Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - New Mexico State University will play a key role in helping New Mexicans make the transition from welfare to work, beginning in September.
NMSU is among other universities and agencies awarded contracts from the New Mexico's Department of Human Services to help implement the New Mexico Works Act passed during the 1998 legislative session. The new legislation replaces the state's first attempt at welfare reform, which was ruled unconstitutional last year.
"NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service has the charge of actually getting employers and clients together and giving clients the training they need in order to move into the workforce," said Billy Dictson, Extension interim director. The Cooperative Extension Service received a grant to help train and prepare people for jobs in Eddy, Otero and Doņa Ana counties. About 5,000 people in these counties receive some kind of public assistance and are required to participate in a welfare to work program during the next year.
NMSU's branch colleges in the three counties will be responsible for testing, assessing and training people for jobs, Dictson said. Job developers and job coaches will work with employers and welfare recipients to match applicants with employers, help them keep jobs and handle any problems.
"Our branch colleges already conduct outreach programs, and this fits into the mission of Extension and the university," he said. "We hope the program is successful because many people on public assistance would rather be working but need training and other assistance to find jobs and keep them."
Under the New Mexico Works Act, adults who receive benefits must get a job as soon as the human services department determines they are ready to work. People with disabilities and those over age 60 can be exempted from the work requirement.
Many state agencies are involved in this effort, Dictson said. The Department of Transportation will help people who need transportation to work. The state Children, Youth and Families Department will help locate childcare services. The state's labor department will help locate jobs, and the economic development department will help create jobs.
"The Human Services Department is the primary agency working with clients," he said. "We're trying to set up one-stop shops near human services offices in each of the three counties so people don't have to travel back and forth across town for services and training."
The new program also will provide tax incentives for employers, Dictson said.
"Employers who are willing to hire people hold the key to the program's success," he said. "If the jobs are not there, it doesn't matter what else you do, everything else fails."
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