WELFARE TO WORK "Happy New Year"

1998 brings "true" change to the welfare system. "The law restricts recipients to five years of federal benefits in their lifetime. It requires states to enroll 30 percent of their recipients in work programs in 1998, a rate that grows to 50 percent by 2002. Beyond that states can do almost anything." Most counties, including Ramsey, have adopted some penalties that those that don’t cooperate can lose up to 30 percent of their benefits.

"I’ve gone through a number of significant changes but nothing like this," said the Human Services Manager for Ramsey County. 8,000 families must be converted to the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) by April. MFIP is the first step and requires AFDC families must move to work to continue to receive cash benefits.

"State lawmakers are spending millions of dollars on child care, transportation, English language classes for immigrants and other services that working families need. The McKnight Foundation is giving $20 million (2 million to Ramsey County) to help fill in the gaps and foster partnerships between public and private sectors."

Previous to 1997, Ramsey County has taken an approach to develop up to ten neighborhood-based Work Resource Hubs, "where employers and job seekers could turn for employment-related assistance, connection, and information." Additionally these hubs will have social services as well as employment counselors.

Commissioner Rettman is for change. Helping people work and helping people increase their spending power are Janice’s goals. Three of the hubs are scheduled to open January 1998. What concerns Janice is the dollars that are going toward transportation and staffing. We should use and support the present MCTO. County dollars should be maximized by applying them to job search, job skill development and training

My other immediate concern is the Hubs. Do we need ten? How much rental and staff dollars will be eaten up? The State Department of Economic Security has several Workforce Centers (full service employment offices) throughout the County; have they been factored in? Can dollars be saved through sharing space; their trained employment counselors? I have asked the Work Resource Management to bring all budget requests for hub development to the Board at every step. Already some community organizations are questioning the hub concept. They want to see centers that simply list the jobs and that those seeking work can come to and be referred. Let’s keep it direct and as low cost as possible. Unfortunately, its been reported that the average stay on welfare for Ramsey County recipients is 49-50 months. In comparison, the State average is 26-27 months. Janice believes in people being able to exercise their personal growth, responsibilities, and financial security. So is the County and their ten hubs too convoluted and complex?

I have faith that as we foster the work ethic, the majority of individuals will find success off welfare. Already there are success stories, probably because many who are on AFDC don’t want to be and they moved off the rolls as quickly as they can. As Commissioner I am happy to accept the challenge of "welfare to work" for those within Ramsey County that want to make the move. After all that empowers people.

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