07/07/2010 04:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Is Putting People to Work -- Government Program a Huge Success

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), otherwise known as President Obama's economic stimulus plan, included a small funding stream that states can use to create a subsidized jobs program for parents in low-income families who have been displaced from employment by the recession or otherwise are in need of employment. This spring the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) produced a plan to utilize these stimulus dollars and received immediate federal approval of its plan. IDHS dubbed its new jobs program "Put Illinois to Work."

Three months have now passed since the Put Illinois to Work program began in early April and it's fair to say that it has been a monumental success in helping to solve our state's #1 problem -- getting people in Illinois back to work. It has done so at little cost to the state by creatively harnessing the federal funding stream created by ARRA. Illinois has done what the anti-government chorus considers the impossible: worked closely with the private sector to get a large-scale government program that produces jobs up-and-running quickly and efficiently.

Put Illinois to Work provides jobs that pay $10 per hour for 30-40 hours per week of work. As of today, there are over 18,000 people in Put Illinois to Work jobs. Employers have created 35,000 work slots, more than double the State's original goal of 15,000. The program has been so popular that with over 60,000 job applicants, IDHS has had to close intake to the program.

The state has invested $10 million to leverage a federal investment of $200 million - a $20 return on every $1. Employers' training and supervision expenses are considered an in-kind contribution under federal law, so these workers come at no cost to the employer. In addition to earning badly needed income, workers with thin employment histories are building up their job skills and resumes. IDHS anticipates that thousands of Put Illinois to Work participants will receive continuing offers of employment when the program's funding runs out.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) emergency contingency fund (ECF) - the federal fund that pays for Put Illinois to Work -- expires on September 30, 2010. State subsidized employment programs like Put Illinois to Work enjoy wide bipartisan support in the United State Congress (a rare thing these days). The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a one-year extension of the TANF ECF. A similar measure was uncontroversial in the U.S. Senate but was included as part of the unemployment extension legislation that recently failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate.

The Shriver Center and many other advocates are undertaking intensive efforts to get Congress to find another way to extend the TANF ECF for one year beyond September 30, 2010. For the sake of the tens of thousands of low-income Illinoisans who need and want to keep these $10 per hour jobs, let's hope that these efforts are successful.