Congressional coverage this week has focused on the continuing debate in the super-committee and the just-passed spending bill that counts tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable in school lunches. It’s hardly a wonder that Congress’s recent approval ratings have been as low as 9 percent; more people approve of turning the U.S. into a communist country than approve of the job Congress is doing.

But there really are Members of Congress who are trying to do the right thing for the country – like helping the nearly 14 million women and men who are unemployed. Last week, I wrote about the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, which would maintain vital federal unemployment benefits for workers who have been unemployed for more than six months. And this week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Pathways Back to Work Act (S. 1861), a bill that would create employment and training opportunities for jobless workers, including those who have exhausted UI benefits or who have insufficient work experience or earnings to qualify for UI. (Rep. George Miller has introduced a similar bill, H.R. 3425, in the House.)

The $5 billion Pathways Back to Work Fund established by the bill includes:

  • $2 billion for subsidized employment programs for unemployed, low-income adults. This part of the Fund would be modeled after the TANF Emergency Fund, a key element of the Recovery Act that created more than 260,000 jobs in 2009 and 2010.
  • $1.5 billion for summer and year-round employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth. Funding would enable local workforce boards to create summer and year-round jobs in emerging or in-demand occupations. NWLC’s analysis of unemployment among black and Hispanic female teens found that they are the only groups of teens whose unemployment rates increased more during the recovery than during the recession.
  • A $1.5 billion competitive grant program for work-based training and education programs for adults and youth. Local grantees would compete for funding to implement promising, research-based initiatives that help low-skilled adults and youth obtain jobs and experience. For example, grants could support on-the-job training and apprenticeships; sector-based training programs that meet the needs of groups of employers; or integrated education and training models that allow students to obtain both skills and post-secondary credentials.

Like the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, the Pathways Back to Work Act is smart, targeted legislation that will help unemployed workers and our economy.  Congress should act to pass this bill right away.

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