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State Senate plan aims to help long-term unemployed

Resumes with big gaps can be a problem for job hunters.
Resumes with big gaps can be a problem for job hunters.Mark Wilson for The Globe/File

As the state’s unemployment rate continues to improve, there’s one group of workers who are missing out on the good times: the long-term unemployed.

That’s why the state Senate’s leadership has proposed a new initiative aimed at providing assistance to people who have been out of work for at least a year. The effort will be unveiled Tuesday as part of the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.

State Senator Karen Spilka, the Ashland Democrat who serves as the budget-writing committee’s chair, said finding a job can get tougher the longer someone is out of work: Resumes with big gaps are often tossed in the trash. Also, people who are unemployed for a long time may not have the right skills to take advantage of the job opportunities available.

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Spilka said this new program, called the Training Resources and Internship Networks grant program, would aim to address both issues by working with community colleges and the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development to provide training and internship opportunities for people who have been unemployed for at least a year. The budget proposal includes $1.2 million to launch the program.

“We’re targeting ways to help folks with the two major barriers in the jobs search process, to get the skills and get the actual experience,” Spilka said.

The “TRAIN” program is one example of the many differences in economic development efforts within the House and Senate budget proposals. The House completed its version of the $38 billion budget last month; the Senate is expected to debate its proposal next week. The final version will be hashed out in a conference committee consisting of representatives from both chambers.

The TRAIN program can be traced back to ideas presented to a jobs creation task force that Spilka helped lead four years ago, when she was co-chair of the Legislature’s economic development committee.

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The House budget didn’t provide any money for the TRAIN program, and suggested lower levels of funding on several other line items in the Senate budget. For example, the Senate budget proposes $1.5 million to help foster the nascent industry for big-data -- companies and software that crunch and analyze vast amounts of data. The House, meanwhile, proposed $500,000.

The Senate would set aside $3 million for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s “Innovation Institute,” while the House proposes $500,000.

And Spilka said the Senate would set aside up to $350,000 for the tech collaborative’s defense initiative, to help make the case that Massachusetts military bases should be protected from future federal base closure decisions. The House, meanwhile, didn’t set aside any money in its proposed budget, an aide in Spilka’s office said. Likewise, the Senate would direct $15 million from this fiscal year’s surplus to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, to help fund life sciences companies. The House, she said, didn’t make a similar commitment.

But the House did propose setting aside more money in other line items. For example, the House would send $1.5 million to the tech collaborative for tech industry internships, while the Senate didn’t propose setting aside any money for that program. The House also allocated $2 million for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership; the Senate committee’s budget sets aside $1.5 million.

During a recent speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, House Speaker Robert DeLeo stressed the importance of providing money for workforce training efforts, like the tech internship program. Other priorities that DeLeo emphasized in that speech and in his chamber’s budget included funds to help prepare students for the workforce, such as the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network, and efforts to bolster science, engineering and math in schools.

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Spilka said the idea of funding the tech internships also came up during her job creation task force’s meetings, back in 2011. She supports the idea but wants to prioritize other programs.

“We only have a certain amount of money,” Spilka said. “I think that through the course of the conference committee that we can pool our priorities and come up with a dynamite economic development agenda.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.