From Welfare to Work

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Federal agencies should ask community groups and state and local governments to help them keep welfare recipients on the job once agencies hire them, Vice President Al Gore said Thursday.

Gore joined Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and representatives of more than a dozen national and community service organizations at a White House conference to announce a new coalition of federal, state and local governments and service groups that will create mentoring programs for welfare recipients trying to enter and stay in the workforce.

In April, President Clinton announced the federal government would hire at least 10,000 people off the welfare rolls, setting targets for each agency. Now that the numbers have been set, agencies must figure out ways to teach welfare recipients who get jobs the skills they need to keep those jobs.

Between 50 percent and 75 percent of welfare recipients lose their jobs within 16 months of going back to work, Gore said.

"As a group, they often simply don't have the support system that we take for granted," Gore said. He stressed the need to provide child care, health care and transportation to new hires.

Paul Barnes, deputy commissioner for human resources at the Social Security Administration, said SSA has worked with civic organizations and state agencies to identify job candidates from the welfare system and to help them get and keep jobs.

Barnes said managers should not use excuses like "I don't have time" or "I can't find the time" to devote to training former welfare recipients.

"We cannot afford not to find the time," Barnes said.

Social Security has developed a mentoring program for employees hired off of welfare that other agencies can use, Barnes said.

"The supervisor plays a key role as coach and mentor to the new employee," an SSA outline of the mentoring program says. Managers should help new hires "understand the business setting and workplace conduct by offering constructive suggestions on good habits, e.g., punctuality, dependability, dress, demeanor."

SSA also provides employees off of welfare with a technical mentor to teach them computer skills and a counselor to teach money management, work ethics and time management.

SSA plans to hire 600 welfare recipients in the next four years.

The Labor Department has developed an on-line resource guide for managers looking for ways to help employees off of welfare adjust to working in the government.

"A paycheck is the passport to self-esteem," Herman said.

Robert Carmona, executive director of STRIVE, a welfare-to-work organization, said his group expects people who come off of public assistance to fail in their first jobs. Organizations need to stay with people for the long term if they really want to help, Carmona said.

Gore said that partnerships with private organizations and state and local governments are the key to keeping people off welfare.

"There's not going to be a U.S. Department of Attitude Adjustment," Gore said. "Ultimately this is a problem solved not by government, but by partnerships."

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