Welfare reform requires job hunt
A Minnesota program that requires some welfare applicants to try finding a job first begins today. New applicants for assistance under the state's family welfare program must look for work for four months before receiving cash payments, said Clay...
A Minnesota program that requires some welfare applicants to try finding a job first begins today.
New applicants for assistance under the state's family welfare program must look for work for four months before receiving cash payments, said Clay County Social Services Director Dennis Lien.
Rent, utilities and phone bills will be paid directly while they seek jobs, said Mary Luhman Olsen, financial assistance supervisor for Clay County Social Services.
Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program, a non-profit with space in the county's family services building, will administer the diversionary work program.
The organization will work with welfare applicants "to find the most direct path to employment," said Theresa Hazemann, a team leader with the agency.
The state-mandated program requires applicants to look for a job for 35 to 40 hours each week for four months, Hazemann said. Her agency will give job counseling, identify skills and conduct workshops to help people find work, she said.
On any particular day, applicants not participating in that sort of training or working part-time will be required to have three job interviews or contact 10 employers to stay in the program, Hazemann said.
"Looking for work is a full-time job and is sometimes harder than going to work," she said.
There are many situations in which applicants would not be required to seek a job, including families re-applying for welfare, single parents with newborns and parents still attending high school or over the age of 60, Olsen said.
The program, the last piece of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's 2003 welfare reform plan, is patterned, in part, on a "work first" pilot program during the mid-1990s in Clay County, Lien said.
"The whole premise is to find the job for a person and keep them off the main program," Lien said.
Critics like Trishalla Bell, a member of the Twin Cities-based Welfare Rights Committee, protested the diversionary work program Tuesday in Minneapolis.
"I call it 'die within poverty' because that's basically what it's going to do to families," Bell said. "It diverts families from being successful and getting out of poverty."
Human Services Commissioner Kevin Goodno, a former state representative from Moorhead, said welfare recipients want work.
"There's a large percentage of our population that come into our welfare programs that typically are ready to go back in the workforce. It's just a matter of finding the job," Goodno said.
At the end of March, the latest numbers available, 507 Clay County families were receiving assistance from the Minnesota Family Investment Program, the state's family welfare program, Olsen said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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