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Many families seeking cash assistance through the Michigan Family Independence Program (FIP) face significant barriers in securing and retaining employment. From child care to transportation and literacy, caseworkersPATH Logo cite a long list of barriers that can keep families from achieving self-sufficiency.

Applicants for cash assistance will take part in a robust, results-oriented work participation program - PATH. The new program features a 21-day assessment period during which barriers to employment are identified and caseworkers work individually with clients to connect them with resources to address these barriers. This intensive orientation period is a departure from the previous program, JET (Jobs, Education and Training), in which orientation periods varied across the state from one to three days. The orientation and job placement program under PATH will continue to be administered by the Workforce Development Agency and Michigan Works! Agencies, which hold the contracts for these activities statewide. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/PATH.

With the passage of federal Welfare to Work legislation in 1996, cash assistance evolved from an entitlement to a safety net work program designed to provide families with temporary financial assistance while they secure employment. With the implementation of PATH, the Department of Human Services will work with clients to connect with resources that will help them overcome their challenges to self-sufficiency.

By any measure, the former JET program did not succeed in successfully transitioning families from welfare to work and was woefully inadequate in getting the state to meet its federally-required work participation rate (WPR), thereby exposing the state to multi-million dollar fines. Historically, only 8 percent of those participating in the program secured employment as a result. In agreement that a more comprehensive program could be created to yield better outcomes and add value for our shared clients, DHS and Michigan Works! Agencies worked in partnership to create PATH. Under PATH, significant challenges to employment will be identified in the first week of the program. Caseworkers and clients will work together to establish a roadmap to address these challenges.

"Families applying for cash assistance come to us at very different stages of work preparedness," says DHS Director Maura D. Corrigan. "PATH acknowledges that DHS and Michigan Works! Agencies will meet clients where they are in their ability to gain - and sustain - employment. The 21-day assessment period allows caseworkers to help our clients chart their individualized path to employment by identifying the barriers that are preventing them from becoming independent."

The primary goals of PATH are two-fold. First, PATH will identify barriers and help clients connect to the resources they will need to obtain employment. Second, the new program will help Michigan reach the federally mandated 50 percent work participation rate. Work participation is not only defined by how many participants secure employment, but also by the number of participants engaged in job preparedness and search activities.

The extended assessment period will help connect clients to resources ranging from professional clothing to transportation. Additionally, the PATH curriculum prepares clients for both the pursuit of a job and the skills necessary to keep a job. Resume writing and job search skills are included in this curriculum, as well as instruction on acceptable workplace behavior and employer expectations.

PATH is also designed to bring Michigan into compliance with the 50 percent work participation rate required by the federal government. If clients stop attending the orientation classes without an excusable reason, their case will be closed and they may reapply for the program immediately. If it is an excusable reason -- illness for example -- the caseworker will help the client reconnect to the program. The coursework offered during the orientation is critical in helping clients find employment, particularly those who have been unemployed for some time or have difficulties sustaining employment.

While the federal government requires 50 percent work participation, Michigan's aim is much higher. The programs needed to move beyond many of the most common barriers are not accepted by the federal government as approved work participation activities. For example, pursuit of a GED is not considered an approved activity, nor are English as a second language courses. Nonetheless, these barriers are common, significant barriers to sustainable employment. When Michigan achieves a work participation rate of more than 70 percent, the state will then be in a position to support clients in these vital activities without fear of falling below the 50 percent work participation requirement.

The Department of Human Services is also working in partnership with Community Ventures to connect low-skill workers with employers. Community Ventures is currently concentrating on the state's four urban areas, but will expand its reach in the near future.

The PATH program will also work in tandem with the DHS initiative Pathways to Potential in which DHS has committed to locating caseworkers where clients can most easily access them. The department will dedicate an onsite social worker to 138 schools in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw beginning in January. PATH orientations will be held in select Pathways to Potential locations for school families. In addition, Michigan Works! Agencies will schedule caseworker visits to help connect school families with work in participating schools.

The reengineered work participation program, PATH, is a key component of DHS' commitment to helping families achieve independence and reducing the pattern of generational poverty across the state.

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