Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Welfare Recipients Move Forward and Complete Job Skills Program

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Welfare Recipients Move Forward and Complete Job Skills Program

Article excerpt

Armed with newfound job skills and confidence, Annette Lindquist, Adelene Smith and four other Jacksonville welfare recipients graduated yesterday from an intense back-to-work training program.

They represent the good news in state and national efforts to decrease the welfare rolls.

"I would advise anyone on welfare to try a program like this," said Lindquist, 31. "Welfare is good to help you get on your feet, to help you get enough money to get started. But it's nowhere to stay."

However, as people like Lindquist and Smith leave the rolls, equal or greater numbers are joining.

That has ended the steady reduction that welfare officials have reported so proudly in Florida, especially in the Jacksonville area, since welfare reform started in September 1996. For the past year, the number of people on welfare has held steady, statistics show.

In Jacksonville, 12,253 families received welfare in 1996. The number dropped steadily to about 1,400 a year ago. As of the end of last month, the number remained at 1,402, according to the state WAGES (Work and Gain Economic Self-Sufficiency) Board.

The story has been similar across Florida. In 1996, there were 152,436 families on the statewide rolls. As of last month, there were 37,484, similar to a year ago.

"We cut the rolls by 90 percent in 18 months, but since about December 1998, the reduction stopped," said Sam Collins, vice president of WorkSource, an organization based in Orange Park that helps reduce the Jacksonville area's welfare rolls.

"It's like we're rowing the boat and bailing the boat at the same time," Collins said. "We have to stop the leak called incoming clients."

The people who counter-balance the reduction include those who remain on welfare because they have "more significant barriers" that keep them from getting jobs, such as medical, education or family problems, said Mary Hoppe Kelley, state WAGES Board spokeswoman.

But also new welfare cases keep starting and former recipients who had found jobs re-enter the rolls after having unsuccessful experiences at work, officials said. …

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