SPECIAL FEATURE: City Gets CHA Funds Update

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With the clock ticking for many Chicago Housing Authority residents receiving government assistance, CHA officials failed to implement a much-needed welfare to work program for over one year, a continuing Residents’ Journal investigation has found.

In 1999, CHA won a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to service residents receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a federal assistance program.

But in recent interviews, CHA officials admitted the program had been held up for one year after city officials took over the agency in spring 1999.

During numerous public meetings since the city takeover, residents and their advocates asked CHA officials what happened to the funds the agency previously used for social services. Residents’ advocates had specifically asked what CHA did with the $5 million welfare-to-work grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

CHA was to service the TANF residents beginning January 1999, according to the grant agreement award notification from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration.

The document states, “The period of performance shall be 30 months from Jan. 4, 1999 to June 30, 2001.” The grant was extended in January 2000 until December 2001.

CHA officials explained the program had been held up “due to lag time,” wrote CHA spokesperson Francisco Arcaute. “When the CHA reform started in ’99, the program was put on hold. For a year, no services were delivered.”

Funds Go to City
Residents’ Journal has learned CHA allocated $3.8 million from the $5 million welfare to work grant for a subcontract with the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (MOWD) to recruit and enroll 900 CHA residents receiving TANF funds.

Shortly after the city takeover, CHA began transferring federal dollars to other city agencies. The funds previously had been used for the Authority’s educational, sports and recreational, police, jobs-training and welfare-to-work programs for residents.

CHA’s agreement with MOWD states the agency was to begin servicing the TANF residents in January 2001.

Further Delays
Already more than one year behind, the welfare-to-work program is facing further delays, MOWD admitted. According to the Intergovernmental Agreement with CHA, MOWD was subcontracted to “provide the transitional employment assistance needed to move (hundreds of) hard-to-employ CHA residents who are recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) into lasting unsubsidized jobs that provide good career potential for achieving economic self sufficiency.”

CHA spokesperson Francisco Arcaute said 5,031 CHA residents in family, senior and City/State buildings are in the TANF program. Of those residents, 4,290 are from family developments.

Despite those thousands of residents receiving TANF, MOWD spokesperson Liz Libby explained that her agency is experiencing difficulty in securing the 900 CHA TANF residents.

“Not to say that it’s been hard but there are a lot fewer people on TANF than there are CHA residents,” she said. “There are fewer TANF recipients who are CHA residents than we originally thought. So it was challenging to reach just that group of people because we didn’t want to send the wrong message to everyone at CHA.

“There aren’t really that many people who meet the eligibility requirements of this particular grant.” MOWD is responsible for placing 600 of the 900 CHA residents into jobs.

But in August, MOWD spokesperson Libby said only 342 people were enrolled in the program and just 106 people had been placed in employment since January.

“That’s the figures as of July. The August figures aren’t in yet,” Libby said. “Pyramid Partnership, which is one of our contractors, just opened up a new location at the South Side Robert Taylor Homes to identify people there. There are three contractors right now. Abraham Lincoln Centre and Career Works as well,” she said.

Libby expressed optimism about recruiting the correct number of CHA TANF residents. “The recruitment has really stepped up in the last few months but it was foregoing for the first couple. But now, we’ve sort of hit a stride. “We’re confident that a good referral mechanism is in place and that we’ll get the numbers that we need,” Libby said.

As to whether MOWD will fulfill its obligation within the contract time period, Libby said that CHA would soon ask U.S. Department of Labor officials for an extension. “We’re looking to get an extension for a year,” Libby said “We’re seeking an extension so that we can meet and exceed those numbers,” she said.

Amy Santacaterina, director of MOWD’s Adult Unit Program, elaborated on the extension. “We are in the process of asking for an extension which I think across the country is kind of consistent with a lot of welfare to work contracts across the country to complete the contract requirements. CHA is really in the process of asking for a contract extension (with the Department of Labor) in order to meet those numbers,” Santacaterina said.

As to why CHA is asking for another extension, the public housing authority’s spokesperson, Arcaute, said, “We need more time.”

Resident Recruitment
Libby said MOWD is recruiting CHA residents primarily through Local Advisory Councils (LACs), word of mouth and referrals from the Illinois Department of Human Services. “It’s been primarily in conjunction with the LACs. They try every creative strategy that you can think of to get the word out. They’ve done flyers, raffles and newsletters within each LAC.

The next thing is word of mouth really helps and that is where you get the momentum from. “If you are on public aid, you have to go to your public aid office. They will be able to tell you that there is a program that will help you get a job that is located right in your residence.”

Libby said one way MOWD will find residents is by using information from the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), the agency that administers public aid.

“It’s something that ultimately IDHS has to identify the people who come to us for the program,” said Libby.

Follow Up Services
The Intergovernmental Agreement with CHA also requires MOWD to follow up for up to one year with the 600 residents who are placed in jobs.

The agreement states MOWD should “provide referrals for post-employment education and training opportunities such as GED, EDL or occupational skills training, based on the needs of participant and employer” for up to one year.

Libby said MOWD was supporting the CHA TANF residents that had been employed. “We offer support services like transportation and clothing and employer visits. All kinds of sort-of wrap-around services to help people while they are in their jobs,” she said.

“Part of it (follow up) is calling the individuals (the working residents) and the employers. It’s a two-way street because they (the working CHA TANF recipients) also call us. And they call the people who helped them get into their jobs in the first place. So it’s a really personalized relationship that’s kept up for a length of time to ensure that person is successful in their job.”

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