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Career-building resource for low-income people in jeopardy with recent changes at state level

Career Futures, Inc.
Posted at 7:02 AM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 11:23:50-05

BUTTE — Career Futures, Inc. has been helping put people to work in Southwest Montana for 40 years. Representatives of the company met recently at their Uptown offices with state and local officials to voice their disapproval of a recent announcement by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and Governor Greg Gianforte that the state will contract with an east coast company to manage requirements for low-income families receiving food and cash assistance.

"I knew the trade-off—but me and my four children left my ex-husband for safety, and I knew what the trade-off would be, which is poverty," says Rep. Mary Caferro.

Caferro, a Democratic legislator from Helena, shared her personal story to illustrate the crisis that many clients who seek public assistance experience. She says barriers like being a single mom, working two jobs, and being a victim of domestic violence made it seem like improving her situation would be impossible.

"I was discouraged from doing exactly what I needed to do until I met someone who you can do it and believed in me," says Caferro.

"Our case managers here meet with these families weekly," says Sarah DeMoney, executive director of Career Futures, Inc.

DeMoney says face-to-face meetings with clients in the six counties across southwest Montana are one of the reasons for her organization's success rates which are documented in rigorous meetings with state organizations that dole out grant funding for public assistance programs.

DeMoney says she cannot see how an online approach, especially in rural areas that don’t have access to broadband, will help low-income families improve their lives.

"I do not know how, outside of a landline, someone would be calling in to get services. So, I mean, where is the efficiency? I don't understand," says DeMoney.

She and others at the press conference also voiced concern for outsourcing case management of low-income families to an out-of-state corporation, saying it takes the human element out of the work and jeopardizes access to programs for families who are often in crisis.

Through his press secretary, Gov. Gianforte responded, "The governor is committed to being a good steward of taxpayer resources to ensure these programs are results-driven, help the vulnerable, and bring Montanans to greater self-sufficiency."

Last year after the conclusion of the current seven-year contract with providers across Montana like Career Futures, Gov. Gianforte and DPHHS opted to collapse and consolidate existing contracts into a single performance-based model.

The state whittled down the providers from 12 organizations across the state to just five that will have a physical presence in urban areas. Butte is not considered urban so it is unclear if the online organization will subcontract with Career Futures, Inc. or other providers.

"DPHHS is excited to partner with Maximus to re-invigorate programs that will put more Montanans back to work and drive their self-sufficiency,” DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton said in a press release that was sent out at the end of January 2024.

“Through a new and innovative pay-for-performance model, our ultimate goal is to help our clients find secure and sustainable employment and increase their independence."

Members of the panel that gathered at Career Futures, Inc. questioned this logic, saying communities like the ones in southwest Montana understand what the local needs are for skilled workers and they question how an online company located across the country could understand the nuances of the local culture in Montana.

"When we put Montanans' future in the hands of Montanans this stuff works. A computer system simply does not cut it with people like me; we need someone across the table talking to us face-to-face, " says Caferro.