GAO study of workforce grants to combat opioid crisis finds additional Labor Dept. actions needed

GAO study of workforce grants to combat opioid crisis finds additional Labor Dept. actions needed

A federal study into the effectiveness of workforce innovation grants has found that there is still much for the organization handing out the funding to do.

According to the General Accounting Office (GAO), the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) grants would be more successful if further steps were taken by the DOL to manage the program.

WIOA grants were provided to 10 states to fund the needs of those affected by substance use disorder (SUD) to find jobs and get the training they needed to return to the workforce.

The GAO interviewed officials in four states that received grants – Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Washington—and two that did not—Alabama and Arizona to assess the effectiveness of the grants.

The GAO found officials in those states that received grants had limited experience serving those with SUD and found that the issue of getting those in recovery from SUD back to work faced unique challenges – a criminal history or lack of transportation for the SUD-affected job seeker, and a reluctance to hire someone in recovery on the part of the employer.

“They stated that employers are concerned about the risks to their businesses, such as potential employee relapse and possible negative reaction from customers. Officials were seeking more information and assistance to help address such concerns,” the report said.

But dealing with those unexpected outcomes wasn’t something the DOL was help states with, the GAO said. Instead, the DOL offered information on how to apply for grants without providing clear information on what the department’s expectations of the states would be.

“However, officials in two selected states expressed uncertainty about DOL’s expectations of states in serving the needs of SUD-affected job seekers and potential employers,” the GAO report said. “Officials in another state said they were unclear on whether they could use non-targeted funds to continue targeted grant activities. GAO’s review of related DOL guidance found that it does not provide specific information on expectations of states or the use of WIOA funds outside of targeted grants to address this issue. Further, while DOL has disseminated some information on serving job seekers with SUD (such as in quarterly calls with grant recipients), it does not plan to share information that grantees submit to the agency, such as lessons learned and successes, with all states.”

The GAO recommended that the DOL take steps to clarify its expectations of state workforce agencies and how grant funding can be used. It also recommended that the DOL share information with all states on lessons learned and promising practices.

The GAO said the DOL agreed with its recommendations and would update its report when DOL took action on the recommendations.