A federal program that connects low-income workers with training programs and job opportunities at local businesses may be overhauled with several proposed rule changes, but local and federal officials hope the changes will help reduce the unemployment rate in Racine.

State, federal and local officials highlighted the Section 3 Housing and Urban Development Act, a program — which requires businesses receiving federal financial help for HUD-funded housing projects to hire low- and very low-income workers — at a press conference held Monday in Racine Mayor John Dickert’s office.

“We have been using every measure possible to cut the unemployment rate in Racine and with HUD, we have a partner who provides real tools, which will yield real results,” Dickert said. “This is another opportunity to hire local residents and contractors for city projects, it’s a win-win.

Businesses can self-register on HUD’s business registry, which was rolled out a few weeks ago, to take part in the program. The program allows businesses to use training programs for HUD-funded projects if they hire at least 30 percent of those employees that are public housing residents or low-income workers.

While the program has been around since 1968, the program rules haven’t been enforced in earlier administrations, said Antonio Riley, Midwest regional administrator with the Department of Housing & Urban Development.

“Regrettably, before this administration there just was not the kind of enforcement of Section 3 that we’re seeing,” Riley said. “It’s been on the books, but it just wasn’t being enforced. President Barack Obama felt very strongly that we have to be the department of opportunity… that these requirements are there on the books to help people in those situations improve their lives.”

One of the biggest issues in administering the program has be getting reports from grantees, but now about 80 to 90 percent of those businesses are submitting those reports. Another issue has been businesses saying that they are unable to find low-income workers and housing recipients that meet the definitions.

The ability to have businesses self-register their projects on the website allows the information to be accessed by potential hires and for the department to look at the data around the program to hold businesses and potential hires accountable, Riley said.

“All Americans should have the opportunity to contribute to the development and growth of their own communities,” Riley said. “Section 3 initiatives will connect more hard-working individuals and small businesses to local economic opportunities, providing them with new tools to secure a more prosperous future.”

Riley also commended Racine officials for their approach in supporting programs like the Racine First Initiative, which offers incentives to businesses looking to develop or expand in Racine that hire residents from lower-income neighborhoods.

The proposed rule changes allow for more HUD programs to help businesses meet low-income and public housing resident hiring goals, tightens up previously vague language, and eases challenges for companies trying to comply with the program requirements, according to a press release by the Dickert’s office.

HUD’s proposed rule changes are still in a 60-day public comment period, which is expected to close May 26.

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.