New effort to help more Mississippians become "self-sufficient"

MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Efforts are being made to help more Mississippians become self-sufficient. This is largely through a new division that has been created through the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The Division of Workforce Development was established earlier this year. Its mission is to do more to help residents who receive government assistance for necessities like food.

"What was in place before was that we just focused on coming in and making sure that you were eligible for food stamps or TANF," says Marilyn Williams, who is director for the Mississippi Department of Human Services office in Lauderdale County. "Now we focus on the needs to become self sufficient."

To help make this a reality, the newly formed Division of Workforce Development provides the tools necessary to help a recipients who can become gainfully employed.

"If your household needs child care," says Williams. "If you need help with behavioral issues we can help."

There are more checks and balances in the Employment Training Program. They require some of the clients to actually go to the office at least once a month to check in with a counselor. If the clients can't afford to do this, a transportation stipend is provided.

"I noticed that it's working," says Williams. "As of today we've referred about 400 people to GenPlus. Most are geared to Families First which focuses on the family, and that started new here in June."

Families First is a privately run program that the Workforce Development Division is partnering with in this effort.

"Families First offers parenting classes, life skills classes, financial management classes if they need it," says Families First Coordinator for Lauderdale County, Gretchen Luvene.

The services provided through Families First are free.

"If they need help with how to build a resume, we are here," says Luvene. "We will actually have a career closet to help them when they're ready to go into the workforce, to help them have the proper attire for mock interviews."

Ultimately, the local workforce development coordinator is optimistic that the program will have an impact.

"It may take a long time," says Williams. "The goal is to become self sufficient. So, we don't expect it to happen tomorrow."

The program that currently assist people in need of food in Mississippi is called "SNAP." That's short for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. There are currently 5,000 households in Lauderdale County that are enrolled to receive SNAP benefits.