The Ottumwa Courier

July 18, 2013

Staff cuts hit Iowa workforce agency


Ottumwa Courier

---- — DES MOINES (AP) — The state is laying off staffers at the Iowa Workforce Development agency, which provides services to unemployed residents, an agency spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Iowa Workforce Development spokeswoman Kerry Koonce said that 30 staffers, both union-represented and non-union workers, will lose their jobs due to a reduction in federal funding.

Koonce said the layoffs were largely to administrative staff and that people seeking support should not notice any difference in services.

In an email sent to agency workers this week, Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert said that 85 percent of the agency’s funding comes from the federal government.

She said cuts led to a $7 million budget shortfall and that even after finding efficiencies, the layoffs were necessary.

But Danny Homan — president of Iowa Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — said the state has a budget surplus and should be able to afford the workers.

He says the cuts will limit aid for unemployed state residents seeking jobs.

“This state has a billion dollar surplus. They’ve known about sequestration since it was passed,” Homan said. “If this governor wanted to provide real services to laid-off citizens in this state, they could have done something during the legislative session.”

Koonce said the governor’s office did not seek additional funding for the agency during the budget deliberations with the state legislature in the spring.

She said lawmakers were informed of the potential for layoffs.

The Iowa Workforce Development agency currently has about 670 staffers, said Koonce. The agency provides job training and placement services to the unemployed.

Gov. Terry Branstad’s spokesman Tim Albrecht said Branstad remains focused on helping Iowans find jobs.

“Gov. Branstad’s top priority remains ensuring every Iowan seeking employment finds a job and establishes a career, and despite these federal budget cuts, our robust Workforce Development department will continue in its successful efforts in bringing down Iowa’s unemployment rate,” Albrecht said in an email.

Branstad vetoed some economic development funding in 2011 and closed 36 unemployment offices as part of an effort to shift to offering online services.

In 2011, a group of House and Senate Democrats joined with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to file a lawsuit against Branstad’s veto.

In 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Branstad overstepped his authority.

But although lawmakers approved a new budget for Workforce Development, the closed offices were not reopened.

There are still 15 federally required, regional unemployment offices in Iowa and four state-sponsored satellite offices in Iowa City, Webster City, Fort Madison and Decorah.