WILLMAR -- A partnership between Kandiyohi County's Family Services Department and the Job Service/Workforce Center has helped people leave welfare and enter the job force, but there are challenges and changes that need to be addressed.
In a report this week to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Pat Jacobs, from the Workforce Center, said that last year 410 county clients that were enrolled in the state's welfare reform program, known as the Minnesota Family Investment Program, obtained job-service assistance at the Workforce Center.
About half of those clients had "less than a high school education" and 22 percent had limited English speaking ability, she said. There are also an increasing number of job seekers with criminal backgrounds that make them difficult to employ in the current economy.
"That's a challenge," said Jacobs, adding that the quickest way to poverty is not having an education and having a baby at a young age. Nearly 80 percent of the participants were women.
Yet even with those challenges people are finding jobs.
The Minnesota Family Investment Program, which provides assistance to low-income families with children, can be used a maximum of 60 months.
Jacobs said the average length of time for Kandiyohi County participants was about 32 weeks. "People are not sitting on welfare," she said. "They use it and move on."
There were 80 cases closed last year because of employment, with an average wage of $9.51 an hour, well above the $7.25 minimum wage, and they worked an average of 34.6 hours a week.
Overall in 2010, about 290 participants, or 71 percent, were employed full time or part time. Depending on the size of the family and wages earned, participants can still be enrolled in the Minnesota Family Investment Program even if they do have a job.
There are currently 156 enrolled participants who are also receiving assistance in finding jobs through the Workforce Center.
The county also contracts with the Workforce Center to provide assistance to county clients enrolled in the diversionary work program. That four-month program requires parents to have a work plan in place before receiving benefits to help meet basic living needs.
Last year 220 individuals participated in that program in the county and 58 cases were closed because of employment at jobs with an average hourly wage of $9.33.
The average length of enrollment was about 11 weeks. Most are dropping out or leaving voluntarily, said Jacobs. There are currently 31 individuals enrolled so far this year.
Because Kandiyohi County has a high rate of clients receiving public assistance that are also enrolled in Workforce programs to find jobs, the program was awarded a $39,000 bonus last year, Jacobs said.
Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Jay Kieft said the county has a good partnership with the Workforce Centers. "It's a trust we've developed over the years."
The County Board of Commissioners this week approved contract agreements with the Workforce Center to continue providing job assistance.