A transportation program that helps low-income workers in the region secure and retain their jobs would be eliminated under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget for next year.
Loss of Transportation-to-Work funding under the state Department of Social Services budget could cost as many as 400 local people their jobs, said John Beauregard, executive director of the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board.
"This would be a serious setback," Beauregard said in a phone interview.
The governor has proposed replacing the program with bus tokens, but Beauregard said this is not a reasonable solution in a region as large and as underserved by bus transportation as eastern Connecticut.
Beauregard said the Transportation-to-Work program offers up to 90 days of aid as low-income people climbing out of public assistance attempt to get back on their feet. Almost 13,000 people have benefited from the more than decade-old program, Beauregard said, and 97 percent have never returned for help.
"The labor market in the Norwich-New London area is almost nationally unique at this point because of both the timing and size of the layoffs that we've dealt with here," Beauregard said.
While a stronger labor market with a more robust transportation system might be able to withstand the loss of 400 jobs, he added, eastern Connecticut is fighting for every position it can retain, especially in light of downsizings at the local casinos and Pfizer Inc.
The region still hasn't necessarily seen a bottom in its labor losses, Beauregard said, since the latest revised employment numbers show Norwich-New London hitting a new low in December, rather than in August, as previouslyhad been reported.
"It's a very difficult labor market to crack right now," he said.
Some businesses also get incentives for hiring people who are unemployed, disabled or on public assistance. Businesses that won't be able to retain such workers will lose money by having to hire and train other employees to replace them, Beauregard said.
Beauregard said it didn't make sense to expend vast efforts to get people on public assistance back to work if they had no way of getting themselves to a job site once they secured employment. He added that the state gains a double benefit from the program, since it helps get people off public assistance and leads to more tax revenues once they begin working.
"It pays for itself," Beauregard said.
Beauregard said he has spoken with local legislators about retaining the program in this region even if it is cut in other parts of the state.