Plans to close 37 Workforce Development offices around the state are drawing fire from legislators.
Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, says lawmakers from both parties have agreed to set aside $15 million to keep those offices open for another year, but the agency intends to move forward with its plan.
“It appears to me they’re hellbent to close those offices regardless of what the legislature tells them to do,” Dotzler says, “and that’s tremendously frustrating.”
The offices are staffed with state employees who provide job counseling services to out-of-work Iowans. Dotzler says meeting with someone to talk about your options helps those unemployed Iowans more quickly find a new job or sign up for retraining and that’s an important service when over 100,000 Iowans are unemployed. The agency’s plan calls for laying off 85 people who currently work in those offices.
“This is one of the few issues that Democrats and Republicans have agreed on over the years is that they see the value of these satellite offices in their districts, especially in periods of high unemployment,” Dotzler says. “And we’ve always kind of in some ways cobbled together a budget to keep them going from one year to the next and I believe we’ve done that again this year.”
Iowa Workforce Development has 55 field offices. In February, agency officials announced plans to close 39 of those and establish 16 regional “one-stop” offices for job-seekers. Legislators complain some unemployed Iowans would be forced to drive up to 80 miles one-way to get to one of those regional centers. The top Republican in the Iowa House has said it appears the agency’s director has the authority to close the offices, even without legislators’ approval.
A spokeswoman for the agency has not responded to Radio Iowa’s request for an interview.