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A unique approach to meeting the employment and training needs of Food Stamp recipients.

As the country lay entrenched in a prolonged economic downturn and claims for unemployment insurance grew exponentially, the subsequent need for expanded employment related services was clear. With an unemployment rate flirting with double digits and a food stamp caseload that had approximately doubled since 2008, New York state was faced with a multifaceted challenge of engaging a vast increase in the number of recipients needing service, training and reintroducing them to a labor market that requires skills that may be vastly different from the one they just left, and ultimately, finding a way to pay for it all.

In an effort to confront this challenge and continue to implement new and innovative social programs, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance created the Food Stamp Employment and Training Venture Initiative, taking advantage of the availability of federal matching funds to expand services. Designed to support job training and education to improve the economic prospects of those receiving benefits from the Food Stamp Program--the name still used in New York for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program--the program engages the services of nonprofit agencies to target work registrants, including those deemed "hard-to-place" who may need more specialized services to enter, re-enter or advance in the workforce.

"Traditionally, designing a social program is the easy part," stated Russell Sykes, deputy commissioner of the Center for Employment and Economic Supports at the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. "Funding it, particularly in this economic environment, is another story. States facing multi-billion dollar deficits are often unable to allocate limited dollars to new social programs. However, this is where the federal SNAP Employment and Training program's attractive funding design comes into play. Federal SNAP E&T funds are available to meet 50 percent of the eligible Venture program expenditures, and while the state is required to record the outlay of funds, it is not required to use any state resources to draw down the federal share."

As part of the RFP development process, New York state required potential bidders to identify eligible nonfederal funding sources. In some instances entities were able to secure private foundation funding to support the program. Contracts with 17 nonprofit agencies were set up, and by using the E&T funds to reimburse them for 50 of the program costs, the nearly $8 million Ventures Initiative was established at no cost to the state.

Contracts with providers are performance based. Federal funds are earned as participants complete instructional hours, make educational gains, obtain a credential in a vocational skill and enter and maintain employment for 30-and 90-day periods. A total of 1,303 recipients enrolled in the first year, and the adjacent graph displays the program outcomes.
Credential Fields

Health Care         33%
Const./Bldg./Maint  21%
"Green" Jobs         7%
Computers           11%
Culinary             6%
                    13%
                     9%

Note: Table made from pie chart.


As similar as the individual programs are in terms of payment structure, flexibility in how and what services are delivered is critical. As labor market conditions, training resources and the needs of the target population vary across the state so, too, does the make-up of individual Venture programs. Each program was designed in partnership with the Local Workforce Investment Board and required certification and approval that the credentials being offered were in economic fields that were in demand within the region. Trainings range from that of Certified Nursing Assistant and Home Health Aide, to credentials for Warehouse Worker, Commercial Driver's Licenses, and new and expanding "green" fields. Adult Basic Education and English language instruction is also offered. Individuals targeted for service include those with a history of substance abuse and ex-offenders. A summary of a few individual programs follows:
Career Plans              897
Educational Gains         592
Credentials               452
Job Entries & Retentions  391

Note: Table made from bar graph.


The Paraprofessionals Healthcare Institute, Inc. is a New York City-based provider that specializes in short-term (four-week) training that leads directly to employment. The PHI and its partner, Cooperative HomeCare Associates, prepare participants for full-time home care jobs. Classes are offered in English and Spanish and students who complete the training are guaranteed employment. Each trainee earns two Department of Health-required credentials: a Personal Care Aide credential followed by a Home Health Aide credential. After 12 weeks of employment, workers can purchase an ownership stake in CHCA, qualify for 401(k) accounts, and receive full health and dental coverage.

The Altamont Program, Inc. is an upstate provider that targets ex-offenders and individuals with a history of substance abuse. Altamont provides much-needed basic education and computer skills to its clients and offers credential training in culinary arts, maintenance, weatherization and renewable "green" energy. Each client is provided with classroom education as well as with "hands-on" practical experience. A recent graduate of the green-jobs program and a client with an extensive criminal history uses the education and skills he acquired through the program and remains fully employed as an electrician helper earning $11.00 an hour almost a year later.

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New York state is very encouraged by the first year results, and is exploring the release of a second RFP to expand the program and to maximize the use of SNAP E&T funds. With its traditional educational and job training design, coupled with a relatively debt-neutral impact on state budgets, the FSET Venture program is an attractive and easily adaptable initiative for states facing client service challenges in these economic times to emulate.

For more information on the FSET Venture program, contact Luke Posniewski at Luke.Posiniewski@otda.state.ny.us.

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Luke Posniewski is a program contract manager at the Center for Employment and Economic Supports at the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
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Author:Posiniewski, Luke
Publication:Policy & Practice
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Apr 1, 2011
Words:953
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