporters at a meeting of New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island last month. LePage’s is attempting to cut administrative costs for federal workforce funds so that theu go toward job training and not bureaucrats.

AUGUSTA (AP) — Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s quest to make sure federal workforce funds go toward job training and not bureaucrats has angered Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon and the heads of workforce training program who worry his efforts could harm Maine businesses, workers and job-seekers.

About $8 million in federal funds support three federal workforce development boards that are led by businesses, nonprofits, community colleges and unions. The boards help about 2,200 people annually with programs that train them in skills sought by businesses.

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Gideon and the heads of workforce development boards have claimed LePage has rejected the $8 million in federal money.

But the LePage administration has called such claims “categorically untrue.” Department of Labor spokeswoman Laura Hudson said LePage is working with the U.S. Department of Labor “to provide this job training funding to Maine with only one layer of administrative costs.”

The governor has long wanted the $8 million in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act money to flow from one consolidated statewide agency rather than the three workforce development boards. But his requests have been rejected by former Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration and most recently, Republican President Donald Trump’s.

LePage argues that it’s wasteful for federal funds to be use for “program administration by multiple-pass through organizations” rather than skills training for citizens. He also says federal funding should be focused on rural communities.

Michael Bourret, executive director of Coastal Counties Workforce, said workforce development boards can only use a small percentage of federal funds on administration. He said this year, the LePage administration only offered workforce development boards three months of funding instead of the typical 12 month. His organization is appealing that decision, and he said LePage’s move has made it harder to keep job-training programs running.

“This is happening at a time when employers are really crying out for skilled workers, and this will only make that situation worse,” Bourret said.

Joanna Russell, executive director of the Northeastern Workforce Development Board, said her organization can’t afford to reject the funding, which she said ends Sept. 30.

“This has never been done before,” she said. “What it means is our service providers, their hands are tied when they’re creating career plans for the students. It’s hard for them to allocate funds for a whole year when they only have a quarter-of-the-year funding.”

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