In early November, I attended the annual AARP Foundation Senior Community Service and Employment Program (SCSEP) national meeting in San Diego. Most of these employees are out in the field: We have 113 SCSEP employees in 70 offices in 21 states and Puerto Rico. All I can say is that once you get to know these dedicated people, you get a new understanding of the breadth and depth of the Foundation's work.
For the past 40 years, AARP Foundation has received grants to operate SCSEP. It works like this: SCSEP is for unemployed older workers age 55 and over whose annual incomes are at 125 percent of the poverty level ($13,300) or below. They apply to participate at the local SCSEP office. After they are accepted, this office finds each of them a training position with a community agency or nonprofit. These training sites run the gamut, from Meals on Wheels and daycare centers to local police and fire departments.
The participating agencies and nonprofits don't have to pay the trainees, but they do promise that they will offer them up to 20 hours of on-the-job training a week. In return, the U.S. Department of Labor, which funds SCSEP, pays the trainees the minimum wage for the hours they work per week — roughly $145 for 20 hours. The idea behind AARP Foundation SCSEP is that once participants have this community-based training, they will have the skills (along with good references and new contacts) that help them get hired for a "real" job — one where they earn Social Security benefits and pay taxes.
The work of the local SCSEP offices involves far more than finding participating community agencies for their trainees. Although it isn't required by law, AARP Foundation SCSEP also helps trainees sign up for benefits programs like SNAP, health and housing assistance. Just as important, Foundation SCSEP employees provide their trainees with job counseling, skills assessments and a good deal of cheerleading.
At the Foundation SCSEP conference this year, I was able to spend some time with the program's directors and managers, and as always I learned a lot. For one thing, the value that SCSEP trainees provide their communities is higher than ever. State and local budgets are still shrinking, especially funding for community service organizations. Foundation SCSEP trainees often fill in the gap, making it possible for these groups to operate at their previous levels. In fact, AARP Foundation SCSEP trainees contributed more than 6.5 million hours of community service from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, time valued at nearly $142 million.
It used to be that most applicants had low incomes and needed more skills and competencies. Not anymore. Many conference attendees said a real shift has taken place in the past few years. Now, while Foundation SCSEP applicants are still 55+ and living at 125 percent of the poverty level, many also have at least one degree and years of experience in managerial and professional positions. Helping them involves using different strategies, and AARP Foundation SCSEP employees across the country are developing and sharing these strategies with each other.
Last year, despite a 25 percent cut in its budget, AARP Foundation SCSEP managed to operate without cutting its services. This year everyone's efforts were rewarded. The Department of Labor awarded $260 million to 15 SCSEP administrators across the country. AARP Foundation SCSEP received 20 percent of that total award — $52 million. This is a perfect example of managing for results, and I'd like to thank the entire SCSEP team for their outstanding work. It may not be the world's easiest job, but it's one of the most rewarding, being able to lend a hand and help win back opportunity for millions of struggling out-of-work adults 55+.
Jo Ann Jenkins is president of AARP Foundation.
Also of interest: Helping older Connecticut workers get jobs.