"When we were fighting for welfare reform, one of the things we tried to look for was ways to change welfare from a way of life to a way to work," Voinovich said Tuesday at a press conference in a Hudson fabric and craft store.
The event also highlighted the firm's commitment to hiring people off welfare rolls.
As of today, Ohio Works First is the new name of the state welfare program. Changes to the system stem from changes in federal welfare laws, allowing states more flexibility in setting goals and limits for welfare clients. The state began changing the welfare rules three years ago and has seen a 45 percent decrease in the number of people on the roles, Voinovich said.
Speaking from inside a Jo-Ann etc. store in Hudson, Voinovich lauded Fabri-Centers of America as an example of a successful partnership between business and government. The national firm, which employs 2,400 people in 86 stores in Ohio, has hired 225 former welfare clients. Half that were hired from 11 different counties for in its Hudson distribution center. Companies can qualify for tax credits and payroll subsidies by partnering with the counties and state.
Ten of those new employees are from Portage County, said Connie Ihle, division chief of the new Family Employment and Support Services program in Portage. The county's Department of Human Services established the new division to handle the Ohio Works First programs.
Voinovich said flexibility is the key to success. "One size does not fit all on a federal level" _ or on state and local levels, he said. Ohio has more people in job training programs than any other state "including California, which has three times the number of people on welfare," he said.
While Ohio unemployment is the lowest in 25 years, Voinovich said the state is putting money aside for when the economy will slow and more people will need assistance. He said the state is also "aggressively working on day care" by budgeting more money and giving tax credits to firms which open day care facilities at company sites.
But Voinovich warned a recent federal Department of Labor ruling threatens to derail the job training program. The department said companies must still comply with all federal employment regulations for trainees.
"The training program needs to be left as such so companies can continue the training program and not be loaded up with red tape," the governor said. "Otherwise we'll be back in the same mess we were."
Under Ohio Works First counties can adjust program requirements to meet local needs, Ihle said. For example, Portage's program has a 30-hour-a-week work requirement for all eligible adult clients, including mothers with children under a year old.
With the end of all exemptions in Portage, Ihle said the caseload could double from 475 to more than 800 clients. At the same time many people are finding jobs through the program.
"Literally hundreds of people have been employed" in Portage since the emphasis was changed from preparing for work to getting a job, Ihle said. "Every month the caseload is going down in terms of people getting off cash assistance," she said.
"We believe in these programs because they work," said Alan Rosskamm, chief executive officer for Fabri-Centers of America. The company launched its government hiring programs in mid-1996. Rosskamm said the retention rate for employees hired through government partnership programs is higher than any other recruiting source.
"Over 80 percent of the associates we have hired through these programs are still with us today. This retention rate far exceeds any other recruiting source we have," Rosskamm said.
Voinovich said welfare changes have been successful in dramatically
reducing the number of people on welfare. Since August, 1992, more than
350,000 people have left welfare rolls, a 43 percent decrease, Voinovich