Community Jobs: A Ladder Out of Welfare

In a time of unprecedented prosperity the ranks of the “working poor” are expanding. In Washington State 23% of families earn less than $35,000, the bare minimum needed to support one adult with two children.  Families must work more hours and multiple jobs to catch up  because there aren’t enough of the kinds of jobs that sustain long-term economic independence.  Seventy-five percent of Washington jobs pay less than the $35,000 needed to support families.

It is in this context that WorkFirst, Washington state’s welfare reform policy, focused on lowering the TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) caseload by getting individuals to work. Individuals leaving TANF for work often have difficulty keeping a job and don’t have the skills to really make work pay for them as they leave TANF. Community Jobs, a distinct program within WorkFirst, successfully provides opportunities for “hard-to-employ” Washington workers moving off of welfare to step onto a wage ladder and begin to move their families out of poverty.

What is Community Jobs

CJ is the first model program in the nation to provide comprehensive, paid work experience plus training opportunities for hard-to-employ TANF recipients. CJ is based on the premise that individuals want to work. CJ builds work and life skills as participants work for community, government and tribal organizations. Participants work 20 hours a week to earn a paycheck — not a welfare check – as bus drivers, graphic artists, and teacher aides. Participants also receive one-on-one support and mentoring to resolve barriers to work.

Program participants work in CJ up to nine months. During this time they gain both substantial work experience and learn to balance family and work issues for the long-term. While they’re in CJ participants see an increase in their income well above their previous welfare grants. As workers, along with their wages, participants are eligible for a TANF grant for low-income workers and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Through these benefits and their own hard work participants develop a platform for genuine job advancement and quality of life improvements after CJ.

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