Just days into the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers are discussing a student loan proposal for jobless Nevadans that could help curb the state's unemployment problems - providing a kind of quick fix that existing federal programs don't offer.
"These low-interest, short-term loans, made available to unemployed Nevadans, will focus on the funding of certificate programs that lead directly to employment in demand-driven occupations," Dennis Perea, a deputy director in the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, said at a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Work certificate programs are not eligible for federal student loans, so the state is developing internal methods to deal with its employment problems. Nevada's 10.2 percent jobless rate is the highest in the nation, and that's a designation the state has carried since May 2010. The national unemployment rate is 7.8 percent.
"Our unemployment rate is too high, and employers are saying there is a skills deficiency," Perea said. "So if we can invest about $2,500 to get someone out of unemployment and trained, that's a pretty good investment."
Exact loan sizes would vary, but in most cases each loan would not exceed $3,000. Participants would be required to pay back the money within five years, and interest would kick in after the first year.
Only programs dealing with high-demand job sectors will be offered, and no program may exceed one year in training time. Most certificate programs are designed to run about 16 weeks, but some of the more technical sectors such as health services and technology would last closer to six months.
"We're giving them the skills and abilities to complete a program," Perea said. "If we can figure out this program and how to work with people's needs, we can get them gainfully employed."
Federal dollars are not available for the initiative because only students pursuing academic credit for graduation are eligible for federal loan programs.
Perea told senators that the proposed state program "promotes the growth of a ready workforce for businesses throughout the state and aids economic development."
Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy questioned the bill's provision solely for certificate programs in the health services sector. But Perea said the plan is to expand the program to other sectors over time.