Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day marks start of expanded benefits for many unemployed workers seeking retraining

In 2000, the Legislature established a Training Benefits Program to help workers who have been laid off and unable to find work because of a declining demand for their occupation. The program essentially provides extended unemployment benefits while a worker is going back to school.

This past session, the Legislature approved Rep. Steve Conway's legislation that expanded the program to help more people as they seek retraining and new job skills. Starting Monday, September 7, these benefits will now be available to more people: workers who are disabled due to illness or injury, low-income workers who need training to qualify for a higher-paying job, and current or recently-discharged members of the Washington National Guard.

The additional benefits provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits while the worker is in training. You can find out more information about the program here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rep. Clibborn: State is making progress on transportation issues

The state, as most other states across the country, is facing serious budget challenges.

But in today's Bellingham Herald, Rep. Judy Clibborn, chair of the House Transportation Committee, reminds us that our transportation budget is actually in pretty good shape right now. The Legislature recently approved a record $4.74 billion worth of projects around the state, including $341 million in stimulus funding.

This money is not only helping repair and update our infrastructure, but is also putting hundreds of people to work. According to Clibborn, "WSDOT reports that July payroll hours related to these federal funds totaled $5.4 million and resulted in roughly 834 full-time equivalent jobs. The average salary was a good-paying $38 an hour."

Clibborn does point out there are daunting challenges yet to tackle. Of critical concern? "As people drive less and insist on more fuel-efficient vehicles, how do we maintain revenue for a system so reliant on fuel-tax receipts?"

Check out her op-ed in today's Bellingham Herald for more.

UW to receive $126 million dollar federal grant

Thanks to a $126 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative, the University of Washington is going to be gettin' down, waaaaay down, on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean.

According to the UW, this is the largest federal award the University of Washington has ever earned and "is the culmination of a two-decade quest to transform the manner in which science in ocean basins can be conducted."

The UW will use the money to install nearly 500 miles of fiber-optic and power cable and seven science nodes on the seafloor off the Pacific Northwest.

What's a science node and why all the fuss?

From what our unscientific eye can tell from all the fun stuff posted on UW's website, a node is like an underwater satellite, providing an amazing glimpse into what's happening along the ocean floor and deep in our ocean waters. The nodes will collect all kinds of data that researchers and scientists can use for things like monitoring seismic activity, researching climate change, and more. And regular folks like us will have access to stunning real-time seafloor footage, a great tool for teaching and learning about our oceans.

The project also opens up a new pool of jobs. The grant will result in 30 new positions at the University of Washington. And though exact numbers aren't known, UW President Mark Emmert and Mike Kelly who is helping manage the project say there will be a "huge trickle-down effect" for additional local jobs as UW seeks sub-contracts for engineering and other support services.

This is a good reminder that institutions such as the University of Washington play an incredibly important role, not just in educating students, but in keeping Washington state on the global forefront of groundbreaking research and science initiatives.

Congratulations, Huskies!