- Associated Press - Friday, August 5, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - An $8.3 million job training program backed by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is unlikely to get off the ground this year, after a key legislative committee declined Friday to debate the issue after months of delays.

Called Gateway to Work, the program aims to provide training and other services, such as transportation and help with child care costs, to help low-income New Hampshire residents find good paying jobs.

The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, tasked with approving the funding, first debated the program in May but has repeatedly delayed a final vote. On Friday, the committee failed to take the item off the table for debate in a 5-5 vote.

Hassan announced Gateway to Work in her February state of the state address as a major policy initiative, and it was slated to begin July 1. She said she’s disappointed by the delays.

“I am concerned that Republicans on the committee are allowing politics to prevent us from moving forward with this common-sense initiative to fill jobs at growing companies and help close the opportunity gap for New Hampshire’s children and families,” she said in a statement.

But some Republicans countered by saying a new program should be debated by and win support from the full Legislature.

“This is just the kind of program that requires the public’s input,” said Republican Rep. Neal Kurk, chairman of the fiscal committee.

Republican leaders questioned whether the program is an effective way to use $8.3 million dollars when the state’s unemployment rate is already low and the Department of Health and Human Services is predicting a nearly $47 million deficit.

“It’s just not clear to us how this program comes at the right time for the right cost,” GOP House Majority Leader Dick Hinch said in a statement.

Gateway to Work would repurpose unspent money in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, a federal program that provides cash assistance to low-income families. The federal program’s caseloads are going down in New Hampshire.

Gateway to Work is a partnership between many state departments, as well as the community college system. It would train people specifically for jobs in health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing, all industries where businesses say they are having trouble finding workers with the right skills.

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