‘Back to Work’ bill cleared in Assembly committee

TRENTON – A bill to provide $3 million to provide workplace training to some unemployment insurance beneficiaries was released by the Assembly Labor Committee today along party lines.

Assemblyman Ron Dancer abstained.  Assemblymen Jay Webber and Erik Peterson voted no. The Democrats voted in favor of the act.

The bill, A4332/S3080, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, creates the “Back to Work NJ Program” to provide such training.

Assemblyman Craig Coughlan said this is an innovative approach to get people back to work, providing a small stipend to assist with child care and other costs.

Assemblyman Jay Webber, however, said this is not “free’’ to taxpayers. He argued that the state will be spending $3 million it does not have, especially with the latest projections showing the state not collecting as much in tax revenues as anticipated.

“If it didn’t take any investment from taxpayers,’’ he said, it would be worth it.

Webber said costs for Georgia’s version of this program exploded upward, which raises a red flag about the same risks in New Jersey.

Coughlin replied that every investment has a cost involved.  There is no guarantee, but the effort on this bill warrants the investment, he countered.

He added that the $3 million will function as a “cap,’’ to defend against escalating or runaway costs.

The bill establishes the program within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to allow an eligible participant who is receiving unemployment insurance benefits to receive the workplace training from an eligible employer.

Under the bill, a participant may receive workplace training from an eligible employer for a maximum of 24 hours per week for up to six weeks.

Also, the bill provides up to $100 per week to help defray training related costs, including, but not limited to, transportation, clothing, and child care.

The bill also requires that participation in the program be voluntary for all eligible participants and eligible employers.

Finally, the bill appropriates $3,000,000 from the General Fund to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for costs associated with the payments to eligible participants for purposes of defraying the costs of workplace training and oversight of the program. Of this total appropriation, an amount not to exceed $250,000 is allocated to the department for costs associated with the administration of the program.

Stefanie Riehl of the N.J. Business and Industry Association, which opposes the bill, said there are details in the bill language that raise concerns.

She said that among other things, employers could be subject to violations of wage and hour laws if the bill is not followed strictly.

Programs not requiring new funding streams would be more worthy of support, she told the committee.

‘Back to Work’ bill cleared in Assembly committee