Lowry visits glass plant to report record number of welfare recipients enter work force

TACOMA -- More than 2,300 people in the state's mandatory jobs program joined the workforce last month more than twice as many as the same time a year ago and almost three times the number who entered during April 1994, Gov. Mike Lowry said today. Included in the April total were 259 people in Pierce and Kitsap counties.

During a visit to the Milgard glass tempering plant in Tacoma, the governor told a gathering of company staff and state employees that the April figures from the state's Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program (JOBS) help paint a more realistic picture of the state's welfare system and of the people who receive public assistance.

"The politically popular misconception is that time limits and other punitive measures are the only way people on public assistance will ever leave the system," Lowry said. "These statistics prove otherwise that people want to work, and when sufficient job training and support services are available, they will join the work force, and they will take real steps toward self sufficiency."

The governor added that the odds of people on public assistance getting jobs and keeping them are greatly enhanced by four factors: adequate job training and education, available health care, affordable child care, and making sure that non-custodial parents meet their financial obligations.

Lowry said he chose the Tacoma-based company to announce the new numbers because Milgard has been a strong participant in the JOBS program, having hired a 32 workers over the past several years. Established in 1957, the company manufacturers windows and doors at plants in Washington, Oregon and California.

The tempering facility in Tacoma employs about 170 workers and is responsible for roughly 40 percent of the company's production of tempered glass for use in windows, shower doors and backboards. Milgard Tempering is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and workers placed at the Tacoma site through the JOBS program earn average wages of $6-8 per hour.

According to Lowry, Milgard's commitment to the JOBS program is a good example of why more people on public assistance have entered the workforce recently. Over the first four months of this year, 7,429 JOBS clients started working, compared with 3,411 during the same period in 1995 and 2,526 in early 1994. In Pierce and Kitsap counties, the 1996 January through April total is 1,061.

However, the governor said the statewide increase in JOBS participants getting jobs doesn't mean the state can afford to slow its efforts to make the system more efficient, reduce fraud and help people find long-term employment. But while DSHS and Employment Security continue to make progress in welfare reform, Lowry said, the new numbers are proof the state is on the right track.

Meanwhile, he said, the two state agencies deserve credit for taking very specific steps toward helping more people on public assistance become self sufficient. Chief among them are recent changes in the 6-year-old JOBS program, a new focus by DSHS staff on employment and the temporary nature of welfare programs, and higher goals for job placements.

In May 1995, the JOBS program took steps toward becoming mandatory for people on public assistance, setting up four distinct "pathways" to help many more people join the workforce. According to their circumstances, people on public assistance who are capable of working are placed in pathways that either put them on a job search track, increase job skills, or help young parents complete their education.

Participation in the state's JOBS program became mandatory for all two-parent families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in July 1995. Three months later, mandatory participation took effect for all AFDC parents whose children are older than three years of age.

In addition, new efforts to create partnerships between local businesses and the programs that help prepare people for the workforce are paying off, increasing the likelihood that a company's commitment to hiring people on public assistance is also perceived as a smart business decision. The governor said the state is able to offer a number of support services to help employers and their new workers, including transitional child care and medical care, and help with transportation, licenses, and uniforms.

"Every person who goes through the JOBS program and joins the workforce plays an important role in this success story," Lowry said. "Businesses get good workers, good workers get jobs, and eventually, the myth that people on public assistance are there because they don't want to work will give way to the reality that a good-paying job is the best ticket to self sufficiency."

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For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office, 360-753-6790.