“There are predominately young women who finished high school and got pregnant not once or twice, but three times. Now they are 21 years old with three kids. Their husband, boyfriend or whoever it is has left and they are behind the curve,” Moore said.
These mothers, and fathers, have decided they want a better life for themselves and their families. Basic requirements for the program are straightforward. Every applicant must have at least one minor child, be on public assistance and be of a certain income level.
About 90 percent of the contenders do not have a job.
“The No. 1 thing we do is make them look for a job,” Moore said.
Families First participants turn in 40 to 60 job applications every week.
“It is a volunteer program, but once they sign up they have to meet a 30 hours per week requirement,” Moore said. “[Participants] have a list of activities they can choose from each week, but No. 1 is finding a job.”
Incentives are provided for Families First clients.
According to Moore, child care is provided for by the state. Parents may choose another day care with the state paying a minimum amount. Each family receives a small supplement. One child is about $142, Moore said.
“Child care is the biggest need being met. Without childcare, they cannot get a job,” Moore said. “We do not have second and third-shift daycare facilities, so a lot of my people can only get daytime jobs.”
Gas reimbursement is also provided.
“They do not get rich off gas reimbursement,” Moore said. “It is about $3 a day. ... The idea is, if you get a job then it is hopefully enough to get you to and from work each day.”
East Tennessee State University’s website said Families First, “provides low-income families with financial support, educational opportunities, job training, child care, employment assistance, support services and transitional benefits.”
The goal is to move families from government assistance to self-sufficiency.
“If participants make enough money, by Department of Human Services’ standards, then they leave Families First,” Moore said. “... What we have done is broken the cycle. These people have moved from being dependent on the state completely, to maybe only being dependent a little bit.”
Child care continues for six months as graduates of the program slowly begin to cover the cost.
Moore said those who do not follow the rules are ultimately dismissed.
“I tell them if they do not follow the requirements then they lose daycare, they lose the cash reimbursement and they also lose 10 percent of their Food Stamps,” Moore said.
He said a majority of those in Families First work hard to meet requirements and stand on their own two feet. Tennessee allows families to stay in the program for up to five years.
Shady Rodriguez-Hernandez, Neighbors in Need case manager, said people who come from Families First respond better to financial plans.
“I just wanted to thank [you for] the work you do,” Hernandez said. “Over in Neighbors in Need we also have our people pay forward in the community the funds we give them for resources.”