Stimulus jobs set to end Friday |

Stimulus jobs set to end Friday

Michelle Rindels and Trina Kleist
Staff Writers

Friday could be the last day of work for about 140 Nevada County residents – unless Congress extends a subsidized jobs program, to the tune of $2.5 billion.

The program, originally part of federal stimulus legislation, was a godsend for one single mother who landed a job at Grass Valley henhouse manufacturer Creative Coops.

“The first day was amazing,” said Nicole, who asked that her full name not be used. She had been unemployed for 4 1/2 months before getting the bookkeeping job.

“I sat here in the parking lot and cried,” Nicole said. “I was so excited that I was given … the opportunity to prove myself and take care of my family.”

Since its inception, 203 county residents have landed low-wage jobs at 65 businesses, nonprofits and government agencies through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Nationwide, the program cost $5 billion for 2009 and 2010; it is credited with creating 240,000 jobs across the country, according to published reports. TANF dollars started operating in the county in November 2009 and are set to expire Sept. 30.

With the program drawing to a close, Nicole’s job will end Friday. She’ll have to find another way to support her 10-year-old daughter and pay her $600-a-month rent.

But as the recession drags on, jobs are scarce and highly competitive. “It’s scary. It keeps me awake at night,” Nicole said.

A six-month extension of the TANF program has been included in the latest version of a bill extending various tax benefits by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. It is unclear, however, when Senate leadership will schedule the bill for a vote, a congressional source said.

Another bill to extend the program through March 2011 came to a vote in March this year, but failed largely along party lines.

“In this time of high unemployment, the Senate must act to help working and middle-class families,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said at the time.

Boxer was among 30 Democratic senators who wrote last week to Baucus and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging them to support extending the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund for job subsidies.

It was first created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“We have just a few weeks before the successes of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund experienced across the country are reversed,” the senators wrote. Extending the program “will bolster job creation, keep much-needed income in local economies, support local businesses, and make it possible for low-income parents to cover basic expenses.”

Business owners benefit in another way: At a time when credit is tight, subsidized labor can substitute for a loan.

Creative Coops, which Mark Hall started in his driveway in March 2009, has quintupled its sales in the past year, Hall said. He is on the verge of expanding into retail and catalogue outlets, but he needs production; yet credit for a start-up is tough to find.

The wage subsidy program helps him keep his labor costs low at a critical time, while he is trying to build market share that will bring revenue in the future. Hall has hired three people through the program, including Nicole.

He thinks he could be thriving in a year.

“It’s a race between time and opportunity,” he said.

“Conservatives should feel good about this program,” Hall added. “It supports small business; it’s good for the economy; it promotes family values, because people don’t have to leave the area to find work.”

People eligible for the program must be unemployed and financially responsible for at least one child.

Federal stimulus money pays 80 percent of the worker’s wages (usually minimum wage – $8 an hour) and the other 20 percent is an in-kind donation of the supervisor’s time and training costs.

A few of the Nevada County employers in the program plan to hire their subsidized employees; but most workers will go back to getting unemployment checks.

Even if the program isn’t extended and the jobs disappear, local program administrators say there “was definitely a net benefit.”

“Not only did some people get jobs, but it gave them skills,” said Alice Johnson, program supervisor at OneStop Business and Career Center in Grass Valley, which distributes the wage subsidies.

The wages participants made in the program are higher than they would make on welfare, and higher than the unemployment insurance they’ll be receiving.

And unlike unemployment benefits, the wage subsidy program builds a strong work ethic, Hall said.

Frank Matthews, 36, agreed. He is another Creative Coops subsidized employee, the father of three boys and recently returned from active duty in the U.S. Army.

“This gave me a job, helps me to add to the local economy,” Matthews said. The wage subsidy program “keeps people doing something rather than getting in trouble or sitting around the TV playing video games.”

“I don’t want to go on welfare,” fellow employee Nicole added.

Staff Writer Kyle Magin contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail or call (530) 477-4247.

Note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated the amount of money Democratic Senators are requesting for the program extension. It should have said $2.5 billion.

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