PORTLAND — A new city initiative to create employment opportunities for General Assistance recipients is showing early success.
City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Tuesday the Helping Individuals Regain Employment, or HIRE, program has drawn 54 people receiving General Assistance vouchers since Jan. 1.
Of those enrolled, Grondin said five have found full-time work, 12 have found part-time jobs and five more have completed applications for state-funded disability benefits.
“We are talking about a population that is overwhelmingly educated and motivated to work. This program will help them achieve their goals faster so they can make a better life for themselves and their families,” Councilor Ed Suslovic said Tuesday, hours before the Council Health and Human Services Committee he leads heard details of the program.
The HIRE program is administered by the Social Services division of the city Health and Human Services Department. Grondin said one employment specialist is working with clients now, and a second will be added within two weeks.
City Manager Jon Jennings said HIRE was established with noncitizen General Assistance recipients as a focus.
“I’m pleased to announce that our staff has had such a great response in enrolling participants that we’ll be expanding it for all recipients later this month,” he said.
The city General Assistance program provides vouchers for housing, food, medicine and other essential items to individuals and families, and requires able-bodied recipients to work. The city currently budgets $3.23 million for General Assistance, with 70 percent of vouchers reimbursed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The HIRE program seeks to create a labor pool for area businesses, and Grondin said 41 of those who enrolled are now registered at the Maine Job Bank, operated by the Maine Department of Labor. In addition, 39 were referred to the Portland Job Alliance and 26 to Goodwill of Northern New England.
With city unemployment at 2.8 percent, Grondin said local businesses are facing staffing problems. The HIRE program helps address labor shortages.
“The program works to address the business community’s need by eliminating the common barriers to employment, including low-English proficiency, foreign and unrecognized credentials, lack of a resume or U.S. work history, or a disability, and at the same time provides a way for recipients to thrive and not just survive,” she said.
Grondin said the city is also working on a recognition program for employers using the HIRE labor pool. To participate, business owners are asked to call Aaron Guyer at Social Services at 482-5131.
Councilor Ed Suslovic and his Health and Human Services Committee heard details of the city’s HIRE program for GA recipients on Tuesday.