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Jobs for Food Stamp Recipients

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People who receive food stamps (now known as the ‘Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP’) usually need training, support and job placement services to move closer to economic self-sufficiency.  There’s a program that focuses on these recipients – the Washington State Basic Food and Employment and Training program – but in 2010 the USDA issued a new set of financial guidelines that would have eliminated this program.

Fortunately, the City responded to this issue by protesting the USDA decision.  And we were successful.  The Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI) staff led the effort to explain how this program has worked effectively in Washington.  USDA modified its proposal so that the Washington program can continue.  The result is that hundreds of recipients continue to receive training and assistance from community colleges and other service providers such as Seattle Goodwill and Neighborhood House.  And they are getting jobs.  Making sure food stamp recipients have access to education is critical given that, by 2014, 75% of new job openings that pay a family-supporting wage will require some education beyond high school.

In a two year follow-up of the almost 3000 individuals who received services in 2008, 61% were still employed.  Particularly since it is likely that not everyone can be recontacted after two years, and that most of these people were not employed when they started the program, this is a very good record. 

Since the program began in October 2005, it has brought nearly $18 million in federal funding to Washington and served more than 22,000 participants.  Here are some examples from SJI of people who have been helped:

Dave

Two years ago Dave lost his job.  Very quickly, he and his family found themselves homeless and living out if their car.  Dave took any odd job he could find.  He heard about the SJI program and enrolled in the welding training program and began receiving food stamps for his family.   At first, Dave felt like he might be wasting his time because he wasn’t bringing any money home to his family and he was unsure if he’d find a job when he was finished because times were tough all over.  But, after spending 11 weeks developing and refining his welding skills and not missing a day of training, Dave was one of the first of his classmates to secure a welding position with Genie Industries. 

Travis (not his real name)   

Travis, a military veteran, had few marketable job skills and for several years moved in and out of low wage work that offered no benefits or advancement options.   The recent recession made Travis acutely aware of his need for a credential or degree in order to find decent employment.   Last year, Travis sought support from the Seattle Jobs Initiative to help him pursue a career in the health care field.  He completed the Nursing Assistant program at South Seattle Community College and passed the state certification exam.   Right away, Travis landed a full-time job with benefits as a Nursing Aide transporting patients to and from surgery.  He now earns $35,000 a year and was able to get off Food Stamps.   Travis credits the career guidance and support for things like transportation, testing fees and a uniform with helping him secure a more stable future and at the same time allowing him to give back to the community in his new position in the health care field. 

As this period of economic stagnation drags on, people continue to suffer.  Changing policy is a first step towards helping them.  But ultimately each person has to get the kind of individual training, employment assistance, and coaching that will enable them to find a way to become more self-sufficient.  SJI has a great track record of finding ways to do this – and making things happen for people who really need this kind of help.  This is an example of their leadership and effective work.

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