John Fugazzie is back to work.
The River Edge resident went 18 months without full-time employment before being hired in December as a program coordinator for Ready to Work NJ, a federal and state effort to help the long-term unemployed.
Despite not knowing where his next paycheck would come from, Fugazzie’s stint without work allowed him to focus on Neighbors-helping-Neighbors, the job search support and networking group he founded in 2011 and to advocate for other long-term unemployed people.
In January 2014, he and other jobs club members met with Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. A suggestion made at the meeting led to a provision in President Obama’s 2016 budget that would remove tax penalties for long-term unemployed people who make early withdrawals from their 401k plans.
“It’s pretty exciting to think we had impact as ordinary citizens,” Fugazzie said.
Now, as a program coordinator, Fugazzie will get paid for his advocacy. The Department of Labor in October gave a $10 million Ready to Work grant to the New Jersey Council of County Colleges to help address the long-term unemployment problem.
“Essentially I was hired by the grant and that’s an outgrowth of my volunteer work,” Fugazzie said.
New Jersey has a particularly dire long-term unemployment problem. The same day the Ready to Work grant was announced, New Jersey Policy Perspectives released a report that said 46.3 percent of jobless residents in the state had been out of work for more than six months, the second-worst rate in the country.
Sivaraman Anbarasan, executive director of the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, said the Ready to Work NJ program should roll out at at community colleges at the end of March. The program will provide on-the-job training to about 1,000 long-term unemployed people and provide up to $10,000 in incentives for employers who hire them.