Gov. Phil Bryant announced March 23 a federal program to get people trained, employed and out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Mississippi is one of 10 states participating in this program. Mississippi will receive $20.5 million over three years for workforce training, transportation, child care and job placement for able-bodied SNAP recipients.
The Clarion-Ledger reported the Mississippi Department of Human Services will lead the program.
“This is a pilot program for 3,600 SNAP recipients,” Bryant said. “If an able-bodied SNAP recipient declines to participate in this program, his or her benefits could be discontinued.”
Mississippi Public Broadcasting reported the Mississippi Department of Human Services will identify 3,600 recipients living in one of five community college areas. Career training will target the needs of employers.
“We would be looking at some things in the medical field,” said Richard Berry, executive director of the Department of Human Services.
“There’s always a need for welders and maybe some basic computer technology skills. That’s why we brought community colleges in. It’s because they know local markets.”
USM assistant professor of economics Sondra Collins analyzed the story and gave her thoughts on the program.
“If participants did lose funding for failing to participate, the fairness of this approach depends on a few things,” Collins said. “I would say the most important is how much choice the participants will have in what they study at the community college.”
Collins said disciplines such as welding will be targeted, but does not specify how SNAP participants in certain locations will be limited to welding.
“If welding is the focus, can I get (an) associate degree in accounting and still receive my benefits?” she said.
“I think the community colleges will decide what local businesses need and only offer those certifications or degrees to SNAP participants. If the answer was yes, I think that would add a level of fairness to the program.”
Collins also said education usually helps reduce poverty, and offering degrees or certificates to those in poverty is a step in the right direction provided that work eligibility and choice of school and work is managed carefully.
Mark Klinedinst, emeritus professor of economics at USM, also offered his analysis on the project.
“The program looks like it will help a number of people,” Klinedinst said.
“It is not clear that there will be any immediate impact on them. In the long run, if more people have jobs, hopefully good paying jobs, the demand for food stamps will go down.”
Klinedinst said this would be part of a larger strategy that would include creating a favorable climate for business growth. Part of said growth depends on the well-educated population that can develop the skills necessary for 21st-century jobs.
“Education funding and jobs programs are building blocks that are often neglected in Mississippi, hence job growth is stagnant, and our ability to keep talented workers and companies has been stunted,” Klinedinst said.