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Pinellas revising welfare setup

The new Workforce Board, merging two agencies, will train and educate workers and get them off public assistance.

By CURTIS KRUEGER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


LARGO -- Acknowledging that Pinellas County needs to improve the way it helps poor residents get off welfare, more than two dozen officials gathered Wednesday to form a new agency that will take over the local welfare system.

"Let me tell you how bad it had become," Rick Dodge, assistant county administrator, told members of the new Pinellas Workforce Board. He said a key state official had considered taking over the local program to make sure it was operating properly.

In another sign of worries about the program, County Commissioner Bob Stewart, who will be chairman of the new board, recently wrote a letter warning the welfare agency that is being phased out not to make any "unusual expenditures" in its waning days. He reminded the agency that any expenditures will be subject to an audit.

Dodge and Stewart did not elaborate on the problems during Wednesday's meeting, but they have previously complained that Pinellas has a disjointed bureaucracy that doesn't communicate well or react quickly to the needs of workers who need jobs, or businesses that need workers.

A new state law is forcing Pinellas County's welfare and worker training agencies -- called Pinellas WAGES and the Pinellas Workforce Development Board -- to merge into the new Pinellas Workforce Board.

This is the group that will oversee programs designed to train and educate workers and get them off public assistance and into good jobs. It also will help employees seeking more training and better-paying jobs.

The transition to the new board begins Saturday, and is scheduled to be complete by Oct. 1.

Dodge urged members of the boardto work hard to help workers who are trying to better themselves. If you have a good job, Dodge said, "you have that part of the American dream," and social problems such as spouse abuse and drug addiction are less likely to take hold. "If you don't have a good job, the reverse is all true. You don't have hope," he said.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at krueger@sptimes.com or by calling (727) 893-8232.

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