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Training program gives job opportunities to food assistance clients

Job help

Jasmine Leonard, right, helps Bobby Freeman learn how to apply for jobs online at the Anniston Career Center Monday afternoon. 

Khadijah Hameed wouldn’t have her job without the employment training from the state’s food assistance program. 

The 35-year-old works in Oxford at Sam’s Club, a job she’s had for more than two years, sharing product samples with shoppers and extolling the virtues of anything from snacks to hygiene products. She got the job through the Alabama Resource Enrichment Self Sufficiency Employment Training program, she said, offered by the county Department of Human Resources as part of guided job hunting. 

“I was already signed up and the program requires you to participate in some type of activity,” Hameed said by phone. “It was something wonderful for me, anything to help me excel or be better at what I’m already great at.” 

The program offers people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly known as food stamps — a chance for employment training and certifications in anything from welding to medical coding. Last week the president of the Business Education Alliance of Alabama announced that the state will have a shortage of about 200,000 skilled workers in the next five years, even as unemployment rates have hovered at record lows for months

SNAP requires that its beneficiaries have at least 20 hours of work per week; those who are unemployed can make use of the job training program to fulfill the requirement. The program includes work readiness training, like learning how to write a resume, dress for an interview and manage time, to supervised job searches and work training from local entities, like the Anniston Career Center and Gadsden State Community College, both in the Golden Springs area. 

Tara Hutchison, communications director for the Alabama Department of Labor, wrote in an email that Career Center locations around the state served 4,440 SNAP recipients in the 2019 fiscal year. Many of those people learned how to write resumes, and about 1,600 got job referrals. 

“A total of 3,933 SNAP clients entered employment after receiving services,” Hutchison wrote. 

Brandon Hardin, state director of SNAP, said the program has been around since the 1980s, though it only recently took on the A-RESET moniker. State funding in the program is low, he said, considering that it’s available in about 40 counties, including Calhoun, Talladega and St. Clair. 

“We got $1.6 million last year for servicing employment and training programs,” Hardin said. 

There are 16,927 SNAP participants in Calhoun County, said Barry Spears, the state DHR office’s communications manager, on a conference call with Hardin and a reporter. The numbers for individuals who were both adults and able to work weren’t readily available, Hardin said, but he noted that the employment training program in Calhoun County had 52 participants from October to December last year. 

Since the start of FY2019, he wrote in an email, a total of 1110 people statewide had either completed training, educational or on-the-job training components of the program. 

Carol Gundlach is a policy analyst for Alabama Arise, a Montgomery-based nonprofit advocating for people in poverty throughout the state. She said the state has done well with the employment and training program, noting that almost 800,000 people receive SNAP benefits in the state. 

“Most people on SNAP who are of working age are already working, but probably not the kind of jobs you could get with a welding or machinist certificate,” Gundlach said. 

She said that some states make their employment programs mandatory for all SNAP recipients, but not Alabama. Those states tend to water down the program trying to cater to a large number of people, she explained. 

“By making it voluntary, what the state has allowed it to do is really target those people who have time limits on their receipt,” she said, referring to a special category of recipient who is able-bodied and without dependents, wwith time restrictions on their benefits. 

“If they’re not otherwise exempt in some way, they’re going to lose their benefits in three months,” she continued. “They’re able to target the people who desperately need to be in the program — some of the poorest people in the United States.” 

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.