HER OWN BOSS: Lori Allen, right, Center for Women and Enterprise manager of corporate, foundation and government giving, gives a certificate of completion to Elaine Walle, who participated in a class at the center.
Rhode Island workforce-development leaders are broadening the landscape for entrepreneurs with the revival of a state program that allows some residents collecting unemployment insurance to create a new business instead of hunting for a job.
A $159,700 federal grant to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training announced in February breathes life into the Self Employment Assistance program that’s been on the books – and on the shelf – since the mid-1990s.
“The Department of Labor and Training can find no recorded instance of an unemployment-insurance claimant using the Self Employment Assistance option prior to the awarding of the grant last month,” said DLT spokeswoman Laura Hart.
So why has the option to develop a business plan and launch a new enterprise been lying fallow for more than 15 years?
“That’s exactly the question I had,” said DLT Director Charles Fogarty, who said he heard about the SEA program from colleagues in the National Association of Workforce Administrators.
The state program apparently sat idle for lack of funding, Fogarty said. Now the federal grant will spark life into the SEA program, with the launch anticipated in late March. The SEA program will utilize expertise in entrepreneurial training from the Center for Women and Enterprise and will collaborate with mentors from Social Venture Partners Rhode Island.
“It’s one more tool in the box on the public-sector side that may help some folks get back in the workforce,” said Fogarty. “With the high unemployment rate, we have to look at a whole range of strategies.”
Rhode Island had the nation’s third-highest unemployment rate in 2012 at 10.4 percent, behind Nevada at 11.1 percent and California at 10.5 percent, according to annual averages released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on March 1. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.8 percent in January 2012.
Not everyone collecting unemployment will be eligible for the program.
“Unemployed Rhode Islanders do not apply for the program on their own,” said Hart. “They are selected for invitation, based on a variety of criteria measuring their ability to benefit from the program.”
Part of the consideration will be related to the estimated time for collecting unemployment.
‘Those who are less likely to reconnect to the workplace through a traditional work search are those for whom SEA is a proposed alternative,” said Hart.
Details on notifying unemployed workers who are eligible are being finalized, she said.