LOSING millions in federal job training funds should never happen to a state as needy as Ohio. Yet it did, in part, because the state was too slow to spend its allotment. To federal budgeters, eyeing Ohio's nearly $20 million in unspent federal work-force money, the big balance looked like surplus that could be used to plug budget holes elsewhere, at the state's loss.
But the budget move to rescind funds used to build the skills of thousands of working-age Ohioans is a blow the state cannot afford when its jobless rate consistently beats the national average, and unemployment claims have already surpassed last year's figures. Money to help workers become more employable through retraining is a lifeline to people struggling to adjust to a changing job market.
Yet Ohio, which receives more federal work-force funding than most states because of its poor employment picture, lost more money from the U.S. Department of Labor than 48 other states during federal budget deliberations in December. The move by the government to reclaim unspent sums in job training programs nationwide netted Washington $250 million in reclaimed funds.
Protests by Gov. Ted Strickland and other big-state governors to block cuts in worker training funds were futile. But suggested changes in the way the federal work-force program is administered in the future must be heard and acted on to prevent lost opportunities to invest in workers.
For starters, a statewide policy must be established in Ohio on how federal appropriations for job training are aggressively spent, instead of leaving the decision entirely up to local agencies. "There should be more stringent policies to establish what the expectations are," said Bruce Madson with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Moreover, government conditions attached to spending the federal dollars ought to be eased. Mr. Madson said much of the surplus that built up in Ohio was specifically earmarked to retrain workers once they were laid off - but why not before then? Frequently, he notes, enrolling in a retraining program is the last thing laid-off workers think about when they're trying to find any job to pay the bills.
Governor Strickland has successfully sought waivers to some constraints on the Labor Department funds and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich also pushed for flexibility in how the federal money can be used with legislation to give states greater leeway in crafting regional work-force solutions. But the ultimate goal of government is to keep workers and companies competitive.
Tapping critical resources to achieve that end is a great disservice. It puts states such as Ohio - with a 5.6 percent jobless rate in April, more than a half percentage point above the national rate - even further behind the economic curve.