By Maria Saporta
Georgia’s own Michael Thurmond will be a behind-the-scenes player on the national stage when President Barack Obama unveils his new jobs plan on Thursday.
A program started by Thurmond when he was Georgia’s labor commissioner could become the cornerstone of a plan to stem America’s deepening unemployment crisis.
Several national media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, have reported that Obama is consider proposing a nationwide version of the Georgia Works program when he unveils his jobs package during a speech before Congress on Sept. 8.
“I remain convinced that Georgia Works has national implications,” Thurmond said in an interview earlier this year when he became a partner with the Georgia law firm of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer. “It has the potential to become the solution to the unemployment crisis in America.”
The Georgia Works program was created by Thurmond in 2003 to help those receiving unemployment checks to train for jobs with potential employers.
Job seekers continue to receive their unemployment insurance benefits and a small stipend to offset the costs of transportation and childcare, etc. The jobseeker then gets a chance to audition for a full-time job and acquire valuable skills and references that will strengthen the trainee’s resume.
The program has been described as a “win-win” scenario for job seekers and employers alike.
The Georgia Works program also has been praised by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. In a 2009 letter to President Obama, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor suggested that the federal government should adopt the Georgia Works program nationwide, stating that it “has resulted in faster returns to work, less unemployment payments and lower state unemployment taxes.”
Also, former President Bill Clinton recommended the program in a Newsweek interview in June.
“One answer to the skills roadblock comes from the former labor commissioner in Georgia, Michael Thurmond,” Clinton said. “After job vacancies go unfilled for a certain period of time, the state offers businesses the money to train potential employees themselves. During the training period, the companies don’t become employers, so they don’t have to start paying Social Security taxes or employer benefits. They train people their way, then hire those who succeed as regular employees, reducing the time lag between when a job is advertised and when it is filled.”
It is a politically divisive time in Washington. When Obama unveils his job plan later this week, the question will be whether a national version of Thurmond’s Georgia Works plan will be able to generate enough bi-partisan support to put Americans back to work.