By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA – Both students and teachers may feel relief after getting the word: The enrollment freeze has been lifted at Job Corps.
Word came early Monday afternoon from Congressman Dave Loebsack's office that the unpopular lock down on new students was ending across the nation. During the freeze, supporters of the center lamented the impact on kids who needed help. But area residents also worried about the promise of employment having a Job Corps center implied. In job-hungry southeast Iowa, the planned 100-plus jobs created a buzz.
Despite a slow but consistent buildup of young people, the freeze kept Ottumwa’s Job Corps site from ever reaching its projected 300 student enrollment, meaning they would not need as many staff members.
The letter to U.S. Senators and members of Congress was short, with the bulk of it saying, “We are pleased to announce that today the Department of Labor is lifting the suspension of enrollment at Job Corps centers, effective immediately. “
It was from the DOL’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. In recent weeks, elected officials in Washington have questioned the wisdom of shutting off the faucet to a program that successfully takes people from public assistance to paycheck.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin was glad for the change in enrollment at Job Corps Centers across the country. A release from his office said Iowa’s two Job Corps Centers – in Denison and Ottumwa – are affected by Monday’s decision.
“I am very pleased that Job Corps centers have reopened their doors to new students. Job Corps helps many young people in Iowa and across the country who were left behind in school get another chance to succeed in the workplace and in life. As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds Job Corps, and as chairman of the committee that oversees the program, I will continue to ensure the program remains accessible for at-risk youth,” Harkin wrote in an email to the Courier.
One way he and his peers did that was to make a change in regulations: DOL was to be allowed to move funds from one category to another in ways that would support Job Corps funding.
Though the federal agency has been without a full-time director, Loebsack met with Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates about the issue earlier this month.
“This is great news for the Job Corps Center in Ottumwa,” Loebsack said. “I have been pushing the Department of Labor to lift the freeze since it was announced earlier this year. The services provided by the center are important to the region and provide quality job training for young people in the area.”
But let’s not celebrate just yet, said Chuck Grassley, the Republican senator from Iowa. He had made plain in previous weeks that he felt as though Congress was being ignored by the DOL.
After hearing the news Monday, he reviewed the more specific, longer PDF file sent to Job Corps operators. He’s still a bit suspicious of the Labor Department’s intentions. The PDF file to the operators lists a series of formulae centers must complete before adding students, though it appears Ottumwa might be able to move forward.
“This response is better than a freeze, though it leaves unanswered and unaccounted for what mismanagement led to the enrollment freeze, which was unrelated to the federal sequester,” Grassley wrote in a press release Monday. “I was in Ottumwa at the Job Corps Center in February, and I’ll continue to monitor the federal agency’s handling of enrollment.”
Local Job Corps officials were unavailable for comment Monday.