(Updated 10 p.m.)There was something for everyone to like in the jobs bill, but members of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus in the House weren’t exactly sure it would create jobs for their constituents.
The bill, which gives tax credits to companies and industries and provides job training programs, passed the House 147 to 1 Wednesday evening. The Senate voted 34 to 1.
“I want to support this bill in every way shape or fashion, but I want to support a bill that I know is going to help not just some people in Farmington, or some people in Avon, but I want to get a bill that’s going to address unemployment, and the low opportunities for employment in all neighborhoods in Connecticut,“ Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said. “We can’t just advocate for one location, we have to advocate for all.”
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, and chair of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, said the caucus met and decided it was going to be more vocal and clear with legislative leadership and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy about its concerns.
He said he thinks some of the legislation ignores the demographic shifts in urban areas where population is growing and the number of jobs is shrinking at alarming rates.
In Holder-Winfield’s white paper, which he sent to Malloy on Oct. 20 along with a letter, he explains that multiple reports have indicated that somewhere around the year 2020 the workforce age 25-29 will be half Black and Latino.
“The state needs to deal with the fact it has some shifting demographics,” Holder-Winfield said.
He said once the state recognizes that it didn’t target this population soon enough, it will be too late to do anything about it.
“When we look at this bill it seems that we are focusing on one or two basic industries,” Walker said. “And we’re also focusing on corporations, much more than we are on the people who are working and the people who come support us at election time.”
The largest line item in the bill is $340 million for the Manufacturing Assistance Act program. It’s a program that allows manufacturers to invest pre-tax profits for a certain number of years in an investment account. That money is then reinvested in a company.
“I understand that as many have said here, we’re not here to buy jobs or pay for jobs, government’s here to assist business,” Walker said. “But if we are going to go about trying to subsidize employment for people that are in the middle class neighborhoods, who are unemployed, who have reached that maximum of unemployment, we’ve gotta make sure that we’re addressing them.”
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the Subsidized Training and Employment Program, or STEP, gives six months of job training to residents living at 250 percent of the federal poverty level, who have been unemployed for a certain period of time. He said that program, which is funded at $5 million per year for two years, targets urban residents. It also provides a subsidy to underemployed individuals or individuals looking to move up the manufacturing ladder.
But Walker said the $20 an hour they will make under the program isn’t enough to feed a family. She said that’s $35,000 to $40,000 a year. She said she has problems when the state is giving millions of forgivable loans to wealthy corporations and is garnishing the wages of welfare recipients as soon as they get a job.
“We want jobs. We don’t want soundbites,” Walker said.
Jim Horan, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services, said Wednesday morning that he hopes the jobs legislation that received bipartisan support is the beginning of a conversation and not an end.
Between 1990 and 2010 Connecticut cities lost 90,000 jobs, nearly 20 percent, while the number of the jobs elsewhere in the state remained relatively constant.
Hartford alone lost 27 percent of its jobs since 1990. Horan said this means that there are fewer opportunities for Hartford residents.
Holder-Winfield sent Horan’s suggestions for improving urban employment, such as requiring a portion of infrastructure project jobs to go to urban residents, or creating small incubator space in urban areas, to Malloy along with his letter and a report from the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.
The letter was sent on Oct. 20, but as of Wednesday afternoon Malloy said he had not seen it.
In an interview in his Capitol office Malloy said there was a lot of incentives to hire anybody in the legislation the House passed. He said the bill did not discriminate based on where a person lived.
He said the legislation also reorganizes educational training which is an important step in giving all Connecticut residents opportunities. He said the bill also moves three vo-tech schools and three community colleges into specific training for manufacturing.
“I’m having a hard time understanding what else we could do,” Malloy said. “We have support for manufacturing disproportionately manufacturing is in urban communities.”
He said if there’s issues that are missing they can be addressed in the regular session which convenes in February. He said the legislation passed Wednesday needed to be bipartisan in nature, which meant there were some behind-the-scenes compromises.
Holder-Winfield said it’s not uncommon for him to be told these types of issues will be dealt with in the future. He just hopes they can sit down and have a conversation about it soon.
He said leadership from the executive branch will go a long way. It’s not the first time Malloy has been approached by leaders in urban communities about the unemployment in cities.
A few weeks ago he met with religious leaders in Hartford’s North End to talk about their concerns, which were not much different than Holder-Winfield’s.
Legislative leadership on both the Democratic and Republican side of the aisle said they felt the assistance for small businesses goes a long way to addressing some of Holder-Winfield’s concerns.
“We’re trying to create jobs for every one here,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk said. “The bill is mainly geared toward small business because of legislative leadership.”
Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, agreed. He said legislative leaders understand the desire to help out large corporations, but he believes the small business assistance will benefit urban communities too by helping out the job creators there.
Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Hartford, said it’s a good positive first step, but the state has to tackle the issue of the long-term unemployed in the future.
Click here to read Ken Dixon’s column from Sunday on last week’s public hearing on the bill.