Gov. Jon Corzine Tuesday announced what he described as the nation's first statewide effort to provide job creation incentives specifically for people who have exhausted all state and federal unemployment insurance benefits.
The program is designed to help get long-term unemployed New Jerseyans back on the payroll. Employers would receive up to $2,400 for each newly hired employee.
"Nearly a year ago, New Jersey made history by launching the first-in-the-nation economic recovery plan, one that focused on providing a safety net for those hit hardest by the recession, providing for long-term recovery, and creating jobs for the working families of New Jersey," Corzine said in New Brunswick. "These are the tools necessary to provide New Jersey families with a strong economic foundation, and the ability to provide their children a stable and secure future. Today, we are once again announcing a first-of-its-kind program, an initiative designed to get the long-term unemployed back to work and provide New Jersey businesses with eager, productive employees to facilitate expansions designed to capitalize on the economic recovery."State unemployment benefits have expired for 45,000 New Jerseyans.
Corzine's employment effort came under criticism by Republican gubernatorial challenger Chris Christie who told reporters the program is a "band aid,'' and an "election year ploy'' by the governor to give the impression he is attempting to help the state‘s poor economy.
"It is not creating sustainable jobs for the people of New Jersey,'' Christie said. "It is of short-term benefit. The people of New Jersey want long-term, good-paying jobs that can be sustained. This makes absolutely no long-term economic sense. Jon Corzine is just trying to get through the next 49 days.''
Corzine announced a similar job program last year that offered businesses $3,000 for each job created and maintained for one year. The program reached its $50 million limit within two months.
Called RETURN -- Re-Employment Training for Unemployed Residents of New Jersey-to-Work -- the program will offer "on-the-job" training grants to help employers cover the costs of training newly-hired workers who have been unable to find jobs and who have exhausted all extended unemployment insurance benefits.
Private sector employers will be reimbursed for up to $5 per hour to help defray the costs of on-the-job training, for up to $2,400 per newly hired employee. The jobs must pay at least $15 per hour and the=2 0employer must retain these workers in their jobs for at least six months. Jobs that qualify for grants must increase an employer's total workforce and the new hires cannot displace existing workers.
Individuals who exhaust all of their state and federal unemployment insurance benefits are now being informed of their eligibility for RETURN-to-Work by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. This week, more than 40,000 New Jerseyans are receiving the information.
In a letter to Congress last week, Corzine urged the lawmakers to pass legislation to provide additional extended benefits to workers who have already or soon will run out of all unemployment benefits, as well as continuing the current extended benefits programs for thousands more who are expected to exhaust their benefits in the coming months.
Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on extending benefits.
"By providing for families and for businesses during these challenging economic times, we are balancing the needs of the present with the promise of the future," Corzine said. "I believe this is the right thing to do for New Jersey."
As part of his criticism of Corzine' Christie reminded reporters that New Jersey unemployment rate of 9.3 percent is the highest in the region at a time when the jobless rates in Delaware and Connecticut declined. He also reminded that home foreclosures in New Jersey reached a new high last month.
Christie charged that Corzine attempts to fix economic problems with government programs.
"Jon Corzine will not solve the state's economic problems,'' Christie said. "We need fundamental change. We need to lower spending, lower taxes and begin lowering debt again.''
Eligible unemployed New Jerseyans can find more information about RETURN-to-Work and other programs and services online at www.nj.gov/jobseekers. Employers can access information online at www.nj.gov/labor/employers.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) Corzine's runningmate for lieutenant governor, responded to Christie's criticism.
"In his criticism of this plan, Christie is continuing a long line of Republican ineffectiveness and inaction,'' Weinberg said. "Republicans in this state have chosen to sit on the sidelines and criticize the responsible measures taken by Governor Corzine to off-set the terrible fiscal policies implemented by the Bush Administration over the course of eight years. His (Christie's) economic program would drive up property taxes all across New Jersey. He wants more tax breaks for big corporations and the very wealthy — which slashes the exact revenue the state spends on property tax relief, driving up taxes on New Jersey's families.''