El Dorado to get welfare to work | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado to get welfare to work

B.H. Bose

Starting in July, El Dorado County welfare recipients will have a golden opportunity to find work.

As part of the $3 billion national welfare reform, signed into law by President Clinton last August, El Dorado County will receive $528,000 during the next two years. The two-year reform project, better known as Welfare-to-Work, will not only focus on getting welfare recipients “off welfare” and to work, but will help them retain the jobs by providing job training and assistance.

To aid the county in its effort, the El Dorado Board of Supervisors has approved a grant to The Golden Sierra Private Industry Council to spearhead the project.

“They are the coordinating agency, sort of the ‘one stop shop,'” said Board of Supervisors Chairman John Upton, referring to Golden Sierra. “They will provide job training and work closely with county social services.”

Welfare reform began in 1996 with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Welfare itself dates back almost a century, when states stepped in to help poor children. The nucleus of welfare evolved in 1935 with the Social Security Act and the birth of Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The bulk of governmental assistance to poor and needy families came through the AFDC program for the next 60-plus years. That was until the reform movement sprung up two years ago.

With the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act came Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. TANF replaced AFDC, and with it came a new focus – one geared toward work. While the reform imposed limits on aid and required recipients to eventually find employment, it didn’t provide much assistance. That changed last summer, said Kim Hemmer, the executive director at The Golden Sierra Private Industry Council.

“In Clinton’s balanced budget act in August of ’97 there was a line item for the Welfare-to-Work program,” said Hemmer, who added that her organization is a five-county governmental agency. “There was all this money going to get people off welfare, but there was no money for training. They (government officials) were saying, ‘We want you all off welfare,’ but there was no money for job training or placement.”

With the $3 billion Welfare-to-Work grant, according to Hemmer, money became available for county agencies to provide job search assistance, job referrals, placements and training.

However, this program is only available to the “hardest-to-serve” welfare recipients. To qualify, recipients must meet two of the three criteria: They must be a long-term welfare recipient (30 or more months); must be at a low educational level, which means contain no high school diploma or G.E.D. (General Education Degree) and function at an eighth-grade level; and have a history of substance abuse which has kept them from getting a job.

Welfare recipients are basically divided into three divisions, said Ed Zylman, program director for El Dorado County’s Social Services Department. There are those who are just about to enter the working world, those who need a little bit of help before finding work, and those who need extensive training and assistance.

“The emphasis on welfare-to-work is to make welfare a short-term process,” Zylman said. “Help people move quickly through welfare and on to a job.”

Of the approximately 135,000 El Dorado County residents, there are about 4,300 individuals “on welfare,” Zylman said. That equates to about 1,560 cases (families). Of the 1,560, 1,200 cases (approximately 2,000 adults) are considered eligible for Welfare-to-Work. Currently, 70 people who are eligible for the Welfare-to-Work program go to work each month, added Victor Uriz, supervisor of the Employment Training Division for the county’s Social Services Department.

Golden Sierra will receive $812,000 per year for the next two years from the five counties (El Dorado, Placer, Alpine, Sierra and Nevada), Hemmer said. The organization will receive an annual grant from El Dorado County in the amount of $274,000 for the next two years, while Placer County will provide $346,000.

Hemmer added that it will be difficult to serve all the welfare recipients who qualify, especially considering the amount of money.

“We are talking about few people being served with this amount of money, but hopefully we will set an example and get more funding in the future,” Hemmer said. “We won’t make a big dent, but hopefully we will set an example.”

The Welfare-to-Work program officially starts July 1. Until then, officials at Golden Sierra will be working closely with the respective county social services department to set up the best possible referral system, and continue to provide assistance to other needy people.

“We will still continue to do a wide array of job training and placement for low-income people, unemployed, and dislocated workers, who is someone who may have been victim of downsizing,” said Hemmer, adding that her organization has been around since 1993.

As for the Welfare-to-Work program, state governmental officials will evaluate the progress after one year, before again evaluating it at the conclusion of its two-year stint.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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