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13-Year-Old Initiative, Welfare To Work Program Is Latest Budget Victim


August 09, 2009

HARTFORD - A 13-year-old initiative that helps needy people move from welfare to work is the latest victim of Connecticut's budget impasse.

Programs ranging from on-the-job training to child care stopped as of July 1 for thousands of people mostly women who receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, a state cash assistance program that can last 21 months.

The July and August executive orders, issued by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to run the state without a permanent two-year budget in place, slashed funding for the Jobs First program, leaving just enough money to cover some staff at the state Department of Labor.

"I got there and was told today's my last day," Sade Sims, a 22-year-old single mother and Jobs First client from Bridgeport, told The Connecticut Post last month. "I was sad. I'm trying to get work skills because I've never had a job other than baby-sitting."

While Connecticut has received federal stimulus money to assist the unemployed, those who operate the Jobs First programs around the state say those funds don't cover the case management that's been mandated to help the TANF recipients find work before their benefits run out.

"It's a totally separate type of program," said Scott Wilderman, CEO of Career Resources Inc. in Bridgeport, who last month had to lay off 14 staff members who kept track of approximately 1,100 TANF recipients living in Fairfield County.

Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, state labor department statistics show 16,704 people participated in the Jobs First program. Of those, 73 percent, when they first enrolled, had transportation issues; 58 percent had child care issues; 24 percent had no high school diploma; 13 percent had limited work histories; 10 percent had language barriers; and nine percent faced housing issues.

"How can you compete for jobs in this economy when you can't even read at an eighth-grade level?" asked Wilderman, who is uncertain what many of his former clients are doing now that the program has been suspended.

It's not clear when and how much funding might become available to resume Jobs First. A spokeswoman for Rell said the Republican governor supports the program and included $8.8 million in her latest two-year budget proposal.

"She clearly recognizes the importance of this program and has every intention of putting funds back for it in the next two-year budget," spokeswoman Donna Tommelleo said.

The state budgeted $15.5 million last fiscal year alone for the welfare-to-work initiative. While the General Assembly's majority Democrats say they support the program, many social service programs are being considered for possible reductions given the state's budget deficit problems.

Rell and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly have been at odds for months over how to cover a massive two-year deficit estimated at $8.56 billion. They've yet to reach an agreement, two months into the new fiscal year.

Closed-door negotiations are scheduled to resume Monday.

Meanwhile, Rell's executive order for July included only $65,000 for Jobs First, which theoretically would have received nearly $1.3 million under last year's allotment. For August, she set aside $81,000.

Jeff Beckham, a spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management, which is the governor's budget office, said some of the Jobs First programs are similar to ones being funded with the federal stimulus money.

Connecticut has received $4.5 million for re-employment services that link out-of-work residents with training opportunities to help them find new jobs. The state has also received nearly $17 million for homelessness prevention efforts, such as rental assistance, credit counseling, security deposits and case management.

"Considerable resources are being put on the street to help folks find jobs," said Beckham, acknowledging that the case management services provided by Jobs First are not being funded.

"We're doing the best we can," he said. "We need a budget."

Roger Mason, regional director of employment services at the Thames Valley Council of Community Action, a nonprofit social service agency that serves portions of eastern Connecticut, said his agency has laid off 19 case management workers since July 1.

Remaining TVCCA staff are trying to help some of 1,000 Jobs First clients with things like transportation to and from work. But without the case managers, Mason said very few have returned on their own since being notified the program was being suspended.

He said they could, hypothetically, be taking advantage of the job training services being funded with the federal stimulus some offered by TVCCA. But he said he hasn't seen a significant number of clients on cash assistance showing up.

"It's a tough population," Mason said. "These folks have a lot of issues they need to overcome."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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