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Commission extends deadline for CAO

It could be seen as a reprieve for the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization or a postponement of the inevitable.

But for right now the CAO still controls the purse strings for federal money that partially funds the OneStop job placement service, at least for the next two months.

At a work session on Tuesday the Lawrence County Commission extended keeping the CAO as the administrator for the Work Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA) until October. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a vote of support for the CAO.

“We made the change effective date from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1,” commission president Les Boggs said. “The state couldn’t start until a new quarter, which starts in October.”

At its July 16 meeting at the fairgrounds, the commission voted to change the administrator of the WIOA to the department of job and family services. The vote was 2-0 with commissioner Bill Pratt abstaining because he is on the CAO board, as is Boggs, and there was no discussion on the issue.

Strong reaction from the CAO board against the commission’s vote resulted in the Tuesday work session with the CAO leadership.

Every 10 to 15 years Congress appropriates money for the WIOA program or its predecessors with county commissions across the country designating who administers the program. For Lawrence County WIOA accounts for $300,000 of the OneStop’s budget. However, the CAO leverages that money.

“When you lose your designation, all of a sudden partners have to go,” D.R. Gossett, executive director of the CAO, said. “You lose their services and their share of the overhead. It is a critical $300,000.”

A section of the recently passed state budget bill requires the county commission to choose a lead entity to coordinate those services and funds from part of the WIOA program and the temporary assistance to needy families or TANF, also colloquially known as welfare. TANF is administered by the DJFS. On top of that bill is Gov. John Kasich’s desire to streamline the process of helping those unemployed or underemployed.

As Boggs sees it, choosing a single administrator is the law. However, Gossett contends there is another interpretation that would allow the status quo.

“What (the governor and the legislature) didn’t want was people bouncing around the system and not getting the right answer,” Gossett said. “Our One Stop is one of the gold standards. It is not what they intended to eliminate a high functioning workforce area. They are already describing us as a center of innovation. It would be the last thing that the governor would want to do is eliminate that.”

However, Boggs, after requesting an opinion for Ironton attorney Scott Evans, says choosing a single administrator is the law.

“You have to have a lead agency for these funds,” Boggs said. “If we take TANF away from job and family services, that would obliterate it. That will not happen.”

Each year the commission passes a resolution stating the CAO will administer the WIOA funds. At the Tuesday work session Pratt made a motion for a 10-year resolution in favor of the CAO. It died for lack of a second.

Following his original abstention, Pratt has publicly said the CAO should continue as the WIOA administrator.

“Part of what was in the budget bill is that it will require by May of next year a lead agency,” said Jon Trott, executive director of the Area 7 Workforce Board, that oversees the WIOA funds. “It is either an Ohio Means Jobs Center or a department of job and family services. In some cases in Ohio those are the same entity. There could be some funding organized between the two of them to implement this new program. They could work together.”

Boggs says after Oct. 1, the designee is expected to be the DJFS.

“Unless something changes between now and then,” he said. “We are still having an open dialogue about it.”