Ontario pulls the plug on self-employment benefit for laid-off workers

But government pumps $78 million into Second Career program

The Ontario government is no longer accepting applications for a program that helps unemployed workers start their own businesses.

No new applications are being accepted for the Self Employment Benefit (SEB) program until at least April 1, 2010, according to the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

People who have already enrolled in the program won't be affected.

The program helps about 3,000 people on employment insurance each year and provides in-class training and EI payments for 40 weeks to qualified applicants who learn how to open and run their own business.

The screening process includes attending an information session and providing a business plan for the proposed venture, which is evaluated by the SEB coordinator, who also interviews the applicant.

Last year, Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter raised questions about the program's effectiveness in part due to a lack of consistent criteria for accepting applicants.

Second Career, another program that helps laid-off workers get back on their feet by offering financial support for retraining, got a $78-million cash infusion earlier this week.

The program was intended to serve 20,000 Ontarians over three years but has enrolled nearly 21,000 participants in just 16 months, said Laurie LeBlanc, assistant deputy minister, employment and training division.

The province is looking at implementing new rules for the program over the next few months that will affect how applications are assessed come January 1, but there are no details on what those rules will be.

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