For years, Luz Torres worked long hours as an ultrasound technician in a Seattle-area medical clinic in order to support her family. Then one day, the wife and mother of two lost her job because her physician’s group she worked for had to move from the area.
Torres, unable to afford relocation and facing a saturated ultrasound technician job market, couldn’t find work. Her world started to unravel.
“I became homeless,” said Torres, 40, who spent a year living in her car and in transitional housing. “I received TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which helps you get by. But then a counselor at a shelter offered me a new program.”
The Affordable Care Act’s Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) program provides education and training to TANF recipients and other low-income individuals for occupations in the health care field that pay well and are expected to experience labor shortages or be in high demand.
In 2010, Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, the agency responsible for HPOG administration, funded 32 HPOG programs throughout the nation. Participants receive healthcare-related training in the following fields:
Grantees work with community partners to enhance supportive services for participants, such as transportation, dependent care and temporary housing.
“Because of my medical background, my counselor told me I would be a perfect candidate for the program,” said Torres. “HPOG provided all my tuition and books, which makes it more possible for students to achieve something.”
Ever since she was little Torres wanted to become a nurse and help people. So she took advantage of this second chance at life and enlisted at Edmonds Community College, which hosts the Creating Access to Careers in Healthcare (CATCH) program. Torres was a dedicated student, taking up to 19 hours a semester to help fulfill her goal.
“Luz is an exceptional phlebotomy student. Not only did she complete our program with a top score but she exhibited outstanding determination,” said Instructor Erika Ferreri.
In the fall of 2011, Torres became a certified nursing assistant and phlebotomist. She’s working on being certified as a patient care technician and a clinical lab assistant by 2012.
“I told myself that I need to have more career skills for back up,” said Torres, “so I don’t have to go through this again.”
When asked where she’s herself in three years, Torres positively responded “working.”
Torres is grateful for the assistance programs that helped her family survive during this difficult time. She believes these programs that she contributed tax dollars to when she was working throughout her adult life are necessary.
“I don’t see it as a waste. I see TANF and HPOG as opportunities to help people like me,” said Torres. “I had no idea when I went to into that homeless shelter that I was getting a career. I just needed a place to sleep.”