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Hiring subsidy cheered ; Stimulus funds cover new workers' payroll

At first, busy apartment manager Theresa Trumbetti ignored the leaflet from the career center in Gloucester County, N.J., tossing it into a pile on her desk.

But when she took a second look, she was stunned.

The news? Trumbetti could hire some badly needed office help at her 970-unit apartment complex, and federal stimulus money would cover the tab.

"It's been that shot in the arm we so desperately needed," Trumbetti said, sitting at her desk at the Autumn Ridge complex in Blackwood. She hired two young women.

"They are doing wonderfully," said Trumbetti, regional manager of her company, Altman Management Co. II Inc.

Now Trumbetti is a believer in the federally subsidized job program that comes as part of a stimulus grant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, funneled to states that apply for it.

The catch: the money runs out Sept. 30, although an extension to the program is included in the huge jobs bill now before the U.S. Senate.

Some states, including California, Tennessee and Delaware, have been using the program for nearly a year and have put thousands of people to work.

Even though it might seem that businesses would jump at the chance to get low-cost labor, it hasn't been an easy sell.

One reason? Companies can't use these dollars to bring in people to replace those they've laid off.

The program is "facing the same economic reality that everyone else is," said Gary Altman, acting assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"In the public sector, many governments have instituted hiring freezes. They have their own rules, civil service, collective bargaining agreements," Altman said. "They can't bring people in if they are laying off."

Getting out the word is another challenge.

With no money spent on advertising, the program relies on the relationships that county-level workforce agencies have with area employers.

When employers find out about it, they like it, said Candace Pew, program administrator. "Employers appreciate the chance to be exposed to the employee prior to offering unsubsidized employment."

Administrators hope the minimal cost to employers -- just payroll taxes -- will encourage them to overcome their hesitancy to hire.

Then, if the economy expands and business improves, the employer may be willing to keep the new recruit on the payroll.

"Most of them are talking about making that switch," said Pew.

Trumbetti represents a textbook case. When her company took over Autumn Ridge a few years ago, nearly half the apartments were vacant. The crummy economy didn't help.

"When leasing is flat, and then, all of a sudden, your season hits and you go from five leases to 25 leases a week. We didn't have time to go out looking for someone," Trumbetti said.

These days, the phones are ringing, and occupancy tops 80 percent, she said.

Trumbetti hired Ashley Finocchiaro, 22, and Abigail Goffney, 20 -- both welfare recipients. One supports the complex's leasing operation; the other handles service problems.

With employee discounts, both women moved into the complex, improving their housing situations. They "are thriving," Trumbetti said. Her hope is to keep them both, especially if leasing continues at the current pace.

Glassboro, N.J., laundromat owner Gina Seagrave is also using the program. Like Trumbetti, Seagrave learned about the program through a job applicant.

Seagrave said she would have hired her new attendant anyway. But because she didn't have to pay her, she was able to stimulate her business by investing in a triple-loader washing machine.

When the program ends, the new employee will remain on the payroll. "I'm definitely keeping her," Seagrave said. "She's an asset to my business."

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