EDWARDSVILLE — A bill to streamline unemployment for laid-off workers seeking retraining is on its way in the House.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, introduced the Opportunity Knocks Act, which he said would broaden the definition of approved training courses under the Workforce Investment Act to include more retraining programs, including those for people seeking an industry-recognized certificate, apprenticeship, associate or bachelor's degree.
Davis said some laid-off workers have found themselves at risk of losing unemployment benefits or having to pay back their unemployment if the retraining program they choose has not been approved by the unemployment system, which he called "outdated" and "overly complicated."
Davis said workers should be able to retrain in new fields such as biofuels without losing their unemployment benefits.
"It's facilities like (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) that will train our next generation of manufacturers," Davis said. "We should not ever make a family choose between their unemployment benefits and the training they need."
Davis said an increasing number of jobs in the modern economy will require some form of higher education, whether that is technical certification or a college degree. People with a high school diploma have nearly twice the unemployment rate of people with some form of higher education, he said.
John Caupert, director of the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center, said that some of the 600 people who were retrained in biofuels at the center were told that they would have to repay their unemployment benefits while they were being trained at his center. But he cited a report from Bio Economic Research Associates that estimated 380,000 new jobs in rural America from biofuels by 2016.
"Investment in education and workforce training is critically important to ensure a competent and qualified workforce for tomorrow's bioeconomy," Caupert said.
The bill, HR 1530, is co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ami Bera, D-Calif., and Jerry McNerney, D-Calif. It will require some cooperation with the states for implementation, as funding for unemployment comes from the federal government but is administered by the states.
The bill would not provide funding for the workers to pay for retraining, Davis said; it only would keep them from losing unemployment while they pay for retraining themselves.
It has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.
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