WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday approved a program, strongly backed by President Bush, that would give eligible unemployed workers up to $3,000 to use for job training and other services that help them get back to work.
The bill creating a pilot program for personal reemployment accounts (search) passed 213-203 over the opposition of Democrats, who said it did little to address larger unemployment questions and pressed instead for an extension of unemployment benefits. The legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
Bush has promoted the personal reemployment account idea over the past several years and his budget proposal for fiscal year 2005 included $50 million for the program.
The White House said in a statement Thursday that "PRAs embody one of the administration's guiding principles: that wherever possible, resources and decision-making belong directly in the hands of individuals."
To be eligible, a person must be receiving unemployment compensation and be identified by the state as likely to exhaust his or her benefits.
States or local areas would determine the level of the account, up to $3,000, that people could use for job training, child care, transportation, relocation or other means that would help them find a job.
Those who become re-employed within 13 weeks can keep the balance of the account as a cash reemployment bonus.
"It's a new tool to train our workers in this new global environment," said Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nevada, sponsor of the bill with Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif.
But Democrats argued that people opting for reemployment accounts would have to sacrifice access to other job training programs offered at one stop career centers, and that the bill's premise, that people need encouragement to look for work, is faulty.
People "don't need an incentive to go back to work," said Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich. "They are in desperate search for work right now."
Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO (search), said unemployed people need a full range of job assistance, and $3,000 was insufficient. He added that "the real problem is there aren't enough jobs, and this covers up for that."