Facebook Twitter

GET RID OF ATTITUDES THAT HINDER WORKING AND PLAYING BY THE RULES

SHARE GET RID OF ATTITUDES THAT HINDER WORKING AND PLAYING BY THE RULES

Welfare reform isn't solely concerned with making people work or gain skills to help them get off public assistance.

And it certainly isn't just about setting time limits or writing 600 more pages of regulations.Officials like Jerry Jones are also talking about a change of attitude.

That change is needed as much on the part of social workers and other officials who administer welfare as it is for the people who rely on welfare.

Jones is employment program supervisor for the Utah Single Parents Employment Demonstration Project in Kearns. Called SPED, it is in its second year and represents Utah's hope for a system overhaul.

Although employment is seen as the best opportunity for families to become self-reliant, other things are important, said Jones, including job training, education and even emphasis on collection of owed child support.

Last week, Australia's assistant secretary for the Department of Social Security (which oversees public assistance payments there) was in Salt Lake City to view the demonstration project. In explaining SPED, Jones said significant change in a family's well-being doesn't always begin with finding a job.

Reform doesn't succeed unless participants have choices.

It makes sense. Officials can't draw up plans or decide by themselves whether someone should go to school or work. They can't decide what kind of work, either.

But the biggest attitude change turns current policy on its ear.

"Every child has two parents," Jones said.

It may sound like that is stating the obvious. The welfare system, however, has for years further splintered families as policy.

Regulations for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) decrees that grants are given only to children who have been deprived of financial and emotional support. Both.

It has been unspoken policy that a noncustodial parent's only role in a child's life is to pay child support.

Jones described what can happen.

A single mother is trying to work, but she's having problems getting her children into day care. Maybe she can't afford it or she's on a waiting list for subsidized care.

Without child care, she must abandon either the children or the job.

Her ex-husband works evenings at a low-paying job, so he can't provide much financial support. But he's willing - even eager - to watch the children while she works. It would solve a lot of problems.

"We don't allow that," Jones said ruefully. "That's an impediment."

Taxpayers sometimes wonder if they're being cheated by people who "live on the public dole." Some call newspapers and social-service offices to report neighbors and acquaintances.

Without question, some people do cheat.

Taxpayers, however, don't seem concerned that the system encourages fraud with a long list of disincentives for people to play by the rules.

It's not surprising that a small number of people cheat. It is a minor miracle that more people don't.

Strict guidelines govern income and assets. The AFDC payment doesn't come near the federal poverty line. Even modest cost-of-living increases are anything but regular. Housing cost increases and a serious dearth of affordable housing, as well as waiting lists for child care and housing, strengthen dependency.

Utah has realized that the first step to reform begins with tearing down barriers, getting rid of disincentives and viewing clients as unique and complete individuals with unique and complete needs.

Those are the lynch pins of change. They would guarantee a better and more effective system, even without time limits and other regulations.