After a month in the Davis County welfare reform self-sufficiency pilot program, Candi Inman has lost some of her enthusiasm.
May was a trying month for the 23-year-old single mother - a month that included classwork, job interviews and a paper chase to satisfy officials in a number of offices that deal with public assistance."I've never seen so many Catch-22s in my life," she said. "I applied for welfare, then had to come in three more times with paperwork. It took 29 days to get assistance. I didn't get my April child support payment until May, and it was for the wrong amount, so I couldn't cash it. I feel a little discouraged."
Candi believes the first step to having a normal life for herself and 3-year-old Jessup is getting a place of their own, if just a room, a bath and a hot plate. They live with her parents, which she said puts an incredible strain on everyone. "And I don't have it that bad," she said. "A lot of people don't even have family they can count on."
Moving may not be possible - at least for a while. Candi was rejected for low-income subsidized housing through Kier Management Corp., Ogden, because of a "negative credit rating."
She admits her credit isn't very good - and she doesn't have any financial cushion to fall back on. If she did, she wouldn't need subsidized housing. But she fails to see how they can refuse a family of two with an income that consists of a $301 monthly grant, food stamps and a $50 rebate in the months the state collects child support. "Me and my gold card weren't going to apply at all," she said ironically, "but I thought, what the heck?" She has appealed the rejection and is waiting to hear from the company, which would charge one-third of her gross monthly income.
If she does win, it could take a year before her name comes up on the waiting list. She also applied for Housing and Urban Development subsidized housing, but the waiting period is up to a year there, too.
In the meantime, Candi participated in 27 hours of self-sufficiency classes through the Clearfield Office of Community Operations, taught by Sue Abbott. As an incentive for welfare mothers to attend classes, $3 is available for day care and $3 for transportation each day. Five women enrolled in the classes, which covered such subjects as self-esteem evaluation, goal setting, parenting, resumes and job search and a color draping class.
Candi gave the classes a mixed review. "Some of the classes were great. But a lot of the time we just sat and dogged each other or boosted each other. I found out I have an `aggressive-offensive' personality. I was ready to pack it up a lot of times, because I'd have to drive Jess to the babysitter in Ogden, then go to class in Layton, then to Ogden for Jess and back home to Kaysville. The class was good in a way - somewhere to go to vent your feelings, hear someone else's problem, but I'm not sure it has a lot to do with self-sufficiency."
Employment is the goal of the plan agreed to by Abbott, who manages her case, and Candi. (for some, the early game plan might be returning to school for a General Equivalency Diploma or vocational schooling of some sort). Whether she succeeds in getting employment is up to Candi, according to job developer Cheryl Ann Larson.
"I don't hand out jobs; I teach them how to go out and get them. The successful ones are those who want to be helped. I can't babysit anyone," Larson said.
Through an On the Job Training Program, Larson can offer employers incentives to hire people in the self-sufficiency project. During the initial training period, the state pays half of the wages.
The biggest barrier to employment, according to Larson, is motivation. The women in self-sufficiency must keep looking for jobs and check in often with Larson. A lot of them won't do that follow-through work. And a lot of them won't find jobs, either, because of that failure.
Candi is less than enthusiastic about her job search so far. She said she needs to make at least $7 an hour to pay bills, provide food and clothing for her small household and put a roof overhead - unless she can get subsidized housing. Larson believes that Candi has to start somewhere - even if it's a lower-paying job. Candi has agreed to apply for jobs that pay about $4 or more an hour.
But she is afraid. Afraid that if she applies for just any job, she will have to take whatever she gets, even if it's obviously inadequate and inappropriate. "If I turn a job down, no matter why, I might lose my grant," she said.
Larson disputes that. "There's nothing that says she has to take a job. A woman with children under 6 can technically stay on welfare until the child is older. But our goal is to keep them off the welfare rolls, not just get them out. We want to put them where they are going to make it in the long run. It's important they feel good about the job, if they're to be self-sufficient. But we have job search requirements they have to meet if we are going to help them."
Candi's also worried about medical insurance - especially for Jess. Her Medicaid card offers some protection, and she doesn't want to lose it unless she can find a job that will offer security.
Victor Layton, Department of Social Services, said Candi doesn't need to worry about that right now because her medical benefits can be extended until she gets on her feet.
If a woman has been on public assistance for three of the past six months and her case was closed because of increased income or child support collections, she qualifies for a four-month Medicaid bridge.
The state also has a system called the "30-and-a-third" income disregard, in which $30 plus one-third of income is disregarded to calculate assistance eligibility. At the end of four months, the one-third disregard ends. At the end of eight months, the $30 is gone.
But a woman whose case is closed because she lost eligiblity for disregards, rather than because of income increases, can stay on Medicaid for nine months. So medically, Candi and Jessup seem relatively safe - at least temporarily.
The issues Candi is already facing should dominate self-sufficiency efforts in the next few weeks. She'll continue to work with Larson and Abbott, search for a job and hope to get low-income housing. She'll continue to check in with the Deseret News. We'll let you know what happens.