This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
Some unemployment offices across the state may cut their operating hours or even close as part of a major restructuring following a $30 million cut in federal funding.
How Lenoir’s unemployment office on Wilkesboro Boulevard may be affected isn’t clear.
The $30 million constitutes the majority of the funding for the local offices. The cut is partly due to sequestration and partly to North Carolina’s unemployment reform bill, which greatly reduced the maximum benefits paid, cut the number of weeks that anyone could receive benefits, and ended emergency aid for the long-term unemployed starting July 1.As a result, some offices of the North Carolina Division of Workforce Solutions – formerly known the Employment Security Commission, but renamed after a merger of two Department of Commerce divisions – may reduce the number of days they’re open, and others may close entirely, depending on their proximity to other agencies offering the same services, said Linda Weiner, the vice president for engagement and strategic innovation for the North Carolina Community College System. Weiner is working in partnership with the Department of Commerce on the Workforce Solutions transition.
No county will find itself without an office for the unemployed to find out about services, but offices and locations may be “different” by the end of the year, Weiner said.
“When you have a cut of $30 million, you have to find ways to do things more efficiently,” she said.
A number of factors will determine which offices are affected by the restructuring, which is set to roll out over the next month or so, Weiner said. Officials will examine how close each office is to other places offering the same services – either another workforce development office nearby, or a service such as JobLink career centers. In Caldwell, JobLink is located on the campus of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, but will soon move to the Commerce Center on U.S. 321 in Lenoir.
State officials also will consider the number of clients served by each local office and the unemployment rate in the county.
The Caldwell County office on Wilkesboro Boulevard serves 400 to 500 people per week, manager Dawn Boyer said. Unemployment in Caldwell County was 10 percent in April, the 32nd-highest among the state’s 100 counties.
Boyer said she had been instructed not to comment on the restructuring or how it would affect the Lenoir office.
The status of a building’s lease will play a part in restructuring, too, Weiner said. Offices with high costs could be moved to other buildings or, in some cases, the Department of Commerce might look for a partner organization to house a county’s workforce services for low cost, or no cost.
Weiner said the department anticipates “very little” in the way of office closures, but closure decisions will be on the basis of proximity to other offices and the volume of clients served. Other offices may reduce their days of operation to three a week instead of five, Weiner said. Still others may see no changes at all.
Once the place where the recently unemployed went to file claims for unemployment benefits, local offices have moved toward training and development as the actual filing of claims has moved online.
But especially in counties like Caldwell, it’s important to have a place for the unemployed to receive services, Boyer said. Internet penetration here is low, and many of the unemployed are older, laid-off factory workers – meaning they don’t necessarily have the computer skills needed to file online.
“If they don’t know how to do it, they can come in and we sit them down at a computer and we help them,” Boyer said. “They can also do it by phone, but a lot of people aren’t technology-savvy – or even know where to go to find out where they should file unemployment. They call us.”
That can also apply to applying for jobs online, Boyer said.
“A lot of employers do online applications,” she said. “Well, if you don’t know how to use a mouse, that’s difficult.”