Jobs Funding Set to Expire Before it Has Chance to Work

Published on
by
McClatchy Newspapers

Jobs Funding Set to Expire Before it Has Chance to Work

by
Tony Pugh

WASHINGTON — After a slow start, states struggling with record
unemployment are scrambling to create and expand subsidized jobs
programs that could employ thousands of poor adults, teens and even
disabled people.

They're running out of time, however, because nearly $4 billion in
unspent stimulus money that would finance the efforts is set to expire
on Sept. 30. As a result, many are pushing Congress to make the
remaining funds available for another year.

Unless
that happens, many states and local governments won't have enough time
to push new jobs programs through, and others will face cutbacks. In
California, job programs in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties
already have imposed cutoff dates for new job placements because of the
Sept. 30 deadline.

"That's
been a concern from the start," said Amy Rynell, the director of the
Chicago-based National Transitional Jobs Network. "States are worried
about ramping up, getting an infrastructure in place to launch a
program and then, essentially, having the rug pulled out from under
them in September."

Without the extension, some of the most hard-to-employ, job-needy Americans will miss out on valuable work experience.

"It
would just be unfortunate if we had the ability to use these funds for
subsidized jobs and we just ran out of time, mostly for reasons beyond
the states' control. To lose that opportunity would really be tragic,"
said Sheri Steisel, federal affairs counsel for the National Conference
of State Legislatures. She's lobbying Congress to include the funding
extension in a jobs bill being crafted in the Senate.

The
subsidized employment program pays most of a worker's salary with state
or federal funds for a specified length of time. This makes the worker
less expensive and more attractive to prospective employers. Maryland's
program, which now employs 87 people statewide, placed Baltimore
residents Jessica Distance and Eugene Laster in jobs with the state
human resources department through June 2011.

The idea is to provide much-needed income now and work experience that could help them land permanent jobs later.

With limited job skills and dim employment prospects in the sour economy, Distance, 25, and Laster, 34, are typical.

Distance
was on welfare before she started her job. She still lives in a
homeless shelter with her four daughters, while waiting to move into an
apartment. Laster, who bounced from one group home, foster home and
shelter to another after his mother died when he was 12, had been
unemployed for more than a year before he entered the program.

After
both completed seven weeks of non-paid training, they have jobs helping
people apply for public assistance — the assistance they once depended
on.

"I still can't believe I'm actually on the other side of the
desk this time," Distance said. "It's so wonderful. I feel blessed."

Laster also sees himself in the people he assists.

"When
I help them, I'm helping me," he said. "I really feel where they're
coming from. When I interview these people, I tell them, 'don't get
discouraged. And don't be ashamed.'"

Maryland's program, like
those in 20 other states and the District of Columbia, is funded
through the $5 billion Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Emergency Contingency Fund created by the stimulus bill. The TANF
program replaced "welfare as we know it" in 1997 by requiring
recipients to seek employment in exchange for their public assistance
benefits.

The TANF emergency fund was created to help states pay
for increased welfare spending and larger caseloads resulting from the
current recession. For every additional dollar that states spend on
certain welfare services, the fund will pay back 80 cents. To date, the
money has gone for basic cash assistance and short-term emergency
benefits.

As the ranks of the unemployed continue to swell, more
states want to use the money for subsidized job programs that hire TANF
recipients and TANF-eligible adults for up to a year.

"Absent something like this, many of these people aren't going to be able to succeed in finding work," Rynell said.

Because
state budgets have been decimated by the recession, many states can't
provide the 20-percent funding match needed to access the 80-percent
reimbursement. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated
that states will draw only half the fund before it expires.

As of
Jan. 27, $1.2 billion has been awarded from the fund since the money
became available in 2009, and of that amount, $121 million has been
used for job programs. States were slow to seek the money initially
because many state legislatures adjourned shortly after passage of the
stimulus bill.

In addition, the Department of Health and Human
Services didn't make application forms for the money available until
July, said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior policy analyst at the Center
for Law and Social Policy.

It took a novel funding approach by
Los Angeles County to overcome these problems and rekindle national
interest in starting employment programs. Unable to get cash from the
state, county officials asked for the cost of supervision and training
for thousands of employees to count as the 20 percent funding
requirement for the federal match.

HHS agreed and affirmed the
funding formula in a December conference call with state welfare
directors. The clarification has prompted states such as Illinois,
Wisconsin and New Jersey to consider new jobs programs, said Rynell, of
the transitional jobs network.

"If we weren't allowed to use the
cost of supervision and training as our match to the federal dollars,
we'd have to find state dollars to do it. And that wouldn't be easy,"
said Linda Martin, who heads the family assistance division of the
South Carolina Department of Social Services.

South Carolina's
new $5 million jobs program launches this month and will employ as many
as 1,500 low-income adults. They'll work 20 to 30 hours for up to six
months for at least the minimum wage, which currently is $7.25 an hour.

Georgia
will use the same funding formula for its $61 million jobs program,
which begins in March. It will hire as many as 5,000 welfare recipients
and welfare-eligible adults. Like South Carolina, the Georgia jobs will
also pay at least minimum wage and provide at least 30 hours of work
for up to six months, said Donna Gunter, TANF unit manager for the
Georgia Department of Human Services.

Georgia's also considering tapping the emergency fund for a subsidized summer jobs program for 15,000 low-income teens.

Share This Article

More in: