Posted at: 08/01/2012 11:14 PM
Updated at: 08/02/2012 2:22 AM
By: Brett Davidsen
A local not-for-profit company got $8 million in taxpayer funds to train people for green jobs. But more than two years later, critics are questioning if it was money well spent.
So I Team 10 set out to try to learn where the money was spent and how many jobs have been created as a result.
"I'm an older guy so you just gotta get more skills and stuff in order to be ready for the job market now," says Max Cherry of Rochester.
Cherry was looking for work. That's when he heard through a friend about a job training program offered through PathStone Corporation, a not-for profit organization headquartered on East Avenue.
"I just wanted to upgrade my skills in the construction trade. I thought it could help me seek employment by just going through the program," Cherry says.
In January of 2010, PathStone announced it received an $8 million federal grant through the US Labor Department for green jobs training.... two million of it to be used in Rochester.
Called "Green for Gold," the money was part of President Obama's stimulus program.
The grant was designed to help individuals find ways out of poverty through employment in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. The funding in Rochester was to train people for deconstruction jobs, focusing on city properties slated for demolition.
Cherry says PathStone helped him with a resume and email set-up... and placed him in a 13 week hands-on training course at Monroe Community College.
"It just gives you some basic construction skills of dry walling, framing, some electrical work and some masonry work, some plumbing," he says.
Cherry got some work temporarily, but when we spoke with him a couple months ago he was unemployed.
I-Team 10 wanted to know how many green jobs were created locally with that $2 million in taxpayer stimulus funds. So we went about trying to find out... and figured the best place to start was here at PathStone.
But the president of PathStone declined to comment on camera saying he prefers to wait until the program is completed. On the phone, he tells I-Team 10 they are on target with their goals as approved by the labor department.
However, he also acknowledged the grant was extended until October and that PathStone received a waiver allowing them to place people in non-green jobs.
I-Team 10 did some digging and found some numbers in a report by the Department of Labor's Inspector General. It found that despite setting a goal of training more than 600 people overall, as of last September, PathStone had trained 25, with only four entering into training-related employment... zero of whom were retained.
PathStone says those numbers are extremely outdated but would not share their own numbers.
The labor department was unable to provide us more updated figures.
Recently, House Oversight Committee Chairman, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-California) began demanding answers about how green job training grants were doled out. And in a letter to the secretary of labor, he singled out PathStone by name as an example of "abysmal results."
"It may be that Chairman Issa doesn't like the program all together," says New York Senator Charles Schumer.
Schumer touted the grant when it was announced, calling it a "win-win" for the community.
"I think before we come to judgment, we could see if they can fulfill their contract, 650 new people trained in green jobs, which are good paying jobs and we have a shortage of them in the Rochester area,." Schumer told I-Team 10.
Our investigation turned up little in the way of promotion of the "Green for Gold" program. The only advertising we could find were some bulletin board flyers and a pamphlet that provided a brief overview.
Claudette Phelps is a single mother who was looking for work. A counselor suggested she look into the "Green for Gold" initiative. So she stopped into PathStone.
"And when I asked her concerning the gold-green jobs, she acted like, she seemed like just didn't know what I was talking about," said Phelps.
She says she left her phone number and never heard back.
"Eight million dollars over the course of the program is an awful lot of money for a handful of jobs," says conservative radio host Bill Nojay.
Nojay opposed the stimulus and says many of the grants were driven by political favoritism.
"The question is, has the success, have the jobs created been worth it to taxpayers."
At Recovery.gov they do keep track of stimulus spending. And in it's most recent filing, PathStone's only reference to job creation is this number... 13.92. But government officials tell I-Team 10 that's a calculation of how many PathStone jobs were funded last quarter using stimulus dollars.
"The employment of not for profit organizations continues to skyrocket across America, funded in part by taxpayer stimulus dollars. people question whether or not those jobs are sustainable. They're only there so long as government keeps funding them," says Nojay.
The labor department has argued that these grants were not intended to produce green jobs right away ... but rather to create a workforce for the future.
Max Cherry says, from his perspective, the program was well worth it.
"By starting that program, it gave me an opportunity to just start all over again."
We checked with M.C.C. and a spokesperson says they are no longer under contract with PathStone to provide any construction skills training. A total of 38 people went through the hands-on course, primarily in 2011.
The president of PathStone says it's a very complicated process to help people with multiple barriers to employment find jobs that fit their skills.
I-Team 10 will continue to keep tabs on the program's progress.