Classes set to start for Operation Paycheck for displaced workers
By Jonathon Gutierrez
Classes begin Monday for Florida's new $15 million Operation Paycheck, a program designed to intensively train displaced workers for different fields for up to 26 weeks.
Using one-stop worker centers and local schools and colleges, the program was to begin accepting applicants Wednesday.
Created by Gov. Jeb Bush on Oct. 4, the program responds to the economic slide following the Sept. 11 attacks, the subsequent airline tailspin and the resulting drop in tourism that led unemployment to rise statewide. Schools and colleges will be reimbursed for training workers for jobs in less-affected industries.
Applicants must have lost jobs after Sept. 11 and have worked in a designated "adversely impacted occupation," a group that includes retail salespersons, flight attendants, bartenders and hotel clerks.
The program will run out of the Regional Workforce Development Board's One-Stop Service centers, which provide information about unemployment benefits and job placement programs. The local program will be overseen by SouthFlorida Workforce, which will run the centers in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, said Marie Bertot, Southflorida information officer.
Classes will be at Miami-Dade Community College, Florida Keys Community College, Monroe County School District, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Florida International University.
While earlier estimates had the state providing $30 million, funding has since been dropped to $15 million, said Warren May, communications officer for the Agency for Workforce Innovation.
He said the lower figure results from a shift in the project's focus, he said. Earlier plans, which relied more on family assistance, called for Temporary Assistance to Needy Family funds. With the new program focusing more on employment training, Mr. May said, Temporary Assistance funds cannot be used and the program will rely entirely on money from the Workforce Investment Act fund and the dislocated workers fund.
Applicants for the program who apply by Friday will begin classes Nov. 12, Ms. Bertot said.
The program will pay schools set fees by course for each student. Fees run from $301.80 a student for an insurance customer service representative course to $4,544.83 for a course on using Oracle Database software.
The fees were set by the state's Department of Education, which polled all schools that agreed to take part and calculated the average costs, said Nora Hernandez Hendrix, dean of academic and student support services at Miami-Dade Community College. That charge is the highest any school can bill the state.
The state response is fueled by the continuing applications for unemployment payments statewide.
For the week ending Oct. 26, the state received 15,943 initial claims, up from 6,558 a year before, Mr. May said. These numbers do not include persons already receiving benefits. Initial unemployment claims peaked the last week of September at 19,534 and since have been steadily decreasing.
Miami-Dade County is also slowly recovering from the downturn, according to newly released figures.
"Essentially what it looks like we're doing is kind of creeping back," said John Cordrey, who heads research for the Beacon Council, the county's economic development organization. "Maybe one section's improving slightly better than another section, but there's still a lot of economic clouds in the future that could lead to what I would call 'declining employment levels.'"
Hotel occupancy Oct. 14-20 rose again to a countywide 50.3%, down 23% from last year, said Bill Anderson, director of planning and research for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. The previous week's figure was 48.2%, while the monthly average for last October was 65%.
Average daily hotel room rates rose as well, reaching $93.35, Mr. Anderson said. While down 10.4% from last year, that's up from the prior week's $86.68.
Airline passenger numbers remain down, Dr. Cordrey said. The daily average for October dropped 23.7% from 88,326 last year to 67,424 this year, an estimate based on still incomplete data.
Figures released by Miami International Airport support the estimate. A one-day comparison between Mondays on Oct. 16 last year and Oct. 15 this year showed a 27% drop from 92,836 to 67,749. The number of flights decreased 17%, from 937 to 787.