During the worst recession in decades, Rep. Peter Roskam thinks cutting a welfare-to-work program should be one of Congress' top priorities.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security is scheduled to release the state's April unemployment rate later today. For five straight months, the jobless rate in the Land of Lincoln has shot upward. With the national figure also on the rise, it's unlikely the state's employment experts will deliver a positive report.
One program that is working, however, is Put Illinois To Work. We were pretty excited to see state and federal officials cooperate to launch this stimulus program, which gives private employers subsidies to hire (for $10-per-hour) Illinoisans eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In the first week, 49 employers used the assistance to hire more than 2,800 employees. That number grew to 3,800 by the end of last week. In all, 15,000 are expected to take advantage before the grant runs out later this year.
House Republicans in Washington, however, think Put Illinois To Work and similar programs in other states are a big waste of money. For the past week, Illinois' own Rep. Peter Roskam and his GOP colleagues have been publicizing their new website YouCut. The lawmakers involved have promised to bring a bill to the House floor each week that would axe one government program users chose to eliminate from a pre-selected list. Yesterday, the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund -- which funds Put Illinois To Work -- won out, garnering 29 percent of the vote.
Why would grassroots conservatives choose to cancel a program that's providing jobs to welfare recipients? Perhaps it has something to do with the way in which Roskam and pals described the program, calling it a "backdoor way to undo” welfare reform.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities' LaDonna Pavetti explains in devastating detail how divorced from reality that characterization is. Indeed, governors from both parties have called on Congress to extend the fund.
After voting against an unemployment benefit extension, Roskam has now signaled he wants to cancel a program that puts vulnerable citizens to work. That's shameful. And if a solid program that benefits poor folks is the best example of waste Roskam can come up with, maybe we shouldn't take his fiscal criticisms that seriously.