Baker seeks help for jobless 

File photoGov. Charlie Baker has filed legislation to spend at least $240 million in pandemic relief funds for job training and other initiatives as federal jobless benefits are slated to expire soon. 

 

BOSTON —  Hundreds of thousands of workers are losing federal unemployment benefits next week, and the Baker administration wants to carve out a slice of relief funds to cushion the blow.

Gov. Charlie Baker has filed legislation to spend at least $240 million in pandemic relief funds for job training and other initiatives.

Labor Secretary Rosalie Acosta told reporters during a livestreamed briefing last week that the support is crucial for more than 300,000 jobless workers who will lose benefits on Sept. 4 when federal programs expire.

"It's a hard stop," she said. "This is obviously going to take an extremely proactive and well-thought-out strategy to make sure that we reach all of these folks."

Baker's plan calls for scaling up existing training and apprenticeship programs and professional career pathways to meet a goal of retaining more than 52,000 workers in manufacturing, healthcare, finance and other industries.

The state has been preparing for the cutoff of federal programs, including a $300 weekly benefit, by trying to connect workers with jobs and employment programs.

MassHire’s Career Centers held a five-day virtual job fair two weeks ago that included more than 200,000 openings across a range of industries.

Baker administration officials said it was the largest job fair in state history, with more than 21,000 resumes submitted through the state's website.

Massachusetts paid out nearly $6 billion in jobless benefits last year as hundreds of thousands of workers were sidelined by government-imposed shutdowns meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The state's unemployment rate hit 16.4% last spring, among the highest in the country.

Last month it held steady at 4.9%.

But joblessness is not evenly distributed. Labor officials say it is much higher in minority and low-income communities.

"This pandemic has really exacerbated those inequalities," Acosta said.

More than 360,000 people in Massachusetts are collecting state or federal jobless benefits, according to the U.S. Labor Department's most recent weekly report.

Massachusetts has received $5.3 billion in discretionary funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed by President Joe Biden.

After wrangling with lawmakers over who would control the money, Baker filed legislation to spend $2.9 billion of it on housing, water and sewer infrastructure, substance abuse and other priorities.

Lawmakers have held several public hearings on the proposal but have yet to take action.

The Legislature returns from recess this week.

For more information on employment options, visit mass.gov/jobfair.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhinews.com.

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