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Funding may be restored for job programs

April 09, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A call for facts concerning the president's recommended budget was answered by someone deep within the Department of Labor's marbled office building here.

It's Mason Bishop's job to know this sort of arcane stuff.

He's the special assistant to Emily DeRocco, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.

In addition to having a long title, Bishop is noteworthy for having studied President Bush's budget inside and out. He's even helped write parts of it, according to insiders.

So when Bishop said Monday that Congress likely will restore some portion of the funding for the federal migrant and seasonal farm worker job training program, farm worker advocates in the Imperial Valley and San Jose celebrated the news.


Job counselor Johnny Rodriguez of El Centro's Center for Employment Training said, "That's great news! We've been working real hard to get everyone in the know about it."

"It" is the president's recommended budget.

After it was released with great fanfare in February, people started reading the fine print regarding the programs that would affect their lives.

Seniors read about the president's plan for Medicare. Soccer moms read about the president's plans to improve the school system.

Farm worker advocates read about the president's plan to cut funding for the migrant and seasonal farm worker job-training program. Collective jaws dropped.

According to Bishop, Congress appropriated $80 million for the program last year. This year his office recommended allocating nothing.

According to the text of the president's budget, "The 2003 budget will end funding for several training programs that have a history of poor performance or where the federal role is inappropriate. For example, no funding is requested for the migrant and seasonal farm worker program, which has demonstrated little success in helping these low-income workers secure good jobs outside of agriculture. Roughly three-fourths of this program's participants never enroll in training."

Bishop explained that a vast majority of the program participants were not taking advantage of the training. They were using the system for "emergency services."

For instance, a farm worker would fill out reams of paperwork to get reimbursed for $200 of dental work. While technically that farm worker was participating in the program, he wasn't really, Bishop said.

Around 40,000 individuals received services under this program, according to a Department of Labor Web site. That means the federal government spent about $81 million to serve 40,000 people and most of the people it served weren't being trained for new jobs.

Bishop recommended cutting the program and refocusing existing programs that already offer the same services.

For instance, Bishop pointed to a section of the budget which reads, "The population previously served by this program is eligible for the Workforce Investment Act adult activities program, the migrant high school equivalency program and college assistance migrant program, which help migrant students complete high school and succeed in college."

Still, just because the president recommends cutting a program doesn't mean it will get cut.

Bishop said, "Congress could say we don't care what the president thinks."

And, according to Bishop, it will probably say just that.

"In my estimation there will be a restoration of some portion of the funding," he said.

Carlos Lopez, corporate director at CET's headquarters in San Jose said he was heartened to hear Bishop say that. Programs for farm workers are CET's bread and butter.

Lopez said of the $80 million allocated last year by Congress for the farm worker program, $6 million was awarded to CET. He agrees with Bishop that there needs to be changes in how the program is administered but he doesn't want to see it eliminated.

Lopez said, "There are very few training services available for this target group. There is a great demand; there is a great need to transition people."

He said the injury rates in the country for farm workers are higher than almost any other industry.

"That's what CET does. We help people who want to leave the farm-working industry. We get them into the private sector in jobs such as electronic parts assemblers, welders, forklift drivers, truck drivers, medical clerks and so on," he said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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