Unemployed worker fund running out

By Elizabeth Ballinger.
If BCC’s Worker Retraining program doesn’t get a raise in state funds, they’ll have to start turning unemployed people away. The program, which helps laid-off or displaced workers and homemakers develop new skill sets to attain more stable employment, has experienced doubled enrollment over winter quarter of last year. “This summer, when the banking and financial sectors bottomed out, people started walking through our doors in droves,” said Joy Prosise, the program’s project manager. Corporate lay-offs, from institutions like the Seattle-based Washington Mutual, trickled down to child-care workers, food service workers, personal trainers, gardeners, and many others who depended on more highly-paid customers for their own salaries. Paula Boyum, VP of Workforce Development, compared the influx with that of the mid-nineties, when several dot-com companies laid off millions. Community colleges received many unemployed but well-educated professionals. “Some have been in an industry for 20 or 30 years,” said Prosise, “They have a skill set. But nobody wants them.” While the governor recommended in her December budget draft that workforce re-education programs be spared from higher-ed cuts, no plans for an increase commeserate with unemployment rates were included. The state, said Boyum, benefits very directly from workforce education. Unemployed people don’t pay much in taxes. “Everybody is trying to get money from the state right now,” said Boyum. “We’re pleased that we’re mentioned among those protected from cuts. But we need new money.” Worker Retraining, which works with local third-party workforce agencies to help students pay for new certificates and degrees, uses one-third of it’s state money for tuition assistance. In 1988, students entering the into workforce education were given a maximum of $1300 a year to pay for tuition, and help cover living and health expenses. In twenty years, that number hasn’t increased a penny