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Welfare to Work program closing soon

June 18, 2000|By TARA REILLY

Welfare recipients who need help finding jobs might not be turning to Hagerstown Community College for assistance after June 30.

The college's Welfare to Work program called "Wages" is shutting down at the end of June and the status of the Workforce Development Center is also in limbo.

But Robin Spaid, director of community economics and workforce development at HCC, said news of the shutdown couldn't be more positive for Washington County.

"When we started, our whole idea was to shut it down," she said.

She said Wages has been so successful during its three years in operation that many welfare recipients no longer need the extra help. The program was only open to those temporarily receiving cash assistance. Welfare recipients receiving food stamps and medical assistance could not enroll in the program.

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Spaid said 1,300 people in the county fell into the temporary cash assistance category three years ago, but now the number is down to 200. About 300 to 400 of those recipients participated in Wages.

Rosalind Martin, assistant director for family investments for the Washington County Department of Social Services, said most of the remaining 200 recipients are not required to find jobs yet, leaving very few who qualify for Wages. Many don't qualify because they are children and parents with children under a year old, she said.

"We don't have sufficient need to continue the program. Unemployment is at an all-time low, and customers are able to find jobs on their own," Martin said. "It's a wonderful economy, and I hope it holds out. "

The goal of Wages is to get as many people in the county off welfare and into the work force. While in the 30-day program, recipients receive training on how to do job interviews, write resumes, communicate on the job and improve telephone skills.

"Many of them got real good jobs," Spaid said. "Some of them have not, but most have."

Those who need help finding jobs will be able to seek help at the county's Job Center, Martin said.

The Workforce Development Center at HCC is also set to close on June 30 if a new contract is not approved by the state. The Center is also geared toward those receiving temporary cash assistance but also helps recipients already off welfare refresh and expand their job skills.

Spaid said she'd like to see the program continue.

"We don't want to just dump those people," she said.

Right now, odds of the Center staying open are 50-50, she said. "We don't know yet if it'll go through, but you never know," she said.

As of now, the state has no plans to fund the Development Center at HCC, but the college could contract with other groups, Martin said.

"We don't know that there will be a continuing need for the worforce development program," Martin said. "Many have not expressed interest in expanding their skills. I think the program will be needs-based."

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