Incremental changes in welfare programs will begin this fall.
If you don't understand the new welfare reform act, you're not alone.
The 1,000 page, 2-inch thick document is still being muddled through by welfare officials at the federal level and most state agencies.
However, before every waiver, exemption, entitlement and block grant is understood and accounted for, there's work to be done.
Lawrence Social and Rehabilitation Service officials have been spreading the word recently to employers about the expected changes.
After many years of grants given to families through Aid to Families with Dependent Children and food stamps, America is being forced to change its attitude.
The biggest change for welfare recipients is that instead of working with case managers about how to get into college and increase their education or training, case managers will immediately begin leading welfare recipients on an aggressive job search. As recently as a year ago, 70 percent of all active welfare participants were in post-secondary education programs in Lawrence.
Some of the other changes include:
- The new law says there will be a 60-month limit for welfare to be provided to one individual.
- All states are required to have 50 percent of welfare recipients working by the year 2002, including subsidized employment, on-the-job training and community service.
- Before a person can apply for welfare, they will be required to prove they've been actively seeking work.
Of course there are exemptions, but the bottom line is to move these citizens into jobs.
The Community Work Experience Program gets welfare recipients into the workplace. These workers are still getting their federal grants, child care support, medical insurance and other allowances, but they're working, which is the first step to changing the system, said Jim Baze, chief of employment preparation services for the seven county area.
Employers can assess and assist workers without paying wages or benefits. Welfare recipients work up to 32 hours a week with a private or public employer.
"These employees can learn in a little more of a forgiving environment," Baze said. "And if they initially fail, case workers will be there to troubleshoot."
Ann Roggero, manager of employment and employee relations at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, has been working with a group of five employees involved in the Community Work Experience program for about six months. Each person has found permanent employment at the hospital in such jobs as clerical, housekeeping, food service and nurse's technician.
"Employers can use the program as a source of manpower," Roggero said. "It needs to be sold to employers as a benefit to both parties."
Roggero admitted working with the program did take a little more time than simply hiring an applicant, but she said "it's really not that much more work."
Eventually, if participants in the community work program fail to fulfill the requirements, their welfare grants will be reduced or eliminated.
Job Club, which gives welfare recipients training in finding a job, and a job-seekers workshop to put workers in touch with potential employers, aren't new programs at SRS. However, now they are the primary focus for all participants.
Employers in Lawrence have been complaining about a labor shortage for entry-level positions for more than a year. The addition of a new workforce that has been hidden for many years may help alleviate frustrations for some of those employers.
Nancy Slabaugh, manager of Manpower Temporary Services, 211 E. Eighth, said she has jobs that go unfilled everyday. Also, she said temporary services can be a great starting place for former welfare recipients who have been out of the workforce for a long time. Quality employees at Manpower and Lawrence's other temporary job placement offices are given opportunities to try a variety of jobs.
"To have that kind of accessibility to employees that haven't been in the workforce is bound to help all of us out," Slabaugh said.
There is an average of 10 employees who complete the job club training course at SRS every month. These employees will now be seeking work.
In addition to participating in the Community Work Experience Program, employers are needed to come to the SRS to help teach job applicants about how to succeed in the workplace.
"These people are out there competing with 20-year-old coeds who know how to dress. When in fact, these young workers have the same work deficits as some of the folks here," Baze said.
"Some of our folks aren't lovely and aren't articulate, but we want employers to get to know them as real people."
"People have said for a long time, 'Why shouldn't people on welfare have to work?' Now we need the community's help."
Some employers shy away from the notion of additional paperwork associated with employing someone on welfare. Others fear poor work ethics or additional training will be required. The SRS is combating all of the employers' fears, Baze said.
"Employers are in business to make money, and we don't ask them to take care of that person," he said.