Racing to Beat the Welfare Clock

Tarice Sims- At the Spanish American Committee on Cleveland's West side, 29-year-old Nydia Fernandez sits at a small desk paying close attention to the English and Spanish speaking teachers. She's one of about a dozen welfare recipients in this bilingual job readiness class. Fernandez came to the United States seven years ago with little more than a ninth grade education, and she barely spoke English. Now, she finds herself struggling as a welfare recipient facing a strict deadline that could threaten her livelihood.

Nydia Fernandez- The change that I went through from when I came from Puerto Rico to Cleveland, Ohio was good. It was good at first. I had goals. I had medical services it helped my kids. I still needed to know English and not knowing English affected me in a lot of ways because I needed an interpreter. How can I show my kids the right way if I always need someone else to talk for me.

TS- The mother of three came to the Spanish American Committee after her benefits were frozen because she wasn't in school or working. Fernandez was placed in the job readiness class to learn how to dress for an interview and fill out job applications. She's also required to take a free Spanish to English class. Although she's taking courses now she still has a hard time picturing herself making it on her own.

NF- I'm scared in part because I depend on the welfare. And I don't work. I'm not sure what to offer my kids because I don't have a future yet.

TS- Efrain Soto is the Job Search Program Supervisor for the Spanish American Committee. He says Fernandez's situation is not unusual. The Spanish-to-English classes are packed with people just like her. Language isn't the only barrier to self sufficiency. Soto says many obstacles may prevent welfare recipients from finding work before they lose their benefits on October 1st.

Efrain Soto- We get clients here that don't have day care and we're supposed to put them to work but obviously their not ready. They're supposed to come to us job ready and their not. Instead I get them here and I have to help them with those barriers and train them at the same time and that's counterproductive. So, whether it's an English language whether it's a GED education or whether it's a day care issue this is what we need to take care of first.

TS- Even when someone overcomes such barriers and succeeds at finding a job, Soto says many of those people working are still working poor. And, without welfare benefits to supplement their low income families can be devastated.

ES- What scares me the most is what situation the children are going to be in. When we talk about cutoffs, we're talking about taking money away that pays the rent, that pays utilities, that pays for clothing and toiletries and this is major. I'm seeing already people that are ending up in shared living arrangements they move in with a friend they move in with a family member. Which isn't the best thing. But they find ways to survive.

TS- Nydia Fernandez and her children live with her mother and sister. During one exercise in the job readiness class she shares her goals of, getting her own place, becoming a machine operator and learning to speak English well. Most importantly she wants a better future for her kids.

NF- I want to show people you don't have to depend on welfare. You can move forward and succeed without depending on welfare.

TS- Not everyone in the Spanish American Committee programs is as willing to try for a better future. Soto says that some people have been turned away for disrupting classes, and not showing up on time.

ES- Right now we're dealing with the hard to serve. There are clients that just did not want to move, but they were informed. And these are the people that we have to help.

TS- Soto says his agency is prepared to refer people to assistance programs for food, clothing and other essentials. And, not everyone will be cut off on October 1st. Cuyahoga County will extend benefits under certain circumstances such as when someone can't work because of a medical condition. But even those who receive the extra assistance will be required to become self supporting .To that end the county is offering short-term transitional assistance, and will provide jobs for people who haven't secured them on their own. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 FM.

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