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Taking a significant step toward dealing with the consequences of Pennsylvania's year-old legislation capping welfare benefits for the unemployed after two years, Philadelphia leaders this week unveiled a massive proposal to find jobs for 15,000 of the city's welfare recipients. The $50.6 million program, called "Greater Philadelphia Works," will target low-income mothers on welfare. Such mothers constitute the vast majority of the 65,000 "heads of household" currently receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the state's welfare program. Instituted in March 1997, the state law limits welfare benefits to a lifetime total of five years and requires recipients to work or participate in a work-related activity for at least 20 hours a week after two years of assistance. The two-year cut-off point is rapidly approaching for nearly 38,000 Philadelphia recipients, but prior to the passage of the law, jobs were hard to find. A federal law went into effect a year ago, essentially ending the current national welfare program -- known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children -- and allowing states to come up with their own laws. In response to the recent changes in the law, officials unveiled Philadelphia Works at a City Hall press conference Monday. The aim of Philadelphia Works, which is organized by the Private Industry Council of Philadelphia -- a nonprofit group which has long received most of the city's federal funds for job training -- is to help the private sector hire welfare recipients. To achieve this, the council will offer businesses generous salary subsidies and require welfare recipients to complete an "Agreement of Mutual Responsibility," a promise to attend job training sessions 10 hours per week. In its first year, the program will rely on the private sector to supply 2,500 to 5,000 current TANF recipients with jobs -- about half of the 7,200 to 10,200 people the program expects to place over the same time period. Another key element of the program is reverse commuting, or sending recipients from the inner cities out to the suburbs -- where more entry-level positions exist -- to work. In a city with a less-than-burgeoning economy, success will largely hinge on the availability of jobs at places like the malls in King of Prussia and Bryn Mawr, as well as on SEPTA, which, according to the plan, will add new routes to accommodate the workers. For the Private Industry Council, the program marks a major expansion -- its budget will more than double -- and also a watershed. In what many saw as a City Hall-driven pre-program transformation of the agency, former President and Chief Executive Officer Patricia Irving took an "extended leave of absence" in early March and was quickly replaced by Rosemarie Greco, the former president of CoreStates Financial Corp. and one of the most influential women in Philadelphia. The city also unveiled a huge advertising campaign Monday portraying black-and-white pictures of black and Latino mothers and their children, who encourage the parents to join the workforce, as part of their efforts to attract mothers on welfare to "Philadelphia Works." "You can do it, Mom," a nameless child plaintively tells his mother in one ad. "You already have the hardest job in the world." In other ads, the children encourage employers to hire their mothers. Rendell told reporters that the program would be advertised on television, radio, billboards and transit posters. "SEPTA's going to donate a lot of space," he joked. Despite the mayor's jovial mood and the "feel-good" messages of the various speeches -- one likened the state to a "land of plenty" due to its budget surplus; another assured the crowd that "if we can do it in Northern Ireland," the task wasn't so daunting after all -- Rendell conceded he didn't "want to delude anyone." The obstacles to the plan's success, after all, are manifold. First, the plan will at best only cover about 40 percent of the heads of household slated to lose their benefits next March. Furthermore, it relies on the cooperation of the private sector, a transit authority threatened by a possible strike and thousands of uneducated or under-educated women. Also complicating the situation is the fact that as many as a third of the targeted population is addicted to drugs, according to Penn Health System Addiction Services Director Robert Forman. "Some of them are in a movie; they're totally oblivious," Forman said. "'Welfare to work' -- it doesn't mean anything to them."

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