"Just get a job," is a retort all too familiar to Darla Hoemberg.

It's a sentence she's even thought about using when she first started working for Rural Minnesota CEP from her former career in human resources. She saw many people receiving assistance, that seemed capable of working, but weren't. But she soon realized that, for some, getting a job has many obstacles. Working through those obstacles has helped the Wadena site become an envy of other locations within the Rural Minnesota CEP (Concentrated Employment Program, Inc.). That's what Wadena County Commissioners heard during a recent report from Hoemberg, team leader with Wadena's Rural Minnesota CEP and Brian Gapinski, program manager for Brainerd, Wadena, Little Falls and Bemidji.

"The measures here in Wadena County have always been kind of an envy of other counties," Gapinski said.

Data from the last year showed that the Wadena office had 56 people come off a cash assistance program for various reasons. Thirty of those (54%) came off employed.

"Which is good, we think so anyway," Hoemberg said.

Seven of those also moved out of county, others had children removed or a significant other removed from the home and were no longer eligible for the assistance. The average wage of those employed is about $12.50. Sixty-five percent of the people they worked with were put to work before receiving any cash assistance.

Young children or children with special needs are an area keeping single parents and in some cases one of a two-parent families from entering the workforce. Even those able to work may have trouble finding care or affordable care for their children. Hoemberg shared an example of a client. One parent was unable to work as the family had multiple handicap children. The parent became certified to care for the children an was able to be paid to do so.

Mental health issues are also a common factor in keeping people from work. Hoemberg spoke about a girl who was deeply depressed. They managed to give her hope by placing her in a job she really enjoyed. Since that time she's been transferred within the franchise and still enjoys the place she gets to go to work at daily.

Other clients simply need help getting more education in order to advance their career. One client was working for $13 an hour while going to school to be an LPN. She's now making over $15 an hour still pursuing her degree in order to make even more money and succeed on her own. When clients do get that education staff tend to do a happy dance of sorts, knowing the education will benefit the individual.

"It's a big celebration when they do, because that is hard for people," Hoemberg said. "They know that it's going to help them get a better job in the long run. They know it's $9- $10 an hour otherwise. Even just having that GED helps them so much with their starting wage."

Right now the Wadena office has about 60 cases. Of those are 17 single families, 20 two-parent families, 21 family stabilization services, and two with a child under age 1.

Dollars going into the MFIP program can make their way back. Human Services director Tanya Leskey said that for every dollar spent in the MFIP program, $1.79 is returned to the Diversionary Work program.

Commissioner Sheldon Monson commented that he could tell Hoemberg was passionate about finding people work. Hoemberg said it can take time to help some find success.

"It's a little tougher than just getting a job and going to work," Hoemberg said.

Gapinski said while Wadena has done well over the years, a growing difficulty is that clients are becoming harder to serve.

"As these caseloads are changing and our economy is changing, it's moving everything around a little bit," Gapinski. He said it's going to be important for them to change to meet the needs of clients who may be facing more mental health concerns or disabilities.

"We need to meet people where they are at," Gapinski said.

Some of these groups in need require help from other sectors of Human Services. The groups need to work hand-in-hand more often to better serve these groups.

As part of this meeting, commissioners approved a 2020-2021 county MFIP service agreement worth $271,326.

About MFIP

Rural CEP provides employment and training services for people receiving cash from Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). MFIP helps families move to work and focuses on helping families. It includes both cash and food assistance. When most families first apply for cash assistance, they will participate in the Diversionary Work Program, or DWP. This is a four month program that helps parents go immediately to work rather than receive welfare. Some families may be referred to MFIP when they first apply for assistance or after they finish four months of DWP. Parents are expected to work and are supported in working. Most families can get cash assistance for only 60 months.

In order to be eligible for these benefit programs, you must be a resident of Minnesota, either pregnant or responsible for a child under age 19, either a U.S. citizen or have a qualified non-citizen immigration status, have low or very low income, and be either under-employed (working for very low wages), or unemployed, and meet program asset limits.

If you're struggling to find employment or or are an employer looking to hire, visit https://www.careerforcemn.com/wadena, visit them at 124 First Street SE Suite 2 or call 631-7660.