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Politics & Government

USDA grant funds pilot job training program for SNAP recipients

usda_delaware_wonder.jpg
Delaware Public Media
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A US Department of Agriculture grant will help Delaware provide job training for clients of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

$18.8 million in federal funds will support the pilot Work Opportunity Networks to Develop Employment Readiness (Delaware WONDER) program over the next three years.During that time Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services will work with state agencies, community organizations, businesses and Delaware Tech to train SNAP recipients in four areas – construction, culinary arts, manufacturing, and broad based job placement.

The state’s SNAP Job Training grant manager Tanya Warner – a former SNAP client - says fear of not finding a job that earns a livable wage keeps people from trying to get off food assistance.

"People want to work," she said. "They're finding jobs. Sometimes they're finding two and three jobs to make ends meet. But it's still not a livable wage to come off of assistance - or if they come off of assistance, they're barely off of assistance and still need that help and support."

“Delaware WONDER," she continued, "is going to be one of those pilots that’s going to be a model for the nation to drive the direction that public assistance,  and support and employment-in-training [is] going, and it should be going.”

USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe lauded Delaware’s ability to create private-public partnerships to develop appropriate paths.

“I want to see training to jobs, not training for the sake of training," Rowe said. "So we really are hoping to connect the new growth and opportunities - in industry, manufacturing, culinary arts, et cetera - in states to the job opportunities and to the training.”

Gov. Jack Markell (D-Delaware) - on hand at the program's announcement at Central Baptist Church in Wilmington - agreed that the partnerships are crucial.

"The only way that - in the end - we'll be successful is if we figure out a way to check our egos at the door and focus on making sure that we deliver the services and deliver the training to people so that they can go out and get the jobs that they so much want to get."

Senator Chris Coons (D- Delaware) called the announcement a "cause for rejoicing."

"This is a day when what is best about Delaware has built a bridge. A bridge from all these different component parts for a much stronger and a much better future for hundreds and hundreds of families across this state."

Each year 1,700 eligible state residents receiving SNAP food assistance benefits will be enrolled in Delaware WONDER.

Half of those will work to develop careers through the program - while the other half will take part in a control group utilizing existing training programs.

Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services will assign clients to a path based on their interest in the field and their natural abilities.

The number of households enrolled in SNAP has risen from 50,588 in 2010 to 71,451 in 2014.

DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf belives that with the rebounding of the economy those numbers will start to level off.

"We are feeling very encouraged that our economy is becoming healthier. What we always wanted to be able to do is also address the root cause of the poverty, and job creation is a direct cause of people landing in poverty, lower wages, unemployment [and] underemployment."

Delaware is one of 10 states to receive grant funding.  35 states applied.

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