The start-and-stop history of governmental funding for job-training program JobPath is enough to inflict whiplash.
Start: In 1998, the controversial Pima County Interfaith Council demands the city and county help finance JobPath, and they comply. (See "Training Maneuvers," July 8, 1999.)
Stop: The Tucson City Council eliminates funding in 2004.
Start: Following the election of new City Council members, the city in 2006 resumes paying JobPath $500,000 annually.
Stop: Pima County cuts its 2008 funding by 44 percent. Then, to help balance its own budget, the city reduces its contribution by 10 percent.
Now the cycle may be reversing again: The recommended budget for the next fiscal year released recently by new City Manager Mike Letcher shows full funding for JobPath at $500,000.
"Oh my God!" exclaimed JobPath's executive director, Herminia Cubillos, when told the news. "That kind of made my day."
With a current budget of about $750,000, JobPath is assisting 196 mostly low-income students. They are enrolled in classes at Pima Community College to become registered nurses, aviation maintenance workers and trades people in a host of fields.
Cubillos had previously been told the city might reduce its contribution anywhere from 25 percent, under a proposal floated by deposed City Manager Mike Hein, to 7 percent. After hearing of the full-funding possibility, Cubillos said that Letcher is "smart. He knows employment is what it's all about right now."
However, that funding is far from secure. In his budget message to the City Council, Letcher suggested that the elected officials still need to make some decisions about the almost $13 million in city funding provided to outside agencies such as JobPath.
Marie Nemerguth, the city's acting deputy budget director, clarifies: "The city manager's not recommending, per se, the list (of outside agencies that would be funded in the proposed budget), but that the council come up with a list."
The city budget would be balanced, in part, through a series of tax and fee increases. In addition, many city employees will be required to take 40 hours of unpaid furlough time during the fiscal year beginning July 1. This leads to a question: Is it fair to fully fund JobPath while raising taxes and cutting employee pay?
"The council has to decide where their priorities are," said former Mayor George Miller. "One's not better than the other."
Miller, who has been a member of the JobPath board of directors since leaving office a decade ago, said that city employees "have steady jobs with good perks, so (the furloughs) are a small sacrifice. They can handle them better than those at the bottom of the economic ladder."
Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, one of those responsible for restoring city assistance to JobPath in 2006, said full funding for JobPath "is certainly something to discuss, and it's right to note the many difficult choices in the budget. Oftentimes in economic downturns, people take advantage of job training, so this might be an optimal time to make some available."
With JobPath's city funding still uncertain, Cubillos said she's "not planning on anything until the ink is dry on a contract." But she is definitely planning on celebrating JobPath's 10th anniversary on May 22.
"We've never changed our mission," Cubillos said. "Our sole purpose is to recruit and support adults who want to improve their lives through job training at Pima Community College."
When it was first established, JobPath joined the county's One Stop Career Center as the major job-training programs in town. But by offering assistance to people who earn more than low-income wages and providing mentoring services to its clients, JobPath distinguished itself.
JobPath also set itself apart by initially requiring its clients to pay back—either monetarily or through community service—part of their stipend. But the agency eliminated that requirement a couple of years ago.
"It became a bureaucratic nightmare," Cubillos explained.
Statistics compiled by JobPath show the average client was earning around $15,000 a year before they began their job training. Once they completed the PCC coursework and found new employment, their salaries more than doubled.
"Based on the average increase in wages compared to the program costs," an economic impact analysis prepared in 2008 for JobPath stated, "they have provided a good return on investment over the past three years."
The report also shows that public-assistance payments were reduced in Pima County because of the program. This was primarily due to JobPath graduates no longer being enrolled in AHCCCS, the state's low-income medical plan, or receiving governmental assistance for child care.
Before the city manager's recommended budget was released, Cubillos said that the agency could possibly be shut down if funding was cut further. Now, things appear to have changed.
JobPath will have 96 graduates this year, with another 100 students continuing their education. After coordinating with the One Stop Career Center regarding the use of federal stimulus funds, they may be able to add 100 more in August.
Assuming the city's full contribution comes through, the program may be able to expand: "It depends upon funding from the county, but we may be able to go up another 175 students," Cubillos said.
In other words, the next budgetary signal for JobPath might be "start."