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Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, speaking at a panel discussion on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan that would create a workforce training program for former casino workers gained final legislative approval yesterday.

The bill, S-2840, would establish a program, the Education Initiative for Former Casino Workers, that would dedicate five percent of the 25 percent of reserved funds for displaced worker training collected for the Workforce Development Partnership Fund to provide training and educational instruction to individuals who were employed by a casino in the previous two years or are currently employed and have received a notice of layoff.

“We can’t turn our backs on the thousands of workers in Atlantic City and Atlantic County who have lost their jobs as a result of the economic downturn and slew of casino closures; they were the bread and butter of our city,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). ““We share in the responsibility of helping them find other means of supporting themselves and their families. By offering job training and education that will transition them into new careers, we can give them an opportunity to work again and sustain themselves.”

Under the bill, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development would screen eligible participants in the Education Initiative for Former Casino Workers for career readiness and develop and facilitate a plan to provide the training and education needed for these individuals to begin, or transition to, a new career.

The department would also enable eligible individuals to complete training and educational instruction at a county college, an approved training provider or a county vocational school district. Any additional costs found acceptable by the department, such as tuition, books, lab fees, and transportation, would also be funded.

“This is an important step in the right direction to help former casino workers find alternative means to earn their livelihood once more,” said Senator Whelan. “It will bring down unemployment, and will give former casino workers an opportunity to explore alternative industries to earn a living.”

The Education Initiative for Former Casino Workers would accept new participants for three years after the bill’s enactment, except that new enrollees will not be accepted if the Atlantic County unemployment rate falls below five percent for a three month period. Participants may access initiative funding up to four years after enrollment.

According to The Press of Atlantic City, more than 6,600 casino workers became unemployed due to four casino closures. The unemployment rate has stayed between 15 and 16 percent on average since the first casino, Showboat, closed in August 2014.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development has identified seven industries expected to experience growth in the future: professional and business services, trade, transportation, and utilities, leisure and hospitality, education and health services, financial activities, and information.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 39-1, and the Assembly with a vote of 50-12. It now heads to the Governor’s desk for consideration.

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