On a recent trip to California, I took part in a wonderful event in San Francisco’s Mission District - also known as “The Mission” - one of the most racially and economically diverse areas in the nation. After parking the car, Jesus Mendoza Jr., Regional Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service’s Western Region, escorted me to a room buzzing with activity and excitement. Now given my role as Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), you might expect that we were visiting a food bank or a meal program for low-income children.
But this visit wasn’t about food.
It was about jobs!
Employers were strategically located around the room, waiting to interview the hundred-plus jobseekers attending the recruitment event for Jobs NOW!, San Francisco’s nationally recognized Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training (E&T) program. I had the chance to meet with several employers. Some were new to the program, while others had participated for years and hired dozens of program graduates. But they all had one thing in common: their support of the E&T program and the quality work it does preparing participants for employment.
In the second room, jobseekers sat patiently awaiting their opportunity for a job interview. They looked confident and ready, and rightly so. Interview preparation is one of the E&T program’s many critical components. But it doesn’t stop there, because the program doesn’t only promote job readiness. It also provides training, work experience opportunities, and supportive services such as clothes, tools, and transportation.
The E&T program is centered on seven intensive components that provide employment opportunities to participants at every level of job readiness. It simultaneously, creates a new, untapped talent pool for San Francisco area employers struggling to find workers.
Although San Francisco has a minimum wage of $13/hour, Jobs NOW! understands how difficult it can be to afford housing in one of the most expensive cities in the United States on those wages.
So the E&T program’s goal of self-sufficiency means that Jobs NOW! works to move people into job opportunities that pay more than minimum wage.
Following the tour of the recruitment event, I met five former Jobs NOW! participants who had all moved into unsubsidized employment, most with incomes in the $25/hour range. This diverse group each had barriers ranging from alcohol and drug abuse to incarceration and homelessness prior to enrollment in the program. And each, like countless other program participants, credits SNAP E&T with changing their lives. Eighteen months after exiting the program, 53 percent of participants no longer required SNAP benefits, according to Jobs NOW!
It was a thrill to meet real people and families to hear the stories of how our programs transform lives. The evidence shows that these programs really work to move people with significant barriers to employment into steady employment with family supporting wages. The SNAP E&T program is demonstrating, throughout the nation, how quality training and work readiness programs can achieve exactly that result. In San Francisco, Jobs NOW! is one of the programs leading the charge.