RE: Joe Turner's excellent Sunday Morning piece in the Tacoma News Tribune
Excerpts and my
WELFARE REFORM HITS SOON
Recipients must seek work to gain benefits
JOSEPH TURNER; The Tacoma News Tribune
Published: April 16th, 2006 01:00 AM
Time is running out for Washington welfare recipients
who aren't working, trying to find a job or taking classes to learn a job skill. But even those folks have almost one more
year before they lose their taxpayer-funded assistance.
Nearly 10 years after Congress overhauled the welfare system and created the Temporary Assistance
for Needy Families program - and Washington created its own version called WorkFirst - state officials are preparing to kick
off those who aren't fulfilling their part of the bargain.
That's about 1.3 percent of last month's WorkFirst caseload of 55,271 families.
1.3 per cent gives serious lie to the public perception that state welfare roles are teeming
with lazy residents eating out of a public trough and contributing nothing in return. That literally means one and 1/3 families
per 100 families. Think about it.
"WE WERE PRETTY GENEROUS"
"It's about time," said state Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, top Republican on the Senate budget-writing
committee. He did give Gregoire credit for doing something her Democratic predecessor, Gov. Gary Locke, would not - put a
limit on welfare payments.
"We were pretty generous bringing services to people and giving them a reasonable amount of
time to find jobs or build work skills," Zarelli said. "At this point, I don't think we do anybody any good if we keep taking
care of them."
Something like Zarelli's statement was the situation I encountered from almost day one of my
own experience as a state employee working inside a program of public assistance. Back then it was still the old AFDC which
literally enabled a mind-think of entitlement that discouraged much of a sense of community citizenship where assistance is
temporary - facilitating a return by someone needy to productivity and contribution themselves.
That sense of entitlement - expressed by the agency in terms of being "eligible" or "ineligible,"
quickly morphed into a sense of grasshopper thinking among thousands of welfare clients who had grown up under the generous
and forgiving AFDC system which in effect handed out cash with little accountability or enforced responsibility.
One could say truthfully that the system created by the federal government and administered
by state governments was something that in effect, hired and paid state workers to keep the needy at least semi-mollified
and fundamentally provided-for in exchange for keeping them under the public radar - precisely because most citizens have
no time nor willingness to take part in a discussion of what to do about the poor among us.
Inevitably then, that question always lurks on the political tool-shelf for whoever wants to
take political power from whomever currently possesses that power. Sometimes, unavoidably, good comes from something done
poorly and with a lot of public demagogic filth spewed in the name of civic responsibility and citizen compassion.
This then was the welfare-reform cake that was taken out of the Gingrich Congressional oven.
Built on a manipulative radical Republican rhetoric Republican reformers helped generate and augment a national knee-jerk
reaction against every single mother living on welfare cash grants but standing in the grocery line with food stamps.
Stamps? Funny money - that immediately revealed and exposed the bearer as a welfare recipient
who consistently found herself in an uncomfortable place - not unlike being a minority in an exclusive all-white club.
Or like those dreams we've all had of suddenly finding ourselves naked in a public place.
Capitalizing on national anger and resentment of images exaggerated to an extreme silliness
by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Republicans acted to reinforce their grip on Congress which was there more important priority
than mere reforming of a system that had for the most part kept our poor out of sight therefore out of mind.
"To me, that's where the hammer needs to fall," Zarelli said. "There ought to be
clear sanctions, a progression all the way to termination. I don't think the intent was to just give a free ride. We need
to demonstrate we are serious."
Kicking 700 people off welfare would save an estimated $450,000 a year. The WorkFirst annual
budget is about $780 million.
A "hammer" (no Tom Delay inference needed here) a "sword of justice" to the politically righteous
indignant ... whatever. God knows, I've seen a few recipient grasshoppers who think a living is owed them by the government
and if there were no government, then every body else in the community. But not that majority. Not 99 families out of 100.
Politicos from both parties need to step back from the imagery generated by making a big deal out of where hammers are falling.
Otherwise, what happen's when an adult child with grandchildren of a political big mouth is
caught standing in the checkout line at the grocery store with a Washington State Quest Card in their hand - the sure-fire
sign that a sinner is among the worthy?
© Arthur Ruger 2006