Gov. Pat Quinn says he is pulling the plug on the Put Illinois to Work temporary jobs program, even though it was a centerpiece of his election campaign earlier this fall.
CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn says he is pulling the plug on the Put Illinois to Work temporary jobs program, even though it was a centerpiece of his election campaign earlier this fall. Quinn said Monday he will allow Put Illinois to Work to die in mid-January. The program’s initial $215 million in federal funding ran out in September, but Quinn has since pumped in a total of $122 million in state funds. He made the initial state payment of $75 million while he was locked in a close election race against Republican challenger State Sen. Bill Brady, and spent an additional $47 million in early December to keep people on Put Illinois to Work employed through the holidays. Critics have questioned the wisdom of that spending, given the precarious state of Illinois’ finances. One of the most outspoken has been Illinois Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. "I don’t doubt the program’s intentions, but when the state is facing a $15 billion deficit and owes billions more in bonding and pension debt, we have an obligation to ask, ‘Is this program the most effective way to create the good-paying, permanent jobs that Illinois needs?’" Radogno said recently. Critics also objected that the program provided no guarantees for full-time employment. Illinois Department of Human Services documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune say 26,000 people got $10-an-hour jobs under the program, but most of those were temporary. Fewer than 10 percent of them obtained — or were promised — full-time positions. That is a placement rate of lower than 10 percent. "Not only is it a waste of taxpayer dollars to expand the program piece-by-piece without any plan or requirement that participants will ultimately see permanent employment, it’s cruel to the men and women who believe they’re working towards a long-term position," Radogno said. Quinn, though, defended his decision to prop up the program after federal cash ran out, saying it is the government’s job to help people during tough times. "When we have economic emergencies, we don’t just watch people on the unemployment rolls. We roll up our sleeves and use our imagination, our creativity, to put people to work," Quinn told the Tribune. "If we can get people on permanent jobs, that’s all to the better. But the purpose of the program was emergency employment for people who were out of work." And LaDonna Pavetti, an analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said the program should be judged not on how many people were hired full time, but how many were able to get work when unemployment was skyrocketing. Pavetti said some smaller states could create programs to give businesses incentives to hire workers on a permanent basis, but states such as Illinois and California, which had higher unemployment rates, had to focus on getting as many people working as quickly as possible. "There were not enough jobs, so this was designed to create a net increase in the jobs available to people, and to provide them to people who are the least likely to get hired in this labor market," Pavetti said. Quinn says he will now focus on passing legislation to increase incentives for businesses to hire new workers. Program spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said about 16,000 workers are still enrolled in Put Illinois to Work, and she says it is possible more employers will fill full-time jobs when the program is set to expire in mid-January. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)