The Idaho Department of Labor will close its St. Maries office in the next few months, a press release said.

However, residents will still have local access to labor officials to process unemployment claims and seek help entering the workforce – although the process will change significantly.

The agency announced July 8 that it would be consolidating offices throughout Idaho as part of a new service model. Rather than have agents located at set locations in larger rural towns, the agency will have agents travel to rural communities on a rotation and provide services directly to residents.

“We are bringing the Department of Labor to the citizens of rural Idaho,” Department of Labor Director Jani Revier said. “This is a new way to provide service, an Idaho way, that addresses the unique regional challenges that face our state.”

Seasonally adjusted, Benewah County’s unemployment is the second highest in the state, with 5.2 percent of the county’s labor force of 4,114 adults unemployed as of June 2019. Kootenai County, as a contrast, has an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, with 77,210 of its 79,901 workers employed.

While plans are not final, Ms. Revier said agents will likely be in local communities approximately once per week or as-needed in public locations. The model also allows local teams to make adjustments to better serve their communities.

Though smaller offices in rural areas will close, Ms. Revier said that no employees would be cut due to the change. All current Department of Labor contact numbers and email addresses will continue to work, and agents will continue to process cases within communities.

According to Ms. Revier, the move to a decentralized model was partially spurred by recent decreases in the department’s funding from federal sources.

“The department over the last ten years has had a declining budget,” she said. “The operation budget has declined by 47 percent, and we’re expecting more in the next couple of years.”

The cost the St. Maries office was $23,409 per year, which includes lease and operating expenses. The Department of Labor has an annual budget of more than $50 billion; however, a majority of those funds are used for the reimbursement of unemployment insurance, and the work force outreach portion of their budget is significantly less.

In addition, the agency is attempting to cut costs for the program to remain competitive for federal funds through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which recently adopted a competitive bidding process for projects and services based on cost. Also, Ms. Reveir said several leased facilities in the state were not compliant with current ADA requirements, which the Department of Labor was required to provide.

Local offices will remain open through a transition period, which is expected to last several months. Regional offices will remain open in Post Falls, Lewiston, Caldwell, Twin Falls, Pocatello and Idaho Falls, with affiliate offices in Sandpoint, Orofino, Boise, Burley and Salmon. Walk-in services will be available at these areas.

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