- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

Unemployed persons and social agency representatives raised concerns about a lack of coordination in Washington's five-year job training and placement plan at a public meeting with city officials on Friday.

The District is required by federal law to submit a plan by April 1 to the U.S. Department of Labor on how it will help unemployed persons find work. Other provisions of the 1998 Workforce Investment Act require states and the District to set up "one-stop centers" where job seekers can find training and referrals to employers.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams' unified plan has two main goals, first to improve literacy and second to coordinate efforts with employers.

Some social service groups say the plan needs improvement.

It is intended to help welfare recipients whose lifetime federal benefits will run out for the first time next year because of limits set by the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Federal legislation requires all states and the District of Columbia to develop "one-stop" plans for finding them jobs and training.

Critics of Mr. Williams' plan say there is nothing "unified" about the mayor's "2001 Unified Plan" on work force development. Instead, job seekers will be forced to dig their way through a patchwork of social agencies that work together only in spirit, but not through effective administration, they say.

Jennifer Brooks, a member of the mayor's Workforce Investment Council that developed the 194-page plan, concedes that some parts of it could create confusion.

"The plan provides a lot of information about what different agencies are doing," Miss Brooks says. "It does not provide information about how services will improve and be more streamlined for job seekers."

Miss Brooks, who was appointed to the 39-member council by Mr. Williams, also is director of self-sufficiency programs for the nonprofit organization Wider Opportunities for Women.

However, Keith Cross, deputy director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, says, "There is coordination" and a deputy mayor's office acts as a conduit.

He says any problems with the unified plan probably would be remedied soon.

"This is a living document," Mr. Cross says. "Every year we're making changes."

The District currently operates three one-stop centers, at 2626 Naylor Road; 4049 S. Capitol St. and 800 N. Capitol St., and two satellite centers. Four more one-stop centers are planned to open within months.

The legislation was prompted by federal limits on welfare benefits. About 50,000 people, including 11,000 families, rely on federal welfare benefits in the District.

The Welfare Reform Act allows welfare recipients to receive cash assistance for a maximum of five years in a lifetime. The first five-year deadline is March 1, 2002.

Although about 2,700 families in the District will lose their federal benefits, the D.C. government plans to continue the benefits under its own budget. However, the welfare recipients have no assurance of how long the benefits will continue or how much they will receive.

Tayloria Jordan, a program manager for the D.C. Department of Human Services, says, "Five years is the limit. We have a lot of people who are unemployable."

She says the unified plan provided no guarantees against unemployment and homelessness.

"I would hope not," Mrs. Jordan says. "We have to address it."

Lingering problems include a 40 percent low literacy rate among the District's adult population and an unemployment rate that is twice as high as the rest of the region.

The literacy effort is led by an organization the mayor's office calls the "State Education Agency," based at the University of the District of Columbia. The plan would increase funding for literacy programs and provide child care for adult learners while they study.

Greg McCarthy, the mayor's policy director, told the approximately 30 persons at the public hearing Friday, "Literacy has risen to the forefront of what is important to the mayor. It's going to be a major growth area for us."

Some witnesses at the meeting at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library said the mayor's literacy plan might be adequate, but the one-stop centers are poorly organized and ineffective. They complained about different agencies working independently of each other, long waits at the centers, poor communication with staff and training for jobs that pay little more than minimum wage.

Ana Chapa, employment program coordinator for the Spanish Catholic Center, said she referred Spanish-speaking clients to a one-stop center for job training and referral only to have them referred back to her.

"They were told if they didn't speak English, no, they could not get service at the center," Miss Chapa said.

Sasha Clayton, a caseworker at Bread for the City, said a woman he referred to a one-stop center made an appointment but gave up in frustration after waiting about two hours for a staff member to help her.

"There was a breakdown of communication," Mr. Clayton said.

Jim Eichberg, chairman of the Workforce Investment Council, said city officials were responsive to problems but acknowledged the system still was being developed.

"This is just a beginning," Mr. Eichberg said. "The proof will be in the pudding."

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