Blumenthal discusses ‘Pathways Back to Work’ bill

NEW HAVEN — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Monday announced his Pathways Back to Work Act — one that seeks to address unemployment by borrowing pieces of President Obama’s larger jobs bill.

“The major task ahead is making sure that we fill jobs that exist and create new ones so we can put Connecticut back to work and put America back to work,” he said, addressing students, professors and work force development experts at Gateway Community College.

The act would channel $5 billion nationally to fight unemployment, Blumenthal said, with $1.5 billion earmarked for summer and year-round jobs for people ages 16 to 24. Another $2 billion would go to create new jobs and fill existing ones with chronically unemployed people and those from the middle class through work force training. That money would be channeled through state governments and distributed through work force development agencies and other organizations.

It’s too early to suggest how much Connecticut would receive if the bill passed, he said. That would be based on the number of unemployed and poor in each state.

A final $1.5 billion would be available through a competitive grant process for work force development organizations and educational institutions. The act would also provide tax credits to businesses for hiring the unemployed while subsidizing jobs for the same group.

“Anyone worried about deficit reduction — and I am one of them, I believe we need to restrain spending — remember that full employment will itself cut the deficit by 25 percent,” he said. “One of the best ways to cut the deficit is to put America back to work, and put Connecticut back to work.”

Obama’s $447 billion American Jobs Act was soundly defeated in Congress in October. The American Jobs Act, however, is making its way back through Congress piece by piece — in part with help from House and Senate Democrats, including Connecticut lawmakers like Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District. They’re taking smaller pieces of the President’s bill and repackaging them into smaller acts, like Pathways Back To Work.

Blumenthal called his bill simply noncontroversial.

“I want to be very blunt. The President’s jobs bill did not pass. It was filibustered in the US Senate by Republicans,” Blumenthal admitted. “But there should be nothing — absolutely nothing — partisan about this objective,” he said.

Nationally, Blumenthal said, one out of every three unemployed people has been out of a job for longer than a year.

“That is a devastating indictment of our nation’s priorities,” he said.

Sue Torgerson is one of those people. She was laid off from her job as a lab technician and at age 50, she’s been unemployed for more than 99 weeks. She has a mortgage and two kids on their way to college, she said.

“How does your initiative address people like me?”Torgerson ask Blumenthal at the Gateway forum. “What will it entail for those of us who aren’t under 24?”

People like you don’t have as many opportunities as they should, he replied. “But there’s a whole separate part of the program that tries to create jobs for people who’ve been unemployed for a long time.”

Torgerson left unsatisfied, though Blumenthal did hand her a card and ask her to call his office.

“I want more specifics,” she said, on her way out. “You can say you’re going to toss money to a company but how are they going to get to me?”

Blumenthal said that if his bill passes, it will be up to the states — and work force development experts — to find the best ways to use the funds.