Aldermen on the Council’s Workforce Committee will meet Tuesday morning to discuss ways the city could take back federal funds earmarked for a special job training partnership the city has with Cook County.

A resolution Workforce Committee Chair Pat O’Connor (40) introduced in April prompted the subject matter hearing. It suggests the funds be redirected from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership to the city’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFFS) in order to expand existing job training and placement programs the city offers for city youth, the formerly incarcerated, the homeless, and other vulnerable populations of the city.

Every year, the city receives federal dollars as part of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a law President Obama signed in 2014 to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services. It’s specifically designed to match the chronically unemployed or the unskilled with opportunities in burgeoning sectors of the global economy.  

Since 2012, a significant portion of those dollars have been earmarked for an initiative Chicago set up with Cook County. Established by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Toni Preckwinkle, the partnership was developed as a way for the city and county to combine resources and broaden outreach for employers and job seekers. It’s one of the biggest workforce development entities in the country and is mostly funded through federal grants from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Since its launch, the partnership has raised about $32 million from private entities and has connected nearly 40,000 people with a job. Last year, Workforce Partnership Executive Director Karin Norington-Reaves told county commissioners in 2016 her organization helped place 8,726 people placed in jobs, enroll 19,502 in services, and 5,400 people in educational and vocational training. It operates 12 workforce centers around the city and county.

Yet, six months ago, aldermen expressed confusion about the partnership–for some it was the first time hearing of the program–and suggested it wasn’t living up to its mandate. At that meeting, the concerns voiced by aldermen were best summed up by Ald. Jason Ervin (28) who said, “It’s like this entity that’s out there, taking in a damn good chunk of money that came to the city, entrusting it, and it’s operating as it sees fit, without any consultation with the bodies that have ceded that authority to you. That’s a challenge. I want the best in service for my residents, at the same time we don’t want to be disconnected from the services our residents are receiving. I think that’s the crux… There does not appear to be that collaboration.”

The job training component of the partnership overlaps with resources provided by DFFS, especially as it relates to employment opportunities for city youth and ex-offenders, resolution sponsors claim. In the preamble of the resolution, sponsors say DFFS is in a “unique position to offer Chicagoans direct assistance” with job training resources and other social service programs through its network of delegate agencies and support centers.

It calls on the committee to explore using money explore the possibility of using existing federal grant funds to increase capacity at the city’s Community Re-Entry Support Centers, Second Chance apprentice programs, and other existing initiatives catered toward connecting Chicagoans to job opportunities.

The Executive Director of Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Karin Norington-Reaves, DFSS Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler, and representatives from several delegate agencies that provide job training opportunities to residents on behalf of the city are expected to testify.  A representative from Cook County is also expected to testify.