At the September BOCC meeting, Monroe County Commissioners voted to approve three separate agenda items to improve workforce training in Monroe County. Kicked off by Commissioner Michelle Coldiron, and with a presentation from Jonathan Gueverra, the approvals will attempt to bypass a bottleneck in federal funding intended for Monroe County.

Gueverra is the president of The College of the Florida Keys, one of the main workforce investment organizations in the Keys. Gueverra, like others in the workforce development training industry, is frustrated at the current state of funding. The problem isn’t the availability of funds; rather, the money is getting metaphorically stuck somewhere on U.S. 1 between Miami and Key Largo.

Under the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, CareerSource South Florida, a federally funded workforce development program, receives anywhere from $50 million to $90 million annually to support workforce programs in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties. “The purpose of the funds is to allow regions to reduce the number of individuals who are unemployed, to encourage participation in high-wage, high-demand jobs, to serve those individuals at the lowest end of the economic spectrum,” said Gueverra.

Monroe County supposedly receives 6.7% of these annual funds for the county’s workforce improvements. So, where’s the problem? Coldiron said, “It was brought to my attention that we’re not getting the funds as much as we should be and we can’t provide the services our county needs.”

Gueverra explained where the block is: “Once funds are approved in CareerSource meetings, we have to create a proposal and a contract to bring those dollars into the county. … By the time CareerSource does everything we need them to do (but don’t), we have only 30 days to put together all the documentation we need and that’s not enough time.” The funding needs to be annually refreshed or it’s lost, and thus, year after year, Monroe County has not been able to take advantage of its designated federal funding.

For local service providers and training organizations — like The College of the Florida Keys, the Monroe County Apprenticeship Program, and the local school board — the frustration is clear. “We’ve lost the opportunity to serve our local youth and the unemployed individuals,” said Gueverra. “We’re leaving millions of dollars meant for us on the table.” Gueverra said local businesses expend their resources to train individuals who could’ve been trained using federal funding and that individuals suffer because they don’t get services they depend on. “We all suffer.”

The commissioners took Coldiron’s recommendation to do more research about how to disengage from CareerSource South Florida even further, voting at the BOCC meeting in favor of redesignating Monroe County out of Region 23 and forming a separate CareerSource with its own workforce development board. The changes could take effect in June 2020 when the current local agreement expires. “This gives us 11 months to work on a redesignation,” said Coldiron. “Let’s move in that direction.”

To applause from the audience, the BOCC voted unanimously to do just that. “This has been a long time coming. Motion passes. Amen,” smiled Mayor Sylvia Murphy.

Two other related motions also passed, approving the appointment of Coldiron to the CareerSource South Florida Board of Directors for a one-year term and approving support of revision of the DEO State Action Plan. If this revision is enacted, the College of the Florida Keys and similar public universities and colleges would be able to access the millions of dollars meant for the county directly instead of going through “red tape” with CareerSource.

The BOCC hopes these steps will help Monroe County find new opportunities to serve and train its residents and for the county to receive the critical federal funds it’s entitled to.

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