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Keep Putting Them on the Job!

A look at the immensely successful Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Subsidized Jobs program -- and what will happen if it is allowed to end prematurely.

It’s hard to get more clear-cut about the right thing to do for the economy than the opening of this story from the New York Times this weekend:

Tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs within weeks unless Congress extends one of the more effective job-creating programs in the $787 billion stimulus act: a $1 billion New Deal-style program that directly paid the salaries of unemployed people so they could get jobs in government, at nonprofit organizations and at many small businesses.

In rural Perry County, Tenn., the program helped pay for roughly 400 new jobs in the public and private sectors. But in a county of 7,600 people, those jobs had a big impact: they reduced Perry County’s unemployment rate to less than 14 percent this August, from the Depression-like levels of more than 25 percent that it hit last year after its biggest employer, an auto parts factory, moved to Mexico.

If the stimulus program ends on schedule next week, Perry County officials said, an estimated 300 people there will lose their jobs — the equivalent of another factory closing.

The American economy has been growing now for the past four quarters, and private-sector employers have added jobs every month this year.  But the economic hole left by the Great Recession remains very deep, and creating jobs remains the administration’s top priority.

With that in mind, when one of our programs is effectively and efficiently creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for workers who need them, the last thing we should do is shut the program down.

But unless Congress acts quickly, that’s exactly what’s going to happen to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Subsidized Jobs program.  This program is a proven success – more than 30 states are already using the program to put folks back on the job, and if we let it end prematurely, this highly effective job creation infrastructure that’s been created at the state level will go to waste.

Sadly, Republicans in Congress are playing politics with the future of this program at precisely the time we can least afford to shut it down.

We’ve been talking about what a great program this is for months now, because it’s been extremely effective.  It lets states use Recovery Act dollars to help employers pay for the cost of hiring unemployed workers, and by lowering hiring costs, it encourages employers to hire more workers and create more jobs.  And because many of these workers are being hired at private-sector businesses, the program is not only creating jobs, but also helping American businesses expand and grow.

Unfortunately, the program is scheduled to expire just a few days from now, at the end of September, even though the workers who have been placed through the program still badly need these jobs.  That’s why we’ve been fighting so hard to get this program extended.

The good news is that the program is getting more and more well-deserved attention, like the New York Times article above telling the story of some of the workers and communities that depend on this program and the jobs it’s providing.  And outside of Washington, the program has gotten strong bipartisan support from figures like Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s Republican governor.

But unfortunately, here in the nation’s capital, politics are still triumphing over common sense as Republicans in Congress block action to extend this highly successful job creation program.

Look, I understand there are differences of opinion about the best way to create jobs in this country, but there’s a time and a place for those disagreements.  We should all be able to agree not to shut down programs that are successfully putting workers on the job at private-sector businesses across the country.

So I hope Republicans in Congress will rise above the politics and work with us to extend this program.  We only have a few days left to act.  Let’s keep helping businesses put these folks back on the job.

Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President