Most Maryland welfare offices will implement a new program next week requiring some food stamp recipients to attend a three-day workshop focusing on the skills needed to land a job, state officials announced.
The Maryland Food Stamp Employment and Training Program is designed to provide the job training skills in an effort to cut the welfare rolls, said Audrey Theis, director of the state's Welfare Employment Department.
"The whole rationale behind the program is to give these people training so that they will be able to get a job and not have to depend on food stamps," she said.
The training program begins Oct. 1 in most counties around the state, including Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard and Anne Arundel counties. Only Western Maryland -- where a 7.8 percent combined jobless rate in Garrett, Alleghany and Washington counties makes the program too cumbersome -- will not offer the seminars.
The 18-month program is being financed through a $1.2 million grant from the federal government and will run through next June.
Theis said the program was mandated by a 1985 federal law requiring states to design programs that will give food stamp recipients the skills they need to find jobs.
People who are exempted from the program include those who get welfare payments in addition to their food stamps, food stamp recipients who are over age 60, people who have physical disabilities and cannot work, recipients who are enrolled in school or who are already working more than 30 hours a week, those who receive unemployment benefits and recipients who have children under the age of 6.
Generally that leaves recipients who are single and don't have children or don't receive additional welfare benefits.
Food stamps eligibility is based on several measures, but the primary indicator is earnings. A single person is eligible with earnings of less than $596 a month, and that scale rises to $1,625 a month for a family of six.
Theis said the workshops will stress to food stamp recipients the proper way to write a resume, how to obtain a job interview, how to make an impression on potential employers and how to dress for an interview.
She added that although food stamp recipients can participate in the three-day workshop only once, "recipients who are clearly not marketable after participating in the program" will be referred to similar seminars run through federal programs for people receiving welfare payments.
"It's been proven that these types of programs are effective because they show that some people cannot go out and find a job on their own," Theis said. "They need assistance in job search skills and how to get their confidence up."
But according to Mick Allman, head of the state's food stamps office, it will take more than the $1.2 million federal grant to make the program work for some food stamp recipients.
"A program like this can work to a certain extent in that it will be easier to employ people who have more skills and education than others," Allman said.
Allman said food stamp recipients who have some skills have already found jobs, "so that what we're left with are the people who have severe barriers and who need more than the basic training to get a job."
Theis said under the state's program welfare officials are required to enroll 12,000 to 14,000 food stamp recipients, meaning the state can spend about $100 a person.
Allman said he believes it would cost at least $1,000 to train those recipients who need training beyond what the food stamp program can provide.
Allman said the food stamp program is contracting with services throughout the state that are trained to conduct employment training workshops. In addition, social service employes in each of the participating counties are notifying recipients who have been identified as eligible.
Those people who are eligible and who do not participate in the seminar will not be allowed to collect food stamps for two months, Theis said.
About 1,400 Montgomery residents and 2,616 Prince George's residents have been identified as eligible to participate in the program.