Jobs First a success story in welfare-to-work push Over 60 employers have hired former aid recipients

March 26, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

When Lucia Diaz, a 29-year-old single mother, came to Howard County's Department of Social Services office in Columbia, she wasn't looking for a handout. She was looking for a job.

"I guess I got the motivation, the push that I needed," said Diaz, of Columbia's Owen Brown village, who recently landed a state job as a clerical worker.

Diaz is among the early successes for a new coalition of state, county and nonprofit agencies in Howard County called Jobs First, formed as part of the national trend away from traditional welfare -- and toward work programs.

The state Department of Social Services, the Business Training Center at Howard County Community College and the nonprofit group CareerScope announced their Jobs First partnership at a news conference in Columbia yesterday.

The effort is a response to federal welfare reform legislation, passed in August, that sets a two-year time limit for welfare recipients to find jobs and limits their lifetime welfare eligibility to five years.

"The key is it's created a sense of urgency to get people into work, because the clock is ticking," said state Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Clarksville Republican and chairman of the Senate subcommittee on welfare reform.

A $150,000 grant from the state created Jobs First, and falling welfare rolls are keeping it funded. Since October, $83,000 saved by a declining case load has gone to Jobs First.

The number of cases handled by the Howard County office of the Department of Social Services has fallen nearly one-third, from 2,843 in January 1995 to 1,949 this January.

The state welfare rolls have fallen by about one-quarter in the same time. Officials say the drop comes from the improving regional economy and the push for work over welfare.

The Department of Social Services has placed 240 Howard County welfare recipients in jobs since January 1996 -- a time when welfare reform legislation was taking shape, said Samuel Marshall, the director.

Jobs First found 32 jobs for former Howard welfare recipients in February alone.

"We want people to not even think about assistance," Marshall said. "We want people to think, 'Get a job, any job.'"

But training welfare recipients is only half the fight. Jobs First also wants to serve as an employment agency, linking trained workers with employers.

So far, more than 60 Howard County employers have hired former welfare recipients, Marshall said. Jobs First is hoping to entice many more with tax credits, training subsidies and transportation assistance.

A forum for employers is scheduled April 9 to publicize the Jobs First program and its benefits for employers.

"We've shifted from being a public assistance agency to almost a hiring agency," said Vince De Santi, who is marketing Jobs First to area employers.

For Lucia Diaz, the Jobs First office subsidized day care costs for her three children and provided medical benefits for her family while she worked -- unpaid -- as a clerical trainee at the Department of Social Services office.

She has since become a temporary, paid clerical worker and is in line for a permanent position with full benefits. For now, Diaz still receives day care and medical care subsidies through Jobs First.

Angie Butler, a 29-year-old single mother in Columbia, got similar medical benefits and day care help from Jobs First.

After being unemployed since August, she is now working as an unpaid trainee at the Department of Social Services. But she is confident she will get a paying job soon.

"I knew that I needed a job," Butler said. "Sitting, just waiting like that is unbearable."

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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