A group of Pennsylvania lawmakers and a cabinet level member of the Rendell administration have introduced a legislative package they say will create 40,000 part-time temporary jobs in the state without dipping into state coffers. The jobs program would be funded by federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants and by instituting a tax on the wholesale price of smokeless tobacco products. State Sens. Jay Costa, Vincent Hughes and Christine Tartaglione are sponsoring the bills and PA Dept. of Labor and Industry Sec. Sandi Vito says she supports the proposal. The federal government has allocated $360 million in TANF contingency funds to Pennsylvania and the state has already drawn down about $90 million but a 20% match is needed to gather in the rest of the funds. The tax on smokeless tobacco would fill that roll. Many of the jobs would come as nine-month community service jobs paying $10 an hour for up to 30 hours per week. A second youth employment component creates six-week summer positions at $9 an hour for 25 hours per week. Vito says these are transitional jobs that will help get families through until the economy improves and the workers can find more permanent positions. Tartaglione says, “The economic downturn has caused widespread hardship, but working families have been hit hardest. By creating 40,000 jobs (over two years) we will not only be able to help these families make ends meet, but we will be able to provide paid help to community service organizations that would not have been able to hire workers otherwise.” After the two-year program expires, the bills call for the estimated $80 million dollars a year created by the smokeless tobacco tax to be used for a continuing statewide job-creation program.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not have a smokeless tobacco tax. Costa says even though supporters have been unable to get the tax approved in previous sessions, he thinks there is now enough momentum to get the job done. Gov. Rendell proposed such a tax in his 2011 budget address. However, it would store the revenue in a reserve fund to fill future budget holes once federal stimulus dollars stop flowing from Washington. Costa says the money could be better used today, “With job loss continuing throughout the Commonwealth, putting people to work should be our first priority. There are federal job-creation funds and targeted state dollars that we can take advantage of now to help our neighbors earn a steady paycheck while they continue to look for permanent jobs.”