10/29/06 — County approves Work First program renewal

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County approves Work First program renewal

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on October 29, 2006 2:01 AM

More than 2,500 people have the skills and education necessary to find a job thanks to the Wayne County Department of Social Services Work First program, local officials say.

And with an extension of the program through 2009 recently granted by the county's Board of Commissioners, Social Services workers say they are ready to try to tackle the 500 remaining potential beneficiaries.

All they need now, said Judy Pelt, Department of Social Services director, is a more thorough understanding of the new program requirements as set by the federal goverment.

Mrs. Pelt said meeting those new benchmarks will not be easy. She expects the requirements for each state and county to demand a larger percentage of residents go through the program and become steadily employed.

"Short of miracles from the Lord, I don't think we can meet those standards," Mrs. Pelt said.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said the 500 residents who need the program's assistance lack job skills and a basic education. Others have had problems with drug abuse and other obstacles, which makes it more difficult for them to successfully go through the program, Mrs. Pelt said.

The Work First program is federally mandated in each state. Each county is required to provide money for the program. Wayne County consistently provides about $1.2 million for Work First, Mrs. Pelt said. The state and federal government also allocates money.

The county also works to reduce the Work First program rolls by giving residents jobs and trying to keep them off welfare once they are employed.

The Wayne County Work First Planning Committee approved the Work First plan in September. The plan states the Work First program will reduce its caseload by 5 percent over the next two years. Committee members also expect to put 120 adults to work per year, according to the plan.

Of the adults who do work and no longer need welfare, the committee believes 90 percent will stay off welfare and continue to be self-supportive. The program also looks to protect 100 percent of the children receiving Work First and intensive Child Protection services.

The needs, goals and plans for success in the 2007-09 Work First Plan are almost identical to the 2005-07 plan, Mrs. Pelt said. The eight major needs among low-income families in Wayne County remain transportation, child care, education, employer involvement, job retention, substance or domestic abuse, affordable housing and language barriers.

By providing better opportunities to address each need, Mrs. Pelt said the ultimate goal of the Work First program is to assist people in becoming totally responsible for themselves and their families.

For more information on the Work First program, call Judy Pelt at 731-1149, Gloria Hill at 705-1831 or Darlene Grantham at 731-1099.