Warren County agency exceeds welfare-to-work goal

The Warren County Department of Social Services recently touted its success with the welfare-to-work program.

The agency exceeded the state and federal benchmarks for putting benefits recipients back to work through the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare, or VIEW. The county agency had a participation rate of 79 percent, exceeding the state goal of 50 percent.

Director Beth Reavis and Julie Strickler, self-sufficiency specialist, recently explained the program’s benefits and requirements.

The agency has 67 VIEW cases, five of which receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF] and nine participate in the VIEW transitional payment program meant to wean participants off benefits as they enter the work force.

“The way the program is structured, it’s a gradual removal of the supports,” Reavis said.

The program aims to help clients obtain work and not totally cut them off from the agency’s benefits until the recipients find strong footing, Reavis and Strickler explained.

Clients face a 24-month limit to participate in VIEW and receive its benefits. At the end of that period the client’s TANF closes but if they are working at least 30 hours per week and earning at least minimum wage they enter the VIEW transitional payment program through which the person can receive $50 per month, Strickler explained. The client also continues to receive his or her support services such as day care and transportation aid.

The agency screens all recipients of benefits through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families who can work and have a child under the age of 18 for the VIEW program. Federal regulations require recipients to participate in work activities unless exempt. Otherwise the agency sanctions recipients and benefits payments cease. TANF recipients can receive benefits for a maximum of 60 months during their lifetime.

Recipients exempt from VIEW include individuals 60 years old or over; people unable to participate because of a temporary, medical condition that prevents entry into employment or training activities as determined by a medical professional; any child include minor caretakers 17 years old and under; incapacitated individuals who receive Social Security disability benefits or supplemental security income; anyone needed on a substantially continuous basis to care for a family member living in a household or parent, caretaker or relative of a child under 12 months who provides care for that child. The latter exemption is only good once in a recipient’s lifetime, Strickler said. If the recipient has another child, that person has six weeks until she must participate in VIEW.

If a TANF recipient has a child while receiving benefits, that child cannot qualify for additional benefits, Reavis explained. This cap was included in the 1996 welfare reform that discourages recipients from having more children while on TANF.

The DSS program aids people in deep poverty, Reavis said.

Goals of VIEW include helping people living in poverty the opportunity to achieve economic independence, receive work skills and experience, contribute to self-sufficiency and to set responsibilities and expectations for aid recipients.

VIEW helps pay for certain job training such as the certified nursing assistant program at Warren Memorial Hospital and others through Lord Fairfax Community College. The department has two participants enrolled in the training program at the hospital.

VIEW benefits include gas or taxi vouchers, child care, auto repairs, training expenses, mental health services, license reinstatement, work supplies and uniforms and help with budgeting finances.

A participant in VIEW must be employed 30 hours per week and earn at least minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The agency has more than 40 participants earning an average salary of $8.08 an hour and working 32 hours per week.

Once a participant exceeds the income limit for TANF and their case closes, the VIEW transitional payment program kicks in and the person can receive $50 per month.

“Some of these supportive services we offer we don’t offer straight off the bat,” Strickler said. “We do require them to show some initiative in the VIEW program that they will work and sustain a job.”

Some participants have tried to abuse the program, Strickler said. The agency also has referred potential fraud cases through the VIEW program it referred to the fraud investigator.

“We can tell pretty quickly because the VIEW clients are monitored like crazy so if you say you’re working, we check,” Reavis said. “If you say you’re in a training program, we check to make sure you’re going, that you’re attending, that you’re making progress.

“We monitor them like a hawk because it’s like we’ve got to get them ready for the real world,” Reavis added.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com