The Idaho Department of Labor says a new “remote service” delivery model for its job service staff will provide the same level of assistance to residents in Latah and Idaho counties, at a lower cost.

The agency began transitioning to the new model in Latah County on July 22, three weeks after the Moscow job office closed. The move shifted to Idaho County this past week, when the Grangeville office closed.

Overall, the agency intends to move 14 of its 25 statewide offices to the new system by the end of September. That includes offices in St. Maries and McCall.

Department of Labor Director Jani Revier said under the new service model, agency staff will travel to different communities throughout a region, rather than work out of a single, centrally located office.

“It provides open office hours (in multiple locations), with the rest of the time available for appointments,” she said.

The Latah County staff, for example, will now rotate between Moscow, Potlatch, Troy and Kendrick. In Idaho County, office hours will be held in Grangeville, Riggins, Kamiah and Nezperce.

“Instead of being tied to a desk, we want to be out in the community,” Revier said. “And we want to provide all the same services that we currently do.”

Budget cuts are driving much of the need for the new service model, she said. The agency receives most of its funding from the federal government. When the economy is doing well, as is currently the case, that means fewer dollars for unemployment administration.

During a January meeting with the Legislature’s joint budget committee, Revier noted that the agency’s budget has dropped by 47 percent over the past seven years. That resulted in a 30 percent decrease in staffing, or 124 full-time positions.

“We expect another 7.5 percent reduction in federal funding for unemployment administration in federal fiscal year 2020,” she said, “as well as an 11 percent decrease in employment services and workforce training funding.”

However, while Revier discussed the fiscal challenges facing the agency, and noted that it needs to “look at everything,” she didn’t present any specific plans to close multiple offices and move to a new service model. Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, who serves on the joint budget committee, said she would have appreciated a more forthright presentation.

“I would have much preferred that,” she said. “It felt like they waited until (the Legislature) left town. I didn’t know about it until the morning they made the announcement.”

Troy had two job offices in her district, in Moscow and St. Maries. While she recognizes financial constraints facing the department — and applauds its efforts to creatively solve the problem — she’s also concerned that rural communities are once again bearing the brunt of the issue.

“They’re the ones that need these services the most,” she said. “And in Benewah County, the (old model) has been working really well. They have a fantastic job office there that’s heavily relied on by industry. It’s disconcerting to go to a different model when the one that we have is working.”

Grangeville Sen. Carl Crabtree, who also serves on the joint budget committee, didn’t learn about the department’s plans until well after the legislative session ended in April. He saw some potential benefits from the move, but was also concerned that the transition may not have been communicated very well to job office clientele.

“I think it’s always good to take programs to the people, particularly in a large area like ours,” he said. “And they’re telling me they can reduce costs and provide the same level of service. I like that. The problem is that it may not have been communicated appropriately to those who are affected.”

Overall, though, Crabtree said he’s not interested in micro-managing the agency.

“I’m the banker, not the manager,” he said. “I don’t care how many offices they have, as long as they provide the services that are needed.”

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

New Department of Labor service hours and locations in Latah and Idaho counties:

LATAH COUNTY

Monday — Moscow

Disability Action Center, 505 N. Main St.

8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tuesday — Potlatch

Potlatch Library, 1010 Onaway Road

11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Wednesday — Troy

Troy Library, 402 S. Main St.

12:30-4:30 p.m.

Thursday — Moscow

Disability Action Center, 505 N. Main St.

12:30-4:30 p.m.

Friday — Kendrick

Kendrick Fire Hall, 600 E. Main St.

9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

IDAHO COUNTY

Monday — Grangeville

Umpqua Bank, lower level, 147 W. Main St.

8 a.m. to noon, 1-5 p.m.

Tuesday — Riggins

City Hall Council Room, 126 Main St.

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mountain time

Wednesday — Kamiah

Kamiah Welcome Center, 518 Main St.

10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Thursday — Nezperce

Community Room, 602 Fourth Ave.

10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Friday — Grangeville

Umpqua Bank, lower level, 147 W. Main St.

8 a.m. to noon

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