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'It's going to manifest and change lives': Portage Co. program to help get people back to work

Portage Co. program to help get people back to work
Posted at 6:11 AM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 14:00:36-05

RAVENNA, Ohio — The road to success is long and can have some speed bumps along the way. But OhioMeansJobs in Portage County is working to ease the burden for those who qualify.

The agency just rolled out a new solution called the Employment Incentive Program.

Those who work in the office said well before the pandemic hit, transportation was an issue for people looking to get back to work.

“We do have public transportation, but it's limited in the hours and the areas that it reaches," said Supervisor Kristi Gellner. "And being more of a rural county we have a lot of folks who would otherwise be employable, but aren't able to get to where they need to go.”

Under the Employment Incentive Program, people who qualify can get financial assistance with things like car payments, a down-payment on a new vehicle, driver's license fees or other transportation-related expenses.

“We think it's going to make a significant impact to the people that we're trying to serve, as well as our businesses in Portage County who are in desperate need of viable employees for their companies," said Portage County Job and Family Services Director Kellijo Jeffries.

“We just thought what is a creative way that we can kind of get to those people, find a solution for those issues and get them back to work," said Gellner.

In order to apply for the program, applicants must be at or below 200% of the federal poverty line and have minor children. Women who are pregnant also qualify.

But Gellner said this isn't just about money. Case managers inside the OhioMeansJobs offices are also focusing on the counseling aspect, too.

“We’re really sitting down with families and helping them develop the tools to help themselves, to get their families in a great place at the end of our program," said Gellner.

Applications for this program are live in the OhioMeansJobs systems for six months. In that time, case managers will work with applicants to maximize the benefits available to them within the county.

“It’s really unfortunate that it’s coming on the heels of the pandemic, but it’s here and so we’re really excited to present the outcomes of lives changing," Jeffries said.

Jeffries said the agency received $28,000 from the state to launch the new program. Those funds can be used until summer 2022. The director said if those dollars are expended before then, they will supplement the program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.

Though people without children do not qualify for this program, Jeffries said her agency is now exploring other avenues to help that group of people as well.

“We're working to look or secure grants and other funding opportunities, so we can address those barriers for the adults, without dependence as well, so more to come in that space," Jeffries said.

Click here to learn more about the new program.