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Mar. 25 2010 - 1:18 pm | 366 views | 1 recommendation | 4 comments

Finally… a welfare program that could actually work

Progress Illinois had some great news for us today. Our state has come up with the funds to start the “Put Illinois to Work” program, and unlike regular welfare payments, it’s a program that may actually do some good.

With money from the stimulus backed TANF emergency program, the state will be funding jobs for low-income workers by giving money directly to businesses to cover their payroll if they hire these low-income workers.

It’s called a “transitional job,” and it’s not a new idea, but it’s a darn good one.

Unlike a lot of other anti-poverty programs, transitional jobs help employers hire new workers – workers that may not have a lot of job experience or a very impressive resume. The employers can hire low-income people without taking a financial risk – at least at first – and the worker gets paid and gets training and job experience.

A lot of times, these employers end up hiring these temporary workers. After all, they’ve been trained and they know what kind of worker they are. It’s just like how having an unpaid internship is the best way to get a job at a lot of places – once they see you, they like you, and they tend to keep you around

But even if a worker isn’t hired long term, they still get valuable experience and money in their pocket. Unemployment is a disease that gets worse as it settles in – the longer you are unemployed, the less likely you are to find another job. So recent job experience on your resume is a boon, even if you don’t get hired at the place you were working at.

Right now, our welfare system sucks bigtime.

If you want to get welfare payments, you better be working. You better not be going to school to prepare yourself for a job in the future. And if you’re not working, you have to “work” for the state doing menial labor, like unloading boxes for the Salvation  Army – something that’s certainly not going to give you a resume boost.

These regulations keep people in poverty. Many low-income people have trouble finding a job, so they’re not working already. They can’t go to school and keep getting money, so they don’t pursue the education that could launch them into the middle class. Instead, they spend their time doing hard labor, moving boxes but not moving forward.

“Putting Illinois to Work” helps everyone. It helps employers who may need to hire new workers, but are nervous to take the chance in an unsure economy. It helps low-income people by getting them working in actual jobs and making a decent wage – not the pittance that welfare payments provide.

It helps all of us as taxpayers by incentivizing work. When people are done with their temporary job, they’re more likely to get another one. That means they’re contributing to the tax structure and less dependent on social services.

After forty years in the ‘War on Poverty’, it’s wonderful that we’re finally getting it right and creating programs that stand a chance of helping people.

Job placements begin April 1st and the jobs last through September 30th. Do you know anyone who’s in need of a job or an employer who would be willing to take on and train low income workers? Check out the Illinois Department of Human Services website and get connected to the resources that can help us cut poverty long term.


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  1. collapse expand

    Great piece, Megan. You are right on target. This is a program that will put much needed money in people’s pockets while providing a real entrée to the work place, at least for some. The $1300 per month that participants will earn is exactly three times the $432 monthly welfare grant for a family of 3 in Chicago.
    It’s worth making another point. Ever since Reagan’s inane “government is the problem” statement, public employees have had an unfairly negative image. So let’s give credit to Michelle Saddler, head of the Illinois Department of Human Services , and her staff for their creativity and energy in putting this jobs program together and getting it approved by the federal government, which is providing $70 million in funding. Dedicated public servants, not bureaucrats.

    • collapse expand

      Wow! Three times the welfare payment – that’s amazing. Plus it builds job experience and people’s confidence. I think people feel better working and getting paid for that rather than just getting a check.

      You’re right – Saddler is great. Innovative and smart. It’s rare that we find employees in social services who are willing to try something new and figure out what works. That deserves high praise!

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

    I have this idea about journalism - that it should be approachable and less "newsy." I want my stories to make you laugh, cry and draw you in to neighborhoods and situations you don't deal with every day. I hate the broadcaster voice. I hate TV news. I hate the inverted pyramid. I love surprise. I love humor. I love people and telling their stories.

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