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Town hall meeting looks at welfare-to-work issues

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Vice President Al Gore and Small Business Administration head Aida Alvarez conducted a town hall meeting May 18 with the small business community to discuss how small-businesses can benefit from hiring job-ready former welfare recipients and to define ways to help businesses retain their new hires.

The meeting, held at the White House, was broadcast via satellite to more than 30 locations throughout the country, including sites in St. Louis and Wichita, Kan. Local small-business owners, business associations and welfare service providers gathered at the sites to ask questions about the issues affecting their efforts to participate in the welfare-to-work initiative.

Participants cited job training, good work habits, child care and transportation as key concerns for hiring former welfare recipients.

"Since President Clinton and I took office 5 1/2 years ago, America's welfare rolls have declined by 4.3 million, by far the largest drop in history," Gore said. "Today, we are here to talk about how we can keep replacing welfare checks with real private-sector paychecks and strengthen the basic values of work, family and responsibility all across America."

Alvarez pointed out that small-business owners who hire former welfare recipients are eligible for up to $8,500 in federal tax credits and state wage subsidies, which lower costs for employers.

"Small businesses are the 'work' side of the welfare-to-work equation," Alvarez said. "SBA can help by connecting entrepreneurs to the programs and other nonprofit welfare service providers that prepare workers and provide support to help retain new workers."

Other panelists at the meeting, including a small-business owner, a former welfare recipient and members of Gore's Welfare to Work Coalition to Sustain Success, shared their experiences with the audience.

They cited mentoring efforts and working with nonprofit coalition members to provide job training, transportation and affordable child care as the keys to success.

Following the broadcast, participants at the satellite locations held local networking conferences to link small businesses with local welfare, job- training, mentoring and service organizations to further encourage small- business participation in the initiative.

"The broadcast was very informative and positive about the advantages to small-business owners and what can be accomplished as we join together to make the welfare-to-work initiative successful," said Region VII SBA Administrator Bruce Kent.

"Because small businesses represent more than 90 percent of the businesses in the Midwest and because the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa are experiencing such low unemployment, our small businesses have an outstanding opportunity to tap this work force," he added.

The satellite broadcast was the fourth meeting of Gore's Welfare to Work Coalition to Sustain Success.

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