Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 20, 2014

Experience Works helps unemployed elderly

By LINDA WENGER | Jul 14, 2014

WASHINGTON, Iowa (GTNS) – As a Washington County supervisor, Bob Yoder serves on a regional Workforce Investment Board.

He invited Ruth Bolinger, the state program director of Experience Works, to the board of supervisors’ meeting Tuesday to explain her program.

Bolinger said that the program serves rural counties and that Washington County and Jefferson County are among the 59 Iowa counties served.

“Every county in the state of Iowa receives senior community service employment program (SCSEP) funds through the United States Department of Labor, authorized through the Older Americans Act,” she said.

The program serves people who are 55 years old or older and who are unemployed, seeking employment and meet federal poverty guidelines, she said. About one-third of the people eligible for the program are people who left their jobs to care for ill and dying family members. Another one-third is chronically unemployed or underemployed. The final third is a growing group of people, Bollinger said, who through the loss of a spouse find themselves instantly living at poverty level.

The people who left their jobs to care for family members have been out of the work force for an average of 4.5 years.

“They go to return to work and they’ve totally tanked all of their savings,” she said.

Typically, they have lost their homes and vehicles and have no resources left, and they are trying to return to work, Bolinger said.

When speaking about the chronically unemployed or underemployed, Bolinger said that people with felony records are among the group. However, she said that the SCSEP doesn’t check the backgrounds of the people coming for assistance.

As for the third group, Bolinger said it is a trend and a “big uptick” in Iowa.

“If you’re a family of two in the state of Iowa, you’re retired, you’re on Social Security and your spouse dies, you are instantly at that moment living at poverty level,” she said.

While overall the average age of the people in the program is 66 years, the average age for the third group is 76.

All of the SCSEP funds for Washington County during the last program year went unused and were returned.

“I am going to acknowledge we’ve got a service delivery issue in Washington County and we’re going to correct that,” she said.

There are four program positions in Washington County that are not filled. When asked what a program position was, Bolinger said they are 20-hour-a-week positions at $7.25 an hour, and the positions are either with a 501c3 nonprofit organization or a governmental entity.

“Over 56 percent of the people who come to us on an annual basis go into some type of employment,” she said, “whether it’s self-employment or it’s enough to replace the $400-$500 a month check that we provide to them for their 20 hours of community service.”

The program helps people receive the training they need for a position or with tuition to qualify them for jobs. Bolinger said that the program helped three teachers in Iowa update their licenses last year.

“They’d left teaching to care for ill and dying parents, and then didn’t have the money to keep their licenses up,” she said.

Bolinger used a story from Monroe County as an example of the program.

“We had a gentleman come to us through the court system, through the county attorney’s office,” she said. “He had to do community service. We got it OK’d that his community service could be met through the SCSEP program and he actually did his training, custodial training, and we paid for some environmental credentials and courses that he had to take. Monroe County ended up hiring him the year after he was training with them. He had multiple felonies.”

Veterans who are eligible for this program have priority status with SCSEP.

People who are interested in the program may call 1-877-314-7385 toll free. More information is available at <www.experienceworks.org>.

Examples of participant assignments include performing clerical duties at nonprofits, sorting donations at food banks, keeping parks clean and assisting at recycling centers, preparing meals and recreation for older individuals and youth, and assisting in classrooms and libraries.

“If I come back a year from now, I’m going to want to know that you’ve seen some evidence that we’ve been doing what we’re supposed to do for your county,” Bolinger concluded.

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