The job creation effort laid out by Democrats in the New Jersey Assembly last week took a step forward on Tuesday. The budget committee advanced a number of measures aimed at improving the state's dismal unemployment rate, including a program already vetoed more than once by Republican Governor Chris Christie.

Unemployment Office
Flickr User Burt Lum

The "Back to Work NJ" job creation and training program was reworked by Assembly leaders, offering a $50 weekly stipend to participating workers, instead of the $100-per-week allowance offered in the bill's previous versions.

The program would allow laid-off workers to continue receiving unemployment insurance benefits while they are placed in on-the-job training. The program would be voluntary for employers and employees; the training would be limited to 24 hours per week for six weeks.

"This is a program that can benefit everyone by giving employers an opportunity to train potential employees and giving workers the chance to decide if the job is a good fit for them and prove themselves," said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D).

Similar programs have been successful elsewhere, including Georgia. According to statistics from the Georgia Department of Labor, about 60 percent of participants from February 2003 to January 2010 were hired either during or at the end of their training. In addition, a significant number of people found work within 90 days of completing the program.

Despite the program's success, Governor Christie rejected it twice before. The bill would appropriate $1,500,000 for costs associated with the program.

Sponsors of the measure, though, noted it would result in unemployment claimants securing employment sooner, which would reduce costs to the state for fulfilling unemployment benefit claims.


Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D) added,“We cannot sit idle while our unemployment rate hovers near 10 percent. We need unique ideas, and this is one of them.”

Stephanie Riehl, Vice President of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, identified a number of concerns with Back to Work NJ.

"Our primary concern is that employers may inadvertently expose themselves to a level of risk by participating in the program," Riehl said.

A very fine line separates what is considered training and what is considered employment, under federal wage and hour laws. Riehl said if a participating worker is not treated as a trainee, the employer could be subject to fines, lawsuits and back wages.

Assembly Budget Committee
The Assembly Budget Committee considers several job creation bills. (Townsquare Media)

Recognizing New Jersey's small businesses as big generators of jobs, the Assembly panel also advanced the "New Jobs for New Jersey Act." As an incentive, the measure would would provide tax credits to small, private sector employers who increase their workforce by hiring unemployed New Jerseyans.

Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D), a sponsor of the measure, called it a sound approach to job stimulation.

"It does not require an upfront expense on the part of the state," said Benson. "In the end, this is a much-needed win for job-seekers."

Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber voted against the bill in Tuesday's session. He called the "New Jobs for New Jersey Act" well-intentioned legislation, but one that only "shifts the burden around."

"We want more people working…but I don't think we want to subsidize the job search of some people in the state at the expense of others," Webber said.

He noted the tax incentives going to businesses would be coming partially from the income taxes paid by working residents.

Both bills have been scheduled for a full Assembly vote next Monday, along with other job creation measures advanced by the panel. They include bills aimed at revitalizing the state's manufacturing industry and toughening enforcement against employers who fail to pay wages or benefits.


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