TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Welfare-to-Work programs are designed to help people become competitive in the workforce, find a steady job, and eventually become self sufficient. Are welfare recipients in Ohio receiving the valuable job-training your tax dollars are paying for?
In Summit County, Ohio, the answer appears to be, "No."
Summit County's welfare-to-work program is called SCOPE, the Summit County Occupational Preparation Experience.
Windfall is a not-for-profit company that operates the SCOPE program for the Summit County Department of Jobs and Family Services. Taxpayers foot the $500,000 a year bill for Windfall Industries to operate SCOPE.
At headquarters, our cameras never got passed the front lobby. However, WTOL obtained undercover video showing Windfall using the participants of its program as free labor, having people who hoped for job training perform menial tasks like stuffing cotton swabs.
A woman who we will call "Macy" has been out of a job for two years. The federal government requires Macy and the 214,000 other Ohioans who receive cash assistance to work at least 30 hours a week, even if it is doing work like bagging cotton swabs.
As part of the SCOPE program, participants are also required to attend actual job skill classes, but our undercover video shows most of the workers in the shop and only a handful in the nearby classroom.
"[The] job skill classes are a joke because you don't get nothing out of them," said Macy. "I felt like it was a waste of time."
Patricia Divoky, the director of the Summit County Job and Family services, said the menial work being done was as a way to gauge skills.
"I didn't say it was training. We're assessing what they're doing, assessing soft skills," said Divoky.
Job and Family Services Analyst Heather Yannayon said participants in the program are also receiving important lessons about workplace etiquette and conventions.
"You need to come in on time. You need to dress appropriately," said Yannayon. "You can't be on your cell phone all day long. Just basic work rules."
One man who took part in SCOPE said he received no useful training.
"[The program] trained me to do nothing," said Paul Osborne, a SCOPE program participant. "[We were just] counting cotton swabs that were packaged to various stores."
According to Lucas County Job and Family Services, the State of Ohio is in "corrective action" and is facing a 150 million dollar penalty from the federal government.
Ohio has told the Health and Human Services it will have at least a 50 percent participation rate in the state by September 2012. The HHS told WTOL 11 in 2009 Ohio had a rate of 23 percent.
And what happens to all those cotton swabs? Well, WTOL 11 found them on the shelves of stores, reaping the benefits of free labor at taxpayers' expense.
As for Macy: she's still looking for a job.
"All I really know is how to put q-tips in a box," said Macy. "That's all it taught me."
Here in our area, the Lucas County Job and Family Services representatives told WTOL 11 there are about 1,000 people who get cash assistance and who work 30 hours a week in the work experience program.
The representatives did confirm these companies are receiving workers for "free," but the organizations have to maintain requirements for that help. Jobs and Family Services has discontinued relationships with some businesses in the past because they have not kept up with their end of the job-skill training.
Copyright 2011 WTOL. All Rights Reserved.
730 North Summit Street