The Pennsylvania House unanimously approved legislation to allow students receiving welfare benefits to enroll in an academic support program for up to two years while completing an associate's or technical education.
Under House Bill 934, eligible students pursuing occupations deemed high priority by the state – maintenance and repair workers, nursing aides, sales representatives and others – can count class and study hours toward the required number of work hours needed to obtain monthly Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance.
To qualify, students must already be approved for TANF or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) introduced the bill to amend the 1967 Public Welfare Code which created the Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) program. The measure would increase the program’s limit from 12 to 24 months to support a student through the extent of time it typically takes to obtain an associate’s degree or certification from a career or technical school.
“I think a lot of conservatives, a lot of Pennsylvanians, would love to see those that are on welfare currently and government assistance and help put them on the fast track to getting a family sustaining job,” he said.
As the chair for the sub-committee for higher education, Christiana said he's frustrated with the lack of qualified applicants for available jobs. A good, sustaining job that supports a family doesn’t always require a four-year commitment, he said.
“The majority of the costs is those costs to the community colleges that operate this program. Those that are providing the additional hired to ,” he said.
The program does not provide scholarships or tuition waivers, but counsels students in financial planning and loan repayment plans. Christiana said where the money goes won’t change with his proposed amendment. Some federal block grant money would support administrative costs, while the rest goes to the participating colleges providing in-house tutoring, mentorship and financial assistance.
"Students aren’t reaching their goal of a degree and ultimately a job because they have to go out and fulfill those 20 hour work requirements by picking up an additional job," he said. "That’s not helpful for those students."
The bill goes to the Senate for consideration.