David Nelson

In rural Idaho, government services are few and far between, and often we think that’s a good thing.

Healthcare, workforce training, higher education, and economic assistance resources are rarely conveniently located in rural Idahoans’ hometowns. People must drive hours to get the services that they need. Fortunately, the Idaho Department of Labor is working hard to make it easier to access its resources in rural communities.

The Idaho Department of Labor recently did a reorganization on how it delivers rural services because federal funding for our Labor Department has dropped by 47% in the last ten years. In order to meet stringent rules with less funding, Idaho Labor had to get innovative. 

The department changed how it delivers services in much of rural Idaho and especially in Latah and Benewah counties, which I represent. The new service model closed offices in central locations in favor of having the staff becoming mobile and sharing meeting space with other agencies in rural locations.

I was pretty skeptical when I first heard the plan but when I saw the how it worked on the ground, I rethought my opposition. In Latah County, staff used to be in Moscow five days a week but now has office hours in Moscow two days a week and Potlatch, Troy and Kendrick one day each. Similar changes in Benewah brought services to St. Maries three days a week and Plummer one day per week for the first time. Overall, the same staff time is available but delivered more flexibly to diverse locations.

Now, the labor department directly offers these rural communities walk-in hours and appointments with a variety of services. Some of the resources offered include resume writing, job applications, mock interviews, job training assistance, and more. They also help local businesses by listing any open job positions, collecting job applications, and helping recruit employees.

The new model of service provides resources to rural Idahoans who may never have had the ability to get help from the Labor Department in-person without driving several hours. Rural Idahoans are now more empowered to take control of their economic situations and can get the help that they need to be financially independent.

Innovation in our modern society often means moving services to the internet to reduce cost. The easy answer for the department of labor would have been to provide more and more of these services online, but in rural Idaho we are behind the broadband access curtain and moving services online means moving them out of reach of rural Idaho.

I thank the Idaho Department of Labor for taking the time to come up with a solution that honors taxpayer dollars while providing benefits to rural Idaho. For many of these Idahoans, this is the first time they will get help to start on a path to economic security for their families.