Central Council abruptly reduces employment training, support services

Due to a $650,000 cut in federal funding, Southeast’s largest tribal organization is discontinuing employment training and other services impacting more than 230 tribal citizens throughout the region.

Juneau resident Elizabeth Lindoff, 44, is one of them.

“I was just told this morning that next Wednesday is my last day when I was supposed to be working until end of December,” she said on Monday.

Lindoff is part of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s work experience program, which allows tribal citizens to try out a career while beefing up their resume. The program places people with host employers who give on-the-job training while CCTHITA is responsible for compensation.

Lindoff has been getting paid about $1,500 a month since June for being an administrative clerk for CCTHITA’s Second Chance Reentry program.

“This was helping me get on my own two feet again,” Lindoff said. “I’m currently staying with my brother and this was going to help me get me into my own place.”

CCTHITA’s work experience program is just one of the affects of the federal budget cut. CCTHITA has received funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs since 1995 for programs that help low-income individuals get off public assistance through job training and support services. These programs are collectively known at 477 services, which refers to the federal Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Demonstration Act of 1992.

This year, CCTHITA had budgeted $2.6 million for 477 programs. Corrine Garza, CCTHITA chief operating officer, said the budget shortfall stems from a lower than expected congressional appropriation to BIA. She said she only got wind of the $650,000 cut in July and started doing more research into it.

“I think there definitely should’ve been some kind of notification — mail, email or an announcement — because it’s really difficult for tribes to make up that big of a budget cut in the last quarter of the year,” she said. CCTHITA’s next grant year begins in January.

Besides eliminating the work experience program, the budget shortfall also means CCTHITA is turning away new enrollees to its adult vocational technical program and cutting off those getting assistance with their associate or bachelor’s degree.

“All of those things were great tools to assist our clients in becoming and staying independent,” William Martin, CCTHITA director of 477 services, said on the phone Monday.

“Now, we’re forced to ask them to be employable, but to handle their own barriers to employment because we don’t have the funding,” Martin said.

The cut impacts at least 233 tribal members in Juneau, Douglas, Haines, Craig, Klawock, Saxman and Wrangell who are enrolled in the programs and services this month, and others who are being turned away.

“All of these programs benefitted our clients in one way or another,” he said.

Support services were crucial, Martin said.

“Just those basic extras that are needed in certain jobs or to assist them to retain employment, like the child care or get them a bus pass, interview clothing, work clothing — all those types of things we’re no longer able to provide to them,” he said.

CCTHITA is still able to provide tribal citizens with basic cash assistance for food, clothing, housing and utilities, Martin said.

“What 477 programs are designed to do is help them get off public assistance so they don’t need us anymore. That’s made this difficult with this sudden budget cut,” Martin added.

He said he understands how much the cuts are affecting individuals like Lindoff.

“I’ve been in their situation before. I have been on assistance in the past so I know what they have to go through and for them to get this news at this time is just heart-wrenching,” Martin said.

In the short time that Lindoff has been an administrative clerk, she said she’s received training on Microsoft and completed online classes on administrative assistance. She said finding out that she’ll be back to being unemployed again in a week and a half was shocking.

“I took 10 steps forward to get knocked back 12 steps,” she said.

She had hoped the work experience program might transition into a full-time job with CCTHITA.

“It’s one of the best places I’ve ever worked and where I’d like to stay,” she said.

Getting a permanent job with CCTHITA is still her goal. She’ll just have to work on it sooner than she thought and without the security of a paycheck in the meantime.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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