Ask any Oregon lawmaker what is his or her highest priority and almost invariably the answer is “jobs.” So it’s perplexing that lawmakers have badly neglected Oregon’s JOBS program, a program whose purpose is to put people to work.
The Job Opportunity and Basic Skills (JOBS) program is designed to help struggling families secure employment. The program helps very poor parents with dependent children find work as they apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The JOBS program also provides job training and other services to poor families receiving TANF cash assistance, with the goal of helping them move from the temporary cash assistance program into the workforce. When the JOBS program helps poor parents of dependent children find employment, it reduces the number of families receiving cash assistance.
So while investing in JOBS would seem like a natural move for lawmakers who prize “jobs,” the legislature instead has slashed funding for the program in recent budget periods. Funding for JOBS currently stands at about $55 million below its 2007-09 level — about a 45 percent decline.
At the same time that funding for JOBS has dwindled, the need for the program has grown. The number of Oregonians receiving TANF assistance is about twice what it was prior the Great Recession. The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) estimates that currently the JOBS program covers only about 16 percent of existing need.
Making matters worse is the neglect of Employment Related Day Care (ERDC), a companion program that removes a key barrier to employment for low-income families with children. ERDC helps low-income families cover the cost of child care, enabling the parents to stay employed. Unfortunately, ERDC has been a well-kept secret, with many low-income families unaware of its existence. The program today only helps about 20 percent of eligible families.
And for eligible families who discover the existence of ERDC, some have to wait to access the program. Starting in 2010 there has been a waiting list to get into the ERDC program. According to DHS, it would take an additional investment of $19.4 million in 2013-15 to provide child care assistance to all the families on the waiting list.
Oregon lawmakers can prioritize “jobs” by investing in the JOBS program. Restoring funding to the JOBS program and proving enough funds to meet the need for subsidized child care for low-income workers are strategies that will help put Oregonians back to work.