By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennesseans drawing unemployment benefits will soon lose a weekly $15-per-child allowance as part of a new law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
The Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Friday that the change will help bolster the state unemployment trust fund, which could lead to a reduction in unemployment taxes paid by businesses.
According to the department’s projections, ending the allowance for dependent children in the budget year beginning July 1 will save the state $40 million per year.
Lawmakers created the child allowance in 2009 in order to qualify for a nearly $142 million federal stimulus grant. Now that that money had been spent, the Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year passed a bill to end the program. It passed 66-23 in the House and 24-5 in the Senate.
“That benefit was nice while it lasted and while it was being paid for with federal dollars,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, a main sponsor of the bill to make the benefit changes.
Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips has fired Fiscal Services Administrator Ron Jones effective Wednesday, reports The Tennessean. Jones had been in charge of the department’s operating budget of more than $250 million, while overseeing facilities, procurement and telecommunications, according to a biography on the state government website.
Former commissioner Karla Davis chose Jones for the role in July 2011.
Davis, and two other top officials she hired, resigned in mid-March, just days before publication of auditors’ sharp criticisms of the department, which failed to monitor fraud and delayed sending checks to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans.
Hiring in Davis’s administration has led to two lawsuits charging that leaders discriminated against white employees by forcing them out and hiring black replacements. Davis and three hand-picked officials who have since resigned are black.
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.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Burns Phillips as the new commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Phillips had been serving as acting commissioner of the department, after coming over from the Department of Finance and Administration (F&A) where he was managing director of customer-focused government initiatives administration-wide.
“I am very grateful to Burns for taking on this role,” Haslam said. “He has both public and private sector experience and has served in multiple departments at the state level, and I appreciate his willingness to continue serving at Labor and Workforce Development.”
Phillips, 64, received both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Middle Tennessee State University, and he earned his law degree from the Nashville School of Law in 1978.
He worked in the Budget Office of F&A early in his professional career before working in medical sales and marketing in the private sector. In 1991, he founded a surgical instrument company that conducted business in the United States and 30 other countries.
“I am deeply honored that Gov. Haslam has given me this opportunity to serve Tennesseans,” Phillips said. “I am committed to the people and to the work of Labor and Workforce Development, and I will continue to build upon the foundation we have established at the department.”
Phillips and his wife, Sally, live in Nashville and have two children and four grandchildren.
Tennessee labor officials are shutting down a federally funded rapid response team that had been used to provide quick assistance to employees caught in the midst of mass layoffs across the state, reports The Tennessean. The elimination of the unit, which had been in operation for about a decade, comes despite the strong protest of some members of a state workforce advisory board. That board had refused to approve the change at a meeting last fall, and charged that the state’s last-minute change failed to comply with federal notice requirements.
Jeff Hentschel, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said some of the seven members of the team already have been given layoff notices, while others will be formally notified shortly. All will be off the state payroll by June 18.
He denied that the state violated the federal notice requirements, saying the state has the right to amend its annual plan prior to submission to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The job of responding to mass layoffs will now be delegated to 13 regional workforce agencies across the state. Hentschel said the $568,000 in cost savings will be allocated to those regional agencies, “who will absorb the rapid response duties and responsibilities.”
The state recently laid off an additional 125 employees who provided career job services at centers across the state.
Guy Derryberry, a member of the executive committee of the state Workforce Development board, said the elimination of the response team was inserted in the state’s annual plan just two days before the panel was scheduled to vote on the overall plan.
Derryberry also charged that draft minutes of the board’s Sept. 13, 2012, meeting incorrectly state that the panel approved the revised plan, even though they expressly refused to act on the change.
…Hentschel defended the omission, stating that the minutes were intended to be summaries of board action and not “a transcription of all language contained in a meeting.”
The elimination of the unit, whose employees have a combined 145 years of experience, has sparked a letter-writing campaign to state legislators and the governor charging that the last-minute changes were the result of recommendations from an out-of-state consultant brought in by the recently departed top management at the labor agency.
In fact, the disputed minutes quote former Deputy Labor Commissioner Alisa Malone as thanking the consultant, Mary Ann Lawrence of the Center for Workforce Learning, for her assistance in developing the plan.
Lawrence, according to the minutes, was present for the September session.
Earlier this year, the state of Tennessee halted payments to Lawrence’s company, which collected $1.1 million in fees through the Department of Labor and Workforce Development despite being cited in two successive state audits for contracting irregularities.
Two veteran state employees have been promoted to top posts within the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, where they’ll be tasked with correcting problems uncovered in a recent audit, reports the Tennessean. The department named Dustin Swayne as deputy commissioner — the agency’s second-in-command — and Linda Davis as administrator of the Division of Employment Security, which oversees unemployment claims.
The changes come within weeks of abrupt high-level resignations and the publication of auditors’ sharp criticisms of the department, which failed to monitor fraud and delayed sending checks to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans.
Three leaders resigned in mid-March: former Commissioner Karla Davis, former Deputy Commissioner Alisa Malone and Turner Nashe, former assistant administrator of employment security. The audit came out March 28.
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.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The commissioner and deputy commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development have resigned.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced the resignation of commissioner Karla Davis for family reasons in a news release on Monday. Haslam’s spokesman David Smith said the deputy commissioner, Alisa Malone, also resigned, although he did not provide a reason.
Haslam named Burns Phillips as acting commissioner. Phillips serves as a managing director in the Department of Finance and Administration.
Haslam said Davis has served as commissioner since the beginning of the Haslam administration. Prior to that she served as director of Urban Strategies Memphis HOPE, overseeing programs for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Haslam said he was grateful to Davis for her service.
— Note: The Haslam news release on Davis’ resignation is below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Beginning on Sept. 1, anyone claiming unemployment benefits will have to show that they are actively looking for work, including keeping a work search log.
According to a news release from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, claimants will be required to conduct three work searches each week.
A list of valid work search activity is available on the department’s website at www.tn.gov/labor-wfd or at the nearest Tennessee Career Center.
Labor and Workforce Development officials will conduct random audits of 1,000 claimants’ work search documentation each week to verify work search activity. If work search claims are found to be fraudulent, the department will stop a claimant’s benefits immediately and can suspend payments for eight weeks.
Notices will be mailed next week about the new requirements.