Fulton, Atlanta likely will be forced to return funds for job training

Atlanta city council member Matt Westmoreland questioned Atlanta’s workforce development spending. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO
Atlanta city council member Matt Westmoreland questioned Atlanta’s workforce development spending. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton County will lose $211,000 in federal grant money that was meant to provide job training for residents because it didn’t adhere to a deadline for spending the funds.

The failure to fully utilize workforce development grants has been an intractable problem in the county. Since 2015, officials have left $746,574 on the table that had been awarded for job training.

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The federal government allocates the workforce development money to states, which then disburse it to counties in overlapping two-year grants. The counties must obligate the money by the end of June of the first year and must spend it by June 30 of the second year, or return the bulk of the funds.

The city of Atlanta appears to have failed to spend all of the money available in its workforce development program, as well, though the amount of workforce development money that wasn’t spent is unclear.

Samir Abdullahi, the deputy director of economic development for Select Fulton, the county’s economic development arm, said the county provided job training for no more than 50 people this year. That number could have been as many as 300, he said, but the grant was poorly managed by the county and people were not connected with training opportunities in a timely manner.

“As with everyone, I’m obviously disappointed,” he said. “It’s low. It’s dramatically low.”

But, he said, Fulton is in a better position to spend the money going forward. Even though this is the fourth year in a row that the county is returning more than $100,000 to the federal government, he said his department has asked the state for more grant money to expand the programs offered to job-seekers. In previous years, when money was returned, a different Fulton County department had oversight of the grant.

The unused grant money is redistributed each year to workforce agencies the state government thinks will do a better job of spending the funds.

The county is replacing about half the members of its workforce development board, Abdullahi said, in order to find people who are more engaged. It’s also hired ResCare Workforce Services, a Kentucky company, to be more hands-on with the grant money, and provide services from job training to career planning.

Both Fulton County and Atlanta are returning money despite last-minute scrambling to obligate funds so they would not be reclaimed. Fulton signed a $2 million contract with ResCare; Atlanta obligated $2 million to Atlanta Technical College.

A preliminary report Atlanta sent to the state indicates the city had nearly $320,000 in unobligated funds in the 2017 fiscal year and more than $433,000 in unobligated funds in the 2018 fiscal year.

Michael Smith, a spokesperson for the city, said WorkSource Atlanta “has yet to receive final notice about the possibility of having funds recaptured.”

At a WorkSource Atlanta board retreat Friday, Kimberlyn Daniel, the Interim Executive Director of WorkSource Atlanta, who was appointed in July, refused to answer reporters’ questions about her plans to improve the agency’s results. She told board members WorkSource Atlanta “has been through many growing challenges” and has the opportunity to show “a much better rate of success.”

“I’m committed to helping get the organization back on track,” she told the board. “I’ll be the one with the ultimate responsibility.”

Matt Westmoreland, a member of the Atlanta city council, said WorkSource Atlanta has “just been a mess” in recent years. There was no quarterly report about the agency’s work in March or June, he said, and earlier this month, leaders could not explain why money was unspent, or talk about their budget plans for the coming year.

Westmoreland said workforce development should be a core function of the city. He was disappointed that available money wasn’t being used.

“I’m really frustrated,” he said. “That’s not how it’s supposed to work. This is not ideal, operating-on-all-cylinders behavior.”

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