Practitioner Spotlights are an opportunity to hear directly from individuals working successfully to improve SNAP E&T programs across the country.
What is CSCU?
The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, comprised of 12 community colleges, 4 State universities, and one fully-online college, contribute to the creation of knowledge and the economic growth of the State by providing affordable, innovative, and rigorous educational programs. Our learning environments transform students and support an ever-increasing number of individuals to achieve their personal and career goals. We offer an array of programs from short-term workforce or enrichment offerings to certificate and degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
What is Your Current Role with CSCU?
I am the Chief of Staff/Chief Operations Officer at the CSCU Systems Office, which serves under the direction of the Board of Regents for Higher Education and supports all 17 colleges and universities through finance and grants, policy and research, government relations, public affairs and marketing, human resources, and IT.
How has your work with and prior to CSCU intersected with SNAP E&T?
I came to my current position as a former non-profit leader and advocate for workforce education and training. SNAP E&T was underutilized in Connecticut at that time and I urged lawmakers to expand this important federal program. Once at CSCU, I, along with my President, met with the Department of Social Services (DSS) and encouraged them to expand the program beyond the 3 colleges already serving as SNAP E&T partners. We promised to expand SNAP E&T to all 12 community colleges under our leadership. Working with DSS, we were able to accomplish this goal as well as expand program offerings available to students.
What is the importance of SNAP E&T to CSCU colleges and students?
We have so many Connecticut residents who need training to improve their employment opportunities. If they don’t qualify for other federal or state programs, they must pay for their training on their own, which severely limits their enrollment and opportunities for better jobs. SNAP E&T is a great resource for these individuals. It also supports the engagement of a SNAP Coordinator who helps students participating in SNAP E&T to address personal and academic issues that may impact their ability to complete programs. This one-on-one attention is vital for student engagement and success and is often not available to students who are on other forms of assistance or paying for their own education.
What do you see as the importance of SNAP E&T from a broader perspective?
Our economy will continue to change, and we should be prepared for individuals to come and go from the labor market as the requirements of the workforce change. Having the opportunity to enroll in SNAP E&T can help those needing to upskill as well as those that are looking for new work. SNAP E&T is a hand up in terms of the training and the support services it provides. More programs should be modeled like this, addressing both the personal and training needs of participants. I also believe it’s important to catch people as quickly as we can when they slip into unemployment and help them move into new training and work before they lose confidence in themselves and their skills. SNAP is an early indicator of need and if we move quickly when they apply to get them engaged in E&T, I believe we’ll get good results for the program and participants.
What Does Jewish Vocational Services of Boston Do?
JVS provides adults with education, skills training, and job opportunities to help them advance to economic self-sufficiency. While we work with all adults looking to learn more and earn more, we particularly focus on the immigrant community. This is in the DNA of our organization and about one-third of Boston’s workforce is non-native born. There are two things we’re most proud of about our services. The first is that we offer a continuum of education and employment options: whether you are a low-skilled new immigrant needing contextualized English for your first job, or whether you want a short-term certification up to an AA degree at a community college, JVS has programming to support you. The second is JVS’ strong relationship with local employers. We support them with incumbent worker training and provide them with new workers from our other programs. Employers compensate JVS for these services, supporting our model. JVS operates most of our own training with nearly 200 staff, most of whom are instructors or career navigators. Our programs target multiple sectors, emphasizing the life sciences/healthcare sector. We typically serve between 15,000 – 20,000 people every year. JVS also operates the downtown Boston Career Center, part of the one-stop system.
What is Your Role at JVS?
I am the President and CEO and have been with JVS for 13 years. I see my role as having three main functions. The first is forming and sustaining the partnerships that we need to support our work. The second is helping to support JVS staff to achieve a culture of excellence that helps us deliver on our strategies. And the third is helping JVS stay ahead of the curve on changing trends in workforce development and the labor market so that the work we do is relevant and has maximum impact.
What is Your Experience with SNAP E&T?
When I came to JVS I was aware of the existing SNAP E&T program in Massachusetts and its potential for increasing services for SNAP participants both at JVS and statewide. JVS became a third-party provider in the State’s E&T program. Not long after, Massachusetts implemented some program design changes to SNAP E&T that made it more difficult for third-party providers, and JVS’ SNAP E&T program essentially ended. I then had an opportunity to work with a new Governor and administration, advocating for them to figure out a better way to administer SNAP E&T because of its enormous potential benefit for Massachusetts. We pulled together a day-long meeting with USDA/FNS present and we began the work of redesigning the program. Within a few months, the State’s Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) had a new model in place and the program has been growing ever since. JVS has also been a partner to DTA serving ABAWDs through SNAP E&T.
What is So Valuable about SNAP E&T to Your Mission and Work?
SNAP E&T has allowed JVS to expand our services, but we also have a public policy and systems change agenda and supporting SNAP E&T is integral to that work. A big reason for this is that SNAP E&T as a program can really emphasize skills training. I believe it is the largest source of federal support for workforce training in the Boston area and training is critical for disadvantaged individuals and populations if they are to access good jobs. SNAP E&T also has broad eligibility; it can, for example, serve low-wage workers, not just the unemployed. And the 50 percent reimbursement that SNAP E&T can provide is a huge incentive for States, philanthropy, and private industry to invest more in employment and training services. I can’t think of any other program that has this feature.
Note: S2S interviewed Jerry Rubin for this Spotlight just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. To hear more from Mr. Rubin about how JVS Boston has adapted its services to the pandemic, please listen to the June 2020 SNAP to Skills webinar, Adapting SNAP E&T Services For the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond.