More than $2 million is on its way to help train and transfer oystermen into careers off the water.
The federal government finally released the National Emergency Grant money after months of back and forth with the state’s WorkForce people, gathering greater specifics on how the retraining of 94 oystermen would be carried out.
This grant is on top of $2.9 million the county received in 2012 through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Public Assistance Program as a result of Tropical Storm Debby.
That money served close to 250 people, nearly all of them as part of a shelling program to replenish the oyster bars of the Apalachicola Bay.
“At that time, they (the federal government) wouldn’t allow us to provide training, it was only a temporary job grant,” said Kim Bodine, executive director of CareerSource Gulf Coast (CSGC), the new name for the Gulf Coast Workforce Board. “A lot of times, with negotiations, we would put them in temporary jobs, and after they ended, we could use funds to retrain them for a different field if necessary.”
Bodine said that when that money ran out, CSGC began negotiations with the state, which administers the federal grant. They surveyed the roughly 234 oystermen who took part in the shelling program and a plan was worked up to find training in the various choices.
“We didn’t believe all of them would want to go into vocational training so we wrote a budget and proposal for 94 people,” she said. “This can only be used for those who participated in the earlier Tropical Storm Debby grant.
“That was the feds’ decision. This is an extension of that earlier grant, not a new grant,” said Bodine.
The biggest chunk of the money, $930,600, will be spent on an average of 36 weeks of “needs based payments” to those who take part, at $275 per week. This is paid out only during the training and licensure period, which varies depending on occupational choice.
A little more than $143,000, or 8 percent of the total, will be spent on funding non-personnel administrative costs. The hiring of a project supervisor, and two case managers, will take out $230,000 for 24 months, and when benefits are added in, will cost $310,500.
About 62 participants, or two-thirds of the total, are expected to enroll in training that includes correctional officers, auto technicians, commercial truck drivers, welders, and heavy equipment mechanics, among others (see sidebar).
The remaining third is targeted for enrollment in a combined GED-work experience program, which will enable them to receive their high school diploma as s step towards further training. This will cost the grant an average of $1,800 each, and include ca work experience component.
“Adult education can’t be a standalone activity,” said Jennifer German, deputy director of CSGC. “It must be paired with something else.”
The grant includes an on-the-job training wage supplementation for 15 participants at $7,500 each. This is paid directly to the employer to subsidize part of the worker’s pay.
There are a number of other lesser expenditures to assist in the training, such as $44,820 for passenger vans to Lively Vocational Tech in Tallahassee; lodging costs in Marianna for 12 truck driver trainees, which as $200 a week for hotel will run $19,200; and supportive service costs, for gas cards and the like, which run on average $200 per participant, of about $18,800.
“We have 24 months to work with,” said German. “Some training is 18 months and we need to pad in for testing or retakes for state licensure.”
Bodine said that the grant process to secure the funds took longer than is typical.
“I’ve never really quite been needled on a proposal like this one,” she said. “They wanted more and more detail but we don’t have a crystal ball.”
Bodine said the federal government has invested millions of dollars in projects around the nation related to fishery failures, and they are concerned the money is spent wisely.
“What they’ve seen is people will go to training but then do everything they do to stay in the same occupation,” she said. “It has to be something they can get a job in.”
German said that while she is waiting on a notice of funds availability, to arrive shortly, “my staff is sitting on go and is already started contacting the people.”
She said her staff will do what it can to assist in successful completion of the vocational training, including providing an academic lab at the Van Johnson municipal complex, where the administration arm of the program will be housed.
“We do what we can within reason to help,” she said, but stressed it takes commitment on the part of participants. “If you don’t attend classes, there’s no point in us giving you the money.”
In his announcement Monday, Scott said “we will continue training workers and expanding the Apalachicola Bay economy with these funds. With this $2.1 million investment we will work to get this community back on its feet.
“We’re working tirelessly to support the natural treasures families in the area rely on,” he said.
“Diversification is a key element of a strong economy,” said Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio. “We look forward to continuing to work with this community to ensure a thriving Apalachicola Bay economy that supports multiple industries and jobs for Florida families.”
U.S. Representative Steve Southerland said that “while we may be a long way from restoring Apalachicola Bay’s oyster fishery, these additional funds help move us one step closer to the goal of restoring peace of mind for this proud, but struggling community.”
The following is a breakdown on what has been allocated to cover the average cost of retraining, including tuition and course materials.
·Correctional officer: 10 participants @ $2,000 each
·Auto service technicians: 10 participants @ $6,315 each
·Heavy equipment mechanics: 10 participants @ $5,376 each
·Heating and air conditioning: 2 participants @ $5,642 each
·Commercial truck driver: 12 participants @$2,504 each
·Welders: Five participants @$6,810 each
·Misc. training, such as licensed practical nurse, commercial cook: 15 participants @ $5,500 each