Dominique Barnes, 24, is among the fortunate ones who found a permanent job through the Put Illinois to Work program.

Dominique Barnes, 24, is among the fortunate ones who found a permanent job through the Put Illinois to Work program.

Each day she travels 33 miles from her south suburban Lansing home to her job at Rush Oak Park Medical Center in west suburban Oak Park where she works as a file clerk.

The single mother of a 2- and 5-year-old credits the program for her new job.

“Without this program I might still be unemployed. I know I am one of the lucky ones because not everyone was blessed to find a job through the program,” Barnes told the Defender. “And even if I had not been hired I would have a better chance of finding a job thanks to the additional skills I learned while participating in the program.”

Prior to being accepted into the program Barnes worked two years as a manager at a fast-food restaurant. She resigned in May from the job after being offered a job at a Chicago bank – which later withdrew its employment offer for unknown reasons. Faced with no job and ineligible for unemployment compensation (since she voluntarily resigned) Barnes said she did not know what would become of her.

“I had no job and I needed help finding one,” explained Barnes. “That’s when I went to Jobs for Youth who immediately started helping me.”

Jobs for Youth Chicago is a non-profit community service organization that assists low-income young adults with job readiness and finding employment.

Barnes, who studied nursing for one year at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, added she hopes to someday become a nurse.

“I love helping people and that is why I want to be a nurse,” she said.

Her supervisor at Rush, Sylvia Mijajlovic, who manages the diabetes unit there, said hiring Barnes was easy given Barnes’ fast ability to learn new things and her willingness to do more without being asked.

“Even before I told her the dress code she had already started wearing medical scrubs to work. She is a good organizer and overall a pleasant person to be around,” Mijajlovic said. “Plus, the position had become vacant during her training, so timing also played a part in me hiring her.”

And even though internal candidates were also considered for the position, Mijajlovic said Barnes was the best candidate.

“If the program is extended I would hope that we participate again. It is a wonderful program that benefits both the trainee and employer,” she added.

The state ended the Put Illinois to Work program Friday.

After originally extending the program for two-months, Gov. Pat Quinn said the state would not be able to do so a second time unless new revenues were identified to fund it.

But to encourage employers to hire participants Quinn recently signed into law a bill that now gives employers a $2,500 tax credit should they hire participants from the program. Quinn signed the bill Monday at the 21st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast sponsored by the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

The Put Illinois to Work program began last July and helped provide employment for some 26,000 individuals. According to Greg Rivara, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, federal law prohibits income earned from a work-training program, such as Put Illinois to Work, to be considered for unemployment insurance compensation.

“The only way trainees from the program could receive unemployment compensation is if they had additional income from elsewhere,” he said. “None of the monies earned from the program could be used as a basis to receive unemployment compensation.”

The program paid participants every two weeks and all applicable taxes, such as federal and state, were deducted.

At Defender press time, it had not yet been determined how many participants found jobs through the program. And Jill Geltmaker, director of Put Illinois to Work, was unavailable for comment.

Put Illinois to Work was a subsidized, work-relief program for unemployed and underemployed low-income parents and young adults managed by the Illinois Department of Human Services but administered through Heartland Human Care Services, a non-profit human services organization.

Initially the program was funded through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund, which is a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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