April 16, 2004 – Things just got tougher for out-of-work Virgin Islanders, Department of Labor officials said today.
The Welfare-to-Work program that has helped train and assist 535 unemployed welfare recipients in the territory–and countless others nationwide since its inception in 1998–has been terminated by Congress. Commissioner of Labor Cyril Benjamin made an official announcement earlier this week.
Though the program was officially cancelled in January, the Job Service office is still evaluating how many of the programs 133 active recipients qualify for other labor assistance, former Work-to-Welfare Program Director, Arah Lockhart said today.
Lockhart called the program a success and lamented it ending. She said the program gave people with little or no job skills training and support including English lessons, assistance in completing high school, vocational education, childcare, health credentials for restaurant jobs, transportation, and school uniforms. "The case management and individual attention that you got does not exist now," Lockhart said.
Ending the program also meant finding jobs for the five employees who ran the Welfare-to-Work program, lest they be laid-off. Lockhart said they were all successfully transferred with in the division.
The Virgin Islands has a higher jobless rate than any state — 8.7 percent of the workforce is jobless here, compared to an average 5.6 percent for the United States.
Some see the territory struggling because of a lack of economic diversity. Much of the economy depends on construction and tourism industries.
St. Croix, the territory's most populated island with a workforce of nearly 19,500, had the highest unemployment rate of 11 percent, but it was down from the 13 percent in Jan. 2003.
The economy in St. Croix has suffered due to several cruise ship lines canceling calls to the island in recent years. In 2001, St. Croix's average jobless rate was 8.2 percent, and leapt to 12.5 percent in 2003.
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