Job training now tied to food stamps | PostIndependent.com

Job training now tied to food stamps

Garfield County hopes to reduce the number of able-bodied, working-age people on food stamp assistance in the county by helping them get back to work.

Most Colorado counties are now part of the Employment First program, which is being implemented locally starting Nov. 1.

At that time, current and future food stamp recipients in the county who are considered to be "able-bodied adults without dependents" (ABAWD) will be required to enroll in workforce training aimed at helping them find gainful employment.

The program places strict requirements on anyone between the ages of 18 and 49 who does not have dependent children at home, is not physically or mentally unable to work, is not pregnant, and who isn't otherwise exempt.

Those persons will now be required to attend a three-hour job-seeking skills class and be assigned to a workfare site for monthly volunteer work, while also actively looking for employment.

Recipients in the ABAWD category must check in with a case manager every 30 days, and can receive only three months of food stamp benefits during a 36-month period without meeting the requirements.

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Non-ABAWD food stamp recipients up to age 60 who have dependent children at home and are not otherwise exempt are also required to enroll in the program, but are not subject to the same benefit time limits.

Exempt from the program are any food stamp recipients under age 16 or over 60, anyone who already has a job that they plan to return to within two months, and anyone who is working 30 hours a week or making $942.42 per month.

Physical and mental disabilities and other exemptions also still apply.

However, anyone receiving food assistance is welcome to participate voluntarily, even if they are exempt, said Mary Baydarian, director of the Garfield County Department of Human Services.

"We really want this to be a vital, successful program for Garfield County," Baydarian said. "Our collaboration with Colorado Mountain College and the (Colorado) Workforce Centers puts us in a good position to help people who are on public assistance to become employed."

The goal of the program, according to information being distributed to current and prospective food stamp recipients in the county, is to "promote self-sufficiency and independence through development of skills, work experience and job search support activities.

"Garfield County is proud to introduce a program designed to provide assistance to people in need while ensuring accountability for their benefits."

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky welcomed the program as a way to reduce the number of people on food stamps, and prevent fraud in the system.

"It's a good program, and the fact that it's run almost like a workforce program within human services is a real benefit," he said.

The program will include some federal dollars, although that amount is still to be determined, Baydarian said. The county has hired two case managers to oversee the program.

It also remains to be seen how many of Garfield County's current 2,073 food assistance program cases will fall under the new requirements, she said.

Under the program, at least one person in a two-working-member family that is on food stamps is required to enroll in Employment First, she said.