Stimulus funds target education, job training

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 21, 2009

A multi-county assistance agency is running a new,stimulus-funded program that aims to improve the SouthwestMississippi economy by training and educating 200 people for entryinto the workforce.

AJFC Community Action Agency, Inc., is accepting applicationsfor its new Career Recovery Opportunity Program, a multi-facetedsupport program that will offer financial assistance to individualswho need temporary help while they take the necessary steps to findemployment.

“Any kind of barrier out there that prevents (people) fromlooking for or getting a job, we’re going to work with them,” AJFCcase worker Sonya Alexander said during a public hearing on theprogram Wednesday night.

Alexander said the program would help pay for job trainingworkshops and Vo-Tech classes, enrollment in tutorial programs forthose who wish to earn their GED, up to one year of tuition forthose enrolling in college courses, mortgage payments to avoidforeclosure and child care services. The program will also helpcover utility bills for those already taking classes and providetutoring for students unable to pass state graduation exams, shesaid.

The program is funded through a $950,000 community service blockgrant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Theprogram will see $179,000 spent directly for services in LincolnCounty.

The program will launch in July and end in September 2010.

Copiah County case worker LaPrince Evans said two coordinatorsand five field workers would be hired to oversee the program inLincoln County, and funding for those seven employees and theiradministrative costs would come from the county’s $179,000appropriation. The qualifications for the seven workers areunclear, she said, adding that all the program’s funding must bespent within one year.

At least one of the four members of the public in attendancethought the program would have a positive impact.

“There’s people out there sitting at home with no GED, and it’scosting us more as taxpayers to pay for them to have food stampsand all,” said Dinah Waters.

But the program drew criticism from District 92 Rep. BeckyCurrie, who attended the public hearing.

She said $179,000 is not enough funding for seven employees,their administrative costs and the program’s goals, calling CROP awaste of taxpayer dollars. She said all the services planned underthe program are already offered through agencies like the WIN JobCenter and the Southwest Mississippi Planning and DevelopmentDistrict.

Currie informed members of the public who asked her aboutfunding for the program that state government had nothing to dowith the federally approved CROP, adding that she wouldn’t havevoted for the program if it were her responsibility. She wasespecially concerned about the requirement that all CROP fundingmust be spent within one year.

“We have to spend taxpayer dollars, even though this is aduplication of existing services provided by the WIN Job Center?”Currie complained.

Anyone interested in signing up for CROP may contact Alexanderat AJFC’s Brookhaven office at 601-833-6349.