By Grover C Brown,
Vice Chair
Alabama Micro Enterprise Network (AMEN)

As our economy seeks to recover from the past years of economic downturn, it’s important that our government (state and federal), implement policies that help to spur economic growth not just for investment by large corporations, but by small entrepreneurs as well.  It is a well-known fact that small business drives our economy and job growth.  In Alabama, 88% of all businesses are Microbusiness.  The contributions that micro-businesses (business with five or fewer employees) make to sustain economic growth are vital to local communities.  In fact, the Association for Enterprise Opportunity in its pioneering report “The Power of One in Three” found that “if just one in three microbusiness hired one additional employee, the U.S. would be at full employment.” Therefore, strategies that promote entrepreneurship are a vital component for battling unemployment. 

For many long term unemployed, the best opportunity for employment is to create their own job.  The recent expansion of the federal Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) Program allows unemployed workers who have the potential for entrepreneurship, to receive unemployment insurance benefits while they get their businesses started and take part in business development training to help them succeed. 

Created in 1992, the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) Program gives authorization to states to support unemployment workers to receive unemployment insurance benefits, while starting their business and participating in training.  In February of 2012, Congress expanded the SEA Program and recently the U.S. Department of Labor sent guidelines to state departments of labor and workforce development agencies on how to implement the SEA.  The federal expansion of SEA allows for unemployed workers to collect an additional 20 to 50 weeks of benefits, while receiving business development training. 

The Alabama Micro Enterprise Network (AMEN) is excited about the SEA program and the potential impact that it can have to support entrepreneurs throughout Alabama.  AMEN is a network of micro business development organizations and private businesses that provide entrepreneur training and access to capital throughout the state.  Microenterprise development organizations work with local partners to assess the critical needs of their communities and implement strategies to serve women, minorities, low-income individuals and others who cannot access traditional capital markets.

The business development training and insight that the member organizations can provide, will allow SEA programs participants the opportunity to receive valuable skills, thereby increasing their chances of a successful foray into the business world.  Participants would not only develop a business plan, but also receive instruction on handling taxes, legal matters, developing a marketing plan, and access to microbusiness credit.
Implementing the Self Employment Assistance program will require the state to make modifications to current Unemployment Compensation and Workforce Development regulations and guidelines.  The Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Unemployment Compensation is open to the program; however there will have to be adjustment to current policies to allow for its implementation.  This will require action on-behalf of our legislative and executive branches.  To amplify the support for this revision, AMEN will coordinate with the Alabama Asset Building Coalition, along with micro business development organizations and community based agencies throughout the state.  Our goal is to develop a joint strategy for advocacy toward the implementation of this valuable program, while building strong partnerships among the players that support micro business development.