Responding to the city’s long-term failure to meet the needs of the unemployed in Oakland, the City Council voted this week to award the Oakland Private Industry Council (PIC) a $250,000 grant to help support the agency’s jobs and training programs that are a primary local resource for youth and adults, veterans and the formerly incarcerated.
On a number of occasions, PIC has pointed out the failure of the city to comply with applicable regulations governing the setting of funding levels for RFPs that are issued by the city for federal workforce dollars. The City Council appears to agree that service providers, such as PIC, are underfunded.
The city receives federal funding to support jobs and training programs, and unlike many other cities, Oakland contributes no direct funding to support the programs, despite diminishing federal revenues.
However, the city takes more than 30 percent of the annual allotment of federal funds off the top for administration, resulting in a lack of sufficient funds for the service providers that work directly with unemployed youth and adults in the community.
PIC provides employment services through its One-Stop Comprehensive Career Center, which keeps the city in compliance with federal regulations for WIA funding.
It provides direct services in response to 35,000 to 44,000 visits per year from job seekers, in addition to workshops and classes, one-on-one career counseling and job placement services, as well as assistance to employers facing downsizing or closure.
As federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funding has decreased over the past five years, the amount of money dedicated to city administration has increased, while nonprofits and service providers have suffered the cost.
And, PIC has been one of the organizations carrying that burden.
Since 2010, PIC’s WIA funding has been cut by $150,000, while contracted service levels have increased by 300% over prior levels. This has created a significant funding gap, according to PIC’s memo to the city council.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Annie He, coordinator at PIC, speaking in both English and Cantonese, said, “We have a very diverse population of clients that walk through our doors who may speak many different languages or may be monolingual, and we’re always prepared to translate.”
More than 40 percent of PIC staff at the career center is multilingual.
“Regardless of what language our clients may speak, we have the ability to assist them with their job search, obtaining employment or entering training. At Oakland PIC, we try to be as culturally competent as we can,” said He.
“Clients are in big need of our services,” said Mayra Ramirez, who manages the career center and WIA program at the PIC. “Fourteen years ago, I was a WIA client myself and an Oakland PIC client, and the services that I once received are the reason for my success now.” Ramirez addressed the meeting in both English and Spanish.
She said this year alone, PIC has placed over 500 clients in jobs. “It feels great to learn that clients are getting into training, getting jobs, and getting services,” said Ramirez.
The underlying issue at the council meeting was how did the city get itself into this position?
According to the memo from PIC, the WIB has not conducted a “competent cost analysis” that is required for federal WIA funding and would provide guidance on fair pricing for services that the city requires.
Speaking at the Tuesday meeting, Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan asked why no one has ever asked for the city to “audit the internal component of this funding, in terms of how it is that the city’s own overhead is higher than previously, and there’s less money going to service providers.”
After calling for a motion to award the additional funding to the PIC, Kaplan also asked the city administrator to “continue to look into the big picture, long-term issues so by next year we have a more thorough plan for the long term.”
Councilmember Desley Brooks said, “I think all of this council understands the dysfunction of the WIB board, a board that routinely did not complete its budgets on time.”
“It is shameful when you look at what other WIBs are doing around the country, and ours is so mired in mess that they can’t do their work,” Brooks continued.
“PIC isn’t the only organization that was impacted by the dysfunction that we all know exists within the WIB process. PIC has been ostracized because they have spoken up,” she said.
“We never looked at a process that spends $1.46 million for 7 city staff to not provide direct services…I hope that this council looks closely at the facts of this case and we will begin to move forward in how we can correct the dysfunction,” Brooks added.
Councilmember Noel Gallo praised the Private Industry Council for its work and said he looked forward to seeing the city work more closely with PIC in the future to work on job development programs.