Rockdale Workforce Center in jeopardy

Federal budget cuts may close ‘best rural office’
Reporter Editor

Julia Cardona’s computer classes remain popular with public 10 years after the Rockdale center began teaching computer literacy. 
Reporter/Mike Brown Julia Cardona’s computer classes remain popular with public 10 years after the Rockdale center began teaching computer literacy. Reporter/Mike Brown Rockdale’s Workforce Solutions of Central Texas, which has been called the “best rural workforce operations in Texas” by its regional director, is faced with closing unless there are changes in legislation now being considered at the federal level.

“Under the bill now being considered in the (U. S.) House of Representatives, the Rockdale C enter wou ld close,” Su sa n Kamas, executive director of Belton based Workforce Solutions of Central Texas, said.

‘BEST IN TEXAS’—“ Those cuts are currently in the House bill, but not in the Senate version,” Kamas said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

If House and Senate versions of a bill are different, the procedure is for the two chambers to compromise in a conference committee.

Kamas said three other centers in her Central Texas region—Temple, Cameron and Lampasas— would also close.

“I believe Rockdale’s is the best rural (workforce solutions operation) in the state,” Kamas told The Reporter. “And I’m not just saying that because it’s in my region.”

“It has the best staff for bringing together the job seekers and employers,” she said.

Kamas said in 2010 the Rockdale office served 36,919 persons.

“Obviously some of that total represents people who were there more than once,” Kamas said. “But that’s still nearly seven times the population of Rockdale.”

ALCOA RESPONSE—Kamas said not only does the Central Texas region stand to lose $4.5 million if the current budget is not checked, the Rockdale center will also lose about $2.5 million in grants earmarked for laid-off Alcoa employees.

The Rockdale center has been credited with helping to relieve some of the economic pain of Alcoa’s closing.

By last July, the center had placed 415 of the 881 laid- off Alcoans (58 percent) either in new jobs or in jobs training.

‘REALLY CARE’—Cindy Jerman,

Rockdale office administrator, said the local office has developed a reputation that extends far beyond the local area.

“We had a man from Houston drop by the other day and told us ‘I feel like you in this office really care about people, you’re not just doing this because it’s your job’.”

“That’s what I’ve seen over the years here,” Jerman said. “We’re happy when they (clients) are happy and we cry when they’re sad.”

Jerman said Rockdale Workforce Solutions employs a staff of nine.

PROGRAMS—Jerman pointed out the local office does much more than make job placements.

“ We have been responsible for starting many programs like GREAT (internet access), GED study ( high school diplomacy equivalency), Future Builders, workshops and computer training,” she said.

“We’ve had computer classes for 10 years and still every class we offer is almost full,” she added.

“If this center closes our residents will have to travel over an hour to receive workforce assistance,” she said.

“We’re hoping the Senate will start fresh with a clean bill,” Kamas said. “This situation has kind of blindsided us.”

Kamas said she has met with County Judge Dave Barkemeyer who has pledged his help.

“Suspending rent payments has been mentioned as one way that might help salvage the Rockdale office,” she said.

“At the moment it looks like mostly what we can do is contact our federal senators and representatives to let them know how detrimental closing the center would be for our community,” Jerman said.

Action by the Senate is expected by this weekend.

ACTION— On Tuesday the House passed a temporary version of the House bill to avert a government shutdown by the weekend and Senate leaders agreed to follow suit Wednesday.

The bill was then to go President Barack Obama for his signature. At midweek it was unclear if the president would sign the temporary bill.

But even that bill, which contains $4 billion in spending cuts, is not expected to be the final version.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said the bill was looked upon as a stopgap. “We’ll pass this and then look at funding the government on a long-term basis,” Reid said.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) said the action shows “the momentum is there for longterm spending cuts.”

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