Velma Watkins, who was unemployed for six months until she finally found a job -- training for work as a telephone "hotline" counselor -- soon may be out of a job again.
Watkins 41, who lives with her 17-year-old son in Northwest Washington and works for the Washington Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, is paid with federal funds.
Without those federal funds, supplied through the Comprehensive Employment. Training Act (CETA), her job would not exist.
Workers' trainee job, which pays approximately $9,000 a year, is in jeopardy, and so are the jobs of 2,500 others employed by non-profit organizations since Congress slashed the District's 1980 CETA funds by nearly 50 percent.
The reduction, from about $17 million last year to about $104 million this year, is forcing these organizations either to find other sources of money to pay their CETA employes or to let them go by Sept. 30, when the current fiscal years ends.
Congress cut CETA funds across the country in an effort to reduce federal spending.
The nonprofit agencies in the District are also feeling a financial pinch because the District government has been late in reimbursing them for their CETA payrolls. Some of them have had to borrow money to meet their CETA payrolls and then use donations and other allocations to cover the interest on the debts.
The must severe problem now, however, is finding permanent jobs for the CETA-paid employes.
"There is no way I can guarantee a job for Watkins or any of the other CETA employes," said Mary J. Kidd, executive director of the alcohol and drug abuse council.
She explained that several of her workers are already approaching the 18-month deadline imposed by the CETA program, and the council has not yet found jobs for them.
Under the CETA guideline, the non-profit organizations must offer the trainee a permanent job, find one for him elsewhere, or het him go after after 18 months.
The problem has occurred not only because of severe congressional cuts, but also because of mismanagement on the part of the District's Department of Labor, and because some non-profit organizations have abused the CETA program, local officials say.
Recently, the District agreed to repay $1.4 million to the federal government after it was charged that the District council abused and mismanaged the CETA program.
"I don't know what I am going to do," said Watkins, the "hotline" trainee who supports her son.
She said she has no new job lined up and does not know where she will find one. "There are an awful lot of people out there looking for jobs and no one knows what to do."
Another CETA worker, Julius Jackson, 50, who lives in Adams-Morgan, said he searched seven and a half months before he found his trainee job at a home for runaways at 18th and R streets NW. "There is a possibility I will be able to stay on there when my 18 months are up, but I don't know for sure," he said.
Jackson said he has learned a lot from his job and wants it to continue.
Susan Butler, director of the runaway house, Special Appeal to Juvenile Assistance (SAJA), said she was doing everything possible to find other funds which to pay for Jackson and two other CETA employes because all three have been doing a good job.
For years the District nonprofit organizations have been able to avoid the tough decisions about their CETA employes because federal funds have always been available to keep them on, according to William R. Ford, director of the D.C. Department of Labor, which adminsters the District's CETA program. In some cases, he added, the employer organizations have kept CETA workers employed beyond the 18-month training period.
The CETA program was intended to train the "hardcore" unemployed, such as teenagers, former housewives and teachers, and others who have had difficulty finding and holding jobs.
The program, however, has been abused to a certain extent by nonprofit organizations that have used the trainees for regular staff work rather training them for jobs and helping them find permanent employment.
The head of one said organization, who asked not to be named, said, "When I write a proposal for staffing a one-year CETA project I pretend I am going to hire the CETA worker for a one-year project, but I am really staffing our organization. We know that and so does everyone else. We need the staff."
The organizations, which formerly relied on volunteers, use the CETA employes to perform services ranging from answering phones to counseling clients.
"It puts us in a tough spot," said Archie Richardson president of the Automobile Owner's Action Council. "We have a total of 20 employes and nine of them are CETA. We know we have a responsibility to find them jobs, but we need them at the same time to do work."
Ford said the problem is that the District's Title VI CETA program money is almost totally "mortgaged" or spent for 1980.
The city will be able to pay for only 35 new positions, he said, while last year, hundreds of salaries were paid out of CETA funds.
Ford said just to keep present CETA employes paid, he has had to spend almost all of the 1980 congressional allotment.
As a result, he said, the D.C. Department of Labor now requires the nonprofit organizations -- which are often understaffed and underbudgeted -- either to find jobs for their CETA employes by Sept. 30 or a fire them.
Ford said he understands the dilemma of the nonprofit organizations, but explained. "The law requires them to train CETA employes and find them jobs -- and that is exactly what they now have to do."
In 1981, Ford said, with the elimination of current CETA employes, the city will be able to redistribute newly hired CETA employes under a 1981 federal appropriation.
"I think D.C. Arts has done a great job and they should have more CETA workers, and so should a number of other agencies," he said, explaining that those organizations have successfully trained and found jobs for their employes.
Administrators of nonprofit organizations such as the National Black Veteran's Organization, are concerned that they will not be able to find jobs for their CETA workers and they will be forced to go on welfare.
"There is a lot of uncertainly among some of our CETA employes. They know they are going to have to leave us. They just don't know when," explained Richardson.
He blames the CETA problems on Congress.
"They have thrown the program into complete chaos. They (Congress) don't realize the CETA program can be effective if it is managed and funded properly.
"The District may have mismanaged its CETA program, but you don't penalize the people," he added.
James Kalish, director of the Washington Council of Agencies -- an unbrella organization for nonprofit agencies in the city -- scheduled a meeting this week of the nonprofit organizations to discuss the problems of reimbursement delays.
Ford, however, explained that the District Department of Labor has streamlined its payment prices and its reimbursement procedure can be expected to improve soon.
Despite the tough decisions ahead for the nonprofit organizations, Ford said:
"I'm convinced we're done everything humanly possible to assist the nonprofit organizations. We have not turned a deaf ear to this at all."