Job seekers fret  over closing of Northampton’s career center

  • Teri Anderson, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Career Center, talks Wednesday about the center’s Northampton office, which will close Aug. 25. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Name here—GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY Name here—GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Teri Anderson, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Career Center, talks Aug. 9, 2017 about the center's Northampton office which will close August 25 after more than 30 years. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Teri Anderson, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Career Center, talks Aug. 9, 2017 about the center's Northampton office which will close August 25 after more than 30 years. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Perry Fuller, 62, of Hatfield, talks Wednesday about the closing of the Franklin Hampshire Career Center’s Northampton office, which he uses. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Teri Anderson, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Career Center, talks Aug. 9, 2017 about the center's Northampton office which will close August 25 after more than 30 years. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

For the Gazette
Published: 8/10/2017 12:31:02 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Florence resident Emilia Dunkley is perfectly willing to drive the five miles to the Northampton office of the Franklin Hampshire Career Center every day. But when she thinks about driving more than 20 miles to Greenfield instead, she said, a list of worries fills her mind.

Her old car breaks down sometimes on longer drives. She’s unemployed, so her budget is tight. She will have to pay more for gas to drive that far each day.

After the announcement this week that a loss of funding means the career center’s Northampton office will close Aug. 25 after more than three decades and move most of its services to its Greenfield offices, concerns have grown both for clients in need of resources and for the center officials who want to help them.

“I know it had to happen, but I think everyone’s a little uneasy,” Dunkley said. “It creates considerable hardship for me.”

More worrisome than the financial costs of getting to Greenfield, Dunkley said, is the loss of a community. She said the staff and clients at the Northampton office know each other well, because many clients, like her, use the office every day to work on their resumes, apply for jobs and learn skills such as networking and interviewing.

“People know us here, and it’s a consistent service for us, and that just won’t be the case with the main office so far away and the satellite office only open a few days a week,” Dunkley said. “I think a lot more people will fall through the cracks when they find themselves unemployed.”

The shift to a full-time office only in Greenfield, with only part-time unemployment services in Northampton, isn’t ideal for the Career Center either, Executive Director Teri Anderson said. The center is government-funded, and budget cuts have forced the operation to downsize.

The majority of the center’s budget — 79 percent — comes from the federal Department of Labor. Last year, $440,000, or 15 percent, of the Career Center’s total budget, was slashed. When the unemployment rate goes down, federal funds go down, too, Anderson said.

“So it’s good that unemployment is going down, but it means we have fewer funds,” Anderson said. “We work with the Legislature and the state budget, but the state just doesn’t have enough resources to cover that loss.”

The other 21 percent of the center’s budget comes from the state, but Massachusetts is running low on how much support it can provide for unemployment services, said state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.

Many states do not provide any money for unemployment help beyond their federal funding, Rosenberg said. He said there is currently nothing more Massachusetts can do about the cuts at career centers here or elsewhere in the state.

The Franklin Hampshire Career Center helps people find jobs and offers job-search education and training for an area spanning 50 cities and towns. The agency has had an office open in Northampton since the early 1980s, Anderson said. Between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, the Northampton office served 2,490 people.

Federal funding losses have affected other unemployment agencies in the state, too, Anderson said. The Milford Career Center closed last September, while the North Shore branch consolidated its career centers last year.

The budget situation will probably continue to get worse, Anderson said. The Trump administration has proposed cutting 45 percent of all funding to workforce programs throughout the country next year. “Obviously, we’re hoping Congress won’t authorize such a steep reduction,” Anderson said. “But if they do, we’re going to have to look at completely restructuring our workforce system on the statewide level.”

For now, even a 15 percent reduction means restructuring decisions that come at a cost for job seekers. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said federal cuts hit harder in less urban areas, due to the large distances people must travel if a service is cut.

Northampton resident Diane Mader said this distance presents not just a barrier, but a brick wall. Mader is a senior citizen and disabled, and said she does not drive. She just signed up for a Career Center seminar after being unemployed for several years and wanting to get back in the hunt.

“I’m finally ready to find a job and stand on my own feet, and it feels like a door is being slammed in my face,” Mader said. “I know it’s because of budget cuts, but it feels like the government is trying to balance the budget on the back of the working poor and the elderly.”

Mader said she worries that continuing cuts to services for the poor and the unemployed will eventually make Northampton unlivable for all but the wealthy.

Anderson said the decision to move the full-time office to Greenfield was based on surveys showing more clients are able to drive to the Northampton office than clients of the Greenfield one. She emphasized that a bus service runs from Northampton to Greenfield, and that staff will meet people in Northampton if they cannot make it to Greenfield.

For some clients, this is enough to assuage their worries. Perry Fuller, from Hatfield, said he would be fine with making the drive to Greenfield. Fuller said he was laid off July 28 and has been using the Northampton center every day since July 31.

“I wish it wasn’t happening, but I understand that with the financial situation, it’s the way things have to go,” Fuller, 62, said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s also not a deal breaker.”


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