By SAMANTHA TIPLER

for the Herald and news

The number of children Jeremy Player’s division of the Oregon Department of Human Services helps every month could fill three Klamath elementary schools.

Player is the district manager for Department of Human Services Child Welfare and Self Sufficiency for Klamath and Lake counties.

In Klamath County, there are 308 children in foster care.

“When you think about that, we have enough kids to fill an elementary school in foster care today,” Player said.

And 623 children rely on TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or cash assistance, what was traditionally known as welfare. It’s also called self sufficiency.

“So we have about two elementary schools worth of kids that rely on the department for food, clothing and shelter,” Player said.

Each month, Player’s department affects 15,130 people. “When I started in child welfare, I thought we would get two cases a month,” Player said.

Player spoke to the Klamath Promise executive committee, where every month one of the Klamath Promise partners is sharing their organizations role in the Klamath Basin, and in helping children.

“Now you know the volume of families we serve. “We can fill three elementary schools with kids full of kids, that we’re working with every single month.”

Poverty and graduation rates

Poverty and not graduating high school are linked. According to an American Psychological Association article, “poor (bottom 20 percent of all family incomes) students were five times more likely to drop out of high school than high-income (top 20 percent of all family incomes) students.”

Which highlights why the children and families DHS serves are also linked to the Klamath Promise.

Those being helped with TANF payments live far below the poverty line, Player said.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a family of four, the poverty line is about $24,000 per year.

“The families we serve fall way below the poverty line,” Player said. “Without our assistance, they would not have food, shelter, clothing. We work with the parents to become self-sufficient.”

Other assistance costs

Player said 13,891 families with children rely on SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or what was once known as food stamps.

Programs like SNAP and TANF put dollars into the local economy by providing them to families. Here is how Player broke it down:

n $1.76 million in SNAP every month in Klamath County;

n $159,545 in TANF payments every month in Klamath County;

n $2.6 million total.

“We put out approximately … $2.6 million into the economy every single month trying to keep children safe and children in safe families. You’ve got to say, what are we doing with this money?” Player said. “The reality is, we’re the safety net. We’re trying to keep kids safe.”

Silver lining

Even with these drastic numbers, which Player said are higher than state averages, he still finds the positive side. The ways DHS is working to make things better.

“We’re working with families,” he said. “We have different contracts with different agencies to help families learn the skills they need in order to be self-sufficient. In order to get off the welfare system. And stay off the welfare system.”

One program he highlighted is called Jobs Plus.

“Working with a family to get a paycheck instead of a welfare check,” Player said.

His agency partners with businesses, nonprofits, schools and churches, by matching them with potential employees. DHS pays the salary for first six months (after second month the employer pays one dollar per hour) and the employer trains the employee, teaching them how to do the job.

“It really is a mentorship where you can teach that person the job skills needed to make them a valuable employee you want to hire at the end of six months,” Player said. “You mentor and get them on their way. Our job is to get them paid so you don’t have to pay for that training period.”

DHS, Klamath Promise joined at the hip to get kids back to school