By Patricia Jones, Task Force on Poverty
People who currently receive SNAP benefits may be eligible for the SNAP Next Step Employment and Training (E&T) Program. This program assists unemployed and underemployed individuals by helping them gain the necessary skills needed to find employment that better fits their career goals and that pays a living wage.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Nebraska Department of Labor (DOL) have been collaborating in Grand Island, Norfolk, Hastings, Kearney, Columbus, and North Platte, Lexington and the Nebraska Panhandle area to launch this program. In addition to those listed, surrounding areas and counties are also served.
The goal of SNAP Next Step is to help families and individuals who are currently enrolled in SNAP (food stamps) who would like to work more hours, earn more income, work in a job more relevant to their education or interests, or establish a more family-friendly work schedule. Ideally, participants may no longer need SNAP benefits after completing the program.
Since 2016, nearly 350 Nebraskans have found new and better employment. Clients who were actively seeking employment started new positions an average of 127 days (approximately 4.5 months) after enrollment. Clients who were placed in Work Experience or On the Job Training were able to start their new positions an average of 31 days (approximately 1 month) after enrollment. Clients who completed a degree or certification before finding new employment were able to start their new positions an average of 130 days (approximately 4.5 months) after enrollment. On average, the monthly gross income increase is $1,260!
DHHS and DOL staff will work with individuals one-on-one to help overcome challenges and to identify programs or assistance available. Participants can receive job search and resume assistance, interview training, occupational skills training services, on-the-job training, and tuition assistance for short-term training programs.
DHHS and DOL recognize that people searching for better employment opportunities have other needs as well. This program offers some help with transportation costs, vouchers to buy clothing for interviews or work clothing, financial assistance for child care, education materials, background checks, and more.
SNAP Next Step E&T receives referrals from DOL, DHHS eligibility workers, and community agencies. Potential participants can also self-refer by contacting their workforce coordinator by phone or email. When a referral is received, contact is made by phone call to discuss the program to screen the applicant and to see if they are going to be eligible. The candidate must receive SNAP but not ADC or TANF, and must be a US citizen or legal permanent resident. If they are interested and eligible, a face to face meeting is set up in one of the DOL offices. If unable to meet face to face, virtual meetings can be held. The coordinator will need their name and social security number or master case to be able to determine if they are SNAP eligible. If someone does not yet have SNAP and would like to apply, Workforce Coordinators will guide them through this process in order to be eligible for Next Step E&T.
Once a person is enrolled, a Workforce Coordinator provides case management. The Workforce Coordinator will meet regularly with participants to discuss the employment plan, progress, and how to deal with any barriers that may arise. They will give guidance on benefit options and budgeting the income being earned. A follow-up will determine whether the new job is a good fit for the new employee, or whether a different career pathway should be pursued.