Senators propose job-training tax credit for those left unemployed by pandemic

$4,000 benefit would apply to a wide variety of career training programs

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska is among the lawmakers pushing the job training tax credits.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska is among the lawmakers pushing the job training tax credits. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 20, 2020 at 3:00pm

A bipartisan Senate bill would create a refundable tax credit to help those unemployed because of the coronavirus pay for needed training as the economy recovers.

According to a summary provided ahead of release to CQ Roll Call, the refundable credit of up to $4,000 would be available for a wide range of job training programs, including apprenticeships and technical training, as well as tuition toward two- and four-year college degrees.

Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey are sponsoring the bill with Republicans Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

“Bold action is required to help newly unemployed Americans find their footing and begin preparing for life after the pandemic,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This new legislation will help Americans gain skills that will be in demand for years to come and position them to rapidly reenter the workforce with increased earning potential as soon as businesses begin hiring again.”

Because of the broad definition of unemployment insurance eligibility under existing COVID-19 response law, the credit could be available to a diverse array of workers. Gig economy workers and other independent contractors qualify, for instance.

And a college student whose regular summer employment at a boardwalk ice cream shop or seasonal restaurant has been upended would appear to qualify, provided the job offer had been previously guaranteed.

The primary focus, however, is on workers who may need new skills in the post-pandemic world, which may remain more dependent on remote work, and require more advanced manufacturing.

Sasse and Klobuchar have worked together in the past on legislation to allow expanded use of Coverdell Education Savings Accounts for skills-based programs.

“Our economy was changing rapidly before this nasty virus and the current economic crisis is going to speed things up,” Sasse said in a statement. “We have to make sure that Americans have the skills we need to compete. Workers who are using this bumpy time to update their skills and retrain for new jobs are going to be a big part of that comeback, and we ought to reward them for their perseverance and grit. We’re going to come out of this stronger.”

As with other coronavirus response and recovery packages, the senators appear to want the proposal to have the broadest possible reach.

“This bipartisan bill will enable laid-off workers to access rigorous, evidence-based training programs, helping ease the barriers to re-entering the workforce,” Booker said.

The bipartisan support suggests the tax credit proposal, which proposes it be available through 2021, could be on the table for the discussions on any future Senate response package.

Alastair Fitzpayne, the executive director of the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative, said in a statement that the job training credits are an important follow-up to the expanded unemployment benefits.

“Unemployment Insurance provides important short-term financial relief to people who have lost work through no fault of their own,” Fitzpayne said. “The Skills Renewal Act offers a crucial next step, providing financial support for unemployed and furloughed workers to access high-quality training opportunities to upgrade their existing skills and transition to sectors of the labor market where opportunities are expanding.”