The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was recently awarded a major federal grant of $22 million to administer a three-year pilot program of personalized job training and placement for recipients of state food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]. The grant will allow for testing of methodologies such as individual and comprehensive case management and work-based learning strategies. Officials hope this program will help SNAP recipients become self-sufficient.
“We know that a lot of our participants in basic food programs have a plethora of barriers [to sustained employment],” said Barbara Roberts, Director of the DSHS Community Services Division. “We’re hoping to be able to support them [with this grant] in a better way to move along a pathway that leads ultimately to self-sufficiency.”
The funding comes as part of the recently renewed Farm Bill (legislation which covers policies and allocations relating to agriculture) which authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give out competitive grants to 10 states for the purpose of testing and examining innovative ways to get SNAP recipients to obtain long-term, gainful employment. Washington was one of the states awarded funding, and Spokane, Pierce, Yakima and King counties will be the petri dish for the program.
Roberts says that the program, called the Resources to Initiate Successful Employment [RISE], will take a two-pronged approach: One is to orchestrate the program, using pre-existing DSHS infrastructure as well as partnerships with all 34 of Washington’s community and technical colleges and various community organizations. The second is to have an external evaluation be conducted by an outside research institute to determine the effectiveness of the program, and whether other funding routes should be pursued at the end of the three-year pilot.
At the core of the RISE program is the simple concept of giving someone a helping hand. While SNAP already operates a “robust” food-assistance program in Washington, Roberts and others are hopeful that comprehensive case management will give the support needed for individuals to be able to jump through the necessary hoops to find and keep living-wage jobs.
People with particularly daunting barriers to employment such as veterans, the homeless or English-language learners, are the target group of RISE. Around 7,000 individuals could benefit from the program, according to Roberts.
Case managers will help SNAP recipients with a variety of needs, ranging from getting them connected with affordable housing and transportation services to apprenticeships via community and technical colleges, as well as overall advice and guidance. “They [case managers] will be somebody who will be walking along with that client [SNAP recipients], telling them what the next step is to take,” said Roberts.
Roberts said that comprehensive case management will also provide support outside of the area of employment, such as life crises: “RISE will help them to not only do their educational or vocational program component but will also help them in actively working to remove the barriers that they might be facing.”
Participants will have access to connections from a wide range of employment opportunities.
The RISE program in King County will likely point SNAP recipients to an assortment of medical, aerospace and manufacturing jobs, while Yakima County will lean heavily toward agricultural jobs.
According to Roberts, the goal is “to create confidence in clients, to create skills in clients, to give them experience that is marketable in the job market.”
RISE is expected to start in October of this year.