Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich asserted Monday that workers who lose their jobs were being paid by the government for “99 weeks to do nothing.”
Speaking to about 200 employees at Insight Technology, a defense contractor in New Hampshire, the former U.S. House Speaker called for funds workers pay into unemployment insurance to be diverted to training programs.
“I am willing to continue unemployment compensation, but I would attach to it a training requirement,” the Georgia Republican explained. “So if you sign up for unemployment compensation, you would also sign up for a business to get trained to learn a new skill. Because by definition, the reason you’re signing up for unemployment compensation is you’re not finding a job at your current skill level.”
“Now if you took all the money we spent in the last five years for unemployment compensation, if that had been a worker training fund, you’d have a dramatically better-trained work force. We have thousands of jobs available that people can’t fill. You have people over here that want a job, but they don’t have the skill. You have jobs over here that requires a skill that’s not currently available,” he added.
“I don’t want to pay people 99 weeks to do nothing.”
The former House Speaker was most like referring to a program called “Georgia Works” where companies are provided unemployed trainees for free. The state provides a $240 stipend — cut back from $600 last fall — to the trainee each week for up to eight weeks.
“It looks more like work than training,” National Employment Law Project deputy director Andrew Stettner said after reviewing the program. “You can’t try someone out and not pay them. It’s not allowed under our nation’s labor laws.”
But the idea has enjoyed some level of bipartisan support.
“The Georgia plan sounds pretty interesting,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) told Fox News host Chris Wallace in September. “I think that’s something we are looking at, which is unemployment reform.”
Democratic President Barack Obama has also praised the program.
“There is a smart program in Georgia,” Obama said during an August bus tour. “You’re essentially earning a salary and getting your foot in the door into that company.”
Federal unemployment insurance currently provides up to 99 weeks of benefits, but that would be scaled by to 26 weeks if Congress does not extend the program by Dec. 31.
Unemployment benefits are funded through federal and state employer payroll taxes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were 13.3 million Americans collecting unemployment benefits in November.
Watch this video from CNN, broadcast Dec. 12, 2011.