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"I might have hired one worker. Maybe," he said. "Definitely not three."

In June, Mr. Menge found out that JobsNow, Rhode Island's job-subsidy program funded by the federal stimulus, had approved his application and would pay for three additional workers. According to the rules, which vary by state, the Rhode Island workers he could hire had to be unemployed or underemployed, have dependent children, and earn no more than 225 percent of the poverty level. JobsNow put Menge in touch with Santos and one other worker in similar straits. The third hire was a worker Menge knew and recommended to the program.

"[The additional workers] definitely allowed me to move fast," he said. "Now, I can present this job to other bidders."

Menge hopes his crew's quick work this summer will help him land two commercial contracts he's bid on. Menge says he'd like to keep his three new hires through January to complete the work, even if the subsidy was cut.

Helping small businesses overcome their skittishness about the economy has been an unexpected benefit of the program since most of the hires are in the private sector, say advocates.

"The focus has been on encouraging small businesses to take risks and hire people," said LaDonna Pavetti, a poverty and welfare expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington economic-policy think tank. "We hope those positions will lead to permanent jobs."

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