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Workforce Southwest Washington received a $1.6 million grant Wednesday to fund a new program aimed at helping South Kelso and Highlands residents find and keep jobs.

The project was one of four in the state selected for a grant from Gov. Jay Inslee’s federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Statewide Activities fund to fight poverty across Washington.

Workforce Southwest Washington is a Vancouver organization providing investments and resources to improve the skills and education of the workforce in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties.

The program will provide participants with job skills to either get or keep a job and move to a better paying job or position, according to a Workforce press release. Workforce will partner with companies to hire and train individuals in the program, the release said.

Julia Maglione, Workforce communications manager, said the program is largely directed toward individuals on or eligible for federal food stamps. Workforce will partner with local organizations and agencies to recruit participants. The agency hopes to bring on outreach staff to spread the word in the two neighborhoods, she said.

Workforce will address the challenges of finding and keeping work because of travel expenses and limited childcare availability, the difficulties companies face in recruiting and retaining a local workforce, and loss of access to support services because of increasing wages.

Maglione said the downside for a low-income individual getting a better job can be losing eligibility for support services. So the program will bring together local agencies to help provide those services, such as child care, if individuals in the program lose access because of an increase in pay.

The grant requires that the program must be in a high-poverty and geographically defined community. Maglione said Worksource is focusing on South Kelso and the Highlands to be able to measure the affect of the program.

“If we tried to do the county as a whole, we wouldn’t see a large impact,” she said. “We were looking for small communities or areas... to make a difference with enough people to raise the entire neighborhood up.”

Maglione said Worksource will meet with its community partners and map out the process of starting the program. The money will be available July 1, she added.

The state will measure the success of the four programs based on the number of families receiving food stamps who move up to income over 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and net poverty reduction for their entire community by March 2022, according to a press release from the Governor’s office.

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