Sunday, December 28, 2014

Delaware uses stimulus to give jobless 'a leg up'

Teresa Corey got a stimulus-subsidized job at the Claymont Community Center. When that ended, the center gave her a permanent job.
Teresa Corey got a stimulus-subsidized job at the Claymont Community Center. When that ended, the center gave her a permanent job. BONNIE WELLER / Staff Photographer
Teresa Corey got a stimulus-subsidized job at the Claymont Community Center. When that ended, the center gave her a permanent job. Gallery: Delaware uses stimulus to give jobless 'a leg up'

Andrea Manganello, 34, answers phones, greets patients, and files paperwork at Patricia Lifrak's busy psychiatric practice in a strip shopping center in Delaware.

Lifrak doesn't pay a dime for Manganello's services, although Manganello gets a regular paycheck.

That's because the federal government has picked up the tab as part of the American Resource and Recovery Act, the $787 billion federal stimulus act that is now a year old.

"This helps a person get a leg up," said Manganello, who had searched for a job for a year before turning to welfare.

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  • The same stimulus money that pays Manganello totals $5 billion nationally and is funneled through public-assistance block grants under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

    Pennsylvania and New Jersey are eligible to draw hundreds of millions of dollars to underwrite jobs. But so far, in this region, only Delaware has done so. Pennsylvania and New Jersey officials say plans are in the works.

    Delaware developed its program in June.

    "Delaware's unemployment has skyrocketed," said Elaine Archangelo, director of the Delaware Division of Social Services and the point person on the funding.

    Plants that employed thousands in the state are now closed, among them Chrysler and General Motors factories and the Valero Energy Corp. refinery.

    "People are having trouble finding employment," Archangelo said. "This is one way to get people into the workforce and to benefit the employer. It gets money into the economy pretty quickly."

    Pennsylvania is eligible for $359.7 million under this program; New Jersey, $202 million. Delaware used $1.1 million of its $16.1 million to develop its job-underwriting program. The goal? Work for 50 people, with 40 landing permanent jobs. Coming up is an expanded summer-job program for young people.

    Even though Pennsylvania and New Jersey have not created job-underwriting programs, they have used some of the stimulus money for other purposes allowed in the $5 billion program - basic assistance and onetime grants, such as the payment of utility bills. Of their total stashes, Pennsylvania has used $28.9 million and New Jersey $7.2 million for these purposes.

    But, there is a catch.

    All the money must be used by Sept. 30 unless Congress approves an extension.

    These days, Manganello is busy stimulating the economy, buying groceries and all the other things she needs to take care of herself and her child in their home in Middletown.

    "I had run into a brick wall," she said. Now, "I'm up, ready, and willing to work."

    A requirement that there be 20 percent in matching funds stymied financially strapped states at first.

    To cope, Delaware funded its 20 percent through existing welfare money, Archangelo said. "Maybe other states didn't have the wiggle room to fund the 20 percent, or the willingness to take a risk."

    Now there is emerging clarity that supervision and training can count as the 20 percent.

    In Delaware, some of the money went to pay people like Kenneisha Butcher, 23, a single mother who had been juggling college and a 30-hour-a-week supermarket job. Then her hours were slashed and she moved back home with her mother.

    In December, Butcher graduated with a bachelor's degree in community health, but she didn't need to look for a job. Her unpaid school internship as a state Medicaid caseworker turned into a stimulus-funded job, one of 21, helping to handle the department's increased caseload.

    "I used to be on the other side of that counter," Butcher said. Now, she hopes to have a job like Archangelo's one day.

    "We are developing a [talent] pipeline," Archangelo said. "We now have people who are going to be very competitive for openings."

    A goal is to convert the subsidized jobs into regular jobs.

    That is what happened to Teresa Corey, 37, a mother of three from Edgemoor, Del., who had been assigned to the Claymont Community Center as part of a work requirement to receive her $400 monthly welfare check.

    The center took her on through the subsidized program; when that ended, it gave her a regular job. A former supermarket clerk, Corey organized the center's food pantry and was a receptionist and office hand.

    "It was a combination of Teresa doing a good job and we had a need," said Mike Montgomery, center finance manager. Stimulus dollars also footed half the bill for computer training for Corey.

    Now Corey earns more than double what she did on welfare, and it surprises her that other states aren't doing what Delaware did. "If they have the money just sitting there, they definitely should do something with it and help people," she said.

    Delaware also is setting aside jobs as an inducement to businesses to locate in the state. No takers, yet.

    In Delaware, the stimulus program provides short-term employment as a resumé boost to people such as Manganello, who had a new certificate in medical billing but no experience.

    "You may have the qualifications and the talent, but if you don't have the experience, they won't hire you," said Lifrak, who brought a previous stimulus worker on payroll to manage her Wilmington office.

    Lifrak praised Manganello's work and said she would gladly write recommendations.

    The doctor knows that she and Manganello benefited from the three-month program. But she has concerns.

    "When I'm getting the extra help and the girl is learning - on a microeconomic level, it's wonderful," she said.

    "But I wonder what percent of the 10 percent who are unemployed are getting any benefit," she asked in her office in the Community Plaza Shopping Center in New Castle.

    "It's like giving a dying patient amphetamine," she said. "The doctor can say to his supervisor, 'Look, the patient is dancing.' But if you don't work on the basics, the patient will fall flat on his face."

     


    Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

     

    Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer