Baldwin jobs bill gets endorsements from state workforce development groups

    Milwaukee Dept. of Public Works garage. Each year the city's Compete Milwaukee program places 50 people in temporary city jobs as part of the city's transitional jobs program. (Photo from Compete Milwaukee website)

    A U.S. Senate bill to create a long-term program of subsidized jobs for people put out of work by the COVID-19 pandemic has gained support from Milwaukee’s mayor and a collection of Wisconsin social welfare and workforce development organizations.

    “Millions of Americans are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet, so we need a bold, federal investment in state and local transitional jobs programs to create job opportunities and put people back to work,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) stated Tuesday, announcing a group of endorsements of the Jobs for Economic Recovery Act, which she introduced with four Democratic Senate colleagues.

    The legislation would fund the creation or expansion of programs that provide six months of wages and benefits for public, private or nonprofit transitional jobs, administered through state or local governments or Indian tribes. It would be part of the Social Security Act.

    Sen. Tammy Baldwin
    Sen. Tammy Baldwin

    Baldwin is seeking to have the measure included in the next federal COVID-19 relief package, currently the subject of Senate haggling between Republicans and Democrats.

    The bill calls for the federal government to provide matching funds for state transitional job programs. The matching rate would be tied to economic conditions, along with the state’s federal reimbursement rate for Medicaid. The federal match would rise with unemployment, with a dollar-for-dollar match when the unemployment rate is above 7%.

    Subsidized employment programs would enable states to put people back to work who have lost jobs or had their hours cut because of the pandemic, employing them in essential jobs responding to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19. A provision in the bill bars funding for any jobs that would pose a health risk to workers.

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    Employers who keep workers hired through the program for at least two years would qualify for a federal tax credit under the bill. The proposal also includes provisions to guarantee long-term funding for the programs that the measure supports, so that they remain in place even after the pandemic-induced recession eases.

    In a statement Tuesday, Baldwin’s office included endorsements of the legislation from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and from a half-dozen social service agencies, five in the city and one in northern Wisconsin. The city of Milwaukee already operates a transitional jobs program that employs up to 50 people a year in city jobs under the umbrella of the city’s Compete Milwaukee workforce development program.

    “Providing federal funding to states and local governments for transitional jobs programs like Compete Milwaukee will help create opportunities for the unemployed, underemployed, and those hardest impacted by COVID-19,” Barrett stated.

    Support for the bill was also voiced by leaders of the Milwaukee employment and social services agency UMOS Inc., the Milwaukee Urban League, Northcott Neighborhood House, Silver Spring Neighborhood Center and Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, all in Milwaukee, as well as the Northwest Wisconsin Concentrated Employment Program, based in Ashland.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.