Grant to help low-income adults return to work

David Gamse Photo courtesy of JCA of Greater Washington

Despite an improving economy, the demands on a Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington program for low-income adults are increasing.

“There is greater and greater need” due to various factors, including that “the number of lower-income adults is soaring,” said David Gamse, chief executive officer of JCA.

Last month, the agency received a one-year grant to help low-income people age 55 and older develop skills to return to the workforce.

The approximately $706,000 federal funds from Senior Service America Inc. is for JCA’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is a paid on-the-job training program.

Participants must live in Montgomery or Frederick County, though the overwhelming majority are Montgomery County residents, have an annual income no higher than 125 percent of the poverty line – that is currently $15,175 for a one-person household — and be ready and able to work.

“This is a population in extreme need,” said Gamse.

“It is a very narrow population of persons that qualify.” Nevertheless, he said, “There is always a waiting list.”

Many are well over 55. “We’ve certainly had people in their 80s,” Gamse said.

Gamse said the program pays participants minimum wage for up to 20 hours a week of on-the-job training and experience in a not-for-profit or government agency.

“That nonprofit gets a free worker … in return for helping that person learn job skills and develop their resume,” he said.

Most are office positions, he said.

Among benefits beyond the economic ones, Gamse said, SCSEP promotes personal dignity through work. Participants stay connected to communities and are not isolated. “We are strengthening our communities,” Gamse said.

JCA receives the grant annually. This year’s grant of $706,373 is below last year’s $714,000. Ten percent of the grant goes to JCA’s administrative and related costs of the program.

The grant is for the year that began July 1 for at least 83 participants. Although people may stay in the JCA program up to four years, the average period is 18 months.

He said the program works with about 130 to 140 “host” agencies, generally between 60 and 70 in any year, including Holy Cross Hospital, the Ethiopian Community Center and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

Sometimes, agencies where participants receive training hire them, Gamse said. Jobs participants take after training need not be in nonprofit organizations or government. If the host agency does not hire a person who completed training there, the participant may be placed with another host agency. “We want them to continue building their resume and continue building their networks,” Gamse said.

Nationally, SCSEP is the sole federal job program strictly for poor, older workers, and is the only Older Americans Act program in the Department of Labor. Senior Service America works through local partners, such as JCA, in 34 states.

“Our long-term local partners are a key to the strength of SSAI and provide the systems to train older Americans into strategic advantage for employers and the country,”  Gary A. Officer, Senior Service America president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “We are very pleased to continue our support for the Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington for the 44th consecutive year.”

Employers interested in hiring SCSEP graduates should contact Yonette Wilson Williams, who directs the JCA’s SCSEP in Montgomery and Frederick counties, 240-395-0917 or [email protected].

Andrea F.  Siegel is a Washington-area writer.


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