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Minn. shutdown would cripple job programs for at-risk youths

WILLMAR -- A state government shutdown could swiftly become damaging for the at-risk youths who participate in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development's youth job programs, say those who work with the programs.

It's not just young people who will be out of work during the shutdown, said Rita Borchert, youth program manager for Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Service.

Businesses who partner with the state to provide jobs through the work experience program also will lose these employees for the duration of a shutdown, she said.

"I think it's going to be astonishing to see the impact this has," she said.

Most Workforce Centers across the state are among the 40-some state agencies and boards that will be closed if state lawmakers don't reach a budget agreement by midnight today.

The centers provide job support and training to thousands of Minnesotans statewide. Many of their programs target workers with special needs, such as those who are disabled, visually impaired or have been displaced by factory closings.

Letters have already been sent to clients, notifying them of what will happen in the event of a shutdown.

At meetings and through memos and conversations, staff members have been readying themselves for what's to come, Borchert said. "I feel like we're as prepared as we can be."

What's at stake for her own clients: employment that helps at-risk teens and young adults gain work experience. Borchert oversees programs for 14- to 21-year-olds in 11 central Minnesota counties. About 250 youths are enrolled in state-funded employment programs this summer in the region; another 276 youths are in federally funded job support programs.

The work experience program is the largest of these programs. It operates year-round but the summer months, when school isn't in session, are when it's most active, Borchert said. "Summer is really when they have the ability to go out and get a good work experience."

All of these youths will be out of a job if a state government shutdown goes into effect.

Services such as job coaching and wage support while young workers are being trained will be discontinued too.

The impact will likely be huge, especially if the shutdown becomes lengthy, Borchert said. Besides losing the opportunity to gain job skills and experience, the participants also will lose their income, she said. "In some situations, the families count on those paychecks."

It will have an impact as well on the businesses who rely on the program to help fill their own staff roster, she said. "That business is also counting on that young person to be there. This will affect our communities. ... It goes so much deeper than anyone realizes."

Some minimal services might continue, led by salaried staff who opt to volunteer their time. Staff have been told they can do this if they choose, Borchert said. "I do expect that managers will do that."

The agency's planning also has addressed how it will gear back up when the shutdown is over. The priority will be to quickly get youths back to work, Borchert said. "We want to be able to hit the ground running."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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