Bush Training Plan for Jobless Questioned
(Copyright Newsday Inc., 2003)
Angela Cedeo is running out of options.
For more than a year, she has searched for work, while taking small housecleaning jobs to make ends meet. The 47-year-old Brooklyn resident lost her last steady job - as an Aramark cafeteria worker in Seven World Trade Center - after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Then her temporary jobs dried up, and the unemployment benefits extension ran out in November. She hasn't paid rent since then, and sometimes eats just one meal a day because she is not eligible for food stamps. She is unable to support her son, Jose, 21, who is going to college in Ecuador.
"After I lost my job, I lost everything," said Cedeo, who arrived in New York from Ecuador in 1993. "I don't know what I can do."
Cedeo isn't eligible for the new extension of unemployment benefits, signed into law by President George W. Bush last week. But she may gain from the "personal re-employment accounts" touted in Bush's economic stimulus plan which are designed to help the unemployed find work faster.
The $3.6-billion proposal would give money to states, which would administer the program through the Workforce Investment Act, or WIA, which provides job assistance through locally based career centers. Each unemployed individual who qualifies could receive up to $3,000 - probably in vouchers or credits - for job training, child-care, transportation or moving expenses.
The proposal's critics, however, say training and job assistance programs already exist - and aren't helpful in an economy where job openings are scarce. They also worry that the plan, which sports few specifics, might limit an individual's choice of how to use the funds.
"I think it's really unfair to the unemployed to say that you're being responsive to their plight and their needs by saying you're going to provide this account," said James Parrott, the chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, a Manhattan liberal think tank.
Cedeo, for one, wants job training to improve her computer skills and make herself more marketable. She wants to teach, but would take a job anywhere.
The problem is that even after she is trained, Cedeo still might have trouble finding work in what many have termed a "jobless recovery." The U.S. economy lost another 101,000 jobs in December, and there are few signs of a hiring pickup.
"It's an interesting idea that might be worthwhile in a strong economy, but it's irrelevant in an economy like this one," said economist Jared Bernstein, with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. "There are just too few job vacancies to meet the needs of the unemployed."
New York Unemployment Project director Jonathan Rosen said the unemployed would benefit more from straight cash, in the form of additional unemployment insurance.
"People aren't looking for money for training," he said. "People are looking for money to survive ... to pay their rent ... to buy food."
But White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the economic plan would create jobs, while the new accounts would help people get those jobs.
The plan's backers also pointed to its bonus system, where those who find jobs within 13 weeks will keep any extra funds.
"This is an economy that has very high rewards for education and training," said Northeastern University economist Paul E. Harrington. "If it's properly administered and targeted to the right people, it could have an important impact."
Some critics said the program was not new but in fact redundant since WIA already offers Individual Training Accounts up to $5,000 per person through the "one-stop career centers" in the states. Several Democratic officials have also questioned whether the accounts are simply an effort to shift money from one WIA program to another.
Buchan and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao's spokeswoman Kathleen Harrington confirmed the $3.6 billion would be entirely new funds.
Still, critics of the plan worry that the program may be too little, too late. Job creation, not training, is needed, they say.
"I can take any job because I need to work," said Cedeo. "We need help. We need a job."
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