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Recovery Act funding assisting businesses, job seekers

Golden Sierra Job Training Agency offering multiple programs
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Nearly a year and a half after enactment of the American Recovery and Investment Act, the Golden Sierra Workforce Investment Board is still dispersing its share of the federal funding through a variety of business-assistance and job-seeker programs. The agency, which focuses on employment and training in Placer, El Dorado and Alpine counties, received an initial infusion of funds within weeks after passage of the Act on Feb. 17, 2009. “The first award was to provide a summer program for youth,“ said Jason Buckingham, executive director of the Golden Sierra Job Training Agency in Auburn. “(We received) $1.2 million that had to be spent from May to September in the tri-county area.” In total, the agency has received about $4 million in Recovery Act funds. “The initial award was almost like an allocation and divvied out by formula to workforce investment areas,” he said. Part of the money, $210,00, went to the California Employers Association to run a business hotline and workshop series. “It primarily focuses on human resources issues and labor laws,” Buckingham said. The hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. The business workshops have since evolved into webinars. “About six months into (the workshops), we found the logistics to be difficult,” he said. “Because (the program) is targeted to small businesses already struggling, we wanted to make it as accessible as possible to them.” Buckingham is seeing increased use of the free services, which he said would normally cost a business $700 to $900 annually. Part of the Recovery Act funding is going toward programs targeting unemployment. For example, the emergency contingency fund program — also known as the 80-20 program — allows local businesses to hire individuals and receive up to 80 percent of the wages reimbursed. The program ends in September but is likely to be extended, Buckingham said. Hirees must be CalWorks recipients or earning no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($21,600 for a single person to $74,020 for a family of eight). It is seeing a lot of interest. “We have more employers than we can fill slots,” Buckingham said. “There are 80 individuals in the program now and we had more than 200 requests for positions.” Zorro Café in Loomis is one of the businesses benefiting from the program. Café owner Matt Williams learned about the opportunity through the Loomis Chamber of Commerce, he said. Working with Golden Sierra, he received several résumés and conducted interviews until he found the right person to work as a line cook in the restaurant. “So far, it’s been a great match and we’ve been able to give someone work that we wouldn’t have been able to hire (without the program),” he said. Another business that added an employee through the 80-20 program was Molly Maids of Placer County. The Roseville-based company added a full-time receptionist/office assistant. Golden Sierra’s more recent national emergency funding award of $278,000 has a broader application. “It’s for on-the job training of dislocated workers,” Buckingham said. “It will allow us to pay up to 90 percent of wages for an individual up to six months.” Eligible individuals have to have been receiving unemployment compensation for longer than the state average. Buckingham is targeting this funding to Pro Net participants — displaced professionals — who haven’t been able to find a job. “The idea is to match employers that need but can’t afford to hire workers,” he said. “They receive the benefit of hiring someone and the wage benefit of hiring someone for that period.” A chunk of Golden Sierra’s Recovery Act funding has been dispersed in grants to local economic development organizations for business retention and layoff-aversion services. Four awards, totaling $800,000, went to the Sierra Economic Development Corporation, Placer County Office of Economic Development, El Dorado County Office of Economic Development and the City of Roseville. Some of the funding has gone to bolster programs also in place. “They’re enhanced by Recovery Act monies and we can expand them because of Recovery Act money,” Buckingham said. Currently Golden Sierra is in the application process for a five-year, $5 million grant focused on the health care industry. “It’s to assist people in getting certifications to become employed in the industry or to upgrade their skills so they can move forward in the health care field,” Buckingham said. “Health care has always been a strong industry. Certainly with the (aging) baby boomer population, there’s just going to be a greater need for health care.” Other hot button areas are green and clean, and alternative fuels, he said. “I think what we’ll start seeing is more emphasis on on-the-job training instead of vocational class training,” he said. “There will be more money targeted toward entrepreneurial ism.” Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com. ------------ Free Human Resources hotline and webinar registration— (800) 399-5331 Webinar series for employers in Placer, El Dorado and Alpine counties Sept. 8 – Employee handbooks Oct. 12 – Social networking Oct. 13 – Conflict management Nov. 10 – Compensation and benefits