by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
Jamye (pronounced “Jam-i”) Chapman, the new Director of W-2 Eligibility and Assessment for the Social Development Commission (SDC) doesn’t think the embattled program needs a dramatic overhaul or turn around.
Far from it. The Milwaukee native and former senior auditor and W-2 regional administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) believes the program just needs an infusion of energy and utilize innovative procedures to better serve an expanding segment of the population needing assistance.
As a former DCF auditor familiar with W-2 oversight, Chapman–a graduate of Martin Luther College in Minnesota–praised SDC’s administration of the program, saying it has always met and exceeded state expectations in providing employment preparation services, case management and cash assistance to eligible low-income families.
Chapman assumed his position in January, replacing Paula Lampley.
“The objective of W-2 is to get people into jobs,” Chapman said during a recent interview at the SDC’s offices located at 4041 N. Richards St. The program does this by assessing an individual’s employability by having a W-2 eligible participant meet with a Financial and Employment Planner, who helps the person develop an employability plan.
The participant is then transfered to a partner agency which works with the person for 12 days. Within that time frame, a person participates in orientation, fills-out paper work, and is moved into one of two workshops: The Job Club and “KEYS” (Keeping Employment Your Scope).
The Job club assists participants looking for work and ready to enter the workforce, provide employment coaching and support participants in developing essential skills and various resources needed for employment search. “KEYS” offers workshops which determines a participants most appropriate career objectives and identifies what skills a person must enhance to improve their employability.
Chapman admits there are pressing concerns threatening SDC’s continued administration of the program, especially the emergency assistance portion of the $24.8 million W-2 contract the agency has with the state’s Department of Children and Families.
SDC’s handling of its W-2 program has been in the uncomfortable glare of the mainstream media spotlight for several months. Media reports revealed SDC’s allegedly questionable documentation of the emergency assistance program for poor people, not having a cost allocation plan, the lack of proper documentation for the Job Access Loans program, which administers shortterm, no-interest loans designed to help with immediate expenses related to getting or keeping a job.
Chapman has the charge of making sure SDC is compliant with the rules and regulations of the state in administering the program.
“There have been challenges,” Chapman admitted. “All agencies have some of the same issues and challenges we have. But I can tell you not many–or few–agencies can say they met contract performance standards as SDC has.
“We’re working to implement strategies to meet and exceed standards and allow people to look at SDC as leaders in the W-2 program,” Chapman said, stressing the agency now has systems in place that increases accountability and efficiency.
Among the systems now in place:
• An electronic system that will allow managers to immediately make decisions on the eligibility of applicants for emergency assistance, which is a support service available to help those affected by homelessness, fire or natural disaster. Emergency Assistance (EA) and W-2 are separate programs which utilizes the same funding source. The new system reduces the number of days it takes to determine a person’s eligibility.
Currently the state allows five days to determine eligibility, something the agency had difficulty meeting in the past. Since the new system has been in place, SDC has reduced the determination time to 3.62 days, putting them 1.4 days ahead of schedule.
Chapman said no other agency does emergency assistance. “We process 35,000 Emergency Assistance applications–which is more than the entire state and 10-times more than the next largest county per week.”
• The implementation of a web-based purchasing system to enhance the ability to process payments. Instead of running it through the agency’s finance department, the payment request will go through the web purchasing system currently used to do electronic check requests. Finance personnel will be able to view purchasing requests directly online.
Chapman said these moves have helped resolve some of the problems that led to government reviews and a threatened termination of the emergency assistance portion of the W-2 contract.
Several weeks ago, Chapman unveiled function-specific performance standards for the W-2 program, which lays out every function of W-2 facilitators. Training will also be more intense and policy specific with processes updated to match the process with agreements, contracts and policies.
The SDC W-2 director also wants to put into place a proactive monitoring system that focuses on the agency’s compliance with W-2 guidelines so they can recognize and resolve challenges before they occur.
“It’s a problem that has now been resolved. We’re now looking to improve other services and functions.”
Chapman says the next challenge is changing the mind-set of W-2 participants to see the value of the program. “If they allow the program to work for them it can be a powerful path out of poverty,” he said, noting that many people still think of W-2 as welfare.
“It’s not a welfare program. It’s a work program. We have to break through that mentality of getting dollars without putting in the effort of getting a job,” Chapman said.
Chapman says SDC is the perfect fit to implement W-2, stressing no other agency is set-up like SDC to provide the services low-income families need.
“There’s no comparison,” Chapman said. “You can walk into one building and get help with childcare (Headstart), get help with your taxes, or get help with W-2.
“We help 800 people obtain and retain employment. It’s not our primary function. But we’ve done that over the course of our contract–help people find jobs”
SDC CEO Debra Blanks has nothing but praise for Chapman and the job he has done in such a short time. She noted he was one of the top four candidates for the position. Blanks said during the one-on-one interview with Chapman, she was immediately convinced he would do a fantastic job. “And that’s exactly what he’s been doing.
“He’s a very talented, qualified, compassionate leader,” Blanks said. “I believe he is exactly what we need to move W-2 forward. He’s a great asset as a member of our executive team.”