In an interview yesterday with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) had almost nothing but criticism for President Obama’s jobs plan. “This looks like to me not a very good sign, because it looks like the president wants to move down the class warfare path,” he commented. Ryan did, however, express his support for a program that asks the unemployed to work for no wages while receiving unemployment benefits.
Under the Georgia Works program, Georgians receiving unemployment benefits are matched with employers who provide them with up to eight weeks of training during which they work for free. Instead of being paid by the employer, workers continue to receive their unemployment checks and a $240 stipend to help cover transportation, child care, and other expenses.
According to Ryan, this state program is “something we’re looking at” to replicate on the national level:
“The Georgia plan sounds pretty interesting,” Ryan told Fox News’ Chris Wallace Sunday. “I think that’s something we are looking at, which is unemployment reform.”
Ryan’s remarks echo House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) support of the idea.
“We stand ready to work with [President Obama] if there is interest in implementing a similar program on the federal level,” Cantor said.
The top weekly unemployment benefit in Georgia is around $330, or a maximum of $2,640 for two months of work.
It’s significant that the Georgia Works model is the only part of Obama’s proposal that Cantor and Ryan — who are against middle class tax cuts and believe raising taxes on millionaires is “class warfare” — endorse. Republicans seem to be aiming for another “reform” of unemployment benefits, much like welfare reform in 1995, that requires the jobless to work more and more for less in less — so little, in fact, that they can end up being used essentially as slave labor by more unscrupulous companies. Republicans in Congress have continually opposed to extending unemployment insurance.
While there are some positive aspects to the program — training that teaches important skills increase the chances that the unemployed will find jobs — companies benefit disproportionately from two months of free labor while the government picks up the tab for the very modest stipend. From participants’ perspective, the stipend just covers the expenses necessary to get to work, so there is no net financial gain (at least in the short term).
Numbers from the Georgia Department of Labor reveal that there is little to recommend about the program. Between 2003 and 2010, only 16.4 percent of people that participated in the program were hired by the company that trained them during or at the end of the training period. As of late August, there were only 19 trainees enrolled in Georgia Works.