WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 — Even though unemployment has increased sharply
in recent months, President Bush's
budget will seek cuts in several job-training programs for laid- off workers and young adults most affected by the rise
in unemployment, budget documents and federal officials say.
Bush administration officials question the effectiveness of some of the jobs programs, which Congress created with overwhelming bipartisan support four years ago.
The United States Conference of Mayors sent a protest letter this week
to the White House criticizing an administration
plan to cut "youth opportunity grants," to $45 million next year from $225 million this year. The mayors said the cut
would hurt some of the poorest communities, including parts of Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
A spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, Trent
D. Duffy, defended the proposal,
saying that the youth opportunity grants would be "streamlined and merged into the Job Corps and another
program" that served a similar purpose.
Budget documents also indicate that the administration will propose a cut of $9.1 billion, or 29 percent, in federal highway spending, to $22.7 billion next year from $31.8 billion this year. Federal and state officials said the administration would justify the proposal by citing a decline in gasoline taxes and other revenue collected for the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska, and the panel's senior Democrat, Representative James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, said the proposed cut was unacceptable. In a joint statement, they said it would force states to abandon or postpone many highway projects and "could result in hundreds of thousands of Americans being thrown out of work."
The number of unemployed people rose 40 percent last year, to 8.3 million
in December from 5.9 million in January,
according to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The White House is acutely sensitive to any suggestion
that it is not doing enough for the unemployed.
Mr. Duffy of the budget office said, "The president is seeking an increase in total resources available to support job training."
To reach that conclusion, the White House counts money that it assumes
will be unspent this year and can be carried
over to 2003. State officials say that argument overstates the amount available because they have signed contracts
and made other commitments to use much of the money.
Mr. Duffy said the money for job training would increase far more if
Congress approved the president's economic
stimulus plan. That plan includes $4 billion of "national emergency grants." The White House says about half the
money would be used to retrain workers who lose jobs because of plant closings or large- scale layoffs.
But state officials said they were more likely to use the money to help
workers keep their health insurance coverage
or to extend their unemployment benefits.
Mr. Young and Mr. Oberstar said the highway fund had a balance of more
than $18 billion and could support a
higher level of spending than Mr. Bush is expected to propose.
A table prepared by the Transportation Department shows that New York's
highway allocation, now $1.4 billion,
would be reduced by $370 million under the proposal. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials criticized the proposal, saying it would hamper economic recovery and stifle the creation of jobs in construction
and related industries.
Mr. Bush plans to announce his budget request on Monday. He and his
aides have disclosed plans to increase the
Pentagon budget and spending for domestic security and certain health and nutrition programs. The administration
has been reluctant to divulge plans for cuts.
But budget documents show that the Office of Management and Budget has proposed cutting some of the training and employment programs that the Labor Department runs. Congress provided $5.6 billion for the programs this year.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Mr. Bush said: "When America
works, America prospers.
So my economic security plan can be summed up in one word, jobs."
In a radio address on Jan. 12, the president said he would ask Congress for an increase of $73 million "to expand the good work of the Job Corps," which receives nearly $1.5 billion of the $5.6 billion total spent on employment and training this year.
But Mr. Bush did not mention the cuts sought by the White House in grants
to the states for employment and training
services, a 10 percent reduction in assistance to dislocated workers, a 5 percent cut in training for adults and a cut
of 11 percent in grants for training school dropouts and other "economically disadvantaged youths" from 14 to 21.
The director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., has laid the groundwork for some of the proposals by saying he wants to rationalize and consolidate programs "littered across the government."
"Why," Mr. Daniels asked, "do 10 departments of our government in 48 separate programs try to train people for jobs?"
Experts in the field said Mr. Bush's proposals were somewhat surprising,
because as governor of Texas Mr. Bush
strongly supported job programs run with federal money provided under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.
Texas was a pioneer in training workers to meet employers' needs.
Houston Works USA, which runs a widely admired program with $25 million
a year in federal money,
has helped more than 1,200 of the 4,500 workers who are losing jobs at the Enron Corporation.