In 16 months, the S.C. Department of Social Services and its county offices have helped provide jobs for 14,669 parenting adults on public assistance previously, DSS Director Lillian Koller told Aiken area representatives of social service agencies and private companies Tuesday.
She and a deputy director, Linda Martin, addressed members of the Community Service Network, who meet monthly.
The numbers added to the workplace may sound startling, but Koller said that DSS staffers and managers throughout the state effectively have gone to businesses and promoted their clients for jobs. This job program is not available for adults on welfare who have children but are not the custodial parent. Those exempted are disabled parents and parents with a child younger than 1 year old and with certain needs.
Those parents have to be living in desperate poverty to get our cash (public) assistance, Koller said. They have to be living with children at 50 percent or less of the poverty rate in South Carolina.
“This state is not very generous in providing welfare assistance,” she said, noting that the money itself comes from the federal government. “We limit how much money is available – a mom with two kids is getting $260 a month.”
The approach is getting people more jobs, not seeking more money for welfare recipients, said Koller. By supporting parents and finding them job, DSS can get children out of poverty, she said.
Koller joined the agency in Feb. 2011 and found a long-held belief that the DSS clients couldn't compete in the job market. But the agency couldn't be sure of that unless staffers found out.
“Our job developers talked to businesses,” Koller said, “letting them know we have great job candidates. We would pay for training, uniforms, tools and child care (for two years). It is a great support for them. If we find employers not known to us who have jobs, we keep hitting the street every single week.”
Those who end their public assistance payments remain eligible for food stamps, which have a much higher threshold of 130 percent of federal poverty guidelines. As Koller said, child care is still available for two years, and children also remain eligible for Medicaid up to 200 percent of the poverty level.
“One thing has been said to me – that some of those jobs don't pay very well, and how can they make a living wage,” Koller said. “My point is that it's still more than simply being on welfare and not having more money coming.”
The DSS director readily acknowledges that the working poor do constitute a gap in maintaining a living wage, needing assistance like child care and food stamps. But many also can be eligible for the federal, refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.
As defined by the Internal Revenue Service, the credit can be refunded for low and moderate income individuals and families. It can be a big subsidy of $5,000 or $6,000, Koller said.
The food stamp program is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. About 800,000 South Carolinians – half of them children – are eligible. For 100,000 recipients, none of them disabled or custodial parents, must get a job to continue to get the assistance.
Those moving off welfare get more than the minimum wage, starting about $9 an hour, and some receiving as much as $20 an hour, Koller said. There's another gap, too, that of skilled and unskilled workers.
To counter that as much as possible, DSS also will subsidize payments for those clients who want to extend their capabilities through certificates at an institution such as Aiken Technical College.
“In addition to a new job or in place of a job at first, we will send people to college for short-term programs for higher skills,” Koller said. “If they want to get a GED, we'll pay for that, too.”