NH House to take up new low-income job training program

Granite Workforce initiative has already passed the Senate

The NH Senate passed and the NH House is about to vote on a program that will pay employers in certain industries to hire people receiving government assistance.

A program called Granite Workforce would use federal funds to train adults on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and help them overcome barriers to employment, like job training, child care, transportation, domestic violence and substance abuse. Then it would pay companies in industries with severe labor shortages, such as health care, advanced manufacturing and construction, $2,000 per employee to hire them and another $2,000 each upon retaining them for at least three months.

Granite Workforce has roughly the same goals as Gateway to Work, a program that then-Gov. Maggie Hassan tried to push through the Legislative Fiscal Committee last year. But Republicans blocked it, saying that while they liked the idea, it should have gone though the legislative process, with a public hearing.

This time, Republicans are backing the measure but are not exactly using a straightforward process either.

The program was not put forward as a standalone piece of legislation, but attached as a last-minute amendment to Senate Bill 7, added at 5 p.m. after a marathon session on March 30.

Republicans who backed SB 7, which would toughen eligibility criteria for those seeking foods stamps, said that the bill would prevent fraud and force people to work.  Democrats denied there was a fraud problem, and claimed it would result in 18,000 children losing their benefits, many of whom are in working families already.  

But Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, put the focus on his workforce program amendment, expecting bipartisan support.

There is a workforce shortage, he said, “and this moves people on TANF into the workforce. That is the very essence of what is proposed. In principle, this is a great idea.”  The Senate version would have set aside $9 million for the nine-month pilot project, a million more than Gateway to Work.

Democrats weren’t sold. “This is a great program attached to a bad bill,” said  Sen. Lou D’Alessandro, D-Manchester.

Some Republicans opposed it on principle.

“With 2 percent unemployment, it doesn’t take a training program to get a job. Just walk into any door, you can get a job,” said Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford. Sanborn also said he was concerned that some employers would just take the initial $2,000 payment and say, “Sorry, it didn’t work out.”

But the amendment passed, 12-11, and SB 7 itself was approved on a 13-10 vote.

The House version of Granite Workforce is tucked into the 45,000-word House Bill 2, the companion bill of the budget, scheduled to be voted on by the House on Wednesday or Thursday. The House would set aside $11.5 million for a two-year pilot Granite Workforce program estimated to help  600 people. 

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