New Haven’s unemployed population could soon see some help.
The Board of Aldermen’s human services committee held the first of four workshops at Katherine Brennan School on Wednesday evening to gather feedback for a proposed program that would pay businesses to hire unemployed New Haven residents. The Hiring Incentives for Residents Employmentprogram, originally proposed by alderman Darnell Goldson, would offer grants of up to $10,000 to businesses for each unemployed New Haven resident they hire, followed by an additional $5,000 grant if the worker remains employed for a full year.
“At this particular moment it’s important to find jobs for New Haven citizens,” said Sergio Rodriguez, committee chair and ward 26 alderman, adding that the unemployment rate is between 13 to 16 percent in some of New Haven’s neediest neighborhoods. Under the current proposal, any employer that hires New Haven residents who have worked fewer than 90 days over the past year would be eligible to receive a HIRE grant.
Given that city unemployment is higher than the national average of 9.1 percent, Goldson said, a central goal of the Board should be to bring jobs to residents who need them most.
“The question is how do you provide an incentive to [employers] to hire new employees?” Goldson said.
According to BOA fiscal analyst Donald Hayden, HIRE would cost the city around $5 million. Goldson said these figures are not definite and that the purpose of the meeting was to talk with the community to see how the proposal should be changed.
When pressed for specifics on how the program would be funded, Goldson said he did not know how he would choose to pay for his proposal, but he believes the Board should be able to harness the political willto support the measure given some of its past budgeting decisions.
While Goldson said theprogram would be likely be administered by City Hall, it remains possible thatother community organizations would become involved.
When asked by Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 why the proposal’s language permitsgrants to businesses outside city limits, Goldson responded that as long as businesses arehiring New Haven residents, giving money to non-city businesses fits within the aim of the program.
“The goal is to create jobs, not to create a funding pool for businesses,” Goldson said. “The long-term unemployed don’t care where they work.”
All five of the New Haven residents who testified at the workshop said they supported the proposal, but a few had reservations about its practicality.
Some thought the proposal should be paired with an affordable training program.Resident Paul McKenzie said that he had been looking to hire somebody from New Haven for computer training but could not find anybody with the appropriate skills. He suggested looking ahead at upcoming city projects and training residents in advance.
But Goldson said HIRE should not try to be too ambitious.
“The focus for me is getting jobs for New Haven,” Goldson said. “It’s no use training if there’s no jobs waiting for them.”
Clifton Graves, a former city attorneywho ran against DeStefano in the mayoral primary, said that a program like HIRE is necessary for the city right now, and that it sends a message to employers that doing business in New Haven is a smart decision.
Union representative Ralph Inorio said HIRE should create jobs for contractors based out of New Haven, citing the city’s policy of utilizing outside contractors who tend to violate hiring rules by underemploying New Haveners. He said he supports the program and is excited that Goldson proposed it.
Goldson first proposed HIRE in February of last year, but he said that it was stalled in the Board’s financecommittee for over 20 months. Finally, Goldson approached Rodriguez with the idea, and Rodriguez decided the human services committee would examine the proposal.
The political climate, Rodriguez said, is perfect for this program.
“This is the opportune moment — the president’s put out his job act, the Governor is focused on jobs and now cities need to do it,” Rodriguez said, adding that some of the ideas in President Obama’s American Jobs Act, which failed to clear the Senate after a Republican-led filibuster, are very similar to those in Goldson’s proposal.
Goldson said he does not expect as much political gridlock inElm City, but he is worried that the Board of Aldermen will fail to pass HIRE fast enough to make a difference to residents.
Rodriguez said that his committee hopes to have a final product before the end of the year.
The next HIRE community workshop will be held at Newhallville’s Lincoln Basset School on Oct. 19.