MSU center plays key role in $20M grant to state

Contact: Carol Gifford

STARKVILLE, Miss.--A major research center at Mississippi State is playing a central role as a new workforce training initiative gets underway in the state.

The National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center (NSPARC) is partnering with the State of Mississippi and others to develop training for citizens who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance.

The innovative approach developed by NSPARC helped the state secure a competitive $20.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin a three-year pilot program for SNAP recipients.

Gov. Phil Bryant announced the grant award during a news conference in Jackson this week.

"This program is specifically designed to help those who need extra support to get back into the workforce," said NSPARC Director Domenico "Mimmo" Parisi, who joined the governor and other partners at the state Capitol for the announcement.

"Only 10 out of the 38 states that applied for the grant received funding, and NSPARC helped Mississippi secure $20.5 million, the third largest funding amount," he said.

The SNAP program provides assistance to qualified individuals, including the unemployed, to buy food. Until now, SNAP recipients in Mississippi have been encouraged to look for work but not required to do so. New SNAP requirements will mandate recipients, if able, to work or be enrolled in work training programs.

"NSPARC developed a pilot program that was viewed as innovative and worthy of funding," said Parisi. "That's what we do best: partner with state entities to address complex social issues."

Previously, Parisi and NSPARC developed a real-time system to connect available jobs with job seekers as part of Bryant's Mississippi Works program. (For more, see http://www.msstate.edu/web/media/detail.php?id=6464.)

Parisi said the innovative program developed by NSPARC will provide an extensive career readiness assessment for SNAP participants. Those participants will receive one-on-one career counseling from a career navigator, take aptitude tests to identify areas of interest, and receive training in work-ready behaviors.

The program will be administered by the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

Other partners include the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, the State Workforce Investment Board and community and junior colleges.

"As the pilot program ramps up, we expect to also provide career pathways for recipients to pursue a GED program, find on-the-job training, and offer subsidized employment opportunities," Parisi said. "We will develop ways to showcase and demonstrate the effectiveness of our pilot program."

To encourage participation, the workforce training programs will assist with transportation and childcare concerns that SNAP recipients may experience.

The new program will provide services to more than 3,300 SNAP recipients over a period of three years, Parisi said.

NSPARC is an interdisciplinary center that provides an intellectual hub for promoting research and scholarship aimed at addressing complex social and economic issues in the state, region, nation and world. Learn more at www.nsparc.msstate.edu.