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New Diversionary Work Program Starts Today

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  • Craig Brooks
    Last update: July 1, 2004 at 8:02 AM Minnesota welfare clients lose cash handouts to spur work search Jean Hopfensperger Star Tribune Published July 1, 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2004
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      Last update: July 1, 2004 at 8:02 AM
      Minnesota welfare clients lose cash handouts to spur work search
      Jean Hopfensperger
      Star Tribune
      Published July 1, 2004
      Parents applying for welfare this week in Minnesota may be in for a
      surprise: Many will be handed a voucher for housing and food stamps, but
      little or no cash.
      It's part of a new "diversionary work program" that kicks in today, designed
      to nudge welfare applicants into the workforce before they start to depend
      on public assistance.
      Welfare applicants will get a lot of help finding a job, but a lot less
      money.
      Supporters such as Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who pushed it through the 2003
      Legislature, say the program will ultimately give families a long-term
      solution to their needs: a job.
      "This isn't about getting people off the welfare rolls," Pawlenty said.
      "It's about helping them get on the work rolls."
      But reaction at the Hennepin County welfare offices this week was mixed.
      It's unrealistic to think that families can survive without cash, said
      parents in the bustling waiting room.
      "It costs money to raise children," said Denise Samuels, gesturing to her
      toddler son in his stroller. "There's diapers, wipes, teething medicine,
      clothes; kids move up in [clothing] size so quickly. Someone needs to look
      into this."
      If Samuels were to apply for welfare today, she would not receive a penny
      because her rent -- $500 a month -- is more than her $437 welfare check. Her
      entire check would be sent to the landlord. She would, however, receive food
      stamps, child-care subsidies and medical assistance, plus intensive help
      finding a job.
      Although critical of some parts of the plan, Samuels said she believes
      diverting welfare money to pay rent might be a good idea for "people just
      sitting around trying to get government aid."
      But the program is targeted at parents applying for welfare the first time,
      as well as those who have not been on welfare for the past year. These
      parents are viewed as less dependent on welfare and more capable of quickly
      landing a job.
      About 40 to 50 percent of welfare applicants are likely to fall into that
      category, said Lee Berger, who oversees the new program in Hennepin County.
      The other welfare applicants will stay with the current system, known as the
      Minnesota Family Investment Plan (MFIP), he said. The parents in the
      diversionary work group will roll back onto MFIP if they don't find work
      within four months.
      Hennepin County has job counselors ready to help applicants look for jobs
      with up to 70 hours of training in job-related skills, Berger said.
      But Trishalla Bell of the Welfare Rights Committee says two weeks of
      job-search classes can't help parents find a decent-paying job in this tight
      labor market.
      "For anyone to get a job right now, they need to have experience and some
      marketable skills," she said.
      State officials are aware they're entering uncharted territory. Minnesota
      will track the new program to record its success as well as "what issues
      surface," said Maria Gomez, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota
      Department of Human Services. "It's a very interesting second phase of our
      welfare reform in Minnesota, and one that we'll be looking at carefully."
      Jean Hopfensperger is at hopfen@...
      <mailto:hopfen@...>.
      © Copyright 2004 </copyright> Star Tribune. All rights reserved.
      <<...OLE_Obj...>>
      **********************************
      Questions locally can be directed to the County Human Service Dept. at
      457-6200 or, on the job search component, to the Workforce Center at
      453-2920.


      > ********************************************
      > Craig Brooks, Director
      > Winona County Department of Human Services
      > 202 West Third Street
      > Winona, MN 55987-3146
      > Tel: 507-457-6255
      > Fax: 507-454-9382
      > <<mailto:cbrooks@...>>
      > <<http://www.co.winona.mn.us >>
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