The director of the Iowa Workforce Development agency touts a controversial decision to close field offices as a success story for other states to mimic. Iowa Workforce Development director Teresa Wahlert spoke this morning at a meeting of lieutenant governors from around the country, telling the group about her agency’s shift to on-line counseling for Iowans who’re out of work.
“We closed 36 offices in that first year…We now have 19 offices,” Wahlert said. “But the other side of that coin is with this technology, we deployed the technology into every county, into every location that you can think of where population might gather.”
The agency’s computer software is now loaded on computers in over 950 locations around the state.
“They include federal probationary offices, prisons, battered women’s shelters, faith-based organizations, libraries, the three Regent college universities, the 15 community colleges,” Wahlert said. “Now, this year, we’ve broadened that into every single high school in the state of Iowa. We have 348 high schools and we are 96 percent of the way there in implementing our technology and information into high schools.”
Critics of the shift say it’s difficult for out-of-work Iowans to navigate the website and some of the unemployed lack the money to travel to a place where a computer with the department’s software is located. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled last year that Governor Branstad did not have the authority to redirect the money lawmakers set aside to keep the regional Workforce Development offices open. The offices had already been closed by the time the ruling was issued, however, and legislators have not acted to reopen the offices.