Share this article

print logo


Michelle Ashley, mother of eight, has been on and off welfare for the last 17 years.

After all that time, the 33-year-old Buffalo resident is optimistic that she can shake off the heavy yoke and prove that not all women on welfare continue to have children so they can keep those checks coming.

Ms. Ashley is on the road to success. She has scored high in a federal welfare reform program targeted to thousands of welfare recipients classified as "hard-core jobless."

It's not inexpensive.

Erie County has almost $5 million and two years to move 650 hard-core jobless welfare recipients from the dole into jobs.

The lead agency for the program -- Greater Buffalo Works -- is the Buffalo and Erie County Private Industry Council. Maureen Krause is program coordinator.

Several non-profit agencies have been contracted by the council to provide the counseling, education and job training.

In Erie County, more than 10,000 of the 21,000 people on welfare fall into this "hard-core" classification, according to Erie County Social Services Commissioner Deborah A. Merrifield.

Despite Ms. Ashley's having more than her share of problems, she has turned out to be an outstanding student almost from the first day, just weeks ago, when she entered the special program and was assigned on-the-job training at Buffalo City Hall.

"Michelle has developed more quickly and learned more quickly than some of the job applicants sent to us by the Civil Service Commission," said Donald O. Allen, Buffalo's commissioner of Human Services.

"I am going to do everything to help Michelle get a permanent job somewhere in one of the city's departments."

"I knew I had made mistakes," Ms. Ashley admits, "but I can do things now I couldn't do before because I just didn't have the help I needed."

She dropped out of high school at 16 after becoming pregnant.

"Back then, they didn't have programs for single teen-age mothers," Ms. Ashley remembered, "so how could I stay in school and take care of a baby?"

Ms. Ashley married her child's father and said she suffered through an abusive marriage for more than 10 years.

Along the line she tried to earn a GED diploma, but there were too many problems with classes and child care. She did earn a nurse's aide certificate, but the part-time minimum wages couldn't keep up with just the child-care costs.

Now, Greater Buffalo Works subsidizes child-care costs as well as provides health care and transportation along with counseling and job training.

The histories of the 650 people who will be selected for the program don't instill confidence in employers -- lack of education, family violence, homelessness, substance abuse, mental health problems, criminal records.

To overcome those obstacles, there will have to be individualized services that can be are costly but they are the answer.

"Getting the hard-to-serve program wasn't easy," Ms. Merrifield explained, "because of the strict guidelines.

There are no comments - be the first to comment