Federal jobs program funded by stimulus is underused in N.C.

A federal jobs program designed to cover workers' wages with stimulus funds is set to expire next month having barely put 1,000 to work in North Carolina, one of the lowest rates in the country.

Three-fourths of the state's counties, including Wake and Durham, didn't apply for the money.

Some county officials said they lacked time and staffing to create and oversee a complex program that would put people in temporary jobs for less than a year.

Wake County manager David Cooke said he was not involved in Wake County's decision but said the program was not necessarily a good deal for the county.

"There's no such thing as free money," he said. "In most cases it's false economics: Here's some more work for you to do if you accept 'free' money. We're all dealing with declining revenues or flat revenues. We have passed on certain stimulus programs because the additional requirements, that you're not compensated for, aren't worth taking on for the stimulus money."

The subsidized jobs go to hard-luck cases with slim chances of employment: people stuck in the welfare cycle, dislocated by layoffs or unable to find work because of criminal convictions.

In Edgecombe County, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, the jobs program has led to temporary hiring of high-school dropouts in manufacturing plants that make swimming pool accessories, plastic containers and wooden crates.

"It's one of the most dynamite programs for a small business that has come along in a long time," said Virgil Cobb, president and CEO of Cinda Corp., a Charlotte building supply company that hired five people, including three with criminal records. "These ex-cons, they almost don't have a chance. They were walking the streets, collecting food stamps. One guy came right out of incarceration."

The bulk of the stimulus program is expected to put 105,000 to work in this state by next year, largely by funding construction, infrastructure and home weatherization projects, which are supposed to lead to job creation. But the lesser-known jobs program is different in that the government directly pays the wages - typically $8 to $13 an hour in North Carolina - of people who work for small businesses and, in some cases, local government agencies.

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