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RISE HELPS WELFARE PARENTS WORK ON SELF-SUFFICIENCY

SHARE RISE HELPS WELFARE PARENTS WORK ON SELF-SUFFICIENCY

Last year, Leigh Ann Witte was an unemployed single mother of three, wondering how she could possibly support her family without a job, income or marketable skill.

Today, 29-year-old Witte is a graduate of the Salt Lake City Community College Skills Center with a certificate in office information systems and is employed with a Salt Lake City firm, Deluxe Check Printers.Witte was the beneficiary of Utah's RISE (Realizing Independence through Successful Employment) program, designed to help people who on welfare become self-supporting.

"It is our belief that everyone would rather be employed than live in poverty," said Jan Hansen, director of the Office of Family Support. "Most people simply need temporary assistance while they work though their problems. We provide financial, emotional and educational support to help people help themselves."

Utah has been involved in promoting self-sufficiency for welfare recipients since about 1981, according to Mary McConaughy, associate regional director for the Office of Family Support in the Human Services Department.

"This is the primary program all our welfare parents go into," McConaughy said.

Connie Cowley, Utah RISE program specialist, said the federal Family Support Act of 1988 created the Job, Opportunity, and Basic Skills program, a federally funded program to enable welfare parents to become self-sufficient.

"In Utah we decided to use the acronym RISE," Cowley said. "We start with the approach of looking at their present job skills and history. If our assessment specifies it, we will provide job training - but that is not automatic."

Cowley said an incentive of the program is that when a welfare client gets a job, that income is not totally deducted from the welfare payments. Only a percentage is subtracted, so the client realizes a real increase in income for working.

"There is not an absolute sharp plunge in income just because she goes to work," she said. Cowley said that every time a welfare recipient becomes self-sufficient, the taxpayers save and actually benefit because another taxpayer is thus added to the community.

Witte said that since the program helped her become self-sufficient, her self-esteem has escalated.

"The most important thing in life is the way you feel about yourself," she said. "No one has to even like me now - I can like myself and I'll be just fine."