Labor Department services could change for Portales

By Tony Parra

It is a possibility people from Portales looking for unemployment services will have to drive to Clovis starting Oct. 1.
Eastern Area Workforce Development Board chairman Jimmie Shearer said the contract for Workforce Investment Act services was awarded to community colleges. Schearer said the WIA services were provided by the New Mexico Department of Labor since 2000.
Deputy Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Labor Steve Gallegos said the contract was extended until the end of September. Gallegos said DOL representatives will continue to offer the WIA services in the new business welcome center (located on the town square) until the end of September.
There are four boards in New Mexico: Eastern, Northern, Central and Southwestern. The local board decides who its service providers will be and oversees the programs available to individuals through the One-Stop system, according to the New Mexico DOL Web site. Each area has a local workforce development board, which also consists of 51 percent membership from the business community.
“We awarded it to community colleges for budgetary reasons,” Shearer said about the move. “DOL will still provide unemployment services. Hopefully they’ll continue to do it from the office in Portales.”
Shearer said those seeking WIA services will go to the same places they did before. He said employees who provided Temporary Assistance for Needy Families services are contracted through the community colleges and work in the same places.
“We were surprised by the move,” Carlos Casteneda, public information officer for the New Mexico Department of labor, said. “We provided WIA services and met federal standards. We exceeded many standards set out by the federal government.”
WIA is a federally funded program, established in 1998 to implement local job training and employment programs for people across the United States. WIA programs provide three levels of service through one-stop career development centers, according to the New Mexico DOL Web site.
However, there are some services the DOL provides which do not fall under the WIA services — including unemployment services, veterans services and job seeker services.
Veterans services ensure that job and training services are offered to veterans on a priority basis, according to the DOL Web site. Veterans have priority over non-veterans in regard to job placement, counseling, testing, referral to supportive services, job development, and job training.
Representatives help the unemployed with filling out forms, which provide for the payment of benefits to unemployed workers who meet the provisions of the law and for collection of taxes from liable employers to pay these benefits, Casteneda said.
Gallegos said budget problems existed. Casteneda added that because contract services weren’t awarded to the New Mexico DOL, the current situation could affect whether veterans services and unemployment services will be provided in Portales or in Tucumcari. He said those seeking those services may have to travel to Clovis. Casteneda also said it could affect the Clovis office and it may cause cuts in personnel.
Gallegos said the DOL will try to work with the community colleges to try to place some of the DOL workers who were providing WIA services working for the community colleges or in other state agencies.
“We are confident we’ll be able to continue to provide those services (unemployment and veterans services) in Portales,” Gallegos said. “In the next 90 days, we’ll work with community officials to try to keep those services there.”