WASHINGTON – While the White House has approved an additional 13 weeks of jobless benefits, President Bush is promoting a plan to entice the unemployed to leave the jobless roles as soon as possible with a good-sized pot of money.
If the president gets his way, 1.2 million jobless Americans will receive a $3,000 check from the unemployment office — a bonus for leaving the federal dole.
"Americans who face the greatest difficulties in finding work will receive up to three thousand dollars to use in their job search. They will have great flexibility in how they use that money," Bush said Tuesday when offering his $674 billion economic stimulus plan.
The "re-employment accounts" can be used to pay for new job training or to cover day care and health expenses while workers look for new jobs. Workers who lack job skills — or whose industries, like textiles or steel making, are losing jobs — would be eligible to receive the cash.
"This program is targeted at helping those workers who may have a hard time finding a new job, either because they lack the requisite skills or because the surrounding economic conditions are tough," said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
Not everyone will qualify for the perk. Only those living in high unemployment states or those enrolled in specific job training would be entitled. But those who do qualify would get the benefit of keeping the cash after they have scored the job.
"If they find a job in a shorter period of time, and they have not used up that $3,000, they can keep the balance," Chao said.
Senate Democrats like Ted Kennedy wonder whether some workers won't jump at a dead-end job just to grab the extra cash. Chao said she thought people would make wiser choices than that.
"People aren't going to game the system," she said.
Democrats also fret about fraud. What's to stop someone from buying a car or taking a cruise, they ask.
"Those kinds of actions will not occur on a grand scale, we certainly hope not, but again as I mentioned, we will have accountability and performance measurements that we will work out with the states," Chao replied.
But the biggest complaint from Democrats is that the re-employment accounts, which will cost $3.6 billion, make up most of the president's aid to states, many of which, like California and Massachusetts, are struggling under huge budget deficits.
"Maybe bizarre is the right word for someone who travels around the country as much as he does, for him not to understand the problems the states are having," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
The history of labor issues in Washington is typically Democrats offering more money and Republicans worrying about fraud and abuse. The White House has turned the tables and that's why it believes it is ultimately going to win on this fight.
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.