April 16, 2004 – Things have just gotten tougher for out-of-work Virgin Islanders, Labor Department officials said on Friday.
The federal 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, Labor Commissioner Cyril Benjamin announced this week.
Although the program was canceled in January, the Job Service office is still evaluating how many of its 133 active recipients qualify for other labor assistance, Arah Lockhart, former Work-to-Welfare program director, said on Friday.
Lockhart called the program a success and lamented its demise. She said it gave people with little or no job skills not only training and but also support including English lessons, assistance in completing high school, vocational education, child care, 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 government employees who ran the Welfare-to-Work program, lest they be laid-off. Lockhart said all were successfully transferred within the division.
The Virgin Islands has a higher jobless rate than any state — 8.7 percent of the work force, compared with an average of 5.6 percent for the United States.
The territory continues to struggle with an economy that depends on tourism and construction.
St. Croix, with a work force of nearly 19,500, had a jobless rate of 11 percent in January, which was actually down from 13 percent a year earlier. On an annual basis, St. Croix's unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in 2001 but grew to 12.5 percent in 2003.
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