Editor’s note: This article was published with several inaccurate statements. The Employment Security Commission characterized in the headline as “ESC” has been renamed the North Carolina Division of Workforce Solutions. Jim McMahan spoke to the Macon County Board of Commissioners regarding a county-owned property that could be utililized by the employment office at no cost. The article stated they were looking for a place to rent. That statement was incorrect. It also stated the Southwestern Community College had been paying the rent but could no longer afford to pay it. In fact, the rent has been paid through June 2014 by the Southwestern Workforce Development Board.
Due to a $30 million reduction in funding – or nearly 50 percent – employment offices across the state may close or reduce hours as part of a major restructuring following cuts in federal funding.
Local Employment Security Office manager Dale West spoke to commissioners last week to make them aware of the cuts and to ask for help. As a result, some offices of the North Carolina Division of Workforce Solutions – formerly known as 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 West.
The Macon County office is currently housed within a building paid for by Southwestern Community College. When funding was reduced on the federal level and the Employment Security Office could not afford to continue to pay the lease, SCC stepped up to help. That lease is up in June, and SCC can no longer afford to pay the rent. To avoid closing the office, which continues to see a high volume of applicants and job seekers each week, West asked commissioners to provide the office with space within the county.
The $30 million reduction 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.
West explained that although Macon County’s jobless rate is 5 percent better than a year ago, there are still people looking for jobs and needing assistance from her offices. In January, Macon County posted an 8.4 percent jobless rate. West noted that especially in rural counties like Macon, it’s important to have a place for the unemployed to receive services. Internet access is low, and the percent of older residents who are unemployed is higher in rural areas – meaning they need local offices help access the Internet.
Macon County commissioners expressed unanimous support in directing County Manager Derek Roland to review county owned space to see if there is availability to house Macon County’s Division of Workforce Solutions to help eleviate some of the financial burden on the department. “I have been speaking with Mrs. West and we are looking at several county owned properties as well as looking at space at SCC,” said Roland. “The county wants to work with Mrs. West to ensure we are able to continue providing employment services in Macon County.”
In addition to the potential closing of some offices, West explained that a restructuring is currently being considered. Restructuring offices could mean consolidating county offices or a reduction in operational hours. While the Macon County office is currently open five days a week, neighboring counties such as Swain and Jackson are already closing for select days during the week to reduce operational costs in staffing.
With Macon County’s Division of Workforce Solutions current lease set to expire in June, and West needing to be able to give the current landlord a 60-day notice, the county would need to find a space to be voted on by the April 8 meeting.