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May 17, 1999


CHICAGO -- Governor George H. Ryan today announced that Illinois has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor for achieving the highest number of welfare-to-work enrollments and placements in the country in a year-old federal program aimed at placing clients who face significant employment barriers.

"While tens of thousands of welfare clients have succeeded in finding jobs on their own, government has an important responsibility to be an advocate for those who face severe barriers to becoming self-sufficient," Ryan said. "This very welcome recognition makes it clear that Illinois is committed to helping people get the skills they need to stay on a job and become contributing members of society."

In commending the state's Welfare-to-Work program, the Labor Department praised Illinois' efforts to implement the program "as a model management strategy for other states across the country."

The high-risk unemployment program, initiated by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA) in February 1998, concentrates on placing welfare clients who face severe obstacles in finding a job. Those eligible for the program include clients of the state's Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program who are disadvantaged by long-term unemployment, addictions or lack of either a high school education or G.E.D.

In its first year, DCCA's Welfare-to-Work program enrolled more than 6,000 clients and achieved more than 3,000 job placements. Illinois was among the first five states to kick off the federally funded program, which was created by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

"The program is based on a philosophy of "work first," and it's designed to provide people with the skills they need to search for and get a job," said DCCA Director Pam McDonough. "In many cases, we're dealing with people who have little life experience in holding a job. By preparing them and providing the support they need, we are helping many to find success in the workplace for the first time ever."

DCCA administers the program in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS). DCCA awards grants to local agencies, which then work to find jobs for eligible clients referred by DHS. This cooperation between the two state agencies also was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor as contributing to the program's success.

"Our partnership with DCCA and local government exemplify the cooperation required to ensure that every family on welfare achieves self-sufficiency and a chance for a better life," said DHS Director Howard Peters.

Employers who hire long-term welfare recipients are eligible for a welfare-to-work tax credit based on a percentage of the employee's wages, up to $3,500 the first year and $5,000 the second year. Clients have been placed as sales clerks, stock clerks, office workers, food service workers, janitors and health care workers.


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