Ken Hudak is a maintenance worker at a luxury apartment complex just north of Atlanta, where he takes care of 250 residences.
“I like this job a lot because it’s a brand new set of buildings. So it’s more changing light bulbs than, you know, replacing toilets or anything like that,” he said.
Just a few month ago, Hudak found himself without work.
For 10 years, he’d been a caretaker for a woman with multiple sclerosis. After he lost that job, he qualified for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. That opened the door for free job training at Goodwill, where he heard about a six-week certificate program in apartment maintenance.
“I learned basic plumbing; I learned how to work on air-conditioning units and things like that,” he said.
It landed him his new job. Now, he no longer needs food stamps.
Goodwill of North Georgia offers this type of job training for food stamp recipients in 16 different career pathways from welding and construction to logistics and health care.
The organization has had a contract with the state for about a year to provide this mandated training for single adults receiving food stamps in 16 counties. They must work or get training for 20 hours a week if they want to continue getting food stamps. Many have gotten full-time jobs and are no longer on public assistance.
“Eighty-three percent success rate in just a very limited amount of time that we’ve had this program going,” said Keith Parker, CEO of Goodwill of North Georgia. “I don’t know of any other government subsidy-type program with such a success rate.”
Currently, only single adults are required to work or get job training if they’re getting food stamps. In Georgia, that’s just about 5 percent of food stamp recipients. The vast majority of the people living in the 700,000 poor households in Georgia’s SNAP program have children, are elderly or are disabled. A proposed federal farm bill would require parents with children over 6 years old to also fulfill the 20-hour work or training requirement. That means nationwide 3 million more people would suddenly need job training.
“Every state would be required to provide a slot for each of those 3 million people,” said Russell Sykes of the American Public Human Services Association, where he is the director of the Center for Employment and Economic Well-Being.
The conundrum with the current farm bill, he says, is that its intentions might be good, but the training needed to get that many people ready for jobs is expensive. The farm bill only includes $1 billion for more training.
“It falls short of what’s actually going to be required to get the job done effectively,” he said.
Sykes knows that there are about 5 million jobs waiting to be filled by qualified workers, but many who receive food stamps “quite often face a number of skill deficits, and for parents of children, there are obviously issues around child care, and in rural areas, issues around transportation,” he said.
State officials wouldn’t say if Georgia is able to properly train thousands more SNAP recipients should the farm bill pass in its current form.