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DEED cuts questioned

Published (2/13/2009)
By Nick Busse
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Matt Reinartz, center, director of the St. Paul Youth Job Corps Program, and Tamara Downs Schwei, right, of the Community Design Center of Minnesota, listen as St. Paul Police Sgt. Ray Jefferson talks about A Community Outreach Program. The House Bioscience and Workforce Development Policy and Oversight Division heard about several youth programs Feb. 10. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)Members of two House divisions took testimony on — and criticized — budget cuts proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty for a variety of programs run by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Officials from DEED-funded programs told the House Bioscience and Workforce Development Policy and Oversight Division on Feb. 10 that the proposed budget cuts come at a time when demand for their services is increasing because of the economy.

“We’ve got a lot more clients because of the fact that more people are going onto welfare rolls, and people are being laid off that need new training,” said Bill Means, executive director of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers, which would receive a $250,000 reduction under the governor’s plan.

The OIC is one of 23 DEED-funded programs slated for cuts. Many of the programs provide job opportunities to dislocated workers and other economically disadvantaged populations.

“Keeping kids engaged in positive activities like a job means that we have fewer youth who are recruited into gangs or committing crimes or doing other unproductive activities,” said Deb Bar-Helgen, who helps run the Minneapolis Summer Youth Program, which provides job training to at-risk youth. It faces a $650,000 reduction under the governor’s proposals.

At a meeting of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division later that day, DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy said the reductions were necessary to help balance the state’s budget.

“These are all good programs. None of them were easy to make the decision not to fund,” he said.

Bonnie Elsey, workforce development director for DEED, said programs that help the largest number of people are being given the highest priority under the governor’s plan.

That didn’t stop Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) from questioning the fairness of cutting programs designed to help economically challenged people at the same time the governor is proposing tax cuts for businesses.

“What I’m still waiting to hear is how we’re all sharing the pain,” Atkins said.

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