Cortez: Workforce Solutions is a key partner in the fight against poverty

EDINBURG, Texas – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez has praised Workforce Solutions for being a key player in the Hidalgo County Prosperity Taskforce.

The Taskforce, which Cortez set up, is charged with reducing poverty in Hidalgo County. 

“WFS is a key partner in the Hidalgo County Prosperity Taskforce, and the support they provide to customers through their programs contributes to individuals ability to fulfill career paths that leads to self-sufficiency, helping them work their way out of poverty essentially reducing the poverty rate in Hidalgo County,” Cortez said.

Francisco Almaraz, CEO of Workforce Solutions, explained how this organization is helping reduce poverty. He said the group focuses on addressing various barriers to employment and connecting unemployed individuals to jobs. He also pointed out that WFS is the leading workforce development organization dedicated to fostering community collaboration among education, government, business, economic development corporations, and chambers of commerce. 

“By working together, we can drive positive change to break the cycle of poverty and promote economic prosperity in the RGV,” a WFS press release stated.

Almaraz pointed out that the Rio Grande Valley has a poverty rate of 28.8%. This compares to 14.2% in Texas as a whole. The data comes for a 2021 American Community Survey.

Almaraz said WFS has deployed various strategies to address poverty in the RGV by serving as a one-stop-shop for individuals interested in 1) finding employment, 2) support services including quality child care to maintain employment, and 3) financial assistance for training programs to find better paying jobs/careers. 

During the fiscal year ending June 2022, WFS assisted approximately 22,800 job seekers gain employment through WFS six local employment offices, Almaraz explained.

“When wages are low and do not provide sufficient income to afford basic needs, WFS has programs available that provide assistance with paying for child care and transportation costs, and access to a network of partner organizations to provide other financial support,” the WFS press release stated.

Almaraz said a lack of affordable, quality child care is a major barrier for some entering the workforce or trying to maintain current employment. He said WFS provides financial assistance for the cost of child care and in 2022, it paid approximately 80% of monthly costs averaging $627 per child for over 14,000 children in care, while parents covered an average $134 per child.

This support, he said, allowed parents to use their money towards other important household necessities. 

This information on financial assistance came from a Workforce Information System of Texas (TWIST) Report published on August 16, 2022. It reflects data collected from October 01, 2021, through July 31, 2022.

“The provision of childcare support and job training can significantly ease the financial burden on parents while also offering them the opportunity to secure higher-paying jobs and achieve self-sufficiency.” Almaraz said.

“Education and training typically lead to obtaining high-paying and in-demand jobs, but many cannot afford the opportunity cost. However, work-based learning programs focusing on the ‘earn while you learn’ models, such as internships and apprenticeships, offers income while in training, and can be an effective pathway to better-paying jobs.”

Wage data reveals that individuals who have completed a training program with WFS experience significant wage increases across industries, such as $11,900 per quarter in construction, $7,200 in healthcare, $21,800 in IT, and $8,800 in manufacturing.

Almaraz added: “The process of transitioning from a $9 per hour job to a $20 per hour job after completing a welders’ training can be a transformative experience that enables individuals to improve their quality of life as well as that of their family members.” 

Editor’s Note: Workforce Solutions serves as the governing body for the workforce development area that includes Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties. The primary goal of the WFS Board is to respond to the needs of local employers and workers through locally designed demand-driven workforce development initiatives. 

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