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A promising model to help people keep their jobs, and break the cycle of poverty

Dustin Dwyer

 Today, on State of Opportunity, I report on a unique program that started more than a decade ago at Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids. The initial idea was to help lift people out of poverty with the promise of a stable job.

Executives noticed the company had high turnover rates for entry-level job positions, and many of the people in these entry-level jobs were cycling on and off of state assistance. The goal was to fix the turnover problem and end the cycle of dependence at the same time. 

Cascade's first two attempts at this were basically failures. But company leaders kept at it, and what they eventually came up with is a model that many people are now considering. For the first time ever, Cascade brought a state Department of Human Services case manager on-site at the company to help workers transition off assistance and keep their jobs. 

"Just giving someone a job doesn’t solve their problems," says Joyce Gutierrez, the DHS case manager who's spent the last 14 years working at Cascade. "There’s other things going on."

Gutierrez helps workers with those "other things," when their child care falls through, when their car breaks down, or when any other problem pops up. She fixes these problems often without the need for an appointment. The worker doesn't have to take time off to go downtown to a state office. 

Gutierrez even gets daily attendance reports from Cascade. If one of her clients misses work, she makes a phone call to see if there's a problem. 

This rapid-response style of case management has reduced the turnover rate at Cascade to almost zero, and it's allowed more people to transition off of state assistance for good. 

The idea is also what inspired Governor Snyder's plan to put more DHS case managers in public schools.

So, what's the one downside? Listen to the full story on our State of Opportunity site to find out. 

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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