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Bill would establish a ‘Return to Work’ program for unemployed

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PHOENIX – Arizona can return more people to work by allowing firms to provide up to six weeks of training for those receiving unemployment assistance without having to add them to payrolls, a Tucson lawmaker contends.

Sen. Paula Aboud, a Democrat, has authored a bill that would create a “Return to Work” program through the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Modeled on a similar program in New Hampshire, she said it would offer small businesses a preview of how the trainees would work out as regular employees and help job seekers develop skills.

“This is a fantastic opportunity,” Aboud said. “What they’re getting is free schooling.”

Those participating in the program would have to be at least 18 years old and work between 20 and 36 hours a week. They wouldn’t be allowed to remain in the program beyond six weeks.

The Senate approved SB 1388 on an 18-9 vote. The bill was scheduled for a hearing Wednesday before the House Commerce Committee.

Since New Hampshire’s program began in January 2010, 509 people have participated, according to statistics complied by Aaron Latham, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic Caucus. Of those participants, 22 percent were hired during their training and 16 percent were hired after they completed their training.

Based on New Hampshire’s experience and factoring in Arizona’s higher unemployment rate, Latham estimated that 3,553 Arizonans would participate.

Farrell Quinlan, Arizona state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the program wouldn’t be the end-all to the state’s economic problems but would provide small businesses with another tool to hire the best workers.

“When an employer takes on a new worker, it doesn’t always work out,” he said. “One of the benefits of the this program is the employer can see how the worker fits in with the environment. It kind of takes that mystery out of hiring someone.”