WASHINGTON (AP) — The Labor Department said Monday it has ended its freeze on new enrollments in the nation's federal Job Corps program, but budget constraints mean fewer youths will be admitted in the future.
The temporary freeze, which began on Jan. 28, prevented more than 10,000 disadvantaged and at-risk youth from getting job training at 125 job centers around the country.
House and Senate lawmakers who have complained about the freeze called the decision good news, but some say they are troubled that it was caused in large part by a lack of proper government oversight.
"It is disturbing that financial mismanagement led to a three-month enrollment freeze that prevented students from attending Job Corps and led to job loss at local Job Corps centers," said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
Labor officials have said they were forced to halt new admissions for the first time in the program's history because of a nearly $100 million budget shortfall over the past two years.
Jane Oates, assistant secretary of Labor for Employment and Training, which oversees Job Corps, conceded at a Senate hearing last month that inadequate staffing and monitoring of the program led to budgeting mistakes and cost overruns. She took the blame for not managing the program more effectively.
Since it was created in the 1960s, Job Corps has offered free education and vocational job training for students ages 16 to 24. It usually serves about 60,000 students each year, providing supervised dormitory housing, meals, medical care and counseling. The government pays private contractors to run the job centers.
"The suspension of enrollment has been difficult for students and families, and the department is committed to ensuring that this important program is administered efficiently by (the agency) and in the best interests of students and families," said acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris.
Some lawmakers are concerned that the Labor Department has been renegotiating contracts with private vendors to lower its costs. As a result, fewer youths will be enrolled in many of the job centers.
In a letter to the Labor Department last week, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called the decision to reduce student slots "extremely shortsighted." He said the plan would result in a loss of 500 out of about 836 student slots in Mississippi's three Job Corps centers, and jeopardize roughly 450 staff jobs.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, met with Labor Secretary-nominee Thomas Perez earlier this month and asked him to fire or suspend those responsible for the program's mismanagement, Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said Monday. Perez told Collins he would, Kelley said.