Organizers eye Miami for program to place former welfare recipients
By Jonathon Gutierrez
A nonprofit firm is trying to establish in Miami-Dade a program to place former welfare recipients.
Representatives said the program, Workforce 2020, is now operating in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.
Run by the BizLink Network, the placement effort calls for training former welfare recipients as well as reimbursing employers that hire them.
Organizers said it evolved after a 2000 study by the Hudson Institute, an independent think-tank based in Indianapolis, which projected what skills the job market would require through 2020.
The Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce used the study to develop the program, said George Knox, BizLink chairman. He said the effort is funded by state grants and donations from the private sector and faith-based organizations.
The program would reimburse companies using it up to 50% of a worker's salary for two years. If an employer pays to have a former welfare recipient get job-related training, BizLink could pay for up to 40% of training costs.
"This is all about adjusting employers' attitude and having employers appreciate that there is a financial advantage to hiring workers from welfare as long as they are properly trained," Mr. Knox said.
He said advantages to hiring welfare workers include higher productivity and retention rates.
Private companies that helped fund the effort include United Airlines, Sprint, Burger King and UPS, Mr. Knox said. He said BizLink is also working with officials from the Beacon Council, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the South Florida Workforce Program on establishing the program in Miami-Dade.
If it gets off the ground here, it would be run out of South Florida Workforce's employment centers, said Jerome Leyendecker of the South Florida Workforce.
"What we're saying is there should be a place in each neighborhood where a person who really wants to work can find every resource that will remove every barrier to effective employment, whether it's education, training, support services, transportation, child care, moral support from peers or opportunity for advancement," he said.
While the program is being planned, he said he would apply for grants from Miami-Dade County and the South Florida Workforce as well as philanthropic organizations. Proponents said they are also approaching local chambers of commerce and business organizations for input as to how the program should be implemented.
"One of the things we're asking you to do is to participate in the planning process," so that the program can be tailored to this county, Mr. Leyendecker told members of the Coalition of Miami-Dade County Chambers of Commerce last week.
"We're talking about experiences that Orlando has piloted successfully," Mr. Leyendecker said. "We're talking about experiences that Fort Lauderdale has done successfully. We here in Miami-Dade County don't seem to be able to get the business community together to support this sort of thing and that, for me, is embarrassing."
The council voted unanimously to support the program.
Mr. Leyendecker said there is no timetable for the Miami-Dade component but he hopes to have a grant application in by the first of the year.
"The business community and the problem have got to come together," he said. "This is an opportunity for the business community to really become involved directly in solving problems and planning the process that will lead us to a solution."