The South Carolina Department of Social Services says it has doubled the number of South Carolinians who came off welfare rolls after landing new jobs. The agency says it helped nearly 12,300 welfare recipients leave the rolls between September 2011 and June of this year. That was well above 5,060 people in the same time period the year before.
Shortly after her appointment by Gov. Nikki Haley in March 2011, DSS director Lillian Koller says she made it a goal to double the number of welfare recipients who achieve “positive outcomes,” which means they are taken off the agency’s lists after landing a job. That meant a target of at least 10,120 jobs in ten months, which she says the agency easily passed.
“The total number we have left that are work-eligible, the ones we’re focusing on, are 6,336 (cases),” Koller told reporters in a Tuesday press conference, “Right now, that’s all we’ve got left.” She added only about 4 to 6 percent of people who left the rolls ended up returning.
Koller said the agency has worked with dozens of businesses and nonprofits to match up welfare recipients with potential jobs that match their skills. DSS released a list of several hundred companies and organizations that had hired its participants, ranging from national chains like Wal-Mart and Arby’s to manufacturing plants and local senior care facilities. About half of the jobs were full-time (more than 30 hours per week), she said.
Koller said the agency is only able to enroll beneficiaries who meet a certain criteria in its “welfare-to-work” programs. They cannot suffer from a disability or be new mothers with a child under a year old, for example. In all, there are 34,355 recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding in South Carolina. 25,330 children are enrolled in TANF, according to DSS records.
She said most of those in the program are eager to land a job, as South Carolina’s welfare payments are usually below minimum wage. A parent with three children receives only $905 per month in DSS benefits if not working, she said. A mother with two children receives only $223 per month in welfare.
That sentiment was echoed by Robin Ebert, a project manager for Goodwill Industries of the Upstate/Midlands, where DSS has referred many of its recipients. “They really want to go to work. They really want to succeed,” Ebert said. “We had a gentleman call to enroll in one of our classes… he told us, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the assistance. That helps me today. But what this opportunity means is that I’m not going to need that help tomorrow.’”
Koller said DSS has put more emphasis on welfare recipients landing new jobs, rather than simply checking to see if they’re looking for work. She said, when she first got to the agency, roughly half of its cases had not spent at least an hour a week making job contacts.
“There’s no fun in that,” she said Tuesday, “That’s an acknowledgement of defeat.”
Governor Haley praised Koller Tuesday for the improved numbers under her watch, “This was not easy… She took the harder route of saying, no, we’re not going to just hand out a check for food stamps. We’re not going to just hand out a check for welfare. We’re going to actually give them a piece of paper that has an interview.”