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New job training program targets food stamp recipients

Jobs program aims to help food stamp recipients in Baltimore become self-sufficient.

A new state program aims to help Baltimore residents reduce their dependence on food stamps by training them for jobs that can lead to careers in manufacturing, green construction and health care.

About 260 low-skilled and under-educated people in the city are expected to receive training through a network of six workforce development groups in fiscal year 2017, officials with the state Department of Human Resources announced Monday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, which is contributing nearly $1.9 million to the state's $2.7 million budget for the program, will reimburse the training centers up to 50 percent of program costs. The USDA division runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps.

At first, the state program will target food stamps recipients who also are noncustodial parents who owe child support, a number estimated at more than 12,000 people in Baltimore, each of whom owes at least $12,000.

"For parents to support their kids, they need a good-paying job, and for families to thrive, they have to have jobs with family-sustaining wages," said Sam Malhotra, secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, during a kickoff event at the Baltimore Regional Training Center in Park Heights. "And today those jobs are in welding, in health care, in green construction and in information technology."

He said Maryland has about 20,000 job openings in health care and manufacturing for which trainees would qualify.

The state program will expand statewide early next year and eventually target all food stamp recipients.

The program builds on training opportunities provided at the centers with funding through the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's workforce program. The training is offered by a number of partners, including Baltimore City Community College and the nonprofits Civic Works, Center for Urban Families, Jane Addams Resource Corp., Job Opportunities Task Force, and Humanim.

Jane Addams Resource Corp. has offered job training in welding and machining since last year at the Park Heights center and will be able to reach more people through the new program, said Regan Brewer Johnson, associate director.

"Our mission here at JARC is to ensure that people that work don't live in poverty," Johnson said. "We work with people that are living in poverty and trying to move them up in the middle class."

The center serves people with high barriers to employment, such as criminal backgrounds, no work history and lack of access to transportation. They are trained as welders and machinists for high-demand sectors.

George Henry, 33, of Park Heights has a history of drug charges and hadn't worked in ten years before being accepted into the program to train as a machinist. Before that, Henry said, he doubted he'd live past 33 and saw no way to support his children, ages 3 and 13.

"It opened up my mind to a whole different way of living," Henry said. "It's really about something that's going to better you. It's going to better you for a career that you can build on and raise a family on."

Johnson said the program works closely with employers to tailor the training for jobs that come with sustaining wages, benefits and career paths.

"With motivation and training, our people can make a good life for themselves and their families," she said.

Valaria Ratliff, who got machinist training at the center, landed a contractual night-shift job last month as a machine operator, her first time working in manufacturing. She's also pursuing more training at the center during the day. Ratliff, 33, of West Baltimore, has been able to move off food stamps.

"I came to JARC to develop a job skill that would set me up to ... be able to support me and my children," Ratliff said during a break in training. "It has helped me come a long way, with job skills, with life skills to and make better decisions. It helped me when I got my job because I already had an idea of the type of environment that I would be in."

Fellow trainee Nicole Edwards of East Baltimore never finished high school after having a baby and could only find jobs at fast-food restaurants or convenience stores. After four months, in which she was able to re-learn math fundamentals and complete her certification, she is looking forward to starting a career.

"I don't want to just survive," Edwards said. "I want to live. If you're ready for a better future and willing to learn, that's all they ask of you, to just be open-minded and ready to learn. ... I'm just ready to go out there."

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