Job Counselors Help Navigate Path to Self Sufficiency

22 Mar 2019

Nearly 80 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. And a recent survey found that 44 percent of households wouldn’t have a savings reserve to cover a $400 emergency expense.

These sobering statistics illustrate that many Americans are one financial hardship away from needing financial help. In the instance of unexpected life challenges like a car breakdown, illness or sudden job loss, cash assistance (more commonly known as welfare) provides an important safety net.

Not everyone knows that individuals who receive Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) cash assistance are required to participate in employment services. Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (RMCEP) provides these services in 17 counties. In 2018, we served 2097 individuals, helping them on the path to self-sufficiency.

Operations Specialist Tina Jaster notes that MFIP recipients who participate in employment services are often in a transitional state. “They might be a student or someone who is temporarily out of work. Maybe they left an abusive situation or they’re needing to find work because a loved one got sick,” she explains.

RMCEP has 22 MFIP job counselors who help clients develop an employment plan. The goal is to become self supported within two years.

Job counselors help participants set goals and attain the skills needed to get back into the workforce. This might include job search or interviewing skills or maybe assistance applying for postsecondary education or financial aid. Counselors also help clients address some of the common barriers that might be holding them back, such as lack of child care, education or transportation.

RMCEP’s supportive services might include helping someone figure out how to finish a GED or finding ways to help pay for tuition, books, car repair, daycare or a bus pass. Funds are also available to help pay for work-related expenses such as an outfit for an interview or a nursing board exam or job uniform.

“We do a lot of referral and connection with the community to make sure people are aware of all the resources out there,” says Jaster. “We obviously can’t do everything but we help families meet their needs by telling them how to access energy or food assistance.”

success storyOver the years, RMCEP has had many powerful success stories, according to Jaster. A recent example is the Lammers family in Pelican Rapids. When Jenny Lammers’ husband suddenly became terminally ill and could no longer work, the family had to go on assistance. Lammers became her husband’s PCA and cared for him until he passed away.

Lammers faced significant obstacles as a new widow and former stay at home mom with little experience in the workforce. But she worked with a RMCEP job counselor to set employment goals, completed work training and was offered a job at the Pelican Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. She picked up another part-time job at Family Dollar too.

More recently, Lammers obtained a position as a supervisor at West Central Turkeys. She was able to discontinue state and federal benefits in less than two years and now has full benefits through her employer, including health insurance for her daughter.

“Shelia, my worker, is great. She helped get things moving quickly and made sure there wasn’t a gap in help from when my husband passed to when I started on my own,” says Lammers.

No matter what situation leads to a family needing assistance, RMCEP employment counselors are available to help create a proactive plan based on individual capabilities and barriers. “We ask questions like: ‘Where do you want to be in two years?’ and ‘How can we help you get there?’” says Jaster. “The bottom line is that we’re here to support families on assistance in reaching their goals and becoming self sufficient.”