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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE: Employers and prospective employees crowd the floor of the Walb Memorial Ball Room at the job fair, job training and small business summit at IPFW.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 1:00 am

General Assembly

New cabinet risks federal money

Proposed workforce board will need waiver

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers are preparing to approve a workforce development measure that threatens tens of millions of dollars in funding to the state because it isn't federally compliant.

The wrinkle became public in recent days and concerns the Governor's Workforce Cabinet.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has pushed for a new board to replace the state Workforce Innovation Council. It will have fewer members and more funding authority over various workforce development programs.

But the proposed cabinet doesn't follow federal rules. The governor thinks the state can eventually get a waiver from the federal government, but the bill would take effect immediately upon passage.

“We do not have a federal waiver at this point,” Holcomb spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson said. “However, Gov. Holcomb and his team have been in communication with the federal Department of Labor and Secretary (Alexander) Acosta, and we believe our actions are in line with the secretary's pledge to provide states flexibility to do what's right.”

The state workforce plan is due to the federal Department of Labor by April 2.

Wilson said Holcomb and his team have spoken with the department and Acosta several times and “we have every indication the federal administration will work with us to ... do what's best for Indiana.”

Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said federal law requires that at least half the members are from the business community and the chair is a business representative. Legislators from each chamber must also be included.

But the plan under consideration would have no lawmakers, and less than half would be from the business world. Many would be state agency and education representatives.

Brinegar said the state stands to lose $73 million in federal funding without a waiver.

“We're not going to oppose the bill. The bill will pass,” he said.

But the chamber isn't enthused about Senate Bill 50, which he says simply swaps one board for another and doesn't address the immediate need of companies for skilled workers.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association pulled its support of the legislation, according to the Indianapolis Star.

A separate workforce measure is contained in House Bill 1002.

“I know the bills don't make everyone happy,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “Even some of the folks we have been working with closely throughout the session. We are doing our best to have a strong workforce program together.”

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said one option is to simply continue the state Workforce Innovation Council alongside the new cabinet but without much of its current authority.

“I don't think that's a problem,” he said. “We'll still have the federal group that meets. This is a special cabinet just for the governor, and they will be making the decisive decisions, I hope.”

nkelly@jg.net