Mississippi made Page 1 in The New York Times the other day, and it wasn’t about some racial episode or the state’s obesity. No, it complimented the state on its plan to use $43 million federal stimulus money intended for welfare to subsidize new jobs for six months with expectancy those jobs will be permanent.
Called STEPS, the plan seeks to create 3,500 jobs under the stimulus money that expires next March. A bill in Congress to extend it another year reportedly has backing by the state’s congressional delegation. Because of the drumbeat by Republicans and the Tea Party movement against President Obama’s stimulus program, STEPS was unknown to most Mississippians until attention was recently focused on it.
The idea was hatched in September by Stan McMorris of the state Department of Employment Security. While Gov. Haley Barbour publicly criticizes Obama’s stimulus plan, STEPS won his approval. The feds were slow to clear reallocation of the welfare funds, but it came at a good time: Mississippi had a 10.6 percent unemployment rate in December.
Barbara Hicks, director of the WIN jobs centers at the state Employment service, said STEPS will provide a variety of full-time jobs. The plan subsidizes jobs 100 percent the first two months, 75 percent the third month, dropping to 25 percent the sixth month. Businesses must commit to keep the jobs permanent. The hire must not replace anyone previously employed (preference is given to businesses with no more than 25 workers, but some larger companies are eligible.)