As the old proverbial saying goes – “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Unfortunately, our current workforce system encourages perpetual unemployment by forcing many families to choose between getting the training they need to get a job in today’s changing workforce or lose their unemployment benefits. As we address the unemployment issue in this country we have to make a choice – do we continue our system of giving out fish or do we implement policies where we encourage fishing?
Today, we have more than 10.4 million people unemployed many of whom have been out of a job for six months or longer. What people in the 13th District want is a job – a job that will not only put food on the table but one that will get them closer to the American Dream. People want a job that allows them to own their own home, take family vacations or save for their children’s education. An average weekly check of $300 from unemployment benefits just won’t cut it. My constituents want and expect better from their government.
In addition to growing the economy, we need policies that encourage, not punish, people for seeking training opportunities that will get them off unemployment and into a good-paying, stable job. Last year, I introduced the Opportunity KNOCKS (Kindling New Options for Career and Knowledge Seekers) Act, H.R. 1530, which fixes a flaw in our workforce system that has put several job seekers in Illinois at a disadvantage.
Just one example of this issue happened to some folks seeking training at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center in Edwardsville, IL. They were participating in a full-time training program paid for by the bio-refining industry seeking to fill a shortage of workers qualified to work in bio-refineries popping up across the country. After completing this training and getting a full-time job, some participants received a letter from the State of Illinois telling them they would need to pay back the unemployment benefits received during this time because the program did not meet the requirements of the Workforce Investment Act and because they were not “readily available for and actively seeking work.” This is just another example of bureaucratic red tape that is preventing people from getting back to work.
By eliminating the choice between being able to put food on the table now or getting a step closer to the American Dream, we can reduce the need for long-term unemployment benefits that are costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year they are extended. The Opportunity KNOCKS Act is a commonsense solution that encourages people to seek training through apprenticeships, community colleges and other workforce programs that will lead to a steady paycheck instead of another unemployment check. As a new member of Congress, I am determined to make government work so we are giving people more of what they want: a hand up, not just a hand out.