Assembly Approves Renewed ‘Back To Work NJ’ Bill

TRENTON – Renewed legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats to create the Back to Work NJ job creation and economic growth program was approved Monday by the Assembly.

The bill was approved 47-32, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposed.

The bill (A-4332) remains a centerpiece of Democratic plan 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.

Republicans maintain that New Jersey can’t afford the legislation.

“Gov. Christie still has the chance to finally do the right thing and join Democrats in helping put New Jerseyans back-to-work,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila 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 in the face of unemployment. It will help workers and businesses alike to jumpstart our economy and move our state forward.”

“We know this program works, is cost-effective and can provide a real boost to out-of-work residents who have been looking for another chance to rejoin the workforce for far too long,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “At this point, the only reason to oppose it is partisan politics, and that’s just wrong. We all need to come together and do what’s best for our residents to create jobs and grow our economy.”

The sponsors noted the Back to Work NJ program can also be viewed as an economic development tool for businesses.

“This is a program that benefits everyone, giving employers an opportunity to train potential employees and giving workers that chance to decide if the job is a good fit for them and prove themselves,” said Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “We need to focus on creating jobs, and we must do it in a way that helps our out-of-work middle-class. This program is a responsible and creative approach to do just that while helping employers, too.”

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.

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 childcare.

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.

The sponsors noted the program will also result in unemployment claimants securing paid employment sooner than they otherwise would have, thus reducing unemployment benefit costs.

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