HC adopts Work First plan

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 27, 2006

WINTON – In August, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to implement a program designed to raise the quality of life for all citizens.

On Oct. 20, Gwen Burns, Director of Hertford County Social Services submitted the Work First County Plan to the board for approval.

The program, which is aimed at making citizens who are dependent on federal and state assistance employable, is the end result of the Work First Planning Committee that was organized to identify the needs of the county’s population base.

Started in 1998, the Work First program is part of N.C. House Bill 168 Special Provision 16.15 (a) -(c), and N.C. Executive Order #90, Workforce Investment Act.

Members of the business community, the educational system, the religious community as well as members of community based human services agencies were represented on the committee that formed the plan which outlines the program in Hertford County over the next two years.

Burns summarized the motivation of the initiative in her presentation to the commissioners.

&uot;The Hertford County Work First Planning Committee believes that every able-bodied adult should be gainfully employed with purchasing power that provides for a decent standard of living,&uot; Burns said. &uot;This will allow for Hertford County residents to become self-sufficient and productive citizens, as well as break the cycle of poverty that many county residents live under.&uot;

The plan details the demographics of the county as they relate to unemployed citizens and the hurdles they face trying to re-enter the labor force.

Statistics submitted by Burns show the unemployment rate for the county at 5.3 percent as of August of this year.

The total number of employable people in the labor force for Hertford County was 9,783 for that month.

In February, the unemployment rate was at 5.9 percent, the highest for the year.

The plan states the biggest challenges facing participants in the Work-First program are affordable child-care services and lack of transportation.

Other issues of concern for the local unemployed population are inadequate educational proficiency, lack of affordable housing, a limited number of unskilled labor positions and inadequate pay.

The only two employers in the county considered major industry by the committee are Nucor Steel and Rivers Correctional Institution.

One of the primary targets for the Work First program will be families with income at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.

Burns said to date she has been pleased with the performance of the program.

&uot;We have had very positive results,&uot; Burns said. &uot;We have seen quite a few citizens move from state and federal assistance, to Work-First assistance and finally into the realm of employed citizens.&uot;