BLACKFOOT — Blackfoot’s job service office is among those around the state tagged for closure, but that doesn’t mean any employees here themselves will be losing their jobs, according to Jani Revier, Idaho Department of Labor director.
More than half of Idaho’s local job service offices will close by September, the Idaho Department of Labor announced on Monday, as the department launches a “new service model” that will shrink the number of local offices from 25 to 11 statewide.
Revier said Wednesday that some offices are changing service deliveries and will no longer have brick-and-mortar offices as they have now, but services will instead be provided at other locations such as libraries or other public facilities.
“We need to work through those details,” Revier said. “We will be in Blackfoot at least one day a week. We’ll be working through this with all employees. We want to invest with people instead of places. Jobs will change in some cases for our employees, but everyone will have a job.”
Among the Idaho communities that no longer would have walk-in job service offices are Meridian, the state’s second-largest city and one of the fastest-growing in the state; Grangeville, Kellogg and Bonners Ferry, which are in some of the state’s highest-unemployment counties; and such communities as McCall, Emmett, Mountain Home, Payette, Rexburg and Hailey.
Revier said in a press release that the new model will “directly serve more Idahoans.” There would be six primary regional offices in Post Falls, Lewiston, Caldwell, Twin Falls, Pocatello and Idaho Falls. Five affiliate offices would remain in Sandpoint, Orofino, Boise, Burley and Salmon.
Services elsewhere will be “decentralized,” Revier said, with appointments and office hours offered at other facilities, such as libraries or other government or non-profit offices, and no department employees or services would be eliminated.
“We are investing in people, not space,” Revier told the Idaho Press. “That’s how we’re able to do it without reducing staff. We want to continue to have the same level of service that we currently have.”
When the Otter administration proposed in 2016 to close half the local job service offices in the state, lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee balked amid concerns from rural communities and persuaded the administration to back off the move.
“I think there’s a big difference between this proposal and the last proposal,” said Revier, who was Otter’s budget chief — responsible for pitching budget ideas to state lawmakers — back in 2016. “The last proposal was really pulling out of those communities. We’re not intending on pulling out of any communities. We will still remain in those communities, just in a different form.”
Another difference: The plan is moving forward right now, rather than being pitched to the Legislature. The Moscow job service office closed last week. “We anticipate having the model fully implemented at the end of September,” Revier said.
Asked what the administration would do if lawmakers again raise concerns when they convene in January, Revier said, “I can’t prevent them from doing anything when they’re in session. Our goal is to make sure they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and embrace the new model, and help us make sure that their constituents that need our services know how to find us and can receive those services.”
Former state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who was co-chairwoman of JFAC in 2016, said Monday, “I continue to believe as I did before that it’s going to be a tremendous hardship on rural towns, particularly Bonners Ferry and St. Maries. … I’m hoping that the director gets out in the field and makes the communities well aware of what’s happening, and really truly listens to those constituents about what the needs are.”
Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, current JFAC co-chairman, said he didn’t know about the move until Monday, but said he has faith in Revier. “I know Jani’s not going to say, ‘I’m pulling out of these rural communities because there’s not a need there’ — there’s definitely a need,” he said. “If she’s working this out and making it work with the dollars that we appropriated, I’m not going to argue it a ton.”
Gov. Brad Little praised the new approach — even though his hometown of Emmett will lose its walk-in job service office. “Boosting citizen confidence in state government and improving access to resources throughout Idaho are two of my main priorities,” Little said in a statement. “The updated Idaho Department of Labor service delivery model will offer better services throughout Idaho in a more efficient manner, ensuring a strong workforce into the future.”
Dave Darrow, Idaho Labor manager in Latah County, is spearheading the new model there, the first place where it’s being rolled out.
“This new approach has us out where we’re needed, as opposed to sitting behind a desk and waiting for citizens to find us,” he said in the department’s news release. “We have more flexibility in working with employers and more time in front of the actual labor force making a difference.”
After the dust-up in JFAC in 2016, lawmakers attached a clause to the department’s budget requiring a detailed report on the operating costs for all local Department of Labor offices.
Revier said over the last 10 years, the department has seen a 47 percent drop in the federal funds that support the services it offers at the local offices. It’s now facing stiff costs to upgrade all local offices to meet the newest accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“That’s really hard to meet in these rural communities,” she said.
Those requirements wouldn’t apply if the department’s workers are meeting with job-seekers and employers in someone else’s facilities, Revier said, “because it’s not one of our offices.”
Services currently provided at the 24 remaining local offices statewide for job seekers include job listings, computer and internet access, veteran services, career guidance and workforce training. For employers, they include employee recruitment, pre-screening skills assessments, labor market information, hiring incentives and tax credits, according to the department’s website, which lists all 24 of the current local offices, divided into six regions.
Unemployment claims currently can’t be filed at local offices; they must be filed online.
Several of the current offices share managers; for example, Sage Stoddard is listed as the manager of the Grangeville, Lewiston and Orofino offices; Derek Harris manages the offices in Caldwell, Emmett and Payette; and Dan Holmes manages the offices in both Boise and Mountain Home.
Revier said, “We are bringing the Department of Labor to the citizens of rural Idaho. This is a new way to provide service, an Idaho way, that addresses the unique regional challenges that we face in our state.”
“We want to provide more Idahoans top-notch service when they need it, where they need it in order to help them get back to work and access the benefits they are entitled to,” she said.
As part of the new model, the department will be developing a tailored service plan for each region, Revier said.
The Idaho Department of Labor has more than 680 employees and a total budget of nearly $94 million, the vast majority of which comes from federal funds to cover administering unemployment compensation and employment services; the department received just $553,600 in state general funds this year, largely to cover the wage and hour program, under which employees can file wage claims. The department also oversees career information services, the Idaho Human Rights Commission, and Serve Idaho, which promotes volunteerism and community service and administers Idaho’s AmeriCorps grants.