Presidential candidate Bill Clinton vowed to end welfare as the country experiences explosive growth. Onondaga County alone had 12,000 cases on their books; representing 25,000 to 30,000 people.
Onondaga County, Onondaga Community College and other agencies begin meeting to revamp the employment side of welfare ahead of legislation.
The brainchild of Pat Higgins of OCC and David Sutkowy who would later become the Onondaga County DSS Commissioner. Launched just prior to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and became commonly known as the Welfare Reform Act.
As a result of the sweeping reform and the launch of JobsPlus!, welfare cases reduced by 60% in Onondaga County.
In our 25 year history, we’ve placed 61,684 job seekers in gainful employment.
JobsPlus! has been assisting Onondaga County residents receiving temporary assistance benefits in obtaining and keeping employment since 1995. JobsPlus! is a mandatory program for all recipients of cash Temporary Assistance (TA) in Onondaga County. Pre-Covid we served more than 5,500 people and placed 2,649 people in gainful employment.
An agency partnership with Onondaga Community College and the Onondaga County Department of Social Services-Economic Security (DSS), JobsPlus! seeks to offer employers skilled and ready-to-work applicants. Our job seekers reflect the diversity of our community and offer a range of skills in areas such as customer service, food service, healthcare, manufacturing, clerical and administrative professions.
Despite challenges to employability, JobsPlus! consistently ranks at the top for placements per capita when compared to similar-sized counties for the last 5 years. Now completing our 25th year of operation, we’ve made more than 60,000 placements with area employers.
JobsPlus! has been in existence now for 26 years. At its inception, Onondaga County had more than 12,000 cases on its annual Department of Social Services caseload. That’s not people, that’s cases; single individuals to families of 3, 4, and 5+ people. All of which were sustained by federal funds.
“Prior to 1994 Onondaga County focused on a sequential model of education, training, and job search for individuals in it’s JobsPlus! program. OCC had been participating by providing case management to college students on public assistance and vocational training in the form of certificate and degree programs. Gradually the college began doing more case management functions previously done by DSS. These functions included authorizing child care and transportation, entering data on NYS Welfare Management System, and participating in the conciliation and sanction process.
Approximately 3 years prior to the passing of PRWORA legislation, the college, the county and several other agencies came together to discuss revamping the entire welfare employment program.”
During former President Bill Clinton’s 1992 run for office, he promised to end welfare as we know it. As conversations began, committees formed, and legislation was being written and amended around that reform, Onondaga County was developing what would eventually become JobsPlus!. County employee David Sutkowy (who would eventually become DSS Commissioner) and former director of PACE (Public Assisted Comprehensive Employment) and first director of JobsPlus! at OCC, Pat Higgins worked together with County Executive Nick Pirro, and DSS Commissioner Bob Stone, and the JobsPlus! contract was subsequently awarded to OCC thanks to Pat’s work. It opened its doors on March 15th, 1995.
Our mission: “to focus everything that is said and done in the welfare system on helping people find and keep employment.” A groundbreaking program when it was created, it was strengthened a year and a half later by Clinton signing the welfare reform act known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). The bill “Requires State TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) programs to include certain mandatory work- (public or private, subsidized or unsubsidized), education-, and job-related activities, including job training and job search, for the purpose of providing such families with time-limited assistance in order to end their dependency on government benefits and achieve self-sufficiency.”
As you recall, I said that Onondaga County had 12,000 cases annually before JobsPlus! began. Five years after its inception, JobsPlus! reduced the caseload from 12,000 to only 4,800. That’s a 60% reduction! Now in our 25th year, we’ve placed 61,684 jobseekers in gainful employment.
Over the years, JobsPlus! has addressed crucial barriers to employability like transportation and childcare and worked to overcome inequities in our community as well. Past efforts included a partnership with the Gifford Foundation that granted scholarships to jobseekers for education and childcare, our “Teen ACE” program that incentivized hard work at school by granting scholarships to summer camps (Lourdes, Boeheim) for good report cards, and our “Wheels to Work” program that addressed critical transportation needs by awarding reliable vehicles to qualified job seekers who became gainfully employed and met other strict eligibility requirements.