Updated Tue, Mar 4, 2014 10:39 am
A new incentive program has funneled nearly $166,000 into Athens County with the goal of helping the poor overcome barriers in finding and keeping employment.
The Ohio Works First Incentive Program, a $66 million statewide initiative created about six months ago, provides financial incentives for individuals on cash assistance to find and keep jobs, according to a news release from Athens County Job and Family Services.
Prior to the advent of the incentive program, individuals on cash assistance were already expected to participate in a work activity, explained Tami Collins, social services supervisor with the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services. Support and guidance, according to the release, were already available through free services provided at The Work Station in The Plains.
“We have people getting jobs all the time,” Collins stated in the release. “Retention is the problem. They have so many barriers to keeping employment.”
According to the release, the pilot program is intended to help the newly employed overcome some of those barriers. Individuals who are on cash assistance are enrolled in the program. If that person becomes employed, he or she gets $1,000. Staying employed for three months gets the person another $1,500.
If the job enables a person to stop getting cash assistance, each of those payouts is bigger and qualifies him or her for another incentive after six months of employment. In addition, each person eligible for the program qualifies for $1,000 in supportive services.
The money goes toward expenditures such as paying for gas, repairing a vehicle, purchasing automobile insurance, buying clothes or establishing child care services.
For Sasha Shasteen, of Guysville, the financial incentive meant she could pay off bills and fix her car, which recently broke down on her way home from work.
“It sounded too good to be true,” Shasteen said when she first heard about the incentive program. “I had been looking for a job. The extra money just gave me more of an incentive to go get it. It’s definitely come in handy. I live 30 minutes outside of town — that’s a lot of wear and tear on the Jeep.”
According to the release, Athens County is one of the few counties that takes advantage of the program.
It’s too soon to know if the incentives improve the rate at which people keep jobs, said Rocky Brunty, an employment counselor at The Work Station and manager of the program. But, he said, it’s a worthwhile effort.
“We’ve invested almost $200,000 for the purposes of bettering people’s lives,” Brunty said. “This is so meaningful to the people on this program. It should have the utmost attention. It should be a priority.”