Welfare to Work, November 1999

Denver Women's Commission
Welfare to Work, November 1999

Chaer Robert
November 12, 1999


LaShonda Boyd has been working at a downtown mortgage company for over three months. She earns about $1360. per month. She pays exactly one-third of her income in rent for her apartment at Decatur Place. She has three children—ages 8 months, four years and eight years. She takes the two youngest to childcare a block away. She pays $145. per month as her share of subsidized child care. For her eight-year-old, she pays $20. per month for him to be in an after-school program at a nearby church. As a Capricorn, she explains, she likes the stability and solidness of her current life. She doesn’t like bouncing around.

But her current stability is incredible fragile. While she has done well at work, she knows she is on the edge. She has been on and off welfare for eight years. She has had many jobs, but has lost them. Most often it was because one of the children was sick, and she was absent more than her employers permitted. Sometimes it was because she had too many “appointments” – well baby check-ups, food stamps, etc. Sometimes it was because she was late too often. This time she tries not to take chances. Her food stamps will be late because she didn’t want to jeopardize her job for a food stamp appointment. Her most dreaded call is one from her children’s childcare center. If she is called to pick up a sick child one too many times, she could lose her job.

She had a car, but the engine blew up. She could not afford to replace the engine, so after a few months, it was towed away from the apartment’s parking lot. Currently, she commutes to work by bus. Her back-up sick-child care is a friend’s mother who lives across town. Without a car, she worries she could be late if she has to take her children there.

She currently has health insurance for herself through work. She could not afford the extra cost of full family coverage. Her children are covered through Medicaid for one year after she stopped receiving welfare. She had not heard about the Child Health Plan, which provides children’s health insurance for a maximum of $30. per month for all the children.

Her biggest worry is housing. Decatur Place is transitional housing, with a maximum stay of two years. It is designed to help parents like LaShonda get on their feet, then out on their own. She has one year left. She has applied to be on the waiting list at various public housing programs. With the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Denver at $725. per month, and less than a 4% vacancy rate, affordable housing is scarce.

Her mother and siblings live in Denver, but, she explains, they have families and responsibilities of their own. The father of her oldest was court-ordered to pay child support, but she has received nothing. She doesn’t think he is working. The fathers of her younger two are currently in prison. She receives nothing from them.

Her dream job is to work in the health field. She took her current job for the stability. She completed her G.E.D. during her pregnancy and has enrolled in Community College to begin to study radiology. A friend at Decatur Place has offered to watch her children while she goes to school two nights a week, beginning in January.

The Center for Women’s Employment and Education helped LaShonda Boyd find her job. At CWEE she heard about the Welfare-to-Work program. She remembers they said they could provided help after employment with bus passes, clothing, housing and “other stuff. It was kind of vague.” Currently, she receives a bus pass and support from CWEE staff. She has applied to get help in getting another car, but has not heard back yet.

For her and others trying to make the transition, “let us know what programs are out there.” Of her current life, Lashonda says, “It’s hard.”

Programs like the Center for Women’s Employment and Education have a different life after welfare reform as well. In the past, CWEE relied on marketing to reach those on public assistance who were motivated to enter the job market. Now, “ready or not”, participants are required to enter the job market. Seeing so many pregnant women in job readiness training took some getting used to, CWEE Executive Director Laurie Harvey explains. In the past, CWEE required participants to have a high school diploma or GED. Now the many without a diploma or GED can take GED classes on-site. Traditionally CWEE has only served single parents. Now they are considering serving two-parent families as well.

One of the biggest changes is case management. CWEE is involving is supporting participants long after employment. That involved both working with their participants in the job site as well as employers. Brown bags luncheon seminars cover such topics as “hanging in there”, dealing with loss of benefits like child care subsidies and housing subsidies, and n