Jobs Threatened By End Of Stimulus Fund

Stimulus dollars that helped create thousands of subsidized jobs for workers across the country will expire at the end of the month unless Congress votes to extend the funding. The TANF Emergency Fund helped Illinois — a state with high unemployment — put as many as 26 thousand people to work. Now those workers stand to lose their jobs. It's a story that's being played out across the country, and activists are lobbying Congress to extend program.

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A federal program that's provided thousands of jobs for low-income people is now on the chopping block, and that brought workers, employers, activists, also Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to Washington today with a message for Congress.

Mayor MICHAEL NUTTER (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania): The employers love this program, but most importantly, the workers and their families and certainly their children love this program.

GREENE: At issue is an emergency fund created in last year's stimulus bill which helped subsidize jobs in nearly 40 states. The measure is set to expire at the end of the month unless the Senate joins the House and votes to continue the program.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: There's been lots of controversy over whether the federal stimulus package has really hit the mark, but there have been rave reviews for one program with a hefty title: The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund, or more simply the TANF Emergency Fund, $5 billion in stimulus dollars set aside in part to pay the wages of low-income workers placed as trainees at government agencies, nonprofits and plenty of small businesses.

That's how David Sullivan, who'd been unemployed for two years, got his maintenance job at a small Comfort Suites Hotel on Chicago's Michigan Avenue.

Mr. DAVID SULLIVAN (Maintenance Worker, Comfort Suites): Things are tough everywhere. Nobody's got any money, so no businesses want to spend too much money. But if they get me in at $10 an hour and see, okay, I'm worth actually hiring and paying the wage, a better wage, then that gives me an opportunity.

CORLEY: Comfort Suites general manager Natalie Furka says in addition to Sullivan, the hotel was able to add three more people to its staff, including a housekeeper and two welcome ambassadors normally employed at more posh hotels.

Ms. NATALIE FURKA (General Manager, Comfort Suites): Being a brand new small business opening in 2009, we have just seen our service levels, our trip advisor scores go up, having these people at our hotel. We would have not found them otherwise, and it's made such an impact to our business.

CORLEY: The hotel is hiring the workers permanently, even promoting one to a supervisor. The Put Illinois to Work project is one of the largest, with the state using TANF money to pay the wages of about 31,000 people, 5,000 of them youth at summer jobs.

But Illinois has already sent out pink slips to thousands of workers announcing the fund's September 30th end. Sheena Howard has worked at Benford, Brown & Associates, a small Chicago accounting firm, since May and had hoped to be there longer.

Ms. SHEENA HOWARD (Benford, Brown & Associates): So now it's going to be, like, extra hard to go out there and look for another job because now, these days, you have to know somebody.

LaDonna Pavetti with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the 37 states that operate subsidized employment programs have helped about 247,000 people survive this rocky economy, and it would be unfortunate if Congress doesn't extend the subsidy.

Ms. LaDONNA PAVETTI (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities): It would be different if the unemployment rate was sort of coming down at a rapid pace, but it's not.

CORLEY: The House has voted twice to extend the emergency fund, but it fell flat in the Senate. Now the push is on to get senators to support a two and a half billion, one-year extension. The biggest advocates have been states, cities and businesses regardless of their political stripes.

Sue Tuffin heads of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, Colorado, where unemployment has floated around 10 percent for more than a year and a half.

Ms. SUE TUFFIN (Mesa County Workforce Center): We're going to be basically terminating about 100 individuals. I can guarantee you that the majority of those folks will be right back in my door and back on public assistance if they have not been hired permanently.

CORLEY: And Linda Martin, the director of Family Assistance in South Carolina, says that state's welfare caseload dropped a thousand cases because of the subsidized jobs program.

Ms. LINDA MARTIN (Director, Family Assistance, South Carolina Department of Social Services): You know, if you have something to offer besides welfare, people want to take it, and they want to go to work.

CORLEY: And Martin says she's hopeful that's a message the Senate will take to heart in the next few weeks.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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