ith efforts to extend longterm unemployment benefits blocked in the U.S. Senate, Wadsworth Republican Rep. Jim Renacci has mounted a drive to make it easier for states to use their unemployment insurance money for programs that would allow benefit recipients to collect pay while getting on-the-job training.
Two years ago, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act established a waiver program promoted by Renacci that would let states use some of their their unemployment insurance benefit money on demonstration programs that would test new ways of helping unemployed people collect paychecks instead of benefit checks.
Renacci envisioned that program would allow creation of on-the-job training programs where unemployment money could subsidize paychecks of workers who might otherwise be unemployed if they were not learning new careers. He said Ohio is interested in using such a program to train people for work in the trucking industry, or as nursing home aides.
But there have been glitches implementing the program, and Renacci wants to fix them.
A congressional hearing found the Department of Labor has made it so difficult for states to apply for the program that none are participating. Texas was the only state that tried to fill out an application, and it was denied.
Texas Workforce Commission Executive Director Larry Temple described the Labor Department's 19-page guidance on how to apply for the program as "overly bureaucratic and administratively burdensome," in testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.
New Hampshire didn't apply for the program because it felt the Labor Department "imposed too many conditions" in its process, a deputy commissioner of its Department of Employment Security told the subcommittee, saying the state would have needed an extra staff member to fill out all the extra paperwork.
New Hampshire's Darrell Gates, who testified on behalf of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, told the subcommittee state workforce agencies around the country support the idea.
"Members believe this is not only good for the claimants, but it is good for employers and taxpayers, too," said Gates.
Labor Department Assistant Secretary Jane Oates told the subcommittee the process is "designed to allow the (Labor) Secretary to identify strong demonstration projects and to ensure we can evaluate the effectiveness of these new approaches." A Labor Department spokesman did not respond to The Plain Dealer's Wednesday request for comment on this issue.
This week, Renacci and Delaware Democratic Rep. John Carney introduced a bill that would simplify the application process for the program so more states can apply.
Renacci said House Ways and Means Committee chair Dave Camp of Michigan backs his bill and the administration supports it. He said he's confident the Senate Finance Committee will give it serious consideration, and feels there's a strong chance it will become law.
"At a time when our unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, we need to be doing everything we can to advance solutions that will promote job creation," Renacci said. "This includes providing states with the necessary flexibility to implement programs that will help the unemployed find work."