Job center has plans for cash

GLENDALE — In a small board room on the second floor of the Verdugo Jobs Center, work development officials began hatching plans Thursday for an expected cascade of federal stimulus funds.

More than 1,000 jobs have been lost in Burbank and Glendale over the past year, and with job losses continuing to mount, demand for employment assistance has spiked, officials reported at the meeting.

The number of people seeking job training and other assistance at the center jumped to 7,562 in January, twice as much as the same period last year, said Judith Sernas, who manages the job center.

Pressure to get more of those job seekers back into the workforce has increased as companies like Yahoo Inc. and other businesses continue to shrink in the Verdugo Jobs Center’s service area, which includes Glendale, Burbank and the foothills.

The unemployment rate for the Burbank-Glendale area is roughly 7.5% — less than the state’s 9.9% — pushing about 300 people to visit the job center every day, according to a report Thursday to the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board’s Executive Committee.

The bleak numbers came as Congress prepared to send a $789-billion stimulus bill to the White House, which could mean billions toward getting laid-off workers back into the job market.

Once the bill is signed, local job centers will have just four months to expend at least 40% of any federal aid they receive, said Don Nakamoto, the board’s labor market specialist.

As of Thursday, it was unknown how much of the estimated $250 million to $300 million in state job training assistance money the Verdugo center would get, but officials said it could be between $500,00 and $1 million.

But expending 40% of that in such a short amount of time was a “recipe for disaster,” board member Nick Hacopian said.

“I’d much rather see it spent wisely,” he said.

To that end, the executive committee initiated plans for channeling the money into pre-planned job training programs.

But with the recession affecting nearly every sector of the economy, developing six-month or yearlong job training programs will present a new challenge for the job center, board member Rich Roche said.

“We’re sort of shooting at a moving target,” he said.

A recent Workforce Investment Board survey found that, among 64 local companies, 20 had initiated layoffs of at least 10 employees, and 45 others said they had no intention of hiring permanent workers within the next six months.

The Verdugo Jobs Center, including offices for the state Employment Development Department, was largely closed Thursday in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but state lawmakers this week announced plans to divert additional funds to job centers to handle the influx of clients.

Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, who reported more than 600 calls so far this year from constituents seeking help in accessing unemployment benefits, said local job centers would play “an absolutely critical role” in decreasing the jobless rolls.

The full Verdugo Workforce Investment Board is scheduled to review strategies for effectively meeting the funding requirements in April. Some of those plans might include partnering with the relatively strong health-care and entertainment sectors to “train up” existing workers and make room for new hires below them, according to the report.

But much of how the board allocates the fund will depend on the final set of requirements attached to the funds, Nakamoto said.

“Obviously, the emphasis is on training people to put them in the position to get other jobs,” he said.


 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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