The five Loudoun County laborers have been punctual, reliable and earned high ratings on job performance during the last year. But they probably will lose their jobs next month when their work contracts expire.
The situation of these men, who are maintaining parks and streets, repairing community centers and fire hydrants, is not an unusual one among Loudoun County workers whose jobs come through federally funded employment programs administered by the U.S. Department of Labor under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA).
CETA grants to local and state governments provide job training, salaries and related services to the unemployed and economically disadvantaged.
Loudoun, a largely rural county with only about 57,000 residents, has never had the population to qualify for more than the most minimal of CETA grants. When a grant runs out, so does the job.
"It's a helpless feeling really, to watch somebody who has worked hard lose a job only because the money isn't there," said pat Urioste, Loudoun County coordinator for CETA grants, who has tried to locate new jobs for the five laborers. "You look for alternatives and there aren't any. They're on their own again, even though unemployment was their biggest problem before they got the job.
"Even the ones who do get jobs, they're only a small fraction of the number of people in the county who need the same kind of help," she said.
She estimated that about 900 disadvantaged Loudoun County high school youths were eligible this year for a CETA work experience program that managed to serve only 100 students.
According to Urioste, some Loudoun County unemployment problems are due to the lack of skills among former agricultural workers who need to find jobs outside the farm economy as the county changes. (Loudoun has an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent compared to 3.6 percent in Fairfax.)
Urioste expects some relief from her frustrations this fall, when the Loudoun County CETA program is expected to join with a much larger CETA progam operated by adjoining Fairfax County.
The consortium agreement to share CETA services was approved this week by the Fairfax Board of Supervisors and will become effective Oct. 1 after approval by the Labor Department. The sharing is expected to benefit both counties, said William Meier of the Fairfax County Department of Manpower Services which manages the CETA program.
Fairfax County, with a population of about $583,000, has CETA grants totaling more than $5 million compared to Loudoun County's $455,000 in CETA funds.
"The agreement basically says that everyone would keep what they have and spread around whatever extra funds we get," Meier said. "The difference is that both jurisdictions make much better use of what we already have."
Fairfax, through the agreement, would be able to offer job training programs in the western part of the county by drawing both Fairfax and Loudoun residents. CETA grants provide training in a number of fields, including auto repair, computer repair, carpentry, electronics and clerical work.
Lacking sufficient grant funds, Loudoun now has no training programs as does Fairfax County. Fairfax does not offer training in the western part of the county because there are too few CETA applicants to provide the classes there "at a reasonable cost," Meier said.
"But with people from Loudoun and Fairfax, we should be able to train out there the Fairfax people who can't get to Bailey's Crossroads, and the Loudoun people who don't have training available now," Meier said. "One of our main objectives has been to get into the western end of the county, and this consortium offers an opportunity to do it."
Under the agreement, Loudoun residents also will be able to use Fairfax County's well-established job placement, counseling, day care and transportation services provided to those enrolled in CETA job training classes. Loudoun now has no similar services.