Lawmakers remain divided on workforce development

  • Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord introduces Executive Councilor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern during a house party for Van Ostern in Hopkinton on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Associated Press
Sunday, September 03, 2017

Lawmakers who oppose expanding New Hampshire’s workforce development efforts argue the state shouldn’t add new programs without evaluating the effectiveness of more than a dozen existing programs.

But such an analysis is already in place, and it shows the state is meeting or exceeding nearly all its goals.

The Legislature considered several workforce development proposals during the last session, including one sponsored by Sen. Dan Feltes that would have used about $8 million from the state’s unemployment trust fund to provide job training and help participants with transportation and child care.

Another, dubbed Granite Workforce, would have used $9 million from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding to subsidize employers with high workforce needs to hire low-income parents.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to Feltes’s bill, but it was later tabled in committee. The Granite Workforce program was tacked on to another bill tightening eligibility requirements for food stamps. That bill will come back for a vote in the next session.

But during a work session on the bill last week, lawmakers discussed only the food stamps provisions, and an amendment the committee will consider in the coming months drops all reference to the workforce development program.

Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, said he wanted to spend time looking into the existing programs.

“I have not had a time to do that,” he said. “It’s still on my list of things to do, but before we go and add more job training programs, I’d like to determine the effectiveness of the ones we already have.”

But Feltes, a Concord Democrat, said opponents need to recognize that such programs work instead of letting politics get in the way.

“The Republican majority has not responded to the need on the ground for job training and skilling up our workforce. Instead, they pursued even more tax breaks for the corporate elite,” he said. “Every report and evaluation has shown our jobs programs in New Hampshire are effective, but they need to be ramped up to meet current, in-demand employment.”

Every state that receives federal funding under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act must submit an annual progress report. The most recent report, submitted in October, covers July 2015 through June 2016, and shows the programs met or exceeded eight out of nine performance goals related to hiring, retention and wages.

The only failure involved the percentage of youth participants who earned degrees or certificates, though officials attributed that to changes in the cost of out-of-school programs versus in-school programs.

Altogether, the programs served 1,052 people during the year, including unemployed adults, dislocated workers and youth. Among the dislocated workers – people who had been laid off or were about to get laid off – 85 percent got jobs, compared with 78 percent of other adult participants.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said the governor is looking at what the state does to recruit, maintain and retain its workforce to identify what additional steps can be taken.

Feltes said he hopes lawmakers will reconsider the issue next year.

“We need to have renewed effort in a separate piece of legislation, and hopefully work together across party lines to meet a significant problem that our business leaders and labor leaders have recognized,” he said.