LIMA — A pilot program to eliminate the benefit cliff for workers transitioning from public assistance into full-time employment has its first graduate.
Tyree Graves, of Lima, became the first person to complete the 18-month Employment Incentives Program, an initiative founded by Ohio Means Jobs Allen County offering cash incentives and financial assistance to individuals who continue working as their benefits phase out.
The program was founded in 2018 to incentivize work and minimize financial stress for individuals who are no longer eligible for income-based assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, with up to $2,500 in incentives available for participants who complete the program.
While the incentives accrue gradually, participants are also eligible for emergency assistance to help pay for housing, transportation and other needs as their benefits are reduced.
The program has enrolled 55 people since its May 2018 launch, with Graves the first to reach the 18-month mark.
Graves was earning $10 an hour through a temp agency at the time. But Graves’s food assistance was cut back, even though he needed to work at least 90 days as a temp before he would be eligible for full-time employment, according to Ohio Means Jobs Allen County.
The sudden loss of public assistance is often described as the benefit cliff, which may unintentionally incentivize those who need public assistance to stay under-employed to avoid losing valuable benefits.
The Employment Incentives Program helped Graves with his rent, utilities and even a down payment for a car to help him stay employed, according to Ohio Means Jobs Allen County. He earned another $2,500 in financial incentives over the course of 18 months, during which he received several raises from his employer.
Graves is now a night shift supervisor for Heat Treating Technologies.
Jessie Doyle, a jobs center administrator for OMJ Allen County who helps oversee the incentives program, said the goal is for participants to eventually earn $16 to $18 an hour. At that point, she said, “you’re on the path to self-sufficiency.”
Several participants who are expected to graduate in February are close to that mark, Doyle said, while three others exceeded income eligibility guidelines after one year. Only six have been disqualified because they quit or were terminated from a job.
The program offers more than money: participants are also encouraged to take financial literacy courses and work closely with a job coach. Doyle believes those services are essential to the program’s eventual success.
“The job coach (is) building the relationship and rapport with the participant to help guide them through this transition and provide them with the information and resources to move forward,” she said. “Financial literacy and budgeting have been key factors in assisting the participant during the transition from public assistance ending and continuing on their path to self-sufficiency.”
State Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who helped OMJ Allen County develop the incentives program, is watching to see whether the pilot has statewide potential.
“It’s clear there are people who have been incentivized to not work,” Huffman said. “It’s also clear that there are a lot of people who would rather work than not work. It’s one thing to have freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, but it’s another thing to be economically free.
“People would rather work if the structure that the government puts in place makes it financially viable for them to work.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.