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(TRENTON) – Renewed legislation by Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver to establish the Back to Work NJ program to create jobs and economic growth by allowing unemployed New Jerseyans to get on-the-job training from potential employers continued advancing Thursday.
The measure was released 8-4 by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposed.
“We know this concept works, and it’s time to put politics aside and do the right thing for out-of-work residents and New Jersey’s economy,” Oliver said.
The bill (A-4332) remains a centerpiece of Democratic legislative effort to create jobs and reinvigorate New Jersey’s economy. A previous version was approved by the Legislature in January but vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie, despite the success of a similar program in Georgia. President Obama has also included the concept in his job creation package.
“Gov. Christie and Republicans still have the time to do the right thing by joining Democrats in helping out-of-work New Jerseyans,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “This is an innovative program that will allow out-of-work New Jerseyans to develop the skills to stay in the workforce even in the face of unemployment. It’s what we need to tackle this recession and help workers and businesses alike to jumpstart our economy and move our state forward.”
The Speaker noted the “Back to Work NJ” program can also be viewed as an economic development tool for businesses.
“We need innovative programs like this to help workers and businesses in this difficult economy,” Oliver said. “This program is especially worthy because it would give working class New Jerseyans an opportunity to get hands-on training that can improve their job skills and make themselves more attractive to potential employers.”
The legislation is based on the successful Georgia Work$ program.
According to statistics compiled by the Georgia Department of Labor, 10,589 people participated in Georgia Works from February 2003 until January 2010. Of that number, 6,105 completed training and 3,363 were hired either during or at the end of their training. An additional 1,170 people found work within 90 days of completing training.
“At this point, the only reason to oppose it is partisan politics, and that’s just wrong,” Oliver said. “We need to all come together and do what’s best for our residents to create jobs and economic activity.”
The bill permits an eligible laid off worker to continue receiving unemployment insurance benefits while placed in on-the-job training with an eligible employer for a maximum of 24 hours per week for up to six weeks.
The bill provides each trainee up to $100 per week to help defray training-related costs, including transportation, clothing and child care.
The program is voluntary for both laid off workers and employers.
The bill also requires the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to monitor eligible participants and eligible employers who participate to ascertain whether the training provided by the program complies with the requirements. If the department determines that an employer has a repeated pattern of using eligible participants as unpaid labor without hiring them as employees, or otherwise fails to comply with the requirements, the department may impose penalties and shall disqualify the employer from further participation.
The bill appropriates $3 million from the state budget for payments to eligible participants for purposes of defraying the costs of workplace training, the compensation provided to eligible participants for purposes of workers’ compensation and oversight of the program, but the Office of Legislative Services estimates it will cost less – approximately $2.2 million a year.
Oliver noted the program will also result in unemployment claimants securing paid employment sooner than they otherwise would have, thus reducing unemployment benefit costs.