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CEP contract with Cass County renewed

WALKER - Craig Nathan, field operations director for Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (CEP), explained the work programs CEP offers as Cass County commissioners renewed their contract for services with CEP Tuesday.

WALKER - Craig Nathan, field operations director for Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (CEP), explained the work programs CEP offers as Cass County commissioners renewed their contract for services with CEP Tuesday.

CEP provided counseling, training services and assistance to people working toward exiting welfare financial assistance.

Nathan said he looks at each client's strengths when he begins helping them seek the right training that will help them find a high enough paying job to support their family.

Clients in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) can participate up to 60 months. During participation, they receive may job training. They get ongoing assistance to find employment and receive some support for their families while they search.

Nathan said 40 percent of Cass County participants who complete MFIP secure a job paying between $7 and $13 per hour, with the average wage being $11 per hour and exit the program without needing further assistance.

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They may find that job in the county or elsewhere in the state, he said.

Sarah Smythe, Cass social services, said the county has been able to meet its goal of having 62.1 to 76.5 percent of people who successfully exiting MFIP off cash assistance or working 30 or more hours per week three years after their baseline quarter.

Some people leave the program, because they have severe enough disabilities that they qualify for Social Security disability, Nathan said. Others might move out of Cass County. Some who reach the 60 months and who have made progress may get an extension to stay in MFIP longer, he said.

Those who fail to follow guidelines for making progress while in the program can be dropped after six sanctions, he added.

CEP's primary offices in this area are at Brainerd and Bemidji, but Nathan said he has worked with the county human services to try to arrange meetings between clients and CEP at family centers around the county, so it is more convenient for clients.

CEP also offers a diversionary work program to try to get people immediately into the workforce. When that does not work out, the people can be referred to MFIP instead, he said.

Also offered is a newer Family Stabilization Services program the 2007 Legislature started. Under this, CEP develops a family stabilization plan to set a path to unsubsidized employment, family stability and to reduce barriers to full employment.

This may mean looking at the person's physical and mental capabilities, coordinating services to help with needed assistance or education, monitoring progress and working closely with county financial workers.

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CEP will help people gain work experience, sometimes through volunteering when paying jobs are not available in their field - even job shadowing.

English classes are made available to those to whom English is their second language, he said.

Nathan said he believes the effort to get people the tools they need to successfully gain a living wage job under "welfare to work" legislation has been a success. The number of people applying for these assistance programs has dropped significantly since the programs began nearly 30 years ago, he said, indicating to him that fewer people need help exiting the welfare system.

He said in his 15 years at CEP he has seen many people who came from generational welfare families become the first self-supporting person in their family.

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