Work for Welfare

Meg Whitman‘s commercial where she says she will REQUIRE WORK for WELFARE makes me angry every time I see it. We have that program, it is called Welfare to Work. It’s terrific, in fact I believe in it so much that I spend about 40 hours a week implementing the program on a case by case basis in what Los Angeles County calls G.A.I.N. (Greater Avenues for Independence).

There are some common misconceptions about how it works – so let me explain them to you.

How soon after enrolling into GAIN will a person be employed? GAIN is NOT an employment agency. GAIN is not responsible for finding you a job – that is still the responsibility of the adult receiving aid.

How much will my cash aid increase if I do G.A.I.N. activities? Not a penny. Participating in GAIN is your responsibility according to the deal you made with the county when you asked for assistance. For 30 days your family was offered cash aid, health coverage and food stamps. At the end of 30 days, if you still needed the cash assistance the county requires you take another type of assistance as well: assistance to help you become financially self-sustaining. We call this assistance G.A.I.N. . You do not get paid for Job Club, school, community service, or any GAIN activity other than Work and Subsidized Employment.  If you chose not to do the GAIN activities then the county can decide you are breaking your agreement and refuse to give out the portion of cash aid allotted for the adult who is not participating.

Why do I have to do GAIN activities? I can look for a job all by myself. What ever you are doing on your own to get out of poverty is probably covered as a GAIN activity. We have a program to help you write a better resume, practice interviewing, give you on-line access to job data bases, and cover your transportation and child care costs as you look for work. Ask for it by the name of JOB CLUB. By doing GAIN Activities you become eligable for the support services listed near the end of this article.

Why isn’t everyone on Welfare working a full 32/35 hours as required by the program?  This one is tricky. The 32 hours is the time required weekly by a single parent, a household with two parents is expected to do a combined 35 hours.

  • A job is a job is a job and the money is just as green no matter where it comes from. However, Welfare to Work isn’t just about getting a job, it is focused on creating self-sustaining families who can leave poverty. That means that a minimum wage job isn’t going to be the answer to a Welfare recipient. To that end, I encourage my clients to take the minimum wage job while getting the training and education they need for a better job, a career that will leave them off of welfare permanently.
  • Competition for low skilled, entry-level jobs is high. Clients are competing against hundreds of other high school drop-outs or graduated for the same low paying positions.
  • Many employed Welfare Clients are The Working Poor.
  1. They have jobs, but even full-time on minimum wage is not enough to take them off Welfare. They need additional training to be promoted or find a better job. 
  2. Others are employed but only part-time. They continue to look for full-time employment .
  3. They are “Paying their dues” at the current job in the hopes of getting more hours and more pay. Some are in the 90 day probation period and if they are good at the job they may be moved into full-time. I can’t tell them to quit that job and only take a full-time job ;  but I do ask them to volunteer or study or do something else to full up the time required by GAIN
  4. Welfare does not have an unlimited job bank where we can match clients to work opportunities. Out clients are facing real market forces and competition.
  • Some clients are suffering from Mental Health, Domestic Violence or Substance Abuse related issues that have to be addressed before they will be successful in the workplace. We have that assistance available as Specialized Supportive Services.
  1. For the first three months that someone is in Substance abuse or Mental Health therapy, they are given “Good cause” to not have to do the rest of the hours. This is because we don’t want to set anyone up to fail and have found that making sure clients are physically and emotionally stable before they start work results in them being more successful.
  2.  Occasionally a therapist or Medical Doctor will say that someone is not capable of doing the 32/35 hours and a client needs to be “exempted” or excused from the requirements and can “volunteer” and do as many hours as the client feels capable of doing. I refer these people to SSI instead of Welfare to Work, and I encourage them to do as many hours as they can.
  3. If working or doing GAIN Activities will put you or your child at risk for physical harm because of Domestic Violence, you will not be required to participate but we will check in with you frequently to see if you are able to participate.

How does Welfare to Work really help?  GAIN provides “wrap around scaffolding”, which is to say – if you need it: we have got it. We help with the cost of:

  • transportation for you and children when you go to work, training, therapy, or other GAIN activity
  • child care
  • clothes for your job search or first week of employment
  • books, fees and school supplies for adult students
  • vocational assessment
  • vocational training for your field of choice (we see your report cards to make sure you are doing well and assess if you need more help)
  • therapy for mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence
  • diagnosis of a learning disability

But the best way we help is in the GAIN Case Management, or GAIN Service Workers (GSW). We meet with every client and explain the program as many times as needed and keep in regular contact with the clients. Sometimes this is once a month, or every three months if the client is meeting hours and doing well. We encourage, push and support the clients. For many Welfare recipients we are the only people who tell them that they can be successful and we expect to see them thrive.

What happens when someone doesn’t want to do GAIN? If a client is not exempted or qualified for good cause and they do not wish to fulfill their portion of the business deal they made when they asked for assistance – GAIN can “Sanction” a file.  That means the money allotted for the adult who is not doing the hours is reduced from the total cash aid for the month. Clients receive phone calls and letters, and in many cases someone will visit their homes and bring the GAIN program to them. GAIN tries to encourage and engage clients – but it is a voluntary program… voluntary up to the point that you want to keep your cash aid.

GAIN is a waste of my time. It isn’t. I promise you. I collect pictures of clients who have jobs and housing (all of my clients are homeless when I meet them). I see clients leave the GAIN and Welfare programs much better off for having gone through it. Many of my former clients have jobs where they make far more than I do and some of my former clients are now employed in my office. When the GAIN program is understood and fully utilized by both the GSW and the client – it produces successfull, skilled workers who are able to leave and stay off of government assistance.

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