$7.5 million grant to aid laid-off workers

The U.S. Department of Labor on Monday awarded a $7.5 million training grant to 1,120 laid-off workers in the Wichita area.

The long-awaited grant has been sought by the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas for more than nine months.

The laid-off workers receiving the grants were on a waiting list at the work-force center after the organization exhausted earlier federal education grants on other workers.

Most of the workers were laid-off last year by the aircraft industry. The money is intended to allow them to update their skills or get new training so they can go into new fields.

Anyone not already on the waiting list is not eligible for training money.

But Keith Lawing, executive director of the Workforce Alliance, said he is starting a new waiting list and will apply for more money. He said he expects any further grant requests to be handled more quickly.

The grant is aimed at helping those who have been hurt by the recession, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a statement.

"These Kansans deserve our support as they take part in the nation's ongoing economic recovery," she said. "This grant will help workers obtain the re-employment and training services they need to secure good jobs in new and emerging industries."

Some laid-off workers will get just the education grants. But some laid-off union members — if the union petition seeking Trade Adjustment Assistance status is granted — might get extras, such as dependent care and transportation assistance, while they go to school.

Lawing had sought $11.9 million. He said he hasn't received a clear answer as to why he received the amount he did. He said the grant request is based on what the Department of Labor believes the amount needed was.

"Why $7.5 million?" Lawing asked. "Why not 8.5 or 6.5 or 9.5? We just don't know at this point."