Pennsylvania Secretary of Public Welfare Gary D. Alexander oversees the Department of Public Welfare, which provides services and supports to more than 2.1 million low-income, elderly and disabled Pennsylvanians.
Alexander recently talked with the Business Journal about the challenges his department faces and his goals for the department. Here's the first part of the interview; to read the rest, check out this Friday's Business Journal.
What do you see as your department's role in Pennsylvania's business environment?
I think historically throughout the nation the business community has never been plugged into the welfare department. We need a greater connection between labor, welfare and the business community, so we can utilize the talent we have in the people we have who need training.
I think the governor's budget reflected that this year in the Jobs First initiative. In October, we're holding an employment summit for those on disability with the ARC of Luzerne County, to bring greater awareness to the fact that we have talented individuals on our caseload who are employable, although they may not fit the cookie-cutter mold.
In Luzerne County, Lowe's corporation has employed more than 70 people with disabilities who not only can hold jobs but can do well. Sometimes government has been an impediment to seeking employment, because sometimes disabled individuals have been told that if you work full time, you'll lose your benefits. The experience at Luzerne has told us that the vast majority of these individuals don't want to be on government benefits, they want to be working. Some are blind, some are deaf, but their productivity is as good as or better than anyone else working at the Lowe's site. That type of connection for the business community is very important.
For the rest of the community, able-bodied people, real work experience is best achieved through actual work. We have a real focus on that. We're increasing our targeted job-training programs, because in the past the department has spent quite a bit of money with low results. You don't need a master's degree to fill some of these positions – in farms and places like factories, or Lowe's, for example. We want greater awareness of that for the business community, because our success is their success. Helping this generation on welfare will only benefit the business community.