Vermont auditor issues tough report on the state's worker training subsidies

IndustriesAssociated Press

State Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer on Tuesday issued a tough report on the state's worker training subsidies, questioning whether taxpayers are getting their money's worth from the Vermont Training Program.

Hoffer said the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, which oversees the $1.3 million-a-year program, does far less to ensure the eligibility of businesses getting the training grants than the state Department for Children and Families does for recipients of public assistance.

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He said the same large Vermont businesses are getting the grants "year after year," and he questioned whether the state is paying for training the companies would have paid for themselves even without state assistance.

The program pays both for in-house training by employers and for their use of outside job-training entities, Hoffer said. "Some companies have benefited from training grants of one kind or another for at least seven or eight of the last ten years," he wrote.

Vermont employers on the list of frequent users included Keurig Green Mountain, Dealer.com, IBM, NSA Industries, Tivoly, Mack Molding, GE Aviation, Champlain Cable, Fab Tech, Logic Supply, GW Plastics, and Twincraft Soap, Hoffer's report said.

In an interview, Hoffer took particular aim at the agency's assertion that the training it sponsored resulted in an 11.3 percent median wage increase for participating workers in 2014.

"If there is not verification or validation or any of that then in my view they are not accountable," the auditor said.

Among the problems Hoffer sees in the wage comparisons: They don't account for hours worked or for the possibility the worker may have a second job; they are based merely on a snapshot of wage earnings before and after training begins.

The 11.3 percent wage different figure also doesn't account for the fact that many employers boost workers' pay after they complete a period of probation for new hires, the auditor said.

"It is not uncommon for new hires to be paid an entry level wage for a review period after which they are made permanent employees and receive a wage increase," Hoffer wrote.

Lucy Leriche, deputy security for the commerce agency, replied in an interview that Hoffer's report appeared based largely on conjecture.

"There isn't a single, concrete example in that report where Doug Hoffer can actually point to some misappropriation or something that actually happened," she said.

She said program managers rely on in-depth interviews of business managers to ensure the state funding is put to the proper use.

"Part of our oversight is to make sure we are giving them grants for training that they otherwise would not do," she said.