Following a federal lawsuit filed by Coastal Counties Workforce Inc. against the LePage administration, the nonprofit workforce board reports that is has received some of the money the state was withholding.

Gov. Paul LePage opted to withhold approximately $8.4 million in federal funding for job training program after the federal Department of Health and Human Services denied his request to unify the three regional workforce boards to create a single statewide workforce board, as reported by the Bangor Daily News.

“Reducing the size and scope of government and aiming to get more resources directly to Mainers has always been Gov. LePage’s goal,” Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman Laura Hudson told The Times Record in a September statement initially denying that the administration had rejected the funding. “We will work with the U.S. Department of Labor to identify the manner in which the federal government can continue to provide this job training funding to Maine with only one layer of administrative costs.”

Following the administration’s decision to withhold the funding, CCWI sued the administration for access to the 2016 and 2017 federal funding. The civil action, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland in October, names the governor and Labor Commissioner John Butera as defendants.

The funds are used to provide job training services for laid-off workers, low-income adults, and struggling young adults.

The nonprofit announced Friday that while the state had granted access to the 2016 funds, it had put stipulations on the 2017 funds that 60 percent of the funding must go directly to training.

“This requirement is neither realistic nor is it within the power of the governor to impose such a requirement,” said CCWI Executive Director Mike Bourret in a prepared statement.

The nonprofit claims that the 60 percent stipulation will cause layoffs and facility closures for the workforce board. CCWI is continuing with the lawsuit, claiming that the state does not have the right to put conditions like that on the federal funding.

“The LePage administration has once again placed the three workforce boards in a perilous position.” said Charles Crosby, CCWI president and Sagadahoc County commissioner. “To accept the contracts with the 60 percent stipulation would have ultimately meant a dismantling of the system even if in the short term it looks like a positive outcome.

“Risking federal and/or state sanctions for issues of compliance and/or failed performance outcomes is not a viable approach to resolving this matter,” he added.

The spending threshold sought by the governor would cause staff layoffs and the closure of several service locations. Ultimately, fewer people would be served if the workforce board accepted these terms, Bourret said.

Julie Rabinowitz, the press secretary for LePage, said Friday via email the governor’s office does not comment on pending litigation. The lawsuit seeks to force the administration to release the federal funding to the workforce boards immediately.

“We provide funding for classroom training activities, tuition, customized training, on the job training, work experience … those types of things,” Bourret told The Times Record earlier this year. “We would be unable to do that without these funds.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is meant to provide job training services. The funding is generally distributed to three workforce boards, including Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc., which oversees the programming along the coast from York to Waldo. According to Bourret, the nonprofit works directly with 1,000 individuals annually, and without the expected funding, CCWI says that it and the other workforce boards will have to cease operations by Nov. 30.

A hearing on the lawsuit will take place Dec. 18.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and Times Record reporters Nathan Strout and Juliette Laaka contributed to this report.

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