- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

When her husband’s Air Force job took him to Colorado, Vydia Torres became a cashier just so she could join him, even though her resume included stints as Puerto Rico’s housing secretary and the head of a nonprofit group.

“I did not have the network. I did not know the labor market,” Mrs. Torres said of her move in 1993. Military spouses face similar career dilemmas, she said, because they relocate so much.

Today, Mrs. Torres leads a program in Colorado Springs, one of seven cities nationwide to have initiatives funded through the National Emergency Grant program to help military spouses with job training, placement, tuition and child care.

Despite its popularity, the initiative is in jeopardy because government officials do not intend to renew its federal grant.

“We’ve been turning people away,” said Leland Lewis, who manages the program in the Norfolk area. “There’s a letdown” when potential applicants learn they no longer can enroll.

Mason Bishop, deputy assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, said Friday that the department has told program administrators that the grant money no longer will be available because it comes from a pool of money meant for emergencies.

Mr. Bishop said his agency sends billions of dollars annually to states to help workers find jobs and learn new skills. He said some of this money could pay for the program for military spouses.

“I absolutely believe these projects can continue on indefinitely,” he said.

The program grew from effort in the late 1990s to provide job training for people in the military. The department estimates that it has spent about $90 million for military spouses through the National Emergency Grant program since 2001, Mr. Bishop said.

These grants, he said, are intended to assist with one-time events such as plant closings or natural disasters.

“We have to be prudent in administration of these monies,” he said.

Stephanie Youngblood recently went through the program in Tennessee, where administrators will not accept new applicants.

“The program, as a whole, is awesome, is really great,” said Mrs. Youngblood, who recently got a job as an assistant special-education teacher. “It’s terrible that spouses are going to lose out on that.”

Army Sgt. 1st Class John Youngblood is stationed at Fort Campbell but is deployed in Iraq. Mrs. Youngblood said spouses faced with the deployment of their loved ones have a great need for the program.

“We have to be prepared for the possibility that, you know, they might not come back, and we might, you know, have to survive on our own income, with our own skills,” she said.

Mary Sabillo, who helps run the program in San Diego, says the initiative is viewed “almost like a GI Bill for spouses” and has served as a retention tool for the military.

“If the spouses could gain employment and provide more dollars into the family income, it was more likely the military spouse would stay in the military,” she said.

The issue has attracted attention from lawmakers who represent communities that have the program.

“What we have seen is the ability of thousands, thousands of Americans to be working to develop skills to move into the job market,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican.

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