Tennessee’s new commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development says cutting jobless services at 34 sites next month shouldn’t hurt out-of-work Tennesseans seeking employment, reports the Chattanooga TFP. In fact, Commissioner Burns Phillips told members of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee last week, things actually should improve.
The ability to offer services over the Internet will help, he said. And nonprofit Local Workforce Investment Act partners in communities across the state are stepping up to offer services, with the state pitching in computers and other equipment, Phillips said.
“After the career centers were reorganized, there was a lot of angst over that [cuts],” the commissioner said. “But in the final analysis what turned out was we wound up with a broader footprint in the state and not a more narrow footprint.”
He said the state now has 23 state comprehensive centers run by Labor and Workforce Development and 52 affiliates run by LWIAs.
… The 13 Local Workforce Investment Act districts are nonprofit entities funded with pass-through federal dollars. Many have multiple offices aimed at helping the jobless and employers connect.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said Friday he remains skeptical that the LWIAs will close the gap created by shutting down state-run services in 34 centers and firing 125 state employees.
“It’s very disappointing,” Fitzhugh said, adding that his district in rural West Tennessee is taking a major hit.
“Here we are just coming out of this recession” and the administration chose to “decimate” career centers, he said.
Jobless residents will have to drive farther and some can’t afford an Internet connection to access the department’s website from home, he said.
The effectiveness of the state’s $52 million job training program has been called into question after auditors found regional job training centers across the state were inflating their numbers to hit strict performance measures and keep their federal funding, reports the Tennessean. Since the recession began in 2008, the state’s 13 local workforce training centers have been faced with a major challenge: Federal performance measures continue to rise, but high unemployment has led many dispirited workers to give up on job searches and leave their training programs voluntarily.
State auditors say the training centers — which provide training and other assistance to out-of-work adults, displaced workers and youths looking for jobs — responded to this challenge by padding their statistics.
According to an audit by the state comptroller released last month, the training centers failed to remove people who didn’t find jobs in a timely manner or continue their training. By doing so, the training centers, which are operated by either nonprofit groups or local government agencies, kept their statistics up and avoided the prospect of losing their federal funding.
.,,,The audit found that 29 percent of the randomly selected participants were not removed from the system. Some participants lingered in the program for as long as five years.
“Based on our inquiries, LWIAs (local workforce investment areas) kept participants who did not successfully complete the program in the (database) for years to show that these participants were still active in the program and thereby to avoid reporting those participants as unsuccessful exits from the program,” the audit stated.
“The program director at one LWIA told us that this has been the practice of LWIAs due to strict and unachievable performance measures.”
The audit did not specify which of the 13 training centers was engaged in the practice of manipulating its performance numbers. Brian Clark, executive director for the Nashville Career Advancement Center, which is the regional training program for Davidson, Rutherford, Wilson and Trousdale counties, said the training centers face a tough predicament.
The Nashville Career Advancement Center has regularly been achieving its own performance measures for job placement, retention and average annual salary, but Clark acknowledged the poor job climate has made its work more difficult. Clark said the challenge is to keep an out-of-work person engaged in the training program at a time when jobs are scarce.
The training program primarily focuses on low-earning, low-skilled workers. For instance, the 13 regional programs must help those they successfully place in jobs maintain cumulative average annual earnings of $13,700. Last year, 28,088 people used the state’s workforce development program.
CLEVELAND, Tenn. (AP) — Federal prosecutors claim a Medicare fraud scheme at Cleveland-based Life Care Centers of America was cooked up and enforced by management.
According to recently unsealed court records obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/TkQ7wF) managers are accused of instructing therapists to assign patients to the highest level of therapy regardless of whether it was needed.
The “Ultra High” level and can pay a provider as much as $564, while the lowest rate of therapy pays $231.
The whistleblower lawsuits claim that employees who questioned the policies were often fired within weeks.
Company representatives declined comment to the newspaper, referring reporters to a letter stating that Life Care’s therapy programs improve patients’ conditions and quality of life.
If found guilty, Life Care could face hundreds of millions in fines.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Department of Safety will open eight driver service centers Saturday to help voters who need photo identification cards before the Tuesday general election.
Centers will be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Chattanooga, Cookeville, Dresden, Jackson, Johnson City, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville. Services that day will be limited to issuing free photo IDs to registered voters and converting non-photo driver’s licenses to a version with a picture.
A release from the Safety Department said the centers were chosen based on population and response to Saturday openings before the August primary election.
As of Monday, Tennessee had issued more than 24,000 photo IDs to voters, who this year are required to show photo identification at polling places.
Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security: http://www.tn.gov/safety
News release from state attorney general’s office:
The Court has ordered HRC Medical Centers, Inc. (HRC) to temporarily halt certain claims and contractual practices related to its “bio-identical” hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) known as Amor Vie, Tennessee Attorney Bob Cooper announced today.
The Davidson County Circuit Court order comes after the Attorney General’s Office filed suit on Monday against HRC for allegedly making unsubstantiated health claims and failing to advise consumers of possible risks and side effects associated with HRC’s BHRT Amor Vie.
Also named in the lawsuit are Don Hale, owner and officer of HRC, Dan Hale, former owner and officer of HRC as well as an osteopathic doctor at HRC, and HRC Management Midwest, LLC, which owns an HRC clinic in Memphis. A temporary injunction hearing is set for 1 p.m. on October 19th.
“We are grateful to the court for this action as this concerns the safety and health of many Tennesseans,” Attorney General Cooper said. “We urge Tennesseans who may have used HRC Medical’s BHRT to contact their personal health care providers about any possible adverse effects that may be associated with BHRT.”
HRC consumers should contact this office at 615-741-1671 in order to report any side effects or adverse health effects from BHRT they received at any HRC center in Tennessee. However, the Attorney General’s office cannot provide any health or medical information to individuals.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — With Amazon and Tennessee in agreement over the collection of sales taxes, the online retailer on Thursday finalized its plans to open two new distribution centers in Murfreesboro and Lebanon that are expected to create 1,300 new jobs.
Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. earlier this year agreed to a deal to expand its presence in the state, with the requirement that Amazon would start collecting Tennessee sales taxes in 2014. The retailer already has facilities in Hamilton, Bradley and Wilson counties.
Amazon says the new distribution centers will employ about 1,300 people when they are completed next fall, bringing the online retailer’s total workforce at its five Tennessee facilities to more than 3,300.
The State Funding Board last week approved $7 million in grants to make infrastructure improvements at the sites in Murfreesboro and Lebanon. Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said in a memo that Amazon’s investment in the two sites totals $145 million.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and Amazon officials in October announced the agreement for the company to begin collecting the state’s sales tax on items sold to customers in Tennessee.
Amazon was originally granted an indefinite waiver on collecting state sales taxes as part of a deal struck by Haslam’s Democratic predecessor, Phil Bredesen, that led the company to build its first two distribution centers in Tennessee earlier this year.
Haslam has said he will introduce legislation next year to solidify the tax deal, in keeping with a state attorney general’s opinion that the executive branch can’t unilaterally waive tax collection requirements.
Conventional retailers who must collect sales tax at their Tennessee stores have criticized the deal for not requiring Amazon to do the same sooner, giving the online retailer an unfair price advantage.
Amazon also announced it will donate $20,000 to the Books from Birth Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides books to preschool children in Tennessee. Note: News release is below
Tennessee Democrats are calling for $15 million in funding for technology centers that train workers — as well as a raft of other legislation — to spur job creation in the state after traveling Tennessee in recent days, reports the Nashville Business Journal. A lineup of top Democratic legislators gathered on the Rolling Mill Hill property in Nashville overlooking the city’s downtown to discuss their legislation with media Thursday. Their point: State government must play an active role in helping the private sector create jobs, to meet the Tennessee’s specific needs and keep it competitive across the country.
In an interview, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley invoked Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s desire to help the private sector.
“He specifically said to talk to people that are putting their own capital at risk,” Fitzhugh said. “And we did that.”
Democrats are reinvigorating their argument for government spurring job creation forward after talking with business owners and residents around the state. Republicans have said this will mainly come by getting out of the way — an idea Democrats say can help, but that they argue doesn’t do justice to the role government plays in making projects happen.
See also Chas Sisk and Sean Braisted
The news release is below.
James A. “Jimmy” Haslam III, CEO of Pilot Flying J and a board member of the National Truck Stop Operators Association, is urging state and federal lawmakers to block further “commercialization” of highway rest stops.
In his home state of Tennessee, where Haslam’s brother is governor, his viewpoint appears likely to prevail — at least for now. Several state legislators, while saying they are willing to explore the idea if it helps the state budget, also say they have no plans to push it.
And John Schroer, the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, is opposed to such rest stop privatization efforts in Tennessee.
Current federal law generally prohibits states from setting up commercial operations at rest stops along Interstate highways except those states — mostly in the Northeast — where Interstates were in place before 1960. But some states and organizations are pushing for change in the law by Congress at a time when state governments are seeking new revenue.
“While at first glance this may seem like an easy way for state DOTs to generate revenue, the fact is it will devastate private businesses like mine that for the last 50 years have operated under the current law and established locations at the highway exits,” said Haslam in his letter. “The advantageous location of state-owned commercial rest areas establishes virtual monopolies on the sale of commercial services to highway travelers.”