Welfare recipients get serious about work | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Welfare recipients get serious about work

Patrick McCartney

Editor’s note: El Dorado County has launched Welfare to Work, an innovative program in cooperation with Stateline casinos to prepare aid recipients for welfare reform, which sets limits on time aid can be received. Following are the experiences of seven aid recipients who participated in the previous program, and a look at how they are doing now.

On most days, the seven aid recipients are pretty low-keyed, performing exercises to improve their self-esteem, ability to set goals and performance in job interviews.

But that all changes when employment trainer Margie Verbeley plays a tape of Eloise Anderson, California’s welfare director, in an interview on 60 Minutes.

“Welfare marginalizes men,” Anderson says in the interview. “AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) is a better provider than a low-income man.”

Anderson describes fairness and the need for self-reliance as the principals behind the movement to end lifetime benefits.

“Why do we have low-income single moms helping support others on welfare?” she asked. “If you want a child, why aren’t you willing to get a job to support it?”

When the tape ends, the classroom erupts in the most emotional discussion of the three-week Job Club.

Dan, who raised two sons but is plagued by health problems, lashes out at Anderson’s get-tough message.

“You see all the programs to help people come and go,” he states. “I hear all the talk, but I don’t see any action. When I was a kid and you needed help, you went to your neighbor. Today, the door is locked.”

Over the course of the three-week course, Verbeley instructed the class on how to write cover letters, fill out job applications, follow up on applications and present themselves to a prospective employer.

The students are not exactly volunteers. If they decline to participate in the job classes, they run the risk of losing the parental share of their family assistance. Besides receiving encouragement, the participants share their experiences as single parents struggling to raise a family on a welfare budget.

“What hurts is when the kids ask for new clothes, and you have to say ‘no,'” explains Kristina, a mother of two, who had not held a job since having her first child at 14.

Jerry, who has a master’s degree and has worked in corrections, is bitter about his chances in the job market.

“I’ve always felt bad in an interview if I tell them I need the job and have kids to feed,” he remarks. “When I get home, I know they won’t give me the job because I’m so desperate.”

Over the course of the three weeks, the students work on the tasks that Margie assigns them.

For Jim, a truck driver raising two sons, the challenge is to regain his driver’s license, which was revoked over past child support payments, even though he’s raised his two girls for the past eight years.

With Verbeley’s encouragement, Jim tries to track down legal aid to help him untangle his child support woes and regain his driver’s license.

Weeks after the course ends, the students have reported mixed success.

Two of the seven have found jobs.

Christina, who had worked as a cashier and security guard before, has found work as a clerk in a retail store.

Jerry, the former corrections employee, was hired as a temporary inspector at the state agricultural station in Meyers.

For two others, success is measured in a different way.

Dan is pursuing the medical care he needs to combat his chronic health problems. And the word is that Jim, even though he’s dropped out of sight, has gotten his driver’s license back and is working as a truck driver. He’s no longer in touch with welfare officials.

Jane, a single mother of three, has also disappeared. Maybe she’s moved. A third participant, Cheryl, the mother of five, has also dropped from sight. She had lived much of her life on the margins, so her dropping out comes as no great surprise.

Kristina, the single mother who had never worked, has had her share of assistance and food stamps docked since staying out of touch with welfare officials. She has continued to apply for jobs, however, and said she hopes to get the break she needs.

“It’s hard,” Kristina said. “But I plan to get a job and get my life together.”

Verbeley said many participants in Job Club classes have had better luck than the seven who attended this session. The long-term placement rate is closer to 70 percent, she said.

While Verbeley expects the new Welfare to Work program will make it easier for aid recipients to get jobs, she said many have already received the message of welfare reform.

“The word is getting out that term limits are coming,” Verbeley said. “People can’t use aid as a lifestyle anymore.”

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