Jobs programs spared ax

David Taber

State funding was in limbo last month for two Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) programs, one that trains healthcare workers and one that provides technical support for small businesses.

When the House and Senate went into conference committee to reconcile their different versions of the FY08 budget, the House had proposed increases for the Boston Healthcare Training and Research Institute (BHCTRI) and the Small Business Technical Assistance grant program (SBTA). The Senate budget had zeroed them both out.

The reconciled budget, released on July 2, doubled funding for the BHCTRI to $200,000. Support for the SBTA was cut back from a proposed $2.5 million to $750,000.

Healthcare training

“We had a good sense on the House side,” said State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, who had, for the last few years, proposed doubling the modest $100,000 amount allocated for the BHCTRI.

Over 400 people from JP, Mission Hill and the Fenway area have been through the BHCTRI pre-employment program, which includes four-week internships at hospitals in the Longwood Medical Area’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital Boston and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In addition to entry-level training, the program provides classes for healthcare professionals looking to advance their careers.

The modest $200,000 state allotment is not the sole source of funding for the program, but, “our funding is a jigsaw puzzle, every piece is important,” said BHCRTI director Lucy Meadow.

The program was especially ill prepared for a cut this year because they recently completed a strategic planning process, Meadows said.

“We are shifting our focus to a program that will specifically provide training for immigrant populations,” she said.

In the six years the BHCTRI has been around, Meadows said, possibly due to the model of success it provided, a number of employers have launched similar programs of their own.

“It is important to keep talking about community-based workforce development and make sure the programs are aligned with the needs of individuals, as well as the professions we want to funnel people into,” Sánchez said.

Small Businesses

The SBTA, which helps support between 50 and 60 upstart entrepreneurs a year with technical assistance, and has helped secure over $5.8 million in financing for small businesses in its 10-year history, did not fare conference committee deliberations so well.

The JPNDC-administered program received $2 million in state funding last year, and Gov. Deval Patrick proposed to fund it at $2.5 million in 2008, but the legislature offered just $750,000 for the program.

The SBTA has served a number of businesses in JP, including El Oriental de Cuba, Cha Fan Tea Room, the corner store City Feed and Supply and Boing! JP’s Toy Shop.

Despite the over 60 percent funding cut, the JPNDC is “more committed than ever to working with local entrepreneurs,” said Executive Director Richard Thal.

The JPNDC will look into other funding sources, and the board of directors will take the state cut into account when it considers how to spend its unrestricted funds, Thal said.

On the bright side for the program, it appeared in the state budget as its own line item where it was formerly funded under a short-term economic stimulus package. This change signals the state is inclined to include funding for the SBTA on a perennial basis, Thal said.

“It’s good news that they recognize that for something like this to work, you can’t just fund it for a few months,” Thal said.

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