Spokane is one of a handful of national test sites for a new federal program designed to help the chronically unemployed get jobs and get off public assistance.
The $200 million program was announced Monday by U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon, who spent the day touring Spokane’s food and nutrition programs. Washington, one of 10 states participating in the effort, will receive $22 million to pay for case workers, skills training, job-based training and support services such as child care and transportation.
Concannon said workers who get jobs will be monitored for six months by their case managers to make sure they are successful at keeping them.
In Washington, the three-year program will operate in Spokane, Yakima, Tacoma and Seattle.
Concannon said the target groups are long-term homeless people and people who have fallen behind on child-support payments.
Washington was chosen for the grant because of its strong employment programs through the state Employment Security Department, Concannon said.
At the end of three years, the government will assess the program’s strengths and weaknesses to learn what works in helping people rejoin the workforce. The program’s creation was contained in the 2014 Farm Bill.
In a news release, Labor Secretary Tom Perez said the employment program is part of a government strategy to help the unemployed take advantage of the current economic recovery.
Concannon announced the grant at Spokane Community College, where several hundred students are receiving USDA nutrition assistance.
He then traveled to Stevens Elementary School and sat with the students to dine on salad, skim milk, a whole-wheat roll, fish or chicken, garbanzo beans and raisins.
The undersecretary said he met a handful of farmers at the lunch who are supplying products for the school’s new, healthier menu that emphasizes scratch cooking and eliminates processed foods.
Stevens is one of three elementary schools in Spokane that switched this school year to a breakfast and lunch program that is open to all students regardless of income and is offering the healthier choices.
Concannon also toured Northeast Community Center to visit one of nine Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition programs in Spokane County.
The undersecretary learned about efforts locally to get good nutrition assistance to families.
He said about half of the 4 million babies born in America each year are to families that qualify for WIC assistance.
Tiffany Schamber, WIC program manager for the Spokane Regional Health District, said a recent media campaign got word out to dads that they could apply for benefits for their families.
About 25,000 people are enrolled in WIC in Spokane County. That number increased by 4 percent following last year’s media campaign, officials said.
Fairchild Air Force Base has a WIC facility, and Concannon said he wants to ensure WIC is available to active-duty military personnel.