BATON ROUGE -- The Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) is cutting $137,514 from its 2009-2010 budget as part of the mid-year, across-the-board 7.56 percent budget reduction to all state agencies.
The total represents 7.56 percent of direct state general fund dollars previously appropriated to LWC. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2009-2010, those direct state general fund dollars represent less than 1 percent of LWC’s budget. After the reduction, the remainder of LWC’s budget is approximately 73 percent federal dollars earmarked for workforce development and unemployment insurance, 20 percent statutorily dedicated funds for workers’ compensation and 6.46 percent interagency transfer funds, which are mostly federal funds for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program administered by LWC as part of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita recovery efforts.
The $137,514 budget cut will come from a reduction in the contract with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette to build a simulation tool to analyze and anticipate demand and supply gaps in the state’s workforce based on economic and industry changes. Plans are to supplement the contract funding shortfall with federal funds to complete the contract in FY 2010-2011.
“We are taking a prudent business approach to trimming our budget by looking at ways to improve efficiencies to prevent funding cuts from reducing vital services,” said LWC Executive Director Curt Eysink.
LWC has faced federal funding reductions for the past two years, with a drop by more than 50 percent in funds targeted for dislocated workers. At the same time, the number of people served through LWC’s workforce development programs increased by 49 percent this past program year, and the effects of the national economic downturn doubled state unemployment insurance claims.
“We have been sensitive to the economic strain felt by many of those we have served,” said Eysink.
More than 237,400 individuals throughout the state were served during its most recent program year by LWC’s statewide network of Business and Career Solutions Centers and its online job services portal on the agency’s website, www.laworks.net. This compares to 159,181 individuals served during the previous 12 months. More than 7 out of 10 dislocated workers who received LWC services entered employment or education, with 83 percent still working after six months. The average earnings of those individuals also increased more than 26 percent from workers served the previous year.
From December 2008 through November 2009, there were 244,267 initial claims filed with LWC for unemployment insurance, with nearly $493 million in benefits paid. While 185,185 individuals filed for unemployment benefits in Louisiana during that time, the state’s unemployment rate consistently outperformed other states in the South and the nation as a whole throughout 2009. The most recent unemployment numbers show Louisiana’s unemployment rate for November 2009 fell to 6.7 percent, making the state tied for ninth lowest unemployment rate in the country and down from the October 2009 revised rate of 7.4 percent. The unemployment rate has improved more than a percentage point from 7.8 percent in August 2009. The November 2009 unemployment rate for the United States was 10 percent.
“The Louisiana Workforce Commission has been resourceful this past year as we have strived to achieve more with less,” said Eysink. “We have taken a businesslike approach in dealing with our funding reductions, looking at ways to improve efficiencies and reduce staffing needs while maintaining service performance levels even when demand for our services increased.”
LWC has frozen a total of 19 currently unfilled staff positions from its 2009-2010 budget, with plans to eliminate the positions for FY 2010-2011. Total savings from the personnel move will be nearly $1.8 million. The 19 positions are from throughout the agency. Prior to this most recent staff reduction, LWC had reduced its staff by nearly one-fourth, going from its 2006 total of 1,208 employees to 928 in 2009.
Eysink said the LWC has had a successful year, citing among the accomplishments:
- In June 2009, updated occupational forecast figures through year 2016 were released following a detailed review and evaluation by LWC’s Office of Occupational Information Services and the LSU Division of Economic Development. Economists Dr. Dek Terrell and Dr. Loren Scott reviewed the previous forecasts in light of additional data, recent economic developments and conversations with hundreds of Louisiana business and industry leaders. Based on the new information, modifications were made to 177 industry forecasts, making the updated forecast the most accurate available.
- The Office of Workers’ Compensation cracked down on fraud, conducting more than 2,300 investigations and referring 25 to the Attorney General’s office for criminal prosecution for workers’ compensation violations. Fourteen arrests -- seven employers and seven workers -- have been made so far this year. One case totaled an estimated $1.2 million in unpaid workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
- Marathon Oil Corporation’s multi-billion dollar expansion project at its Garyville, La., refinery location is now coming to a close. In order to proactively keep Marathon Project subcontract workers from being forced into extended layoffs, LWC instituted a pilot initiative earlier this year to aggressively connect public stakeholders and key project subcontractors together to foster cooperative relationships in support of project workers. As a key component of this initiative, LWC has forged relationships in this effort with major employers such as Turner Industries, Performance Contractors, Excel Contractors, Triad Contractors, ISC Contractors, Brock Services Ltd, Atlantic Scaffold, Lloyd Grainger Insulations, ThyssenKrupp Safeway, and Gulf South Safety.
As a result of this aggressive and ongoing outreach effort by LWC, a major expansion project that has cumulatively employed more than 9,000 workers over the past two years is continuing to wind down to completion with a negligible impact on the state’s unemployment insurance rolls.
- LWC was awarded several U.S. Department of Labor grants, including a $2.3 million grant LWC received in November as part of a consortium that will benefit both Louisiana and Mississippi in producing comprehensive labor market information on green jobs in the region. LWC will serve as project lead and will receive $865,129.
In September, LWC was awarded a $907,000 grant for improvements aimed at speeding the payment of unemployment insurance claims, while reducing operating costs. The enhanced automation will allow more claims to be settled faster, freeing up staff members to focus their efforts on adding value to their services to customers. The grant is also going toward IT security improvements and contingency planning.
In July, LWC was awarded $100,000 for its Registered Apprenticeship Division to update state guidelines to reflect federal regulation changes in the National Apprenticeship System, update the LWC’s workforce operating system to capture apprenticeship data and to carry out the LWC’s plan to advance apprenticeship in Louisiana. The first-ever Louisiana Apprenticeship Action Clinic was held in October.
LWC was one of several partners in a $2 million job-training grant awarded in January 2009 to the Northeast Louisiana Workforce Centers, Inc. The grant is being used to implement the “Building a Louisiana Delta Workforce Initiative,” which will focus on training workers for jobs in high-growth, high-demand advanced manufacturing industries.
- More than 5,100 youth, ages 14-24, were employed this summer in the Summer Youth Employment Program funded with federal stimulus dollars. In several areas, it marked the first time a summer youth employment program had been offered. Healthcare, service and green jobs were specifically targeted as both core and growth sectors for employment. Other industries where the youth were employed were environmental and government.
- Two new laws passed earlier this year by the Louisiana Legislature will strengthen current unemployment insurance processes. One allows penalties to be assessed against employers who fail to file complete quarterly unemployment insurance tax reports, and the other is designed to lessen the number of adjudicated unemployment claims based on incomplete information submitted by employers.
- LWC’s Rapid Response Unit worked with 76 companies facing closures and mass layoffs during 2009. Of the 6,364 workers impacted, Rapid Response provided services to 6,211. Among the services Rapid Response provides are layoff coordination meetings; on-site worker orientations, including job placement assistance, unemployment insurance and training; on-site job search workshops, including resume writing, interviewing skills, budget management and job search techniques for older workers or those with limited experience; job and education fairs and partner agency workshops.
An example of Rapid Response’s successes is Spencer Blazier, an employee of the International Paper – Pineville mill, which closed this month. Blazier, a machine operator at IP for 13 years, received core and intensive services through the worker transition center established by Rapid Response at the mill site. Rapid Response staff prepared a customized résumé and assisted Blazier with job search and placement opportunities. As a result,he was hired by a local manufacturer in the area and was able to transition into new employment without having to enter the unemployment rolls.
- Legislation passed this year established evidence-based medical treatment guidelines for workers’ compensation benefits, capping a groundbreaking collaborative effort by public and private entities. Dr. Larry Ferachi has been named medical director for the effort, and a Medical Advisory Council is in development. The new medical treatment guidelines, which will be in place by Sept. 30, 2010, are expected to significantly cut resolution time for workers’ compensation cases from as much as 18 months down to a maximum of 50 days.
- Some 7,000 individuals to date have participated in JobLink, a special labor force improvement effort now under way by the Louisiana Workforce Commission through a partnership with Worksource 7, a Louisiana-based consortium led by Career Builders of Louisiana and The X-Perience. JobLink services include job and training connections, future labor market information, skills assessment and career coaching. JobLink events aimed at reaching unemployed and under-engaged workers have been held in Baton Rouge and in the River Parishes, with additional events planned in other regions of the state in 2010.
- LWC’s online job services portal at its www.laworks.net website had more than 311,000 registered users in 2009, with nearly 121,000 new users. More than 24,000 jobs were posted on the website during the year by 9,268 participating employers, with 4,109 new employer users this year.
“Going into 2010, we are motivated to work even harder and find creative avenues to help job seekers and employers,” said Eysink. Planned LWC efforts include the release of its 2018 occupational forecast of high-demand jobs for the state. Regional meetings with business and industry are currently being planned for early 2010 to review projections and ensure the numbers accurately reflect anticipated needs of the state’s employers.
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