HELENA — Earlier this year, Career Training Institute in Helena marked 40 years of serving people in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater and Jefferson Counties. Today, the organization operates about ten separate workforce development programs, focusing on low-income individuals and others who are hard to serve.
“We have a very passionate group of individuals that work here,” said Jasyn Harrington, CTI’s longtime executive director. “We have people who have worked here for a very long time, care about the community. CTI is embedded in our community. We have relationships with social service organizations, the colleges, schools and, of course, employers – all with the effort to eliminate barriers to employment so people can get into the workforce.”
CTI provides everything from assistance with career research and resume development, to computer skills and financial literacy, to YouthBuild programs training young people in the trades.
Harrington says almost half of CTI’s budget comes from two programs: TANF Pathways and SNAP Education and Training. Both provide similar services – work training that may be required for people receiving government benefits.
Pathways provides case management for people receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families – financial assistance to lower-income families with minor children. Erin Drynan, CTI’s Pathways program manager, says it’s mandatory for recipients to do some form of work activities. In this case, she says the goal is to address some of the barriers clients are facing.
“Ultimately when you help somebody reduce their barriers, they're going to be more successful at that next phase of their life,” she said. “So whether it's getting into training, going to school, becoming employed – it's a lot easier to do those things when we've taken care of the housing and the child care and the transportation.”
CTI has one case manager who goes out regularly to meet with Pathways clients in outlying areas.
SNAP Education and Training has similar goals, but serves people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Pat Steinwand, who manages the program for CTI, says that’s a broader population than those on TANF.
“This particular program serves a lot of people who are unhoused, who are dealing with mental health addiction issues,” she said. “I think the longevity of our staff and how long we've been around Helena and the surrounding areas really enables us to, because we have all those relationships, provide all those resources that they need.”
Steinwand said, for the people she works with, some of the goals include getting them housed, connecting them with Social Security or getting them a part-time job. Since the pandemic, one common example has been training people on working remotely.
Currently, SNAP Education and Training is only provided in Lewis and Clark County, not Broadwater or Jefferson.
CTI is currently one of about a dozen contractors around Montana operating TANF Pathways, and six doing SNAP Employment and Training. However, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is making a change this year. They’re planning to issue a single request for proposals, for one statewide contractor to oversee both programs.
“This is an opportunity to re-envision how services are delivered for these two programs to create better outcomes for eligible Montanans,” the department said in a statement to MTN. “Through a pay-for-performance model, our ultimate objective is to help individuals the program serves find secure and sustainable employment and increase their independence.”
DPHHS leaders said their goal is to find a contractor that can demonstrate how to serve Montanans in these programs more efficiently, and that a pay-for-performance model will increase accountability and encourage better outcomes.
During a legislative interim meeting last week, DPHHS director Charlie Brereton told lawmakers he believed the state could do much better in monitoring and measuring outcomes and in increasing participation in workforce programs.
Harrington also spoke at that meeting during a public comment period, expressing concern about what the changes to the RFP model will mean for organizations like hers. She said CTI and most of the other existing providers aren’t in the position to take on a statewide contract, so they won’t be able to apply under the new system.
DPHHS says they will encourage proposals in which the new contractor will continue to sub-contract with existing service providers, to maintain continuity of service.
Harrington said it’s an option, not a requirement, for the statewide contractor to work with existing providers. She said, if they decide not to sub-contract, losing those contracts could have a significant impact on CTI’s ability to provide its other programs.
Harrington said she has other questions about the new model that won’t be clear until the rules for the RFP are released in the coming weeks. She’s concerned a pay-for-performance model – for instance, based on how many clients end up in jobs – won’t be able to account for the challenges of serving the populations organizations like CTI work with.
“More work is required with this population and having virtual services is not going to work,” she said. “The unemployment rate in July in Lewis and Clark County was 2.2%, and on Monday, we had 1,011 open jobs on the job service job board. So I think we would all agree that if somebody is willing and able to work, they're already employed – so these people need extra help.”
Brereton said during the legislative meeting that DPHHS was going to require the new contractor to maintain in-person services, but that those would likely be mostly in urban areas. He said they would require them to have virtual service offerings for those in rural areas that didn’t have access to those in-person locations.
People in CTI's service area can find more information on their services and a pre-application for those seeking assistance on their website.